Blogs 2010 - 2017

In 2018 I changed my website service provider, and my old provider didn't offer an easy way to migrate my blog to my new website. I ended up having to copy my blog from my old website so that I could paste it here. Below you'll find all of my blogs from 2010 to 2017. My apologies that the formatting isn't great, and I know some of the links within the blogs don't work anymore, but there's still a lot of great content here! Keep reading:


Stop Trying To Figure Everything Out. Open To The Mystery Instead.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 19, 2017 at 7:40 AM

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I like to figure things out. Whether it’s in my personal or professional life, I seem to be constantly searching for answers. I make pro and con lists, I journal, I meditate, I ruminate, I read personal development books, I attend workshops, I watch inspirational videos. Heck, sometimes I even check my horoscope. I try to solve all of my problems down to the most minute detail. I weigh my options, check my calendar, make more lists, and think, think, think, think.

 

I try to think my way out of (and into) everything.

 

On the one hand, I enjoy my tireless mind. It has helped me accomplish big goals like getting my PhD. On the other hand, sometimes my over-thinking is just a bunch of rumination that doesn’t help much at all.

 

Most of the time I feel like I’m in a feedback loop from hell (as Mark Manson so eloquently described in his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck). My feedback loop involves me over-thinking, followed by attempts to quiet my mind, followed by getting annoyed at myself for not being able to quiet my mind. This usually ends in frustration and hopelessness - hopelessness that I’ll never be able to access the part of me that knows the solution to my problem.

 

To get out of my feedback loop from hell, lately I’ve been playing with the idea of simply opening up to mystery. In other words, surrendering to the fact that some problems, issues, and life decisions aren’t meant to be known right now. And some might never be known (at least not at an intellectual level). My rational mind refuses to accept this, because it’s convinced that with enough logical thinking it can solve any problem. Sometimes my mind even convinces me that if I quiet it down enough, I’ll be able to tune into my heart/soul/intuition, where all the answers will be revealed.

 

Sometimes this happens. Many times it doesn’t.

 

This has led me to wonder if sometimes my heart/soul/intuition doesn’t have the answer because I’m not supposed to know the answer.

 

One of the main things that all humans have in common is that we’re participating in an enormous mystery. None of us truly knows why we’re here, or what happens after we die, or what lies beyond the reaches of what modern science has discovered about the world around us.

 

Speaking of science, I recently attended the International Transpersonal Conference in Prague. The conference was a gathering of a few hundred people who are interested in what I like to call life’s “big questions.” Questions about why we’re here, what our purpose is, and how we might help humanity evolve for the better. One of the panel discussions literally tried to answer the question, “What is the purpose of the universe?.” It was like my idea of heaven.

 

The conference was also the most cross-disciplinary meeting I’ve ever attended. The presenters and attendees were scientists, researchers, psychologists, quantum physicists, astro-physicists, indigenous shamans, nobel prize nominees, monks, mystics, and more. What they all had in common was an interest in the great mystery. They came to this interest in a variety of ways. Some spent years studying physics or astronomy only to realize that they couldn’t find all the answers there. Some had life-changing psychedelic experiences or spiritual awakenings or vision quests that brought them face-to-face with self-transcendence. It felt like a gathering of people from all corners of the globe and from a variety of disciplines who had bumped up against the edges of some great Unknown.

 

 

 

Many of the presenters brought up the idea that for the past few hundred years, science has been far too focused on what you might call materialism. In other words, most scientists hold that matter (i.e. physical objects made of atoms) is the basis of reality. This materialistic mindset has brought us many great technologies and scientific discoveries. We have things like electricity, airplanes, and organ transplants because scientists have spent years exploring the basic material aspects of physics, chemistry, and biology.

 

But there is still a lot of unknown.

 

Since the early 1970s, physicists have used what’s called the Standard Model of particle physics to explain most of the physical world around us, and they’ve done a really good job. But even the Standard Model doesn't explain everything (read this article for a full description). Scientists have also found that when you start to examine matter at a quantum level, particles no longer behave like concrete physical objects. Instead, particles seem to behave like waves or clusters of vibrations that are held together in specific ways.

 

There are even studies suggesting that when we observe matter, we change the way that it behaves (at least at a quantum level). Dean Radin, Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, gave a presentation about how his lab has used double-slit optical experiments to show that humans can influence physical matter (photons) at a quantum level - even from a distance - simply by setting a conscious intention to influence the photons. Put more simply, consciousness affects matter.

 

These experiments fly in the face of a strictly materialist paradigm, because unlike gravity or the electromagnetic force, consciousness is not currently recognized in the scientific community as being a physical force. Instead, consciousness is often thought to be a random byproduct of neurons firing in our brain - it is not believed to have the ability to influence anything in the physical world. But if consciousness is not a physical force, then how is it able to affect physical objects like photons? Dr. Radin’s research has since been replicated by at least one independent lab (you can watch a video about his experiments here). In a nutshell, his results suggest that our intentions and attention might influence the world around us in ways that we don’t fully understand.

 

One of the main hypotheses that was put forth at the conference was that consciousness might be the underlying substrate of all of existence - not matter. In other words, scientists from a variety of disciplines are starting to converge on the idea that there is some sort of “intelligent force” that might be governing the laws of our universe. This force is really hard for us to wrap our heads around because it seems to transcend space and time. But in the same way that gravity causes an apple to fall from a tree, this force seems to hold our universe together in some sort of non-random, coherent way.

 

People have referred to this force as the cosmos, consciousness, intelligence, information, creativity, the field, energy, vibration, or even as love or god. Not god as in organized religion or a man sitting on a fluffy white cloud. We’re talking quantum physics here, but sometimes language is limited in its ability to describe complex, mystical phenomena. Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ervin Laszlo referred to our universe as “a non-local field of complex vibrations that are held together in a coherent way by a force that we can best identify as intelligence.” Theoretical quantum physicist Amit Goswami described physical objects as being waves of possibility that become particles of actuality when we measure or observe them.

 

Kind of mind-blowing, right?

 

At the moment, however, there are more questions than answers. We don’t know if things that happen at the quantum level can be extrapolated to the physical world that you and I see with our naked eyes. We don’t have the instruments to measure this “intelligent force.” We don’t even seem to have the cognitive capacity to identify it - although some people who have experienced spiritual awakenings (awakenings that bypassed their usual cognitive abilities) seem to have come close to feeling/experiencing/knowing it.

 

To hardcore rational materialists, these ideas sound like nonsense. Materialists believe that our physical world is what it is because of the physical laws that we’ve discovered so far. As Rupert Sheldrake mentions in his book The Science Delusion:

 

“Science is being constricted by assumptions that have hardened into dogmas. The 'scientific worldview' has become a belief system. All reality is material or physical. The world is a machine, made up of dead matter. Nature is purposeless. Consciousness is nothing but the physical activity of the brain.”

 

But the International Transpersonal Conference showed me that science is starting to push the boundaries of these ideas. It appears that science is starting to open up to mystery. The scientists at the conference were not all voodoo-hippie-weirdos. They were researchers with rigorous academic credentials, shamans with deep indigenous knowledge, and physicists who work on cutting edge projects like the CERN initiative. That being said, the researchers who are exploring these mysteries tend to live on the fringes of science. Many are even scared to admit their interests in “mysterious” topics because they fear being ridiculed by their colleagues.

 

This is not new. Throughout history, scientists who espoused “fringe” ideas were often regarded with caution at best, or accused of witchcraft at worst. Even Galileo was imprisoned for his hypothesis that the earth revolves around the sun. I believe that right now, humans are at a point where we need to loosen our grip on materialism and open up to the idea that there might be forces in this universe that transcend the known laws of physics. This doesn’t mean we throw out all of the great materialist ideas that came before us. It means we broaden our mindset to include something more.

 

This cross-disciplinary, open-minded pursuit of mystery and truth is what’s ultimately going to take science, and humanity, to the next level. After all, is it so hard to believe that one day, science and spirituality might converge? Perhaps eventually we will develop tools and methods that confirm, rigorously and scientifically, the transcendent phenomena that mystics (and ordinary people) from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions have been describing for thousands of years. These people often describe spiritual awakenings that involve experiencing a sense of immense oneness, interconnectedness, and love that transcends all sense of their self, ego, space, and time. Could this feeling of transcendence be the “intelligent force,” or consciousness, that’s holding our universe together? Only time will tell.

 

I also believe that for many of us, our personal and professional lives are microcosms of the shifts that are slowly starting to happen in science. On a personal level, many of us have spent most of our lives trying to use the laws of reason and logic to solve our problems. Many of us hold matter as primary, believe the world is random and meaningless, and have closed our minds to the possibility of mystery. Personally, I’ve spent years studying within a materialist paradigm that has taught me to do research in very narrow (albeit rigorous) ways. Like many people around me, I’m starting to open up to the concept of mystery in both my personal and professional life.

 

Tama Kieves recently posted a video on Facebook about how we never truly figure anything out. Instead, we follow it out. In other words, when you are presented with a decision, issue, or problem, you engage in action - any type of action - and that action provides you with information. You can then use that information to inform your next action, and so on. You mindfully engage with the mystery of life and see what happens.

 

But, in the end, maybe I’ll never figure anything out. Maybe our universe is just a random bunch of matter spinning around aimlessly. Maybe consciousness is just a byproduct of our physical brain. As a good scientist, I need to stay open to these ideas until someone proves otherwise. However, I need to stay equally open to the idea that there is way more to our universe than we currently understand.

 

In this moment I’m choosing to let things be and play with the mystery. How about you?

 

***

 

If you’re interested, here are a few books written by some of the conference presenters (note that I haven’t read all of these books, so I’m not necessarily endorsing them - I’m just providing them as resources for those interested!):

 

The Intelligence of The Cosmos: Why Are We Here?

The Science Delusion: Freeing The Spirit of Enquiry

Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe ( coming in 2018 )

 

And here are the websites of a few of the speakers I enjoyed listening to:

 

Dean Radin

Amit Goswami

Ervin Laszlo

Stephan Martin

Richard Tarnas

Jan Rak

 

 

Should You Tell The Truth Or Keep Quiet? The Paradox of "Radical Honesty"

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 22, 2017 at 4:35 AM

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Over the past 7 years I’ve written countless blogs about the importance of being authentic. I’ve called this authenticity many things: soul, true self, inner guidance, intuition, etc. No matter what I’ve called it, I’ve consistently advocated that my readers (and myself) live from a place of honesty and truth.

 

But now I’m going to tell you the exact opposite.

 

Because the truth is that you don’t always have to share your truth - at least not all the time or right away.

 

A few weeks ago I was watching an episode of Ray Donovan on Netflix (a guilty pleasure). The episode involved a (dysfunctional) family party where most of the characters gathered together to celebrate a birthday. After a few too many drinks, many of the characters started telling each other deep, often hurtful truths about their feelings and their relationships. The party went completely off the tracks as everyone began fighting - with words and fists. In the same episode, there was a character who portrayed a cheesy self-help guru who kept preaching about the idea of “radical honesty.”

 

This got me thinking about honesty, and the situations when honesty is (and is not) appropriate in our lives.

 

I was reminded of how often we all go to parties that have huge white elephants in the room that everyone ignores. We smile, we shake hands, we make idle chit chat, all the while knowing who is actually upset with who, who cheated on who, and who can’t stand to be in the same room with who. When I’m in these types of social settings I often get intense cravings for something real. I want people to talk about things that matter to them, to be honest with each other about their feelings, and to avoid going to a party if they really don’t want to be there. I have a very hard time making small talk, which is why you’ll often find me huddled in a corner with one (or a few) close friends, digging deep into what’s really going on in their lives.

 

I crave authenticity from everyone around me, almost as if truth is the air that I breathe.

 

But.

 

I’ve realized over time that honesty must go hand-in-hand with discernment. There is a time and place for everything, and sometimes, sharing your truth at the wrong time can do more harm than good.

 

I mean, do you really need (or want) to know how many people your partner has slept with? Do you need (or want) to know the real reason(s) why your parents split up? Do you need (or want) to know what your partner fantasizes about when they masturbate? Do you need (or want) to know what your boss really thinks of you?

 

For some people, the answer to all of these questions will be yes. For others, it will be a mix of yes and no, or all no. All of these answers are fine. The problem with encouraging radical honesty is that it makes people feel like they’re doing a disservice to their soul if they don’t tell and seek out the truth 100% of the time.

 

Let me make this very clear: I think that sharing your truth is crucial to a life well-lived. It’s just that you need to be psychologically, emotionally, and even physically ready for the repercussions of your truth. The reason for this is that radical honesty often blows your life wide open. It shines light on all the dark spaces that the people around you might not be ready or willing to see. It is a fire that burns away all that is untrue (think Daenerys Stormborns’ dragons). It can cause people to be angry with you, to reject you, or even to think you’re crazy. Your relationships or friendships might dissolve, you might lose your job, or you might lose the respect of people you admire. You need to be strong in mind and body in order to face these reactions, especially when they come from people you care deeply about.

 

So I’m telling you to be authentic. And to not be authentic.

 

Yes, it’s a paradox (as all good wisdom is).

 

You need to decide for yourself, using the most clear discernment that you can muster, which situations are calling forth radical honesty from you. And you need to be prepared for the potential repercussions.

 

 

 

The decision-making process around whether or not to share your truth is complex and unique for each person. There are all sorts of situations where we can decide to share or decide to hold back. These situations can be as mundane as saying “no” to a social invitation that would sap your energy, to something as intense as how to share your truth within the tangled web of infidelity. Esther Perel’s upcoming book, “The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity” poses a few interesting questions:

 

“What draws people outside the boundaries of commitment they worked so hard to establish? Why does sexual betrayal hurt so much? Is an affair always selfish and weak, or can it in some cases be understandable, acceptable, even an act of boldness and courage? And whether we have known this drama or not, what can we draw from the excitement of infidelity to enliven our relationships?

 

Must a secret love always be revealed? Does passion have a finite shelf life? And are there fulfillments that a marriage, even a good one, can never provide? How do we negotiate the elusive balance between our emotional needs and our erotic desires? Has monogamy outlived its usefulness? What is fidelity? Can we love more than one person at once?

 

For me, these conversations are part and parcel of any adult, intimate relationship. For most couples, unfortunately, the crisis of an affair is the first time they talk about any of this. Catastrophe has a way of propelling us into the essence of things. I encourage you not to wait for a storm, but to address these ideas in a quieter climate. Talking about what draws us outside our fences, and about the fear of loss that accompanies it, in an atmosphere of trust can actually promote intimacy and commitment. Our desires, even our most illicit ones, are a feature of our humanity.”

 

In other words, Perel is advocating honesty before the storm - in a container of deep trust between two people. But she concludes with a warning:

 

“Be forewarned: Addressing these issues requires a willingness to descend into a labyrinth of irrational forces. Love is messy; infidelity more so. But it is also a window, like none other, into the crevices of the human heart.”

 

The point is that when it comes to being honest about anything, timing is everything.

 

However, being honest is kind of like having children - the timing might never feel 100% perfect. But you can start to get smart about when and where to be authentic. As I mentioned in my recent blog about relationships, you can get honest with your partner about your needs and desires before the storm of infidelity hits. You can get honest with your boss about what you need at work before things get so bad that you have a heart attack. You can get honest with a friend who is disrespecting your boundaries before you end up getting into an irrational argument.

 

Personally, I’ve found myself growing into a space in my life where the repercussions of my authenticity are often less painful than the weight of keeping things inside. I’ve been doing a lot of contemplation and personal work around what is deemed “right” or “wrong” behavior by my culture, society, friends and family versus what is “right” or “wrong” for me on a deep, soul level. I’ve been playing with the archetype of the “rebel soul” who isn’t afraid to be my truest self, even if my self doesn’t quite fit within my current cultural/societal matrix. As Rumi wrote,

 

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I will meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Language, ideas, even the phrase 'each other'

doesn't make any sense."

 

Yes, I have a professional life that sometimes requires me to maintain a certain persona. But little by little, that persona is falling away. I’ve grown tired of wearing masks in all areas of my life, both personal and professional. These days, I write blogs about all sorts of taboo topics and I’ve been very public about my personal struggles, including the 6 years that I spent on antidepressants. I’ve shared all of this knowing full well that friends, family, and even future employers could read my words and not like what I have to say. And while I’m happy to have an open discussion with these people about the things that I post online, I’ve come to realize that if a person or employer rejects me because of my truth, then that person or job isn’t meant to be in my life anyway.

 

At least not right now.

 

Because you see, the truth is a tricky beast. Truth operates in a non-linear fashion, and if you’re open enough, it will always find you. This means that sometimes the very people who rejected you or thought you were crazy will eventually come around. They might never agree with you - they might not even like you - but they will respect the fact that you shared honestly from your most authentic self.

 

When you share honestly from a deep, true place, you carry an energy that is often more important than the words you’re saying. We’ve all been in these situations before, when someone is sharing with us, or we're sharing with someone, and the content of what we’re sharing is coming from a sacred place. Our words might be upsetting, but they come with an energetic release. There is a sense of growth, clarity, and even respect on both sides for bearing witness to the fires of truth.

 

Besides, there’s only so much that we can convey with language, anyway. My blogs are heavily language-oriented, given that they are made up of the written word. But I’m often trying to convey feelings and energy more so than intellectual concepts. Some teachers call this energy a “transmission.” Whatever you call it, I’m trying to give you the felt sense of what it means to embody honesty, and how to develop the discernment necessary to know when to act on that honesty versus when to remain quiet.

 

In the end, the decision rests with you. There will be times when you will mess up by sharing too much, too soon. But this is part of the non-linear learning process.

 

I encourage you to practice discernment, share when it feels right and true, and make sure you’re ready for the potential outcome. If you’re not ready, stay quiet for now - but not forever. The truth will find you eventually.

 

 

 

Reconciling Creativity, Sexuality and Monogamy

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 7, 2017 at 4:30 AM

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At first glance, the title of this blog might seem a bit odd. The words creativity, sexuality and monogamy don’t often appear together in the same sentence, but lately I’ve felt called to pull them together and share my thoughts on how they interrelate. As some of you know, I’ve been studying sacred sexuality for a couple of years. During this time I’ve learned and experienced some very interesting things - but I’ve also bumped up against what you might call sacred sexuality’s “shadow side."

 

Sexuality is such a charged and value-laden topic that even new-age-types haven’t escaped the murky waters that lie at the intersection between sexuality and spirituality. It’s difficult to navigate these waters to find teachers who are operating with full integrity. I’ve found a few, but I’ve also been treading very lightly by approaching sacred sexuality with a lot of caution and discernment.

 

I recently finished reading Jacob Nordby’s new book, Blessed Are The Weird which, on the surface, has nothing to do with sexuality. Instead, the book is about harnessing your uniqueness in order to heed the call of your creative soul. Until you get to Chapter 18 - almost at the very end of the book - to a chapter called “Raw and Sexy.” In this chapter, Nordby makes the case that creativity and sexuality are so linked that it’s almost impossible to separate them. He writes,

 

“The thing is, art is sexy. Creativity is sexual. Sex is the energy of creation itself. They are inextricably bound together and certain traditions tell us that they emanate from the same ‘chakra’ or energy center in the body.

 

And, of course, sex isn’t just a matter of fitting body parts together. Sex is the collision of worlds, galaxies, universes, souls, birds, and bees, and…everything.

 

A person with great creative energy is likely to have above average sexual energy too. How they express (or repress) that may or may not be with another human, but it’s still there beneath the surface, boiling away and generating enormous power.”

 

He goes on to say that, “Powerful creative people exude this tremendous sexuality - others are drawn to them because of this energy in their work and because of the indefinable, invisible sexual radiance that shines from them.”

 

This is often the reason that rock stars have groupies and artists have muses. We are drawn to these peoples’ energy because it reflects an energy within us, which is the energy of creation itself. Nordby’s “Raw and Sexy” chapter was the first time I’ve read something so practical and down-to-earth about sacred sexuality. Nordby isn’t a far out tantrika with a Sanskrit name who talks about having energy orgasms. Instead, his chapter laid out, very matter of factly, the point that creativity and sexuality come from the same energy source, and that creatives throughout history have had difficulty knowing exactly what to do with this energy. We’ve all heard of great creatives who had many mistresses, muses, and sexual liaisons. In modern times, the tabloids berate us with these peoples’ multiple marriages.

 

 

 

You might not think of yourself as a “great creative,” but I bet you’ve had glimpses of the links between creativity and sexuality in your own life. You don’t need to be an artist or a writer or a musician to be creative - some people are creative through science or IT or raising children or coming up with business ideas. At its core, creativity simply involves thoughtful curiosity - and sometimes taking action on that curiosity. The next time you get a creative burst about anything - take a moment to notice how you feel. Often, creativity comes with a certain level of excitement and anticipation that very closely resembles how we feel when we’re getting sensual/sexual. If you feel into it, you’ll notice that creativity and sexuality seem to come from the same source.

 

So, what does all of this have to do with monogamy?

 

Well, as I alluded to a moment ago, creatives throughout history have often had troubled partnerships. But as Nordby describes, one of the defining features of creatives (or “Weird People” as he calls them) is that we have a lot of difficulty abiding a life that is not real. We seek authenticity in all areas of our lives, including our sexuality. Nordby writes,

 

“Many Weird People have struggled with a world that judges them harshly for stepping outside the sexual lines drawn by society. As with most of the other judgements leveled at us, this is because our insistence on getting and staying real makes us honest with our behavior. Where our behavior deviates from what is commonly accepted, society reacts out of fear.”

 

Creative people, by nature, push boundaries, regardless of whether they are painting, making music, or building a new app. Creative people make the unknown, known. They bring the subconscious, conscious. They challenge the status quo and provoke change. This is Art with a capital A.

 

One system that pervades our lives and is heavily embedded in the status quo is the modern monogamous marriage. In many ways, marriage is a ritual - some might even say a collectively shared myth - that many of us choose to take part in (myself included). There’s nothing wrong with this. But it’s natural for creatives to want to push against those walls, even if it’s ever so slightly.

 

Not too long ago, marriage used to serve economic, societal and practical purposes. People got married for family alliances, or to have children to help on their farms, or so that there was a woman at home to make food while the men worked. These days, we’re told to marry for love (whatever that means), and we seem to be trying to figure out modern marriage on the fly, without ever stopping to give it much thought. I think it’s a very interesting thought experiment to ask yourself why you want to get married (or why you got married). Your answer might be, “Because I love my partner.” But really, why marriage? You can love your partner without being married. Perhaps you want/wanted to make a public declaration of your love and commitment. Or maybe you just want/wanted to have a big party with your friends and family. Or maybe you decide not to get married, but you make a private commitment to be monogamous.

 

All of these options are perfectly ok - there are no right or wrong answers here. My goal is to get you thinking about the point, and implications, of monogamy in our modern society, especially in terms of how your choice for monogamy intersects - and might eventually butt heads with - your creativity and sexuality.

 

Let me make this more practical by using my own marriage as an example.

 

(Gulp).

 

My husband and I are both highly creative people in our own ways. He’s a visual artist and entrepreneur who is like an open channel for creativity. His art spans everything from collage, graffiti, and graphic design to building sculptures and furniture. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t have some sort of art- or business-related idea. He has endless notebooks and folders and files of sketches and concepts. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever met such a creative person in my life. And I’m creative in my own ways, too - some similar and some different from his. Most of my creativity comes through my writing, but it also comes through my research, my approach to science, and my insistence on asking and pursuing life’s big questions.

 

And, as you might expect based on this creative energy, my husband and I are also very sexual/sensual people in our own unique ways. Note: this doesn’t mean we have sex 24/7. It means that our sensuality and sexuality have always been an important part of our lives and our marriage - in ways that have been thoroughly enjoyable and immensely frustrating. Like most couples, sometimes our sexual needs and desires match, and other times they don’t. If nothing else, we’ve always tried to maintain an open dialogue about sexuality so that we can be clear with each other about our wants and needs.

 

How does all of this creativity and sexuality manifest in our relationship? Well, this mashup basically results in a life that involves us constantly pushing the limits and boundaries of everything around us - inside and outside of the bedroom. In a sense, we’ve served as each others’ muses in order to make our shared life a work of art. All of the decisions we make, from deciding not to have children, to deciding where to live, to deciding where and how we want to work, have been thoroughly discussed within the container of our most creative values and dreams.

 

And we continually push each other to be more creative. He has inspired my entrepreneurial ventures, helped make logos for my website, and coached me to get paid what I’m worth. I’ve encouraged him to be more public with his art by building him a website, making videos of him creating his art, and reminding him to post regularly on his Instagram feed. We’ve pushed each other to take risks and stay inspired by moving to different countries and traveling as much as we can.

 

Our life is a work of art that we’ve co-created between us. It’s a work of art that has not only inspired us, but also often inspires people around us.

 

Now, before you start thinking that our relationship is 100% awesome, let me set the record straight: our lives are not awesome all the time. In fact, there are many times that we struggle. We get tired of pushing boundaries, and sometimes we long for what you might call a more “simple” or “normal” life. We spend our fair share of time debating about life choices, values, wants, and needs. We yell, scream, cry, rage, make-up and everything in between.

 

And here’s what ties everything that I’ve been talking about so far together: my husband and I have often struggled to reconcile our creativity, sexuality, and monogamy. As Nordby described in Blessed Are The Weird, creativity is sexy. Creativity is one of the main things that attracted us to each other. And it’s also what attracts us to other people, and other people to us.

 

I mean seriously, it’s almost impossible to walk into my husband’s art studio and not find it sexy. The smell of paint in the air, canvases all over the place, raw creative potential waiting to be formed. My husband is also a natural flirt. He’s very charismatic and extroverted, and he’s friendly with almost everyone. Put him in front of a female bartender or administrative assistant and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get free drinks and a meeting with the president of the company. When my creativity is “on,” people sometimes find me sexy, too. Whether I’m giving a talk, sharing a blog, or speaking passionately about philosophical topics - for some people, it’s a turn-on. I sometimes think of myself as a “virtual muse” who (hopefully) inspires people by describing my life, and my struggles, online.

 

Long story short: there have been times when people have been drawn to my creative radiance and my husband’s creative radiance. And there have been times when we’ve been drawn to these people, too.

 

The thing is, when we try to dampen our natural creative spark so that others won’t be drawn to us, we die a little inside.

 

Perhaps you and your partner have been in similar types of situations. There are a lot of things to ponder when these attractions happen. One question is to ask whether the attraction is simply feeding your ego, or if it represents something true. How each couple deals with these questions is entirely unique. Some people split up. Some experiment with making their relationship polyamorous or monoga-mish. Some decide to remain exclusive to each other. The important thing is to realize that you have a choice. Yes, you get to make the rules about your relationship, regardless of what other people think. The people around you might not agree with your choices, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that your choices are true, and are filled with integrity, for you and your partner.

 

I’m sorry to disappoint, but I don’t actually have a clear-cut answer for how to reconcile creativity, sexuality and monogamy. I’m in the journey of figuring it out for myself. As Jacob Nordby writes,

 

“I don’t know exactly how we should resolve this tension - how we should raise the curtains and free ourselves to play in the great, unashamed dance of creation. It is a puzzle.

 

It is a puzzle worth solving.

 

When we solve what it means to be ourselves (and free ourselves to be that), something magical happens. There’s that word again: magic. But it is magical. It is high magic to leap the fences that once held us in a cramped little prison of other people’s opinions and run pell-mell toward the horizon of our own destiny.”

 

Perhaps, by sharing vulnerably here, I’m helping you know that you’re not alone. If you and/or your partner are creative types, you might have noticed that the areas of sexuality and monogamy are challenging for you. Developing an awareness around the links between creativity and sexuality might help you understand, and better channel, your creative and sexual urges. Note that “developing an awareness around the links between creativity and sexuality” does NOT mean that you get to use your creativity as an excuse to engage in behaviors that would be hurtful to your partner. (Besides, it’s highly unlikely that your partner would fall for an excuse like “my creativity made me do it!.").

 

Instead, this awareness invites you to get honest with your partner so that you can begin to co-create authentic partnership. As I mentioned in my recent blog about getting real about relationships, authentic partnership is not always pretty. It will most likely be hard for you to share of yourself so vulnerably. But it’s the only way to be real.

 

And, as with most things in life, finding the answer might not actually be the point. Perhaps the only way to reconcile these things is to live with them in a messy, human, honest and vulnerable way. As Nordby shares,

 

“Being human means being sexual. Both things - humanity and sexuality - also mean being constantly entangled in complication.

 

Entanglement and complication. We often use those words as if they are bad ones.

 

As if having deep, tangled roots is somehow wrong.

 

Of course, the great, soaring part of us (I call it Soul) knows flight and weightlessness. It fears the snares of earth for good reason.

 

But once conscious of this - once aware that we can free ourselves over and over again, no matter what - the only thing for it is to relish entanglement. Root deeply in the rich, dark earth of being ourselves; these strange, heavy, beautiful, temporary human creatures.

 

For everything fought against grows. Everything denied or disowned becomes more powerful. Everything hidden will reveal itself in darker ways.

 

And all that is embraced is liberated.”

 

At the end of the chapter, Nordby summarizes his ideas like this:

 

“Sexuality and creativity can’t be separated - they are the same energy.

 

The world has had a twisted, fucked-up way of dealing with sex.

 

We deserve better.

 

The only way to get better is to get honest.

 

When we get honest, we get free.

 

When we get free, we unleash our creative nature and our pleasure in all of life.”

 

And so, my friends, I encourage you to embrace your creativity, your sexuality, and your humanity. Live as your wild self, in partnership if that’s what you choose, with honesty and with integrity. Your truth might bruise your partner. It might scare them. It might dissolve your relationship. It might help your relationship grow.

 

In all cases, it will set you free.

 

 

 

Is Your Life Feeling a Little Bland? It's Time To Reclaim Your Wild Nature (Here's How).

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 11, 2017 at 5:00 AM

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Sometimes the daily grind can start to wear on us. Bills, chores, errands, looking after loved ones, waking up at the same time every day, commuting to and from work, checking items off your To Do list…even if you love your work and adore your family, our daily routines can sometimes feel drab and uninspiring. On the one hand, routines help us develop security and stability, and they can be very comforting. On the other hand, we can get so stuck in our routines that we go through our lives as if we are asleep - never stopping to look around and question whether our routines are serving us.

 

Almost all of the work that I’ve done in my adult life has involved spending time at a computer. On the one hand, this is awesome, because I can work from anywhere and set my own schedule. On the other hand, my heart and body know that I’m not meant to spend so much time in front of a screen.

 

And so I’m reaching out to you, dear soul on the other side of the screen (as Qoya founder Rochelle Schieck likes to say), because perhaps you’ve felt something similar.

 

Have you ever sat back in your office chair, taken a breath, looked around, and thought to yourself, “My work/life isn’t supposed to be this way?” Have you ever looked outside of your office window (if you’re lucky enough to have one) and longed to be outdoors? Have you ever felt like there’s something not quite right about spending 8 hours per day on a computer? Have you ever wondered why we seem to work on pointless “make-work” projects, send endless emails, attend meaningless meetings, and make inane small talk at the water cooler?

 

Me too.

 

I’ve written many blogs about topics like breaking out of the 9 to 5 grind - but I think the issue goes deeper than that. I think the 8-hour “workday” started picking away at our souls long before we got our first “real job.” For many of us, it started when we were 4 or 5 years old, when we first went to school. How many of us, sitting in class, had the same types of feelings that I described above? How many of us stared out of the classroom window, longing to be outside?

 

Humans have spent the last few hundred years becoming very civilized. We prize our inventions and accomplishments - often for good reason. We’ve managed to extend our lifespans, travel all over the world with ease, and even venture into outer space.

 

But at what cost?

 

We’ve created a society that forces us to be caged animals for most of our lives. In fact, even the evolution of humans’ ability to use thoughts, logic, and reason is a mixed blessing. Our minds constantly jump from one topic to another, rarely giving us time to stop and appreciate the present moment. Research suggests that “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind” and that “the ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

 

We’ve created our own physical, mental, and emotional cages, and now many of us long to break free. When I say “break free,” I don’t mean you need to quit your job, or home school your children, or abandon modern society. There are more subtle (and socially acceptable) ways for you to break free if you aren’t ready to make major life changes. So how do you break free?

 

You go wild.

 

How do you go wild?

 

You start paying attention to your instincts, emotions, and intuitions. You start to notice the subtle language of your heart and body by learning how to quiet the mind. And you do things that feel wild for you.

 

 

 

A couple of months ago I read Martha Beck’s latest book, “Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening.” The book is a story that’s meant to serve as an example of how humans can awaken to their true nature. The main character, Diana, gets lost in an endless forest and is forced, in a sense, to go wild. She’s told that “Waking up is the goal, be-wilder-ment is the method.” I won’t give the whole book away, but suffice it to say that Diana uses 7 tasks to transform out of her ordinary existence into a barefoot, wild-haired, intuitive, connected, and awakened soul.

 

At some level I believe this is what many of us are craving. We don’t necessarily want to give up the luxuries of running water and heated homes, but we long for some sense of wildness that we know is our birthright as humans. Babies and young children are experts at being wild. I was recently talking with a friend who mentioned that her 1 year old daughter is particularly rambunctious. My friend jokingly said, “If we could just let her run outside naked, without having to put sunscreen or shoes on her, and without ever having to sit her in a high chair to eat or make her lay down so we can change her diaper, then she would be the happiest child ever.” To which I replied, “It sounds like she just wants to be human!”

 

I wasn’t saying this as a critique of my friend’s parenting skills (we both laughed at my remark). My friend is an excellent mom and of course she wants her child to wear clothes and not get sunburnt and learn how to eat at the table. But what do you think human babies were doing during ancient times? They were probably running around naked, eating in the dirt, and sometimes getting sunburnt. In other words, they were wild. With the best of intentions we end up taking the wildness out of our children so that they’ll be “civilized” and fit in with modern society. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing - most of us were raised this way and it makes perfect sense.

 

Our job as adults, however, is to reclaim our wild nature.

 

Let me ask,

 

When was the last time you put your bare feet on the earth?

 

When was the last time you got dirty?

 

When was the last time you played - not for sport - just played without any goal or objective?

 

Our wildness is part of us. It is in our heartbeat. We feel its call after we sit under fluorescent lights all day and spend two hours commuting home. We feel it calling to our bodies after we end up with carpal tunnel syndrome or one of many other vague auto-immune diseases that don’t seem to have a specific cause. We sense it in our hearts when we get the urge to do something a little crazy. After all, as Alanis and Seal say, we’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy. I believe this statement to be fundamentally true. Humanity needs to get a little crazy - a little wild - in order to evolve as a species and create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

 

Your task, then (for your health, the health of our species, and the health of the planet - no biggie, right?), is to figure out what feels wild for you. Everyone’s version of wild is different - and none is better or worse than the other. The main thing, of course, is to make sure you aren’t harming anyone else or yourself in the process. For some people, wild might mean having a glass of wine after putting the kids to bed. For others, wild might mean having an orgy. It’s up to you to decide what feels wild, and then make time to do it.

 

If the word “wild” doesn’t work for you, pick a different word. A friend of mine describes her process as “going feral.” Some people try to imagine themselves as animals - living more by instinct instead of always relying on rational thought. I think about this often when I watch my cat. When my cat walks into a room, there’s a moment when I can tell that she’s trying to figure out what to do. She has many options - she could play with her toys, sleep on a chair, jump on my lap, or climb up the bookshelf. As far as I know, she doesn’t use language to think about which of these things to do. There is some instinctual, wordless part of her that guides her in the direction of what she most feels like doing in that moment. When humans go wild, they start embracing a similar decision-making process. Instead of relying solely on the language of rational thought, you begin feeling into the wordless nudges that tell you which option is most suitable.

 

Below I’m going to give a few examples of activities that feel wild for me. You don’t need to do my version of wild - my intention is to offer some examples of what wild might look like for a (relatively) “normal” person living in the modern world. You’ll notice that some of these activities are rather tame, while others are a little more “out there.” There are, of course, more things that help me feel wild, but not everything needs to be shared publicly. So here’s a sample:

 

  • Dancing
  • Being in nature
  • Doing non-work related activities between the hours of 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. Sometimes I go for tea in the middle of the afternoon, or go for a walk, or read a book, or eat cake.
  • Any form of travel that breaks my usual routines. I’ve noticed that even work-related travel seems to pull me into a new headspace, where I can take a breath and tap into the pulse of life.
  • Any activity that involves getting dirty, like sticking my hands or feet into the earth or sitting on grass without a blanket. Lately I’ve been making a point to try to get leaves and twigs in my hair, usually by laying down under trees.
  • Any activity that involves being naked outdoors. A few that I’ve enjoyed have been skinny-dipping, dancing under the full moon, nude beaches, and rubbing clay on my body, sunbathing, then jumping in a lake to wash it off. I’m sure that one of the reasons these activities feel wild is that they’re taboo, but I also think it’s deeper and more primal than that. These activities literally put my body in touch with the body of mother earth - and like my friend’s baby - there’s no place that my body is happier.
  • Spontaneity
  • Camping
  • Sacred sexuality (you can read my blogs about sacred sexuality here and here)
  • Walking around in thunderstorms that burst open on hot summer days. For extra wildness points, try making out with someone in one of these thunderstorms. Grrrr!
  • Doing anything that’s different from what I would usually do on a workday
  • Staying up until 5am after having a soulful evening with friends
  • The “mini-glow” brought on by a glass of wine
  • Music that makes me want to move my hips (check out my playlist on Spotify here)
  • Deep, honest conversations - usually about taboo or vulnerable topics
  • Adorning my hair and body with beautiful things like butterflies, flowers, essential oils, and luxurious creams
  • Swimming in fresh water lakes
  • Letting my wavy hair air-dry instead of blowdrying it straight - and making sure I don’t cut my hair too short
  • Thinking about, looking at, or embodying magical creatures like fairies and unicorns
  • Trying new things
  • Gazing at the stars or staring at a fire
  • Going to a pub for a drink on a weeknight
  • Anything involving sacred rituals
  • Hiking
  • Live music, especially outdoors or around an open fire
  • Challenging myself to do nothing for an hour, or an afternoon, or a day
  • Watching animals (domestic or wild)
  • Finding, feeling, and participating in magic
  • Reading about topics related to transpersonal psychology, the evolution of consciousness, and the nature of the universe. Here are a few articles that I’ve read lately (just a little light reading for those who might be interested): 

 

I want to take a moment to flesh out the bullet about magic. For me, part of going wild involves opening myself up to the magic of the universe. My wildness and my sense of magic are deeply interconnected. On days when I spend a lot of time on the computer (or stuck in my head) I like to ask myself the question, "Where is the magic right now?" Then I either remind myself of magic, or I go find it.

 

By "magic" I don't necessarily mean hocus pocus. It's hard to describe in words, but for me, magic is the felt sense that I live and participate in a meaningful universe where people and events are connected in ways that we don't fully understand. Sometimes magic appears as a song, or a synchronicity, or sunlight dancing off a spiderweb. Magic can be simple, like the feeling I get when I gaze at the stars, or complex, like synchronistic events that give me goosebumps.

 

Here are a few examples of magical events from my life so that you’ll have a better idea of what I mean - and so that you’ll start being able to recognize these types of events in your life.

 

  • There was the time I submitted my resume to a company’s online HR database and then ran into the CEO of the company at a pub that very same night (and ended up getting the job through meeting him).
  • There was the time I signed up for Sera Beak’s Soul Fire retreat and left my apartment the next day to find that someone had spray-painted the words “I will set my soul on fire” on the sidewalk in front of my apartment.
  • Or the fact that I went to the soul fire retreat two weeks before I moved to Prague, and out of a group of 31 women, three of them ended up having connections in Prague who helped with my move.
  • There was the time I met my husband through a synchronistic meeting of our two best friends from high school.
  • There was the time I was tagged in a random Facebook comment on the blog of an American who was moving to Prague - and that American ended up being my next door neighbour (and now friend, hi Mel Joulwan!).
  • Or how about the time a couple of months ago when I sent an email to a transpersonal psychology professor who I’d never met, who informed me that the 2017 International Transpersonal Psychology Conference happens to be in Prague this year (for the first time in 25 years).
  • Or the time I saw an article in a magazine (that I usually don’t read) about a professor who was doing yoga research at Harvard Medical School - a professor who ended up hiring me 2 years later through a series of synchronicities?
  • Or the time I couldn’t leave the United States for months because my Canadian passport had expired, only to have FedEx show up with my new passport on the day that my mother-in-law passed away (a day that I happened to call in sick even though I wasn’t sick and even though I didn’t know yet that she had passed). Because I'd called in sick, I was home to receive my passport and could then travel to Canada to be with my husband.
  • Or the time my husband’s updated Czech passport arrived at the Czech consulate in Toronto in the morning of the day we were moving to Prague (after months of us waiting for it to arrive).
  • And let’s not even get started on the many times I’ve had dreams or hunches about people, only to have those people show up in my inbox - or in my face - shortly afterwards.
  • There was also the time a few months ago when I decided to make magic a more intentional aspect of my life, then went for tea with a friend and she pulled this tarot-style card for me (from a randomly shuffled deck):


 

 

I have more examples, but I think you get the point. And if you think hard enough, I bet you can come up with examples of similar types of events in your life. Seemingly magical ways that you met or felt pulled toward certain people or events, or times when things lined up for you in ways that you never could have imagined or forced to happen. Just reminding yourself about these types of events is often enough to put you back in touch with universal magic.

 

If I wanted to, I could choose to believe that all of these synchronicities were just random coincidences. And I’m objective enough to admit that this might in fact be true. But why not choose to believe that we live in a participatory and meaningful universe? Life is way more fun (and wild) that way.

 

The word “participatory” is very important here. You’ll notice that in all of the events above, I was participating. I put myself out there and then I let go and allowed the universe to respond. This is what I mean when I talk about concepts like stop trying so hard. You take inspired action, then you surrender and let the universe do its thing (which won’t always be what you think should happen). In my examples above, I submitted my resume, I signed up for the retreat, I decided to move to Prague, and I decided to contact professors. These decisions were often guided by nudges and intuitions that didn’t make logical (or financial) sense.

 

This is what going wild helps you do. It helps you get quiet enough to listen to these nudges - because these soulful, intuitive, heartfelt longings are the actions that the universe responds to with magic.

 

It’s like being the universe’s dance partner. A good dancer doesn’t go limp while her partner drags her across the floor. A good dancer feels into her partner’s natural flow and moves in kind with it. When you feel into your wildness, and take inspired action, the universe dances with you. Sometimes the results are beautiful. Other times they’re scary, or challenging, or tragic. But they always serve the evolution of your Soul.

 

The goal of this blog is to help you awaken your sacred animal body. Because, after all, humans are just wild animals masquerading in civilized clothing, surrounded by modern gadgets, craving the wildness and magic that is their true nature. It’s time for you to remember this part of yourself. It’s time for you to wake up.

 

What makes you feel wild? Where is the magic in your life today?

 

Find it. Do it. Be it.

 

 

 

Let's Get Real About Relationships (They Aren't What You See On Facebook)

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 3, 2017 at 4:15 AM

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A few weeks ago my husband and I were walking through a park in Prague and I noticed a couple taking a selfie. This in and of itself was nothing out of the ordinary (summer in Prague = an abundance of selfie sticks). However, as we got closer, I could hear the couple arguing. With a look of total exasperation the woman said to the man, “No, don’t look over THERE, look over HERE! And could you at least TRY to smile for god’s sake?” The man shifted his gaze, smiled, and she snapped the photo. Then they went on their way, obviously annoyed with each other and barely taking in the view.

 

As we passed the couple I thought about the future of that photo. I thought about how she would probably post it on Facebook, and how her friends and family would be excited to see the happy couple surrounded by a gorgeous European vista. Some friends might even get jealous - wishing that they had a relationship like hers or that they could get some time off work to travel. I felt like I’d been let in on a little secret. I was the only person, aside from the couple themselves, who knew that they were actually bickering moments before they captured the perfect shot.

 

The experience made me think of the many ways that we tell white lies to the world. For all I know, that couple probably has a great relationship and love each other deeply - but in that moment they presented a slightly false image to the world. Most of us do this on a regular basis, and I’m no exception. I’m a photo-holic and there are over 1,000 photos that I’m tagged in on my personal Facebook profile. Probably at least half of these photos are pictures of my husband and I smiling our big smiles, arms around each other, having a good time. We've traveled to over 20 countries together, and I try to capture perfect shots in every single one. In most of the photos we actually are having a good time. But sometimes we’re not.

 

Sometimes we’re jet lagged or arguing or exhausted. Like the time on our honeymoon when we got into an argument and then walked the entire length of the city walls around Dubrovnik, Croatia without saying a word to each other. Or the time in Santorini, Greece when we got annoyed with each other during our morning coffee - but we still managed to capture perfect shots like this one:

 

 

 

I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar. I’m not saying we’re all terrible liars who should never post happy pictures on Facebook. Instead, I’m trying to draw our attention to a subtle layer of non-truth that many of us perpetuate online. This behaviour is so insidious that we don’t realize we’re doing it. And I think it underlies a bigger problem.

 

The bigger problem is that many of us are ashamed to admit that our relationships aren’t perfect. We plaster our social media profiles with perfectly positioned, expertly filtered photos of our relationships and families in an effort to say to the world, “Look at us! We made it! We’re doing awesome things together and we’re so happy.” It’s almost as if we feel the need to put our relationships on display so that people on the other side of our screen can validate our worth.

 

I’ve always been fascinated by relationships (I even studied dating and married couples for my PhD), and this “online perfection” phenomenon is no exception. I’m curious why so many of us feel the need to portray our relationships in such a positive light, when the truth is often much murkier and more complex.

 

I’ve never given a speech at a wedding, and perhaps that’s a good thing, because I would probably say some version of what I’m about to write below. So let’s get real about relationships, shall we?

 

Marriage As a Paradox

 

I once heard someone say, “Sex is easy. Love is hard.” And if you think about it, you’ll realize it’s true. Of course, mind-blowing sex isn’t necessarily easy to accomplish, and sex is perhaps more of an art than a science, but once you get the basic mechanics down, you can choose to have sex without much effort, thoughtfulness, or presence. Love, on the other hand, is a tricky beast. It doesn’t have “mechanics” or a basic operating manual. Sometimes it creeps up slowly, other times it hits you out of the blue. Once you feel it, it’s hard to let it go. Love is easy when you’re inspired, feeling good about your partner, and having a nice time together. The true test is being able to remember your love when you’re pissed off, or when something tragic happens, or during the mundane routines of daily life.

 

I got married on July 17th, 2009 in the Stratford Ontario city hall, with 35 friends and family in attendance. The ceremony lasted 15 minutes and in truth I don’t remember much of it, but I do know that the words “for better or worse” were included in our vows. At the time, I knew what this meant intellectually. It meant that I would stand by my husband during all of the wonderful and challenging experiences that we would have in our life together. What I’ve learned over the past 14 years of our relationship, however, is that having an intellectual understanding of “for better or worse” is completely different from actually living it.

 

My life with my husband has been extremely blessed, but we’ve also seen our fair share of challenges. He stood by me for two years while I tried to get off antidepressants. He supported me while I worked to get my Masters and then my PhD. We’ve each lost one parent - my stepfather to an oxycontin overdose and his mom to cancer. We’ve seen each other through financial difficulties, existential crises, unemployment, career transitions, entrepreneurship, creative struggles, home ownership, scary medical results, cross-continent moves, wrinkles, age spots, grey hair and all the other lovely things that come along with aging.

 

During this time I’ve realized that marriage is actually a perfect paradox. Why? Because marriage is both the easiest and the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. Easy in the sense that I love my husband, we’re compatible, and we hold a deep love and respect for each other that flows like an underground current beneath everything we go through. Easy in the sense that we can gauge each other’s wants, needs, and moods based on a microscopic eyebrow movement or barely discernible change in tone of voice. But marriage is hard because we push each other’s buttons in exactly the right ways. We force each other to grow and evolve even when it’s uncomfortable. We vote on opposite ends of the political spectrum and always need to find ways to be inclusive of each other’s points of view. We live with the mundane drudgery of daily life (dirty laundry, chores, bills) while also trying to maintain a sense of passion and excitement.

 

I realize that most of the challenges we’ve experienced have been existential life stressors that only privileged people have the luxury of enduring. But they’ve been struggles, nonetheless.

 

I’m not the first person to write or speak about the complexities of marriage. In fact, research suggests that you can love and hate your partner at the exact same time. How’s that for a paradox?

 

Here are a few more examples. I recently finished reading Dani Shapiro’s memoir “Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage” in which she candidly articulates the sometimes difficult journey of her 18-year marriage. She shares the beautiful, passionate moments of her partnership while also revealing her process of coming to terms with, and forgiving, her relationship for not being the idealized fairytale that she’d originally had in mind. In the documentary “Dancing in the Flames,” Marion Woodman describes her and her husband as having had 5 different marriages to each other during their 50-plus-year marriage, based on a number of “deaths and rebirths” that they’d gone through individually and as a couple. Esther Perel’sMating in Captivity” (which I highly recommend for all married or soon to be married people) sheds light on another paradox of the modern monogamous marriage, namely that the erotic and the domestic often don’t mix. Perel explains how our needs for security and our needs for freedom are often at odds with each other throughout our entire relationship.

 

Marriage is, in all honesty, the work of a lifetime.

 

We Seek What We Want To Cultivate

 

As a young single woman I remember belting out the lyrics to Alanis Morissette’s “21 Things I Want In A Lover.” I sang this song with devotion, like a prayer to the universe. It was my attempt to call in “the one” who would assuage all my relationship woes. This is what Alanis and I were after in a partner:

 

Do you derive joy when someone else succeeds?

Do you not play dirty when engaged in competition?

Do you have a big intellectual capacity, but know that it alone does not equate wisdom?

Do you see everything as an illusion, but enjoy it even though you are not of it?

Are you both masculine and feminine?

Politically aware?

And don't believe in capital punishment?

Do you derive joy from diving in and seeing that loving someone can actually feel like freedom?

Are you funny?

Self-deprecating?

Like adventure?

And have many formed opinions?

Are you uninhibited in bed? More than three times a week? Up for being experimental?

Are you athletic?

Are you thriving in a job that helps your brother?

Are you not addicted?

Are you curious and communicative?

 

Today I can review this list and confirm that these are in fact many (though not all) of the qualities that I look for in a mate. More importantly, however, I now realize that these are actually qualities that I either like about myself or want to cultivate more of in myself. In other words, all of the things that you want your mate to be are usually characteristics that you wish you had more of yourself.

 

One of the primary tasks of marriage, then, is to focus on cleaning up your side of the street instead of lamenting about the faults of your partner. Anyone who’s been in a relationship for long enough knows that no matter how hard you try, you will not change your partner. Instead, you can focus on nourishing the qualities that you want to bring forth in yourself. Part of nourishing these qualities involves doing your best to show up in your relationship as the most authentic version of yourself that you can muster.

 

Embracing Authentic Partnership

 

None of my friends have been spared from challenges in their relationships - even though on the surface their relationships look great. In our most honest moments they tell me of doubts, infidelities, therapy, sexual dissatisfaction, addictions, fantasies, and annoyances. Make no mistake - you are surrounded by these people. They are the couple passionately making out in the park. They are the couple holding hands and looking blissful. They pass you on the street. They sit beside you at the office. And yes, they fill your Facebook feed.

 

Every single person who is involved in a relationship for any significant length of time has their fair share of problems. This isn’t a problem. The problem is that we pretend we don’t have problems. Not only do we pretend, but we feel ashamed of our issues. We feel inferior and wonder if we’re the only ones who don’t have a perfect partnership when in fact, our relationship issues might be one of the main things that we all have in common.

 

The solution to this situation isn’t going to be found in a new lover, or a weekend getaway, or some sexy lingerie. The solution comes from having the courage to stare your relationship issues in the face, with your partner, and walk through the flames together. This is what I mean by showing up as the most authentic version of yourself that you can muster. You might think you’re being super authentic and truthful in your relationship, but if you dig a little deeper you might notice otherwise. For example, what little white lies do you maintain in order to avoid revealing your real needs to your partner? What one thing are you most afraid to share with them? What part(s) of yourself are you hiding from them? Keep in mind that the things we’re scared or embarrassed to share with our partners are usually things we’re ashamed or judgemental of in ourselves.

 

Of all the personal development work I’ve done, this is by far the toughest task. Speaking from your soul - no holds barred - with the people you love puts you in an extremely vulnerable position. You open yourself to criticism, judgement and rejection. You expose the deepest, weakest, most fearful parts of yourself in the hope that your beloved will acknowledge those parts, take you into his or her arms, and love you anyway. Sometimes this happens, other times it doesn’t.

 

Your partner doesn’t necessarily need to agree with your authentic expression, but in order for the relationship to continue, he or she needs to come face to face with whatever hurts, fears, or insecurities your authenticity brings up in them. This takes a lot of emotional maturity, patience, wisdom, and understanding. Wisdom has, in fact, been defined as the ability to hold paradox. You and your partner need to fully acknowledge and embody the fact that you are a living paradox. You love and hate each other at the same time. You are perfectly matched and horribly incompatible. You are sexually attracted to each other and have fantasies about others. You adore your children and wish you had more time for yourselves. You are meant for each other and could have been meant for others if life had worked out differently. You want to be married and you long for freedom.

 

You are all of these things at the exact same time. You are a messy, living, breathing, human work of love.

 

My advice to you (and myself) is to get real about your relationship, both within the relationship itself and with how you present your relationship to the world. Let’s stop perpetuating the white lie of the perfectly happy couple. Post pictures on social media that come from a place of true joy, not a place of trying to prove how awesome your life is. The next time you feel inclined to share the perfect shot of you and your beloved, you could use the three gates of speech to assess your motivations. Ask yourself, is this picture true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? We can all feel the difference between photos that are coming from a place of inspiration, truth and joy versus photos that are forced. Let’s all start filling our feeds with Truth.

 

In addition to adding some integrity to your online persona, you can also start talking to your partner about your needs, your longings, your dreams, and your desires. Confide in your friends, family, partners and lovers about your doubts, insecurities, and fears. This is how authentic partnership happens.

 

Your Relationship As Your Teacher

 

 

The most important thing to remember is that unlike perfectly choreographed photos, authentic partnership doesn’t look pretty. There are arguments and tears. Your fears sometimes feel crippling. Your exposure, unbearable. You will wonder whether your relationship will make it. And you will need to come to terms with the fact that maybe it won’t. But the alternative would be to settle for a relationship that doesn’t acknowledge and embrace the authentic you. If your relationship can’t rise like a phoenix from the fires of Truth then you need to trust that it has run its course.

 

This poem by Michael Reid illustrates this point beautifully (note that I think gender is irrelevant in this poem - it could also be called “Dear Man” or be rewritten in a way that honors same-sex couples).

 

Dear Woman,

Sometimes

You’ll just be too much woman.

Too smart,

Too beautiful,

Too strong.

Too much of something

That makes a man feel like less of a man,

Which will start making you feel like you have to be less of a

woman.

The biggest mistake you can make

Is removing jewels from your crown

To make it easier for a man to carry.

When this happens, I need you to understand,

You do not need a smaller crown -

You need a man with bigger hands.

 

Know that your relationship, whether it continues or not, is one of your greatest teachers. In his blog “My Lover, My Guru, My Wife,” Jacob Nordby described it this way:

 

My new clarity wouldn’t allow me to lie anymore. I began to see my partner as a mirror of myself. A mirror so close, in fact, that I could no longer blame a single thing on her without seeing in that judgment an exact reflection of myself.

 

Oh, lover, my guru. You show me my deepest wound and brightest light. Your face appears wherever I look. If I should leave you and seek another, you will only change form but bring me always back again to the same unlearned lesson.

 

Oh, lover, my guru. Thank you for teaching me to love myself. Thank you for being a reflection of all that remains unresolved and asks for healing. I need not journey to far-off sacred places or beg for rice in saffron robes. Before me you stand with all the lessons I so dearly wish to avoid.

 

Oh, lover, my guru. I bless our moments of high bliss under star-woven skies. They remind me of a contract—made perhaps in some nonmaterial place—for us to meet and come together like this. Like this and also like all the other ways we rub and scratch and polish each other until the reflection is clear beyond words.

 

 

 

We Must Descend To Ascend

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 21, 2017 at 8:20 AM

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When I wrote my book, The Antidepressant Antidote, in 2010 I had big ambitions. I wanted to publish with Hay House, become a New York Times best-selling author, and eventually end up on Oprah. I think this type of “career trajectory” is shared by many in the self-help / personal development space. We believe strongly in our message, and we hope/trust that our work will reach a large audience. We’re encouraged to “build our platform” through online newsletters, inspirational Facebook posts, and stylized yoga-esque photos of ourselves on Instagram.

 

Personally, I’ve realized that as noble as these ambitions may seem, they are often personal needs masquerading in spiritual clothing.

 

In other words, the tendencies that drove me to work hard to finish my PhD, succeed in the corporate world, and do research at Harvard Medical School are the same tendencies that pushed me to try to grow my online platform, publish a best-selling book, and sell online products. My default is to put work above everything else and feel guilty if I’m not being productive. I’m not saying that the work I’ve done is bad or wrong - it’s just that many times it was coming from the wrong place.

 

Yes, I wanted to save the world. But I also wanted acknowledgment, recognition, accolades, and admirers. I wanted the world (aka the internet) to validate my worth. I wanted to feel good enough. In essence, I wanted to feel loved because I have trouble summoning that love from within myself.

 

Over the past several years I’ve been hearing a call from deep within that’s been asking me to slow down so that I can begin to approach my life and work in a new way. I now realize that my move to Prague in August 2015 marked the beginning of my descent into the unknown. Yes this sounds a tad esoteric, because it is. In fact, the rest of this blog is going to sound esoteric / metaphysical / spiritual / woo-woo, because it is. This is not an apology. Rather, this is an acknowledgement that I’m well aware of how strange these things might sound. I’m well-trained in the rigors of science that ask us to ignore these types of concepts. But as the saying goes, if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always gotten. I’m willing to open my mind to these ideas, and I hope you are, too.

 

 

 

Descending into the unknown is a process that I’ve come to know and experience as very real. It’s a phase that many of us go through at different times in our lives, and it typically involves shedding former layers of identity because they don’t work anymore. In essence, we become wanderers. In his book Soulcraft, Bill Plotkin describes it this way:

 

“The Wanderer creatively ventures into the dark depths, like Orpheus looking for Eurydice, to bring back to the day world what is yet unknown. The rules and conventions of society are not going to help the Wanderer do her work; new possibilities and patterns must be tapped. She allows her inner vision to take precedence over tradition. The task that lies before the Wanderer - retrieving her soul - is truly daunting.”

 

In her re-visioning of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” into “The Heroine’s Journey,” Maureen Murdock describes the descent into the unknown as “Initiation and Descent to the Goddess” and an “Urgent Yearning to Reconnect With the Feminine.” Sera Beak has described it as a “divine depression.” In his fantastic article called “Mutiny of the Soul,” Charles Eisenstein says,

 

“Depression, anxiety, and fatigue are an essential part of a process of metamorphosis that is unfolding on the planet today, and highly significant for the light they shed on the transition from an old world to a new.”

 

Some have argued that there is always sadness involved in the process of “waking up” to our true nature, which is love. As we begin to wake up, we realize that nothing outside of us - not a new car, or a lover, or an outfit, or a child - is going to bring us happiness. We begin to truly understand, deep within our bones, the cliche that happiness comes from within. We also begin to understand that love comes in many forms, both light and dark. In this article on the disappointment of waking up, Matt Licata describes it this way:

 

“You may be asked to provide sanctuary and safe passage for fear, uncertainty, doubt, and despair. These are the secret allies guarding the gate and have been placed on your path as disguised forms of love. They have not come to harm, but as portals into something new, quantum, vast, and non-controllable. Dare to see that things are not always as they appear. Relationships ending, dreams collapsing, careers recycling, the death of a family member, and the infinite symptoms of the somatic and emotional worlds … drenched in purpose, soaking in meaning. Evidence not of error, failure, or defeat, but of the relentlessly creative nature of love as it emerges here.”

 

This week I found out that one of my most loved teachers, Shakti Malan, passed away. In her final newsletter, sent just 8 days ago, Shakti described her initiation into the unknown:

 

“A key element of this transformation was the process of dismemberment: The way that I had put myself together in a very particular form, filtered through ancestral and family frameworks, and built on expectations of myself developed over a lifetime, was unpicked as an act of grace.”

 

As I mourn Shakti’s passing, I see within myself this same process of dismemberment. When I moved to Prague I left behind almost everyone I knew. This created a blank slate upon which I could paint. At first, I approached my life and work in much the same ways as I always had. I worked hard, felt productive, and gave myself permission to relax every once and awhile. However, over the past year, my body, mind and soul have made me painfully aware that my old masculine-dominated ways of operating simply aren’t going to cut it for me anymore. Every aspect of my life, from my career to my relationship to how I spend my free time, seems to be going through a massive overhaul.

 

And so I’ve been in a process of pruning and allowing things to die. I removed a lot of content from my website. I no longer scroll through social media. I’m being very selective about the books I read. My paid work has trickled to a minimum. I don’t seem to be motivated to work on much of anything. I seem to have been stripped of goals, fantasies, desires. I’ve been forced to ask myself questions like, “Who am I if I don’t have a big project or goal to work on? Who am I if I’m not actively trying to save the world? Who am I if I’m not pursuing something grand? Who am I if my bank account is struggling? Who am I if I don’t blog, or post often on Facebook, or write more books? Who am I if I don’t show/tell the world what I’m up to? Who am I if I don’t make a big impact?”

 

Sri Ramana Maharshi posed the question “Who am I” to himself so many times that his consciousness broke through and he reached enlightenment. Perhaps this will happen for me, but I’m not banking on it anytime soon. Instead, I’m sitting with these questions and allowing myself to feel the answers that scare me. Many times I simply feel empty. It’s a very odd (but very necessary) feeling for me to not have any major goals or projects. Little by little, I’m beginning to realize (at a deep, experiential level) that I don’t need to be on Oprah or write a best-selling book or get 500K likes on my blogs to make a difference in the world. In his article called “The Age of We Need Each Other” Charles Eisenstein describes the process of dismantling his ambitions:

 

“The first part was the disintegration of personal ambition. The second part was the disintegration of the ambition to do big things to change the world. I began to understand that our concepts of big impact versus small impact are part of what needs to be healed. Our culture validates and celebrates those who are out there with big platforms speaking to millions of people, while ignoring those who do humble, quiet work, taking care of just one sick person, one child, or one small place on this earth.”

 

Some people view the unraveling of ambitions and a descent and withdrawal from traditional society as naive or even mentally unstable. However, others hold that descent and withdrawal are the most sane and responsible things that a human can do when they have finally had enough of the dominant worldview. Eisenstein put it this way,

 

“What if there is something so fundamentally wrong with the world, the lives, and the way of being offered us, that withdrawal is the only sane response? Withdrawal, followed by a reentry into a world, a life, and a way of being wholly different from the one left behind?”

 

The most difficult part, therefore, is to wait patiently for this new and different life to unfold. Marion Woodman writes,

 

“It takes a strong ego to hold the darkness, wait, hold the tension, waiting for we know not what. But if we can hold long enough, a tiny light is conceived in the dark unconscious, and if we can wait and hold, in its own time it will be born in its full radiance.”

 

And so, my friends, I wait. Maybe you’re waiting, too. Today I felt called to share vulnerably from where I’m at in this moment - not with grand ambitions - but with the heartfelt and humble desire to reach others who might be experiencing their own descent. Let’s wait together and realize that our slowing down, our waiting, could be the most important thing we’ve ever done. Maureen Murdock shares,

 

“The heroine must become a spiritual warrior. This demands that she learn the delicate art of balance and have the patience for the slow, subtle integration of the feminine and masculine aspects of her nature. {…} This focus on integration and the resulting awareness of interdependence is necessary for each of us at this time as we work together to preserve the health and balance of life on earth.”

 

Here's to waiting together.

 

 

An End. And A Beginning.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 4, 2017 at 10:35 AM

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You might have noticed a sense of “lost-ness” that’s come up rather regularly in my blogs over the past 6 to 12 months. My reasons for feeling lost are varied. They are professional and personal, small and large, deep and shallow. And while I won’t go into all of the details here, I’d like to share a couple of themes that have been coming up for me during this time.

 

First, I feel like my tolerance for in-authenticity has reached an all-time low. I crave absolute honesty and integrity from everyone around me, including myself. My bullshit-meter has become lazer-sharp. I feel as if layers of illusion are being removed from my eyes. Illusions about my identity, my work, my relationships and my life in general. I don’t seem to be able to tolerate the un-true - even tiny white lies feel so false that they make my skin crawl.

 

I’ve been blogging for years about accessing my True Self / Soul, but it feels like lately my True Self has been turning up the volume. She wants me to see (and say) things as they truly are. No sugar-coating, no faking, no games, no staying small so that I won’t rock the boat.

 

Second, I have a strong desire to simplify my life. I tend to consume information like a ravenous beast, but lately I feel like I’m on information overload. I spend way too much time in my mind. And I’ve realized that sometimes I use my mind as a way to escape from my life. I overthink and over-analyze to avoid feeling. To avoid living. To avoid being fully present with whatever is happening in this moment. Like many people, I also use the internet to escape. I scroll through Instagram and Facebook looking for a “hit” of inspiration - to the point that it has started to feel like an addiction.

 

I have a desire to pull back - WAY back - from many of my daily structures and behaviors. I want to pull way back from my online presence and my identity as “bethanybutzer.com.” Because who is bethanybutzer.com, anyway? Supposedly she’s an “author, speaker, researcher and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love.” But this is starting to feel stale and cheesy to me. Because in reality, Bethany Butzer is a human being who does her best to present herself authentically online, but the persona you perceive and the images that you see on your screen aren’t really “me.” They are a digital version of me.

 

I have a desire to fully inhabit my life as it is being lived in every moment - as opposed to living in two worlds (one digital; one “real” ).

 

I want to start from scratch. A blank slate.

 

This begs the question, what does Bethany Butzer (the human) REALLY want to do with her “one wild and precious life?” I’ll tell you right now that sitting in front of a computer most days simply isn’t cutting it. I don’t know exactly what it is that I want to be doing with my time, but I feel like I need to start stripping layers away so that I can find out.

 

Here's what I don't want. I don’t want to offer 5-step processes to help you create a life you love because the truth of the matter is that there is no simple 5-step process. Each of our lives are so unique that the only person who can answer your Soul’s desires is you. I don’t want to be a slick self-help guru who publishes cheesy New York Times bestselling books. I don’t want to feel pressured to “grow my online platform.” I don’t want to “monetize my passion.”

 

Most of all, I don’t want you to think that I have the answers. Because I don’t.

 

What do I want? I want to be me. In all of my mess, all of my vulnerability, and all of my honesty, in the hope that at a bare minimum, my mess will help others feel less alone. Perhaps, as Amber Rae says, “My mess is my message.”

 

What do I want? I want to feel turned-on. Not only in a physical sense, but turned on to life in general. I want to feel alive, energized, and excited about what I’m doing, how I’m living, and who I spend my time with. As Michael Singer describes in his book The Untethered Soul, I want to access my infinite energy by keeping my heart open and my mind quiet.

 

I think it's finally time to put my concept of Stop Trying So Hard into practice in my daily life.

 

In the interest of pulling way back, simplifying my life, and cultivating my turn-on, I’ve decided to go on an “information fast.” I’m not going to be posting on (or scrolling through) Facebook or Instagram for awhile (this social media fast will start soon, and I’m not sure how long it will last). I’m going to unsubscribe from a lot of newsletters. I’m going to keep my workload at a minimal level. This is going to be tough for me - but it feels necessary.

 

There are a few resources that helped me with this decision process. The first was a video by Anaiya Sophia about Knowing When To Stop. The second was this article on living from our deepest knowing by Dorothy Hunt (posted on the Science and Non-Duality blog) - especially this quote:

 

“To the Western mind, living without a goal, without a map, having “nowhere to go and nothing to do” sounds like sheer madness—boring at best, lazy, irresponsible, uncaring, and an invitation to chaos at worst. But nothing could be further from the truth. It might mean we are finally available for Truth to move spontaneously within us, allowing action to come from the dimension of our being that is at peace. Doing is coming from Being. It does not mean living stupidly, or passively, or being unable to make plans. It means not being attached to those plans. It means being open to what is here now rather than judging it, being curious rather than fearful about this moment’s expression. It means being authentic, real, engaged, and intimate with experience.

 

To live from our natural state means discovering that there is no map for how to live. The voice that always asked “how?” has been quieted, and we are living more and more directly from the Mystery that is whole and undivided. This mystery of our Being is deeply and unflinchingly present to the moment as it appears, and thus can move with an intelligence, wisdom, compassion and love unknown to the mind that seeks to be in control.”

 

The third was a short article (also from Science and Non-Duality) by Vera de Chalambert that has the best title ever: Truth is An Orgasm You Can’t Fake. I’m pasting the entire article here because it’s so good:

 

“Everyone is suddenly a ‘spiritual teacher’ these days pushing the proverbial crack of ’empowerment’. And even though you have indeed come with gifts to offer, like sex, spiritual teaching shouldn’t be engaged in until every cell of Reality is begging for it, calling for you by name. Until she makes her advances, cooks your heart in her furnace, burns up your false dreams and forcing currents, leaves you breathless and speechless and unable to long for anything less. Ever.

 

Until then, please stop. Be quiet. Stay close to the ground. Ripen. Don’t “step into your power.” Rest into your vulnerability. Stop marketing sand in a desert. Get weary and tired and thirsty. Feel the humility of death in the scorching sun. Then, let the longing for the Real guide you… you might die, but you might get water from a rock. Taste it. Let it taste you. Then you can’t help but devote your life to Water.

 

Otherwise you become just another pawn of the patriarchy; a dead thing selling smoke, high on the violence of certainty. Pushing your agenda, your brand of half truths upon parched, suffering beings. Don’t let the culture of rape speak through you. Soften and worship until God is enflamed. And flowing. Stay in the unknown until freedom takes you through every orifice.

 

Truth is an orgasm we can’t fake.”

 

And so I feel like I’m entering a cocoon - or an incubation period - while I wait for my Soul to tell me what’s next. At the moment I’m a gooey half-caterpillar, half-butterfly that needs time to fully gestate. As Tama Kieves shares in this blog:

 

“The artist Pablo Picasso wrote, ‘Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.’ And the philosopher Nietzsche said, ‘You must become a chaos before giving birth to a shining star.’ These are not poetic elaborations. They are descriptions of how a metamorphosis works. First, things fall apart before they fall together.”

 

 

 

By the way, in case you’re worried about me, please don’t be. This is a naturally occurring down-point in the sine wave of life. I’ve inhabited these down-curves often enough that I now recognize them for what they are. I’m not depressed or suicidal. I’m not losing my mind. Actually, maybe I am losing my mind. In the best possible way.

 

I have no idea where this journey is going to take me. Perhaps I’ll emerge with a new mission for bethanybutzer.com. Maybe I’ll have a flash of insight for a new book. Or maybe there won’t be any discernible “end product.” After all, T.S. Eliot put it perfectly when he said,

 

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

 

This might be an end. Or perhaps it’s a beginning. Because T.S. Eliot also said:

 

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

 

And so I deliberately create space. An ending. And a beginning.

 

 

PhDs and Scattered CVs: Academia is Ready for a Change

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 21, 2017 at 11:20 AM

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When I respond to questions about my professional background and current job, my answer often involves keywords like “Harvard,” "PhD," “consulting,” “research,” “psychology,” “yoga,” and “Prague.” These words make it sound like I have my shit together and even (perhaps) like I live an interesting life. And while this is true (to some extent) I think it’s important to highlight the underbelly of a career that has often left me feeling confused, scared and unsuccessful (and a tad crazy).

 

Perhaps we can start with the time in 2014 when I applied for 40 tenure-track professor positions and didn’t get a single interview. When I applied for these 40 positions I was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School, I had good reference letters, I’d won lots of scholarships and awards, and I had a reasonable looking CV with a decent number of first-author publications.

 

So how is it possible that not a single university was interested in hiring me?

 

There were probably several reasons. My research area was a bit "woo-woo" (I was studying yoga in school settings), I’d changed research topics several times throughout my career, I’d taken a break from academia to work in the corporate world, and in some ways my CV looked like a train wreck. Or maybe a more accurate way to describe it would be that my CV resembled a series of interesting professional roles that were vaguely associated, with large gaps in-between “real” jobs. The gaps represented times when I’d worked as an entrepreneur teaching yoga, writing a book, and consulting independently. I even worked at a garden center for a little while. To help explain these gaps during job interviews, a professor once told me to say that I’d taken time off from academia for “family reasons” (AKA to have children). I don’t have children, but most HR policies won’t allow an interviewer to directly ask whether you have kids, so my colleague thought this would be a good idea.

 

I thought it sounded ridiculous.

 

These types of white lies and professional “illusions” are part of what’s given me a distaste for working for anyone other than myself. I don’t want to have to fake a “proper” career trajectory in order to get a “real” job.

 

The problem is that my relationship with academia has been like a terrible teenage romance. Academia and I are so on again off again that no one can keep track of our relationship status (not even Facebook). There have been times when academia has felt exciting and fulfilling to me, and other times when I feel so stifled and suffocated that I can’t breathe. When academia didn’t call me back after my 40 job applications I even went so far as to drop everything and move to a cabin in the woods to escape my heartbreak. I’ve “dated” small universities, mid-tier universities, and some of the best universities in the world. But the story always ends with a break-up.

 

Academia: A Field In Need of a Change

 

When I try to make sense of the various parts of my CV I realize that the golden threads that tie everything together are research and personal development. Why? Because I love asking questions and searching for answers. My mom tells me that I used to ask “why” about so many things when I was younger that it drove her crazy. The only way she could handle me was to strap me into the child seat on the back of her bicycle and ride around town so that the noise would drown out my constant questions. My aunt tells me that her and I used to sit and stare at the night sky and I would ask endless questions about the stars, the moon, and where people go when they die (this was at age 4). Even now, at age 37, I sometimes put my husband to sleep with my endless musings about the potential secrets of the universe (but it’s ok because he puts me to sleep with his endless musings about soccer).

 

My obsession with “why” is what led me into academia. I’ve jumped from research topic to research topic because I like to ask “why” about everything. I get bored if I’m forced to keep asking why about the same topic over and over. This makes my CV look bad, but it makes me feel good to stretch my wings and learn new things. Zora Neale Hurston described my situation perfectly when she said, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”

 

But there’s an issue I’ve noticed from working in a variety of research settings: I think we’re going about our research the wrong way (at least within Psychology). I’ll say right from the outset that I don’t know what the “right” way is. But I keep coming back to the assertion that there has to be a better way.

 

 

 

One of the main things that I find troubling about academia is how isolated we all are. We work in our individual labs, splitting hairs over the tiniest minutia of research questions, publishing in journals that the general public can’t access (thus very few people read our work). We compete with each other for grant money, space, publications, and prestige instead of collaborating to move our fields forward. We’re reinventing the wheel in isolation as opposed to working together.

 

Sometimes I feel like all we’re doing is contributing to society's information overload. And what’s the purpose of all this information anyway? Do we really need to develop more 5-point Likert scale questionnaires? Is it really all that important to prove an obscure theory that doesn’t make much of a difference for the world as a whole? Some have argued that research in Psychology follows a logarithmic curve in which a lot of progress was made in the early years of the field, and now we’re just adding very small increments of knowledge on top of larger theories that were already established.

 

Personally, I believe that researchers think too much. We’re way too stuck in our minds. Over the past few years I’ve been on a journey to spend less time in my mind and more time in my body. It’s amazing how I’ve ignored the intelligence of my body by placing logic, reason and mental capabilities above everything else. I’m quick on my feet mentally, but completely uncoordinated physically. My mind is like a thoroughbred racehorse while my body has been patiently waiting to get out onto the track. Proponents of transpersonal research methods (specifically intuitive inquiry) suggest that our bodies can actually be important research tools. As Rosemarie Anderson writes:

 

“Too often, the scientific discourse of Euro-America tends to suppress and discourage intuitive processes, especially body-based knowings such as proprioception and kinaesthesia. This deep listening to intuition in research has a greater capacity to unfold into new ways of theorizing and envisioning that are closer to lived experience than do the rationalistic styles that dominate much of world culture and scientific discourse.”

 

By adding body-based inquiry to my professional life, I’ve realized that my interests in sacred sexuality, specifically the masculine and feminine energies that exist within and around us, are not only part of my spiritual life, but my professional life as well. I’ve realized that academia has been operating for the last 100 years (or more) on a masculine model that emphasizes competition and individuality. This masculine model doesn’t need to be completely demolished. Instead, it needs to be blended with feminine approaches that emphasize connection and interconnectedness. As Dorit Netzer suggests,

 

“…in the union of [conventional] masculine and feminine perspectives, [intuitive inquiry] seeks to balance structure and flexibility, exterior and interior, reason and emotion, thinking and feeling, discernment and holism.”

 

I think that female researchers, along with their open-minded male colleagues, are going to play a key role in bringing the feminine back into academia. Indeed, in her study of the role of the body in the psycho-spiritual development of female mystics, Vipassana Esbjorn-Hargens suggests that women are teachers of conscious embodiment and that sexuality is integral to this embodiment.

 

I believe that bringing the body and intuition back into the research process is going to be crucial for moving psychology forward. Of course, there will always be a place for the rigorous, “unbiased” research methods that we’ve all come to know and love. But there’s a place for subjectivity, too. After all, what is a hypothesis other than an educated guess about what you think might happen? Keep in mind that many researchers study topics that are of deep personal interest to them, and many of us arrive to our fields with biases in hand. In his book “The Wounded Researcher,” Robert Romanyshyn suggests that research is soul/spiritual work in that many of us study our own deep, unconscious wounds. Romanyshyn writes,

 

“The work that the researcher is called to do makes sense of the researcher as much as he or she makes sense of it. Indeed, before we understand the work we do, it stands under us. Research as a vocation, then, puts one in service to those unfinished stories that weigh down upon us individually and collectively as the wait and weight of history. As a vocation, research is what the work indicates. It is re-search, a searching again of what has already made its claim upon us and is making its claim upon the future.”

 

Let’s take my personal research trajectory as an example. My undergraduate thesis focused on Asperger’s disorder and Autism largely because I’d seen examples of these disorders in my family. I pursued a Masters degree in clinical Psychology focusing on anxiety and depression because of my personal experiences with these disorders. I pursued a PhD in romantic relationships because of crushing heartbreaks and dysfunctional relationships I’d been through in the past. I study yoga and mindfulness in schools to help youth avoid going through what I went through with anxiety and depression.

 

But I’m totally unbiased about the topics I study, right? Wrong.

 

I often come back to a question I’ve been asking myself since my undergraduate degree. Specifically, is it even possible for humans to study themselves? Would we expect a cat to have the ability to study itself? Do we really think that human emotion and behaviour can fit neatly into the boxes of a 2 x 2 research design? Perhaps we lack a certain level of (meta)awareness necessary to unbiasedly do research on ourselves (or to even ask the right research questions to begin with). Or perhaps we lack the appropriate scientific methods…maybe humans are so complex that we can’t use the same empirical approaches to study ourselves as we use to study particles in a vacuum.

 

Academia: A Saturated Job Market

 

Let me bring this topic back to earth by sharing how I see the academic job market today. Right now I see many young people going to graduate school because they don’t know what else to do. They get a Masters or a PhD to prolong their education because they doubt they’ll be able to get a job with only a BA or BSc (little do they know it will probably be just as difficult to get a job with a PhD). Many people pursue a graduate degree because they’ve bought into university marketing programs with hip looking ads that convince them that a Masters or PhD would be a good idea.

 

Universities operate as businesses just like any other business. They want your tuition money whether you get a job afterwards or not. So we end up with lots of graduates with PhDs and not enough jobs. Many people (myself included) end up cobbling a “career” together by doing multiple postdoctoral fellowships, teaching courses at several institutions, and doing their best to make ends meet. Then, when they apply for academic jobs, they’re looked down upon because their CVs are scattered. Graduates are doing their best to survive, but they're having trouble getting jobs. And when they do land part- or full-time work, they aren’t being paid nearly as much as they’re worth.

 

 

There’s something seriously wrong with this picture. And it needs to change.

 

My "Solution"

 

The way that I’ve “solved” this issue is by becoming what you might call an “independent professor.” I do research and I teach, but I’m not employed full-time by an academic institution. I ask my clients to pay me what I’m worth and I only teach courses that I’m passionate about. I do this because I refuse to contribute to a system that I don’t agree with. I want to do research that has a real impact on the world and I want to be compensated fairly, in a manner that suits my talents. I refuse to follow the bullshit illusions that tell me I need to work at a top-tier university or have a perfect career trajectory to be taken seriously. I want to make my own schedule, have lots of downtime, and contribute to meaningful work. I want to use my intuition and my body-based knowings to inform my research questions and even my results. I want to blend masculine and feminine approaches to research in the hopes of helping explain the complexity of this beautiful universe.

 

In essence, I want my life and my career to be a work of art that inspires me (and others) in the process. I want to help all of us access our full potential - our true masculine and true feminine - so that we can flourish and thrive personally and professionally.

 

And so I willingly admit that I don’t have my shit together, at least not in a traditional sense. I worry about money and retirement and how I’m perceived by my colleagues. My CV is a train wreck and I don’t know where my career trajectory is going. Perhaps I’m creating a new trajectory that others with PhDs can follow. Or perhaps someday I’ll find a university that welcomes faculty like me. What I do know is that I have a deep dissatisfaction with how things are being done in my field. And I want to do things differently. I’m determined to find a “better way” to live and work.

 

How about you? You might not be a researcher, but there are probably aspects of your line of work that you wish were different. What can you do to help facilitate these changes? How might you use your skills in a new way to move your field forward? How can you make your personal and professional lives a work of art that inspires other people to innovate and live their truth?

 

It’s time for you to embody your authenticity and bring it into your career. We’re ready for a change.

 

 

Three Tips To Tap Into Your Sacred Sexual Energy

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 24, 2017 at 5:00 AM

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A couple of months ago I wrote my first blog on the topic of sacred sexuality. It was a blog that I was nervous to publish, but (to my surprise) it ended up receiving quite a bit of support. So I’ve decided to open the door a little more by sharing three basic practices that I’ve been using in these initial stages of my journey. This blog is written for women, but I think it’s important for men to read these words, too. Why? Because if your partner happens to be a woman, it will help you learn about her (and your) sacred sexual nature.

 

First I need you to know that the intention of these practices is NOT to boost your sex drive or give you 5-hour orgasms or help you perform magical tantric sex tricks for your partner. In fact, it could be argued that these practices have little to do with physical sexual intercourse at all. At it’s core, sacred sexuality is an inside job. In other words, it’s not about pleasing your partner or attracting the man/woman of your dreams. It’s about getting in touch with the sacred creative life force that exists within you (and within everything/everyone around you). No one owns your sexuality - not even your long-term romantic partner - and if you engage in these practices solely to please him/her then you’re missing the point. Your sexuality is sovereign - it is yours and yours alone - to be used how you see fit. In its most elemental form, your sexual energy is a vital aspect of your creative spark (and the creative spark of the universe).

 

When I say that your sexual energy is to be used as you see fit, I don’t mean that it’s ok to use sex in an unethical way. This is, in fact, the dark side of some teachings of sacred sexuality. We’ve all heard of ashrams and communities led by charismatic “gurus” who use sex to manipulate and control their followers. That’s not what I’m writing about here. I’m writing about using your sexual life force with integrity, in a clean, clear, authentic, direct way, to enhance your sense of aliveness as a woman and, if you choose to, enhance the aliveness of your partner(s) and the world.

 

Tapping into your feminine life-force is one of many ways that you can serve yourself and the world. Some people honour the sacred by becoming monks/nuns, or through prayer, or art, or singing, or dancing. If the practices that I share in this blog don’t resonate with you, drop them. On the other hand, if you’re intrigued and want to learn more, keep reading.

 

These tips are easy and straightforward, mainly because I want to make them accessible. I don’t want to share a bunch of “woo-woo” tactics that will send you running for the hills. However, I will say that these practices can open the door to woo-woo if you decide you want to go that route. But for now, let’s keep it simple.

 

 

Tip #1: Move Your Hips (Every Day)

 

Most women are taught to restrict the movement of their hips. This teaching is so subtle and insidious that we hold it at a subconscious level and rarely realize we’re acting it out in our daily lives. Here's an example. When walking down the street, it’s likely that you don’t sway your hips much from side to side. Why not? There are probably a multitude of reasons, but I believe one of them is that we don’t want to attract the “wrong type” of attention. We don’t want to look “too sexy,” or “slutty,” or provocative. I’m sure we’ve all come across a woman who was walking confidently, swaying her hips, perhaps dressed a tad provocatively - and assumed that she was out to get laid (or a bimbo, or superficial, or a prostitute). We try not to stare at her, but we want to stare at her. Why? Because she is reflecting back to us our natural sensuality and beauty as women.

 

The result of not exercising our full range of movement is that many women have a deep, chronic tightness in their hips / pelvic area. Some people call this “body armouring.” In a sense, we feel the need to protect this delicate area of our body, so we constrict it and shut it down. Most women have been violated in one way or another at some point in their lives. This violation can take the form of rape or sexual harassment or more “mundane” behaviours acted out by other people or even the media. At the very least, almost all of us have had the experience of a stranger touching us in an uninvited way (if you’ve ever spent time on a dance floor, this has definitely happened to you). Even when this touch doesn’t have malicious intent, it makes an energetic mark. Years of this type of touching can cause us to build up layer upon unconscious layer of body armour. Personally, I’ve been doing yoga for years, and my hips are one of the most flexible areas of my body, but I’ve realized that there’s a whole other layer of tightness underneath. It’s a subtle layer, built up from years - and perhaps lifetimes - of energetic contraction and constriction.

 

 

At their most relaxed and natural state, women are receptive creatures. The act of physical sexual intercourse between a man and a woman provides a perfect example. Here's why. There is a completely different physicality and energy between penetrating versus being penetrated. Being penetrated can feel quite vulnerable, even in long-term, loving relationships. To be fully present for her male partner, a woman needs to be relaxed, open, and receptive. She needs to trust the intentions of the person who is about to penetrate her. At an energetic level, she is allowing her partner into the mystery and sacredness of her inner world. When her inner world is constricted (physically and/or energetically) it is difficult for her to open up to her partner and to her own divine sexual nature.

 

One easy way to get back in touch with your natural sexual energy is to move your hips every day. When I say “move your hips” I don’t necessarily mean exercising or doing yoga (although these are decent options if that’s what you feel most comfortable with to start). What I really mean is moving your hips in a way that would make your mother (or maybe grandmother) blush. You can do slow, sensual circles, you can “twerk,” you can writhe on the ground, you can belly dance. The exact movement doesn’t matter - as long as it helps you tap into your sensual energy.

 

I tend to do this in two main ways: while meditating and while dancing. In the past, when I meditated I sat very still and chastised myself for making even the most subtle of movements. These days my meditation involves a bit of sitting still mixed with moving my hips (while sitting). I move in slow circles and back and forth. I allow my back to arch and curl, and I allow my upper body to follow along. Sometimes I go to a private spot in my apartment, put on some sensual music, and move my hips some more. I allow my body to move freely in whatever way it wants/needs to move.

 

If it helps, you can imagine yourself as the most beautiful manifestation of femininity that the world has ever seen. You can imagine something that you long for, and dance as a devotion to your longing (watch this video by Anaiya Sophia for more on movement for longing). With these visualizations in mind, you won’t be able to resist moving your hips in the ways that they are meant to move as a woman.

 

What is the point of all this gyration? It’s to help unwind years of conditioning that have trained you to constrict and contain your natural feminine essence. Sacred sexuality isn’t about learning new tips or tricks, it’s about remembering who you really are. It’s about returning to your true sexual nature without guilt, without shame, and without other people’s opinions of what your sexuality should be. Moving and stretching your hips will help you release deep areas of physical tension (such as your psoas muscle, or “soul muscle” ) as well as emotional tension. So get moving! And when I say every day, I mean every. day. Move your hips even when you feel bloated or unsexy - just make the movements a little more gentle. As you regularly engage in this simple practice, you’ll probably start to notice more subtle forms of energy emanating from your hips and moving up your body - this is your subtle sexual life-force.

 

 

Tip #2: Prioritize Pleasure

 

We women have a nasty habit of over-giving to everyone else at the expense of ourselves. We take care of our partners, our children, and even our pets before thinking of taking a moment for us. In fact, we often feel guilty when we do things “just for us,” as if the universe (or friends, or family) are going to admonish us for being bad parents or bad spouses or simply being an all around selfish person. But as I say all the time, there is such a thing as good selfishness. When you take care of your own needs, you give yourself the energy to be there for others.

 

I know you’re busy. I am too. When I say “prioritize pleasure,” I don’t mean you need to take off for a solo vacation to Costa Rica (although that would be awesome!). What I mean is that you can start to fill your life with simple pleasures. Things that are quick and easy to do, but that make you feel good.

 

I bring simple pleasures into my life in a few different ways. Sometimes I buy myself flowers, or I take a bubble bath. I make sure that the products I use on my skin and hair are as healthy for my body (and the planet) as possible. I diffuse essential oils to make my work space feel like a spa. I buy high quality teas that I really enjoy. I’m a very scent-oriented person, so every morning after I shower I “anoint” my body with scents that inspire and suit me (my favourite has always been vanilla). I wear clothes that feel soft and comfortable on my skin. I listen to music while I work. I cook food that nourishes my body and soul. Note that this doesn’t mean I diet or that I’m vegan - sometimes my Soul wants me to drink green smoothies and eat tofu, and other times it wants me to drink red wine with steak followed by dark chocolate - so I listen and obey.

 

There are lots of ways that you can bring simple pleasures into your life, even if you have limited time and/or a tight budget. Hey, masturbation is free and can be done pretty quickly if need be! Seriously though, one of your simple pleasures could be to give yourself an orgasm a few times per week, or even every day (read this article for a hilarious take on the potential importance of women orgasming every day). Whatever your simple pleasures are, try to make sure they’re things that are simply for you - no one else. So for example, you might think that one way to introduce a simple pleasure is to spend more time reading to your son because it’s something you enjoy doing. This is all fine and good (yes, read more with your son!) but you need to invest time and energy into pleasurable things that are really just for you. Get a pedicure or a massage, or give yourself 5 minutes to enjoy your coffee uninterrupted.

 

You can take this practice a step further by paying attention to what would feel most pleasurable in any given moment - even during difficult moments. As Jennifer Posada often says, even crying on the floor feels better with a pillow. This practice helps you develop of form of “pleasure-based mindfulness.” In other words, you tune into the present moment and see what would feel most pleasurable for you right now. And now. And now. Maybe your office chair is bothering your back and you need to lower it. Maybe you need to close your eyes for 5 seconds to give yourself a break from the glare of your computer screen. Maybe you need to take a deep breath.

 

The point of this pleasure-seeking is to acknowledge the pursuit of pleasure as a spiritual, and sacred, practice. As women, we are built for pleasure. Seriously. Your clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings that have no other known purpose aside from bringing you pleasure. As a woman, when you fill your pleasure meter, you become radiant. You also become better able to serve others because your well is full. Pleasure puts you in touch with your deep creative potential and opens you up to possibility.

 

 

Tip #3: Get To Know Yourself “Down There”

 

Women receive very mixed messages about their pussies. (Note that I’ve chosen to use the word “pussy” here in the way that Mama Gena uses it in her book Pussy: A Reclamation). On the one hand, we’re taught that our pussies are ugly. We’re told they’re hairy, smelly, bloody, and generally confusing. Compared to the (relatively) straightforward penis, our pussies are mysterious. There are too many folds of skin, too many hidden aspects, too much unknown, so it’s easier to just ignore the whole thing. We’re taught to hide our pussies and to not pay attention to what our pussies want out of fear of being labeled slutty.

 

On the other hand, we’re surrounded by pussy all day, every day, mostly through advertising and media. We’re bombarded with hyper-sexual images of women all the time, but we aren’t allowed to be these women (because that would be slutty). Over centuries, people have murdered and fought wars over wanting pussies, but on some level many of us think that our own unique pussy is gross.

 

My invitation to you is this: get to know (and hopefully love) your pussy. If you’re the more practical, scientific type, you can start by getting to know your anatomy. Do you know (like, really know) where your clitoris is? How about the difference between your clitoral hood and your clitoral head? What about your cervix? Your vulva? Labia? Vagina? Grab a hand mirror and take a look at yourself down there. Or spend a little extra time with your pussy in the shower. There are even websites that can help you learn more about your anatomy and pleasure, check out OMGYES for example.

 

At first this might seem weird. You might even get grossed out or feel self-critical. If this happens, remind yourself that the jewel between your legs is a coveted treasure - a treasure that men (and women) have yearned for over lifetimes. Pussies around the world have inspired poetry, war, and devotion beyond measure. So start giving your pussy the love that she deserves!

 

Another practical step (if you’re pre-menopausal) is to start tracking your monthly cycles. There are apps to help with this (I use one called Lunacycle). Women aren't taught to pay much attention to the 28-day cycle that we go through each month. On the contrary, we're encouraged to "push through" any bad moods, irritability, headaches, tiredness, and cramps so that we can be productive members of society. We're taught to "suck it up" and basically ignore the fact that we are women. But the truth of the matter is that our hormones go through pretty significant changes each week, and by acknowledging these changes we can help ourselves go with the flow of life instead of pushing against it. As Dr. Christiane Northrup describes:

 

 

“The menstrual cycle is the most basic, earthy cycle we have. Our blood is our connection to the archetypal feminine. The macrocosmic cycles of nature, the waxing and waning, the ebb and flow of the tides and the changes of the seasons, are reflected on a smaller scale in the menstrual cycle of the individual female body. The monthly ripening of an egg and subsequent pregnancy or release of menstrual blood mirror the process of creation as it occurs not only in nature, unconsciously, but in human endeavor. In many cultures, the menstrual cycle has been viewed as sacred.”

 

Read the rest of Dr. Northrup’s blog for more details, but here’s a super quick summary of some of the aspects of our cycles. When we’re ovulating we tend to feel sexy and energetic, when we’re pre-menstrual we get irritated by people/situations that push our boundaries, and when we’re menstrual we need to give ourselves time to rest. While you might not be able to take three days off work every time you menstruate, you can do small things to make your life more comfortable during this phase, like preparing meals in advance or wearing comfortable clothing (even dress pants can be comfortable if you find the right pair!).

 

I’ve started paying attention to my cycle in a few ways. Every morning I meditate in front of an “altar” of items that are personally meaningful to me. I change the items each week to honour the current phase of my cycle and to remind myself to pay attention to my cyclical nature. I track my cycle using an app that helps me see the phases of my cycle in relation to the current phase of the moon. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the moon goes through a 28-day cycle each month (just like women), and others agree. Paying attention to my body in this way has helped me be gentle on myself when I need to be, and tap into my natural energy when it’s highest. If you want to learn more about the importance of your cycle, check out Shakti Malan’s course on Entering the Wisdom of Women’s Sexual Cycles and Alisa Vitti’s work.

 

Getting to know the practical aspects of your pussy is all fine and good, but you can take this even further. As Mama Gena suggests, you can start talking to your pussy. Take a quick look at her in the mirror before you hop in the shower and say, “Good morning, gorgeous!” Let me tell you from experience that this is going to feel weird, and you might start to question your sanity. But there is something about acknowledging the existence of your pussy that feels so good. It’s as if by acknowledging her existence, you are righting an ancient wrong that has taught you to ignore her.

 

You can go even further by asking her questions and “listening” to what she has to say. In addition to having “gut instincts,” I’ve come to realize that we women also have “pussy instincts.” It can take some time to remember these instincts (the practices above will help) but eventually you’ll start to notice her “voice.”

 

You can try it right now. Do a couple of the practices that I listed in Tip #1 and #2. Then think about a situation in your life that you are unsure about, and ask your pussy a question about the situation. Place your hand on (or hover it over) your pussy. Take a few deep breaths and see if you can tap into her energy. Her response might come as a feeling in your heart or your stomach. Or you might actually hear some sort of voice. Or an idea or image might suddenly pop into your head. Or she might motivate you to write her answer in your journal. Don’t panic if you don’t get a response - our pussies are generally shy from years of us ignoring them. Be gentle with yourself and eventually you will start to feel/hear her. Yes, this last bit is a tad woo-woo, but I couldn’t resist

 

 

Bringing It All Together

 

In this blog I’ve done my best to give you a few easy techniques you can start implementing today to begin tapping into your sacred sexuality as a woman. These tips might seem simple, but they’re powerful. Moving your hips, prioritizing pleasure, and getting to know your pussy will open new doors for you if you practice consistently. Again, I’m not saying you’re going to become a better lover or have mind-blowing orgasms (although this is possible). The reality is that your partner might not even notice a difference in you - at least not at first. But eventually, if they are tuned into you enough, they will start to sense something going on beneath the surface. They might not be able to name it, but they will feel it. At that point, you can choose to engage them in your journey, or continue to fly solo for as long as you see fit. It’s up to you.

 

In the meantime, if you’re interested I encourage you to learn more about this topic. A few teachers who have inspired me in this area are Shakti Malan, Jennifer Posada, Mama Gena, and Anaiya Sophia. I would also love to hear from you! What have your experiences been with sacred sexuality? Have you tried any of the tips above? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

It's Time To Share Your Truth

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 3, 2017 at 5:00 AM

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Back in November I shared a few details about my current journey into the unknown. Part of this journey has involved a deep exploration into who I am, what I want, and how I can be of service in the world. I am still very much in this dark, murky exploration, and very few answers have revealed themselves. However, one consistent response seems to arise when I ponder questions about what I'm here to do.

 

I am here to tell the Truth.

 

I'm still not exactly sure what this means, but here are my thoughts so far. Of all the projects, goals, blogs, online courses, and other activities I've engaged in since launching bethanybutzer.com in 2010, there is one theme that seems to serve my audience more than any other. This theme involves an honest, vulnerable sharing of my Truth - whatever my personal Truth happens to be in that moment.

 

I'm not talking about Ultimate Truth here, such as enlightenment, self-transcendence or non-duality. If you're interested in people who claim to have reached this epic level of Truth, check out Gary Weber, Aisha Salem, and Meike Schuett. Instead, what I'm talking about here is my Soul's personal Truth. The Truth that emanates from the deepest levels of my unique, human experience. This personal Truth is a tricky little devil because it's often entangled with various aspects of my humanity, like feelings, emotions, fears, and past conditioning.

 

But I've done my best to share several aspects of my personal Truth over the years, like my experiences with antidepressants, my desire to stop overachieving, my explorations into sacred sexuality, my dissatisfaction with my dream job and much, much more. I've made all of this information public, to the dismay of some of my colleagues, friends and family members. Past, present and future employers are free to explore some of my deepest struggles and psychological blind spots. My mom and my in-laws can read about my thoughts around sex and relationships. And while I don't share all of the details of my personal and professional life, I share enough to make myself (and others) rather nervous and uncomfortable.

 

 

 

The question is, why do I share so much of my Truth so openly and candidly? What exactly is the purpose of all of this Truth-telling?

 

Back in 2010 when I started sharing my Truth publicly, I followed the advice of many online marketers and tried to monetize it. I wrote a book, I taught workshops, and I developed online courses. I took the common self-help approach of, "My life is awesome, let me help you create an awesome life too." My products served many people, but my inner achievement addict got tangled up with my financial fears and I started obsessing over things like monthly sales and growing my online platform. Over the past couple of years - particularly over the past 6 months - I've started backing away from offering these types of services, and I've realized a few important things:

 

I'm not sure if my Truth-telling wants (or needs) to be monetized. I'm not sure why I feel so compelled to tell the Truth in my personal and professional life. I'm not sure exactly what purpose all of this Truth-telling is serving.

 

What I do know is that when I tell my Truth, it feels right - even when it's scary. I no longer aspire to have a glossy online presence that makes it look like I have everything figured out. But to be honest, telling my Truth is fucking hard. When I share my Truth, I run the risk of being rejected or ignored. I run the risk of people being upset with me. I run the risk of wrecking relationships and burning professional bridges.

 

Paradoxically, telling my Truth is also easy. My most vulnerable blogs, emails, and conversations often roll out of me with such force that it doesn't feel like it's me doing the writing/talking. It's as if my Soul wants to bring light to the topics and issues that many of us would rather keep in the dark.

 

But in order to bring these topics to light, I need to visit the dark. I need to sit with the deepest, darkest parts of myself. The parts that are scared to be admitted, scared to be known, scared to be shown. And while being in the dark is uncomfortable, there is also a sweetness to it. Like a love song that makes you cry and gives you goosebumps at the same time.

 

This doesn't mean that I tell the Truth all the time. I still have my fair share of big lies, small lies, white lies, secrets, and unspoken Truths. I'm starting to see my journey as a gradual unfolding of Truth-telling, with everything being revealed in perfect timing. And when I share my Truth, I think it gives other people permission to do the same. It helps them examine the darker parts of their lives and their psyches, and hopefully gives them the courage to bring these shadows to light in the service of their soul.

 

A Truth-telling archetype that has been surfacing in my consciousness a lot lately is the Dakini. As Shakti Malan describes:

 

"Dakini is a term from Tibetan Tantrism denoting a female deity who is an embodiment of the enlightened condition. A dakini can be manifest in human form as a guide to help others towards their awakening. Dakinis have a dual role: they are angels and they are demons. As angels, they act as muses – they inspire their students towards their highest possibility. The name dakini literally means “sky dancer” – a term referring to what happens when a woman‟s sexual energy opens up all the way through her body. In her demon role, the dakini can act as seductress and as a destroyer of illusions. The dakini seduces her partner to the truth, and destroys his/her illusions. The dakini is traditionally depicted as a young dancing woman with a skullcap filled with blood in one hand and a curved knife in the other. Like the goddess Kali, she may wear a garland of skulls around her neck. She is often depicted as standing on the head or body of a human or animal, depicting the ego that she has conquered.

 

All women are an embodiment of the dakini. The question is whether you are willing to take on this sacred power bestowed on your sexuality, and use it clearly and wisely. That is the correct use of our sexual power as women."

 

Similarly, Anaiya Sophia describes the Dakini as:

 

"The great tantric priestesses who seek the darkness, illusion and suffering on purpose, so they may eat it with vigor and wild abandon. A Dakini is a female with a very sharp, brilliant wisdom that is uncompromising, honest, with a little bit of wrath. Despite their gentleness and humour, they are direct, sharply intelligent, radical, and courageous. In essence, they live their lives and accomplishments as shining examples of dedication, compassion and realisation.

 

The Dakinis literally consume suffering - both our own pain and the suffering all around us.

 

In essence they literally Love the Hell out of everything they turn their attention to. Their medicine will awaken our fierce love, a form of dangerous devotion that stirs a compassion so rich and deep, that no matter how cruel or cold we/life might seem to be, there is a burning Hope."

 

While I am far from being a self-realized Dakini, I believe this archetype calls to me because I am meant to embody many of its principles. I am meant to share my Truth as a portal that opens this ability in others, and helps break down the illusions they've built around themselves and their souls. Whether this process is meant to be part of my "career" or something that I do "on the side" remains to be seen.

 

In the meantime I plan to continue my explorations into the unknown. Right now, my personal Truth is this: I have no clue what the future holds for me personally or professionally. I suppose none of us do. I'm entering 2017 with an open heart and a blank page. I have no major goals, resolutions, projects, or products to complete. I have no business plan. I haven't done any whiteboarding or brainstorming or mind mapping around what grand new service I should offer this year. I often feel uncomfortable, sad, anxious, and confused. Being goal-less is a very foreign feeling for achievement addicts like me. During the first few days of 2017 I've been vacillating between a sense of calm over everything unfolding perfectly, to a sense of panic that I have no clue WTF I'm doing with my life.

 

And so as we enter this new year I have absolutely nothing to offer you, dear reader, except for this blog and my commitment to continue sharing my Truth when my Soul calls on me to do so. I can only hope that my Truth-telling will serve my highest good, and the good of the world.

 

With this in mind, what Truth do you need to share today?

 

My Journey Into The Unknown

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 16, 2016 at 8:30 AM

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A few weeks ago I received some disappointing news. A book proposal that I’d been working on with a small publishing company was suddenly, and surprisingly, rejected. The idea for the book had been percolating in my mind for 4 years, and I spent 2 years sharing my concepts and ideas with the acquisitions editor. She gave me very encouraging feedback all along the way, which is why I was so surprised when she wrote to tell me her publisher was rejecting my work.

 

However, after the initial shock wore off, I noticed a new feeling emerging.

 

Relief.

 

I realized that I’d been trying too hard to force my ideas to fit within this particular publishing company’s niche - to the point that my proposal didn’t feel authentic anymore. In fact, the entire time I was writing the proposal I had a sense of unease. It was like I had to force myself to write, which is odd for me, since writing is one of my passions.

 

The irony is that the book is based on a popular blog I wrote 4 years ago called Stop Trying So Hard. In other words, I was trying too hard to write a book about not trying too hard. So the proposal got shut down.

 

Sometimes the universe has a wicked sense of humour.

 

The rejection of my proposal was the “pièce de résistance” of several months of soul-searching about my career. I’ve spent much of the summer and early fall ruminating about what’s next for me professionally. Right now, my website and bio describe me as an “author, speaker, researcher and yoga teacher.” Well, it’s been 6 years since I wrote my book, and 4 years since I gave a talk for the general public or taught a yoga class. So what am I actually doing? Is my website even accurate anymore?

 

One thing that I have been doing a lot of is research. However, I know based on my time in grad school, and the various academic positions I’ve held, that too much research isn’t good for me. Research often traps me in my analytical, logical mind and blocks me from my creativity. Over the past 4 years I’ve had full-time (or close to full-time) research-related work, which has simply been too much. As I once read somewhere, "Be careful what you're good at. You could end up doing it for the rest of your life."

 

Over the past few months I’ve been using my achievement-oriented mindset to help me decide what direction to take next professionally. In other words, I keep journaling and brainstorming and obsessing about WTF I’m doing with my life. I come up with ideas like, “Screw that publisher! Maybe I should just self-publish my new book,” or “Maybe I should lead a retreat in Prague,” or “Maybe I should design a new online course.” One of the reasons the publisher rejected my proposal is that they don't think I have a big enough online platform to promote the book. This led me to several other ideas like, “Maybe I should host a free webinar to get more followers on Facebook,” or “Maybe I should collaborate with someone so we can help each other grow our email lists.”

 

But do you know what? Every single one of these ideas feels flat. They feel inauthentic and cheesy. It’s not that I have anything against online courses or personal development retreats - I’ve led many of these types of events in the past and I probably will continue to do so in the future.

 

Just not right now.

 

This leads to an important question: Exactly what do I want to be doing with my time right now?

 

I keep asking myself how I can best serve myself and serve the world via the gifts I’ve been given. I keep asking, “What does love want to produce through me right now?” When I manage to slow down my inner achievement addict (who thinks I should be producing new products), a quieter, more subtle voice emerges. It’s barely a whisper, but I know that it is the voice of my soul. And here is what it says:

 

“Right now, the universe wants to produce a softer version of you.”

 

You see, I’ve spent most of my adult life living within very hard edges. I’ve focused obsessively on achievement - a mindset that brought me all the way to Harvard, which is fantastic. But I’ve been too serious. Too focused. Too perfect. I’ve used my achievements to define my identity and my sense of self-worth.

 

The universe wants me to release my iron grip on my life and start colouring outside the lines. It wants me to let up on my hyper-masculine obsession with achievement, and let in a feminine energy that involves yielding to creativity instead of forcing it to happen. As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m very grateful for everything that my inner masculine has brought into my life, and I have no intention of eliminating him. I just need to give him permission to let go of the reins a little.

 

This process began when I left Harvard 1.5 years ago to enter into what Bill Plotkin calls “the unknown.” In his book Soulcraft, Plotkin describes the process of entering a “second adulthood” where we come into closer contact with our soul. This second adulthood is often precipitated by a loss of various structures that once made up our identity. Sometimes this loss comes from receiving a terminal diagnosis, or a divorce, or surviving a natural disaster. Whatever the external cause, the result is a period of time spent in the unknown, where many of the labels that previously defined you no longer exist.

 

I’ve spent the last 1.5 years in the unknown, and I’m not exactly sure when this period is going to end. In fact, I feel it deepening.

 

 

 

Spending two months living in the woods, and then moving to the Czech Republic, has stripped away much of my former identity. I’ve entered into a world where hardly anyone knows me or has any idea what I do for a living. I can walk down the street in Prague with an almost 0% chance of seeing anyone I know. The Canadian values and structures that I was raised with either don't exist here or take on a different form. Often, my language doesn't even exist here. I don’t speak Czech, so I spend a lot of time being non-verbal in social situations, which allows me to exit my often overpowering verbal, analytical mind and access subtle non-verbal cues that I never would have noticed otherwise. I live thousands of miles away from most of my friends and family. I don’t own a home or a car. I don’t even own my furniture (I rent a furnished apartment).

 

I seem to be doing the exact opposite of what most people my age are doing. Instead of “settling down” with stable structures like a house, car, and corporate job, I’ve spent the past year and a half systematically dismantling every single structure that once helped me feel secure.

 

Am I crazy? Perhaps. But this leap into the unknown seems to be exactly what my soul desires.

 

The result is that it feels as if the boundaries around my personal and professional lives are loosening. The rigid boxes, titles, and roles that I used to place myself in are more diffuse and open to possibilities than they used to be. After all, when you don’t have external structures to define what your career should look like, or what your relationship should look like, or what your friendships should look like, it gives you the freedom to re-create these structures in a way that is most aligned for you.

 

The paradox is that this freedom is both liberating and terrifying. I’m reminded of my friends in grad school who did research on choice overload. Honestly, my life is a super-sized bowl of choice overload right now. My husband and I are both self-employed and our work is completely virtual. We own almost nothing right now aside from our dishes, books, clothes, computers, photo albums and a cat. We have no children. We have Canadian and European Union citizenship. This means we have a multitude of choices in terms of where to live and work. Our relationship and our professional lives are open to so many possibilities that it’s almost overwhelming.

 

I’ve realized that the universe needs to create a softer version of me so that I can exist in this type of environment without completely freaking out. The softer version will show me a new way to live. It will show me a new paradigm that isn’t solely based on achievement and busy-ness and climbing invisible ladders.

 

So what exactly will this softer version of me look like?

 

Well for starters, I need to pay the bills, so I will continue to do my research consulting work as long as it is available (albeit on a part-time basis and in a more relaxed way). I do research on yoga and mindfulness in schools, which is a lovely way for me to use my skills to benefit the world. However, this work has been slowing down over the past few months, and it might dry up completely at some point. But instead of forcing myself to frantically create new products or find new consulting gigs, I’m going to spend some time unwinding.

 

I want to unwind years of achievement addiction that have told me I need to be perfect to be a worthy human being. I’m also going to spend time pursuing pleasure and doing things that light me up. I’m going to spend time being naughty and mischievous - not in a way that hurts anyone - but in a way that helps me feel what it’s like to slack off and break the rules.

 

My soul no longer wants me to be a perfect “good girl” who pleases everyone else, neglects her own pleasure, and never rocks the boat. My soul wants to read poetry in cafes on a Tuesday morning and have solo dance parties in my living room in the middle of the afternoon. My soul wants to binge watch on Netflix and read books that have nothing to do with personal development. My soul wants to have belly laughs - lots of them. My soul wants to share her truth and have difficult conversations when necessary. My soul wants me to fully inhabit my feminine, sensual body. I’m learning how to do some of this unwinding through my studies of sacred sexuality, which I intend to continue.

 

I fully acknowledge the fact that I’m privileged to have this lifestyle. But as I’ve mentioned before, this privilege didn’t come out of thin air. I helped create it, and I’m going to milk it for everything it’s worth.

 

This means that I’m going to be stepping back from a few more structures, in order to go even deeper into the unknown. For example, I’ve been blogging religiously, without fail, every two weeks since 2010. And while I know that consistent blogging is important in terms of growing my online platform, I’ve decided to remove the “every 2 week” rule, at least for now. I will still blog - but it will be on a soul schedule instead of a linear time schedule. I also plan to spend less time on social media.

 

All of this might sound like I’m moving backwards professionally. It might sound like I’m being lazy or reckless. And in some ways, I guess I am. But I like to think of it more as an incubation period. It’s a time for me to yield to my own pleasure as a way for the universe to show me how I can best serve the world, instead of me trying to force myself to serve in the ways that my ego thinks are most appropriate. This process might take a month, a year, or a decade. While slacking off might come easy for some people, it is excruciating for achievement addicts like me. I might run out of money. I will freak out regularly. In fact, my inner achievement addict is freaking out at this very moment because I’m making these words public.

 

But I refuse to live anything other than my soul’s most authentic life. This is often challenging, but always worth it. This is also the beauty of soul work. It is often counter-intuitive and paradoxical. I mean, really, shouldn’t I be taking my career to the next level by putting myself out there, growing my platform, making connections, and "knocking it out of the park?" Shouldn’t I be climbing the ladder and saving for retirement?

 

Right now, my soul says no.

 

I’m reminded of a story Sera Beak recently shared on Facebook, where she described feeling completely “done” after giving a talk at a personal development gathering. In Sera’s words, after giving the talk she,

 

“...felt a distinct kind of divine depression, a slap down of my lofty spiritual ideals, a subtle refusal to continue my mission, accompanied by a teenagerly ‘tude: “fuck off universe, this gig totally blows,” and the sinking realization that shit might not “get better” for a loooong time on this planet…no matter what I, or souls far greater than I, do.”

 

Sera went on to describe Gandhi’s final interview, in which he shared that he was losing hope in humanity. She concludes,

 

“If Gandhi felt like giving up and things had gone to shit, it’s OK if we “spiritual” people do too. It’s OK to feel “done” sometimes. It’s OK to throw in the transcendent towel, draw the cosmic curtains, hang the “do not disturb sign” on your divine doorknob and watch 6 seasons straight of True Blood.”

 

And so, this is where I am right now. I’m “done” with my achievement addict. I’m done with producing online courses and regular blogging and teaching yoga and leading personal development retreats. Perhaps not forever, but for now.

 

I’ve realized that in order to write an authentic book about not trying so hard, I need to truly live it. I need to see what happens when I let go of the rope and practice what I preach. Only then will I be able to re-emerge with the confidence to share what I’ve learned. So I’m hanging my ‘do not disturb’ sign and opening to a softer version of me. I don’t know what this softer version will produce, aside from possibly making me a better human being. Which is, of course, everything.

 

How could me slowing down possibly serve the world? I have no idea. But I’m about to find out.

 

I’d like to leave you with a blessing by John O’Donohue, from the book Anam Cara. I hope these words serve you and I on our journeys toward soul-full work:

 

May the light of your soul guide you.

May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the

   secret love and warmth of your heart.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.

May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and

   renewal to those who work with you and to those who see

   and receive your work.

May your work never weary you.

May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment,

   inspiration, and excitement.

May you be present in what you do,

May you never become lost in the bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find you awake and alert, appreciating your

   new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.

May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.

May your soul calm, console, and renew you.

 

From my soul to yours,

 

Bethany

Pulling Back The Curtain On Sacred Sexuality

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 2, 2016 at 6:00 AM

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Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I write from a pretty vulnerable place. I share a lot of personal details about my struggles, my joys, and the various teachers who have inspired my journey. In this blog I’m taking my vulnerability to a new level. You see, for the past 2 years or so I’ve been learning about (and greatly inspired by) a topic that I rarely (if ever) mention publicly.

 

The topic is sacred sexuality.

 

In reflecting on why I don’t write about this topic much, I realized it’s because of embarrassment and shame. I was worried that if I blogged about sacred sexuality people would think I was a crazy hippie. Or that I had some sort of sexual dysfunction. Or that I was practicing “deviant” sexual activities. The ironic thing is that one of the first few things you learn as a woman studying sacred sexuality is that women have been taught - for centuries - to harbor embarrassment and shame when it comes to the physical act of sex and their sexuality in general.

 

There are women in my life who are doing deep spiritual work and who are blogging about it from the rooftops - but they keep their explorations of sacred sexuality behind closed doors. They are learning awesome things from great teachers, but they’re afraid to post about their teachers' work because they don’t want their friends and family to know about the “risqué” things that they’re studying.

 

On the one hand, I get it. To some extent, sexuality is a private matter and we don’t all need to be preaching our pillow talk. It's understandable that some people don't want their friends, colleagues, or children learning about their sex lives. However, as I’ll explain in more detail below, I think it’s crucial for women to come clean about their interest in, and explorations of, sacred sexuality in a way that both honors their lifestyle and respects their privacy. Why? Because the world needs it. Mother earth needs women to own and be proud of their sexual nature, and I truly believe that women waking up to their divine sexuality will help make the world a better place.

 

Last summer I attended a retreat in Montana led by Sera Beak. At one point during the retreat, Sera asked the group to close our eyes. Then she said, “Raise your hand if you’re a sexual priestess.” I’m not sure how many of the other women in the group raised their hands, but I did. Sera went on to explain that whether we realize it or not, all women are sexual priestesses. In my opinion, one of the first steps to owning our roles as sexual priestesses involves releasing the shame and guilt that we might feel around claiming such a grand title.

 

I’ve realized that withholding my sexual truth inevitably leads to hurt and pain - for myself and others. So I’m coming clean. The reason I’m writing this blog is to be transparent and do my part to pull back the curtain of shame and guilt that often surrounds this topic. So here goes.

 

A Few Disclaimers

 

First, a few disclaimers:

 

  1. I’m very new to the study of sacred sexuality, and this blog is in no way meant to be an in-depth exploration of this topic. I’ll be referencing a few teachers along the way - feel free to explore those resources if you want to learn more.
     
  2. Throughout the blog I’ll be referring to dynamics that can exist in heterosexual relationships - not because I don’t think these dynamics exist for same-sex couples - but because most of my experiences have been with men.
     
  3. When I use the terms “masculine” and “feminine,” I’m not necessarily referring to men and women. I’m also not saying that either energy is better or worse than the other.
     
  4. When I talk about “sacred sexuality,” I’m not just referring to physical sexual intercourse.
     
  5. When I use the word “pussy” I’m not trying to offend anyone. What some authors call pussy, others call yoni, or vagina, or soul, or your true self. They are all the same thing: the core essence of who you really are as a woman.
     
  6. I’m going to make some generalizations about male-female relationships. I’m not trying to say that all relationships are like this - I’m using it as a literary device to give examples of how certain patterns might manifest in our daily lives.

 

My Initial Explorations

 

So what exactly do I mean when I use the term “sacred sexuality?” I’ll be honest by admitting that I don’t completely know. At the broadest level, my personal explorations into sacred sexuality have involved delving into the masculine and feminine energies that live within and around us. In other words, sacred sexuality isn’t only about the physical act of sexual intercourse. It’s about finding ways for the true masculine and true feminine energies to dance within you and within your partnerships.

 

I particularly enjoy Lissa Rankin’s musings on what sacred sexuality might look like in the context of dating - a concept she calls “open monogamy.” Lissa shares:

 

 

“In a spiritual partnership, sex becomes a gateway to communion with the Divine, rather than simply a mutual quest to get off. With love and tenderness holding the vulnerability of the heart safe in an ocean of trust, physical intimacy becomes a gateway to expanded states of consciousness, where you see the Divine in the eyes of your beloved, and you are seen as the embodiment of the Divine in the eyes of your beloved. As you share breath and heartbeats, you experience pleasure not just from the superficial level of genital orgasm, but from the deep heart connection and deep pleasure of full-bodied ecstatic union. As two people commune sexually as a gateway to spiritual connection, unhealed wounds can be cleared, conflicts between the partners can be healed, and Divine love can enter the union as a reminder of what is possible when unconditional love marries the flesh.”

 

This might all sound a bit abstract, and in truth, it is. But let me try to offer a few concrete examples.

 

For years the various coaches and teachers that I worked with told me that I needed to get more in touch with my inner feminine - but I had no idea what they meant. My first attempt to connect with the feminine involved attending a retreat by Sally Kempton at the Kripalu Centre for Yoga & Health. The retreat was about developing a personal relationship with the feminine - specifically through studying and meditating on various goddesses, like Kali and Lakshmi. During one of the meditations - which wasn’t explicitly sexual in any way - I started to experience an energy that felt kind of like sexual arousal, but bigger. Where did I feel this energy? In a spot that we women are still having trouble finding a word for, so I’ll use a few. I felt this energy deep within my vagina/pussy/genitals/yoni. The energy slowly moved up my body, and it felt delicious.

 

I later learned that I had experienced a manifestation of feminine energy in my body, and that this pleasurable energy is my birthright. I realized that the more I give myself permission to feel this energy in my daily life, the more I’ll shine in general and make the world a better place.

 

However, as is the case with most personal development, change happens slowly. After coming back from the retreat I got back into my busy life and all but forgot about my experience. A year later, something nudged me to read Sera Beak’s book Red, Hot & Holy, which led me to sign up for her Soul Fire Retreat. The retreat was a life changing experience that helped me get a better sense of my soul/true self. The retreat wasn’t explicitly about sacred sexuality, but we did a lot of work with reconnecting with the divine feminine within and around us.

 

My post-soul-fire experience has ushered several fantastic teachers into my life, like Shakti Malan, Jennifer Posada, Esther Perel, and Mama Gena. I’ve taken courses on reconnecting with my sexual cycles - which means acknowledging the fact that as a woman, my body changes every week in a cyclical way, and there are practices I can do to honour each phase of my menstrual cycle. I’ve taken courses on energy orgasms and becoming a sexual priestess. I’m reading books about “mating in captivity.” Right now I’m reading Mama Gena’s new book called “Pussy: A Reclamation” which is absolutely fantastic (seriously, her chapter on “Cliteracy” should be required reading for both men and women). I also have teachers on my list whose work I plan to delve into at some point, like David Deida and Alison Armstrong.

 

What have I learned from my initial explorations?

 

That I need to give myself permission to be a woman.

 

 

 

Men, Women, & Relationships

 

Like many women, I’ve spent most of my life operating purely from my masculine, because that’s what’s valued in modern society. Masculine energy tends to have a one-pointed, goal-oriented focus. In other words, the masculine runs a tight ship and gets shit done. If you look up “Bethany Butzer” in the dictionary, I fulfill these requirements to a “T.” Do you want productivity, reliability and achievement? Call me up. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I’ve skipped class or handed a project in late or forgot to do something on my To Do list. In 10 years of university I never pulled an all-nighter to get work done. My personal and professional lives are probably the most tightly run ships around.

 

The problem is that my ships run so tight that I've lost my ability to loosen up. I forgot how to flow and be open and creative and spontaneous which, among other things, are some of the energies of the feminine.

 

And I know I’m not alone. Countless women in my life, from a variety of cultural and educational backgrounds, have followed a similar pattern. In fact, I would argue that the majority of my female friends and colleagues live from their masculine. How does this manifest in their day-to-day lives? Well, for starters they do almost everything. They work, they raise kids, they cook, they clean, they pay the bills, they organize family events, and the list goes on. In other words, they get shit done. And they do an impeccable job. The problem is that they stop taking care of themselves in the process. They spend time carefully braiding their child’s hair while they barely have time to wash or style their own. They make sure their husband has a healthy lunch packed for work while their lunch consists of instant coffee and a bagel.

 

Now before I go any further I want to make it exceptionally clear that this isn’t about man bashing. Because guess what? Women are helping perpetuate this problem. First of all, I think most men aren’t exactly sure how to handle women who are operating from their masculine. I think that many men from my generation and socio-cultural background were raised by (well-meaning) parents who made them unsure about how to inhabit their masculinity and femininity. In other words, these parents didn’t want their sons to be over-controlling assholes who abuse their wives. Many (but of course not all) men from my generation were taught to respect women. They were taught not to be “too masculine.” However, they were also taught not to be “too feminine.” Their parents didn’t teach them how to cook or do laundry or cry in public because then they’d be pussies. The result is a generation of men who have a lot of ambivalence about their inner masculine and inner feminine. They aren’t sure which “camp” to inhabit - if they inhabit any camp at all.

 

But don’t worry, because super-masculine-woman will come in and fix all of this by doing everything! Because the (well-meaning) parents of my generation taught us women not to ever have to rely on a man. We were told that we can do everything that a man can do, and more. We were taught to reach for the stars and achieve, achieve, achieve, because we don’t need a man to make it in this world. We were taught to be hyper-masculine, and to avoid the feminine because was too weak, too emotional, and too sappy to make it in this cutthroat world.

 

Men often come from families that didn’t encourage them to be masculine or feminine, whereas women are often taught to inhabit their masculine.

 

(Side note: I’m extremely grateful for my upbringing and for the women who came before me who fought for our rights. Many of us, however, have taken these original intentions too far. Also, please let me reemphasize that I don't think that all women and all men were raised like this. It's simply a pattern that I often see in many men and women around me - which I absolutely realize is based on my personal social/cultural context).

 

This results in many heterosexual relationships that look something like this: the woman controls almost all aspects of the household, and the man walks on eggshells doing his best not to piss her off. He sits still, wide-eyed, watching her run around like a hurricane until she tells him what to do. When he does what she asked him to do, he never does it good enough (i.e. her way) so she ends up re-doing it herself or getting angry and accusing him of not doing enough around the house. When the woman gets upset because she’s physically and emotionally exhausted (typically during PMS), both partners get frustrated and can’t figure out what all the fuss is about, because things seem to run relatively smoothly at other times of the month (usually because the woman is able to successfully suppress her anger when she isn’t PMS’ing and because women aren’t taught how to ask for what they need).

 

Modern men and women are stuck in a place where they don’t know how to allow both the masculine and feminine to dance within themselves and their partnerships.

 

Sound familiar? Personally, I’ve seen this dynamic play out in my relationship many times. The worst part is that sometimes when my husband would try to take the initiative by cleaning the house or surprising me with dinner I would actually get annoyed. Annoyed! Why? Because I’d notice that he didn’t clean the way I’d clean. He didn’t use the right detergent on the hardwood floors or he didn’t put a bounce sheet in the dryer. Or he’d make a dinner of pork wrapped in pork with a side of pork (my husband is Czech and thus loves meat, bread, and beer). During these times I’d act like I appreciated what he was doing, but I would be giving off an annoyed vibe and/or “fixing” whatever it is that he’d done (like delicately picking pork chunks out of my risotto). Living in my masculine and always wanting things done MY way actually emasculated my husband and made him feel like he couldn’t do anything right.

 

Bringing The Masculine & Feminine Into Balance

 

My explorations into sacred sexuality have taught me that there shouldn’t be shame in operating from my feminine. She is not weak or emotional or crazy. When properly nurtured, she is the seat of my divinity, my intuition, and my creative potential. Which is why I’m starting to give her the attention she deserves. I’ve been pulling back on my household duties and letting my husband take more of the reigns - even when he doesn’t do things my way. I’m giving my husband (and myself) permission to dote on me, to take care of me, to adore me. Sometimes this means I let him pay for dinner instead of insisting that we go 50/50. Other times it means I let him buy me a pair of shoes without hassling him about how much they cost. Or it might mean that I leave it up to him to schedule his own dentist and doctor appointments. These days he does his own laundry, and we take turns cooking. The steps are small, but they add up.

 

My explorations have also taught me that my inner masculine is not wrong or bad. It’s just that I’ve let him control too much of my life so far. As Shakti Malan shares:

 

“It's often very valuable to clearly see, and appreciate, what your masculine has brought into your life. It's not about telling him to leave - it's about developing a conscious relationship. Without the masculine, the feminine has a hard time being in the world and she gets overwhelmed by her own intensity of experience.”

 

So I’m taking this opportunity to publicly thank my masculine for all of the amazing things he’s brought into my life. My inner masculine is responsible for giving me the determination, focus, and discipline to be the first person in my family to attend university. He’s responsible for helping me get my PhD, win awards, work at Harvard, and run a super-organized household.

 

But these days I’m craving feminine qualities like joy, pleasure, and flow. I want to let go of the reigns. My inner masculine perceives these qualities as slacking off, but my true self knows that these feminine aspects, in combination with my masculine, are essential to a life well-lived.

 

Case in point: Combining my masculine qualities of focus, discipline and organization with my feminine qualities of flow, pleasure, and spontaneity is how I ended up leaving Harvard to live in the woods, followed by a move to Prague. My current lifestyle is the result of me combining my ability to get organized and go after what I want (masculine) with my desire for beauty and inspiration and an ability to leap into the unknown (feminine).

 

It’s not about eliminating the masculine or feminine. As with all things, balance is key.

 

Cultivating Radiance Through The Feminine

 

Now that I’ve been settled in Prague for a year I’m starting to up the ante on nurturing my feminine by taking more unscheduled time for myself. I've devoted every Thursday to spending time with my soul / true self. I’m surrounding myself with small things that make me feel good, like high quality essential oils, lovely body creams, and comfortable socks. As Mama Gena calls it, I’m “pussifying” my life. In other words, I’m surrounding myself with an environment that makes my pussy/soul/true self feel good. Because when I honour these aspects of my femininity, I shine. I radiate a light that is infectious and that changes the world, one person at a time.

 

I know this because I’ve experienced it. I just didn’t know exactly what it was. There have been times in my life when I’ve been tapped into my soul/pussy/true self, and I know that others can feel it. Both men and women. Sometimes men interpret the feeling as sexual attraction - and sometimes they’re right. However what’s been more common in my experience is that when I’m “tuned in” to my radiance, both men and women simply want to be in my physical presence (without necessarily wanting to be sexually intimate). My light acts like a muse or a courtesan - inspiring them to reach their highest potential. Sometimes I’ve taken things further and this light got transferred into a sexual relationship, which in my opinion is sacred sexuality in the truest sense of the word. For me, sacred sex happens when my radiance is turned on, and the sexual relationship reaches a level of intimacy and closeness that inspires both partners inside and outside of the bedroom. It’s rare, but it happens.

 

There are, however, shadows to be aware of in the realm of sacred sexuality. For example, there is a difference between turning on your radiance and attracting men and women into your life in order to inspire them and change the world, versus attracting people to make yourself feel better about yourself. Personally, I’ve done both. There were times in my life when I had a series of men orbiting me, not as a muse or courtesan to inspire them or help them grow, but instead as a method to boost my low self-esteem. These men might have been tapping into some of my radiance, which is what kept them interested - but I wasn’t using my light in an honourable way. This meant people got hurt in the process. As I mentioned in my last blog, discernment is key. These days, I’m doing my best to discern when someone is drawn to me based on my inherent, natural radiance versus attracting people based on a desire to boost my self-worth. It’s not easy, but I’m getting better at it.

 

Sacred Sexuality: It's Happening All Around You

 

What's my take-home point? I want to share my explorations into the masculine, feminine, and sacred sexuality because I’m tired of hiding it in the shadows. I want to be an example of the fact that not all women (or men) who study sacred sexuality are “far out” deviant hippies with names like “moonbeam” and “sting.” There are people studying sacred sexuality all around you - you just don’t know it because they’re hiding. There’s the wholesome soccer mom down the block who is actually in a polyamorous marriage. There’s the CEO who wears a suit all day and then dances naked under the full moon at night. There’s the strict schoolteacher who spends her weekends practicing orgasmic meditation (OM).

 

Keep in mind, however, that having an interest in sacred sexuality doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything “kinky.” It simply means that you’re working/playing with the dance of the divine masculine and the divine feminine in your own unique way(s). This might mean that you’re interested in moving orgasmic energy through your whole body, or it might simply mean you’re interested in taking a dance class.

 

Personally, I don’t have a “spiritual name” or a perfect understanding of what sacred sexuality is. I’m a (relatively) normal, down to earth woman. I’m also a scientist who places a great deal of value on rigorous research. I even did my PhD on romantic relationships - and published a study about sexual satisfaction - but there’s a difference between reading about sexuality in books and actually living it. To be honest, I don’t have any research to back up a single word I’ve mentioned in this blog. But it is my lived experience which, in my opinion, is more rich, juicy, and meaningful that any peer-reviewed academic article.

 

Now that I’ve come clean I’d love to hear from you. Have you been studying sacred sexuality but you’re too scared to admit it? Are you a woman (or man) who is starting to give yourself permission to embrace your inner masculine or feminine? Come out of the shadows in the comments below!

Why Your Healthy Habits Might Not Always Be Good For You

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 19, 2016 at 3:35 AM

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I recently started spending every Thursday with my soul (AKA my true self). This means that I do everything in my power to keep my To Do list as empty as possible on Thursdays. This new routine is terrifying for my false self, which tends to be an overachieving workaholic. In fact, when I first started celebrating soul days my false self created huge To Do lists full of self-help activities like reading motivational books, watching inspirational videos, and going for walks in nature.

 

But there was something about this process that didn't feel quite right. It felt over-scheduled and forced - like I was pressuring myself to feel good. So I decided to take a different approach that involves leaving my Thursdays wide open. Every Thursday morning I sit in meditation for 15 minutes and gently ask my soul what it feels called to do that day.

 

And guess what my soul's answer usually is?

 

Nothing.

 

That's right. My soul seems to feel like doing absolutely nothing.

 

This baffled and irritated me at first (and to be honest, it still kind of does). It also causes my my inner overachiever to totally freak out. During these moments, overachiever Bethany chimes in with thoughts like, "Come on, soul, pull yourself together! Let's do some super awesome personal development shit so that Bethany can learn and grow and transcend and serve the world! I mean, really, you want to do nothing? What does that even mean? Do you expect us to just sit here and stare out the window?"

 

To which my soul replies, "Yes. I want you to wrap yourself in that blanket, sit in a comfy chair, and stare out the window."

 

So I do it. And I find it absolutely excruciating.

 

But, being the good soul student that I am, I've kept doing nothing when that's what my soul wants to do.

 

Then, right on cue, two resources came into my world. One was a video interview by Gabrielle Bernstein, and the other was a song by the band Daughter. Both resources talk about our tendencies to numb ourselves from feeling what we need to feel. Most of us are relatively familiar with the concept of numbing out through drugs or alcohol or sex. We've all been in situations of heartbreak when we have sex with someone as a way to numb ourselves instead of feeling an emotional connection, or we drink too much in an effort to forget about our stress.

 

I've used these not-so-healthy coping mechanisms many times in my life - but my soul days have made me realize something very important:

 

I also sometimes use healthy habits as a way to numb out from feeling what I need to feel.

 

As Gabby mentioned in her video, a huge habit for me is numbing out through work. Here are a few examples. As an undergraduate student I got into regular arguments with my long-term boyfriend. I vividly remember hanging up the phone in tears and then immediately grabbing my textbooks and heading to the study hall in my residence. I rarely gave myself an opportunity to cry it out or process my emotions. Similarly, during the last year of my PhD, my stepfather died tragically and unexpectedly from an oxycontin overdose. I took the requisite week off from my studies, but I kept myself busy instead of letting myself feel. After my week was up, I plunged myself back into my work with a vengeance - rarely talking about or acknowledging what happened. I finished my PhD with perfect timing and even won a national award for my research. Even now, when I get into arguments with my husband, I feel an almost irresistible pull toward my work. I sit at my desk, take a deep breath, and jump headfirst into the most difficult project that I can.

 

In other words, I use work to avoid life.

 

In my twenties I spent 7 years in therapy, and not a single therapist ever called me out on this numbing behavior. Why? Because achievement and productivity are so valued in our culture that most of us don't realize when we're using work to numb ourselves. In fact, we're praised and given awards for our overwork.

 

But overwork isn't the only strategy that we use to numb out. I've realized that many of us also use "healthy habits" like yoga, meditation, and personal development to avoid our feelings. I'm not saying that these techniques are bad - I'm a yoga teacher and I've spent years researching the beneficial effects of yoga and meditation. However I've noticed that there is a fine line between using these techniques for our well-being versus using them to avoid feeling.

 

 

 

Here's an example. I've noticed that there are times when I force myself to do yoga or meditate in an attempt to make myself "feel better." In the same way that someone might have a few too may drinks or smoke a cigarette when they're stressed - I turn to contemplative practices. During these times I notice myself trying to "force away" whatever I'm feeling. I sometimes use stretching and breathing techniques to get rid of my sadness or anxiety, instead of allowing myself to fully experience these emotions.

 

I've realized that I don't enjoy feeling my emotions, and I try to avoid them at all costs. I've noticed that I'm afraid to be vulnerable. I'm afraid to be human.  It takes a heck of a lot for me to cry in front of anyone - even my husband. When I do cry, it usually means that I'm so upset that my avoidance tactics simply aren't working anymore. When I cry, people who know me well know that I mean business.

 

This doesn't mean that I'm numbing out every time I use a contemplative practice. What I've realized is that I need to use laser-sharp discernment to identify when I'm numbing versus when my body and mind actually need these practices.

 

I've noticed that if I get still and tune into my body this process becomes relatively straightforward. For example, let's say I'm feeling anxious about work and I get an urge to do some yoga. Before starting to practice, I'll close my eyes and notice how my body feels about doing yoga. Sometimes, my body feels like, "Yes! We've been sitting at a desk all day and we really need to move." Other times, my body says, "I'm actually exhausted. The last thing I feel like doing is yoga. Maybe you can roll out your yoga mat, get a blanket, and lay there for awhile. It would really help if we could feel through and process this anxiety instead of avoiding it."

 

I was trained in mindfulness meditation, which involves bringing your attention into the present moment by focusing on some sort of mantra or sensation, such as the breath. I'll be the first to say that I think mindfulness is amazing - but for me personally, sometimes it feels like a form of avoidance. For example, I might be feeling sad, so I force myself to sit and pay attention to the feeling of the breath coming in and out of my nose.  The whole time there's this sadness sinking deep into the pit of my stomach - but I try to ignore the sadness and focus on my breath. Or "watch the sadness pass by like clouds in the sky."

 

The same goes for repeating positive affirmations. How many of us have plastered post-its all over our homes with messages like "I am abundant" and "All is well" when we actually feel like crap and don't believe a word we're reading?

 

As you start paying attention to your own body you might notice similar patterns. Perhaps you start being able to tell the difference between times when you listen to music as a form of genuine release versus times when you put on a happy tune to force yourself out of a bad mood. Or maybe you notice that instead of meditating you really just need to have a good cry or punch your pillow.

 

These days I've taken up a practice that I believe is one of the most difficult I've ever tried: doing nothing. I've dabbled in doing nothing before, but this time I'm committing to doing nothing regularly. For me, "doing nothing" means that when I feel a deep sense of longing, sadness, anger, or anxiety, I don't immediately run to my yoga mat or watch an inspirational video. Instead, I sit with the feeling. Sometimes I close my eyes, other times I literally stare at a wall. I make no effort to try to make myself feel better. Instead, I allow myself to feel the emotion in my body. I feel the longing as an ache deep in my chest or the anxiety as a knot in my stomach. I notice how the emotion morphs over time. Sometimes the feeling gets stronger, sometimes it decreases. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I get angry. In all cases, I resist the urge to numb.

 

(Side note: If you've been through serious trauma like sexual abuse or war, feeling into your body and emotions can be a very intense process that's probably best done under the supervision of a professional. Click here for a listing of psychologists in the United States and Canada).

 

Personally, I see this new practice as a radical form of self-love and self-acceptance. I see it as my soul's way of fully embodying me as a human. My soul is here to feel what it's like to be in this human body - both in ecstasy and in sorrow. 

 

The past year of my life has involved a lot of work with discernment. Discerning when to speak my truth versus hold back. Discerning when to act versus remain still. Discerning my truth, regardless of others' opinions or beliefs.

 

Feeling into my body and fully experiencing my emotions is leading me to a deeper level of truth than my logical mind has ever revealed.

 

I invite you to notice which healthy habits you might be using to numb yourself. Maybe you keep yourself so busy with sports that you don't have time to feel how stressed you are. Maybe you run marathons obsessively because you're unhappy. Maybe you're hyper-focused on caring for your child because you don't want to face the issues in your relationship. Maybe you spend tons of time preparing healthy meals because it helps you avoid dealing with a childhood eating disorder. All of these behaviors look healthy on the surface - but they might actually be forms of avoidance. It's all about discerning - for yourself - whether your behaviors are true for you or not.

 

Have you ever noticed a tendency to numb out using healthy habits? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

Why Are You Reaching For Your Phone?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 5, 2016 at 3:35 AM

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These days a lot of people complain about how everyone has their faces stuck in their phones. It seems like everywhere you look, people are texting, scrolling, and talking their way out of the present moment. Now before you stop reading, let me make it clear that this blog isn't about bashing technology or complaining about millennials. Personally, I think technology is awesome. And besides, this isn't only a "young people" problem. This weekend I was having brunch at a beautiful cafe in Prague where I watched two women in their mid-sixties spend almost the entire time on their phones instead of taking in this awesome ambiance:

 

 

 

Now I'm the first to admit that while I think technology is awesome, I'm not the most tech savvy person. I was a late adopter as far as cell phones go. I I was the last of my friends to own a cell phone, and even then my phone had a small plan that was only for emergencies. I text with my left index finger - no thumbs - and even though my fingers are very small I seem to be incapable of consistently hitting the right letters. I've never been much of a phone person anyway, so you'll rarely find me using my phone to talk or text anyone. I also rarely - if ever - pull out my phone in social situations, like when I'm having dinner with friends. I've even had friends comment that they feel uncomfortable going on their phones around me because I never seem to use mine.

 

I have, however, noticed one habit that has crept up on me: scrolling. I mostly use my cell phone to post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - this is a part of my professional life that I enjoy. But there are other times when I reach for my phone - almost without realizing it - and begin scrolling mindlessly through social media.

 

Sound familiar?

 

 

 

Lately I've been experimenting with bringing more mindfulness into my relationship with my phone. Here's how it works. If I've already done my professional social media posts for the day, and I find myself lured toward my phone, I ask myself:

 

"Why am I reaching for my phone?"

 

I've noticed three main themes that come up in response to this question: boredom, discomfort, and distraction.

 

I think these three themes apply to many of us. How many times have you pulled out your phone because you were bored waiting for the bus or for an appointment? Or maybe you grab your phone when you feel uncomfortable in a social situation. Or perhaps you start scrolling because you're trying to distract yourself from having a difficult conversation or feeling a deep emotion.

 

I think it would be worthwhile for all of us to infuse a bit of mindfulness into our cell phone use.

 

It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with scrolling. Maybe sometimes you really do need a quick break and scrolling does the trick. What I'm advocating is that we become more aware of why we're scrolling. If you're scrolling because you're bored, or uncomfortable, or trying to avoid something, see if you can put your phone down and simply be with those feelings. Using a mindful approach, you can breathe in and out and just feel the sensations of your feelings without judging them. Or, if you're avoiding something, stop watching cute kitten videos and do what needs to be done. My guess is that you'll feel much better afterwards.

 

Here's a recent example of my new mindful phone practice. Last week I arrived early to a meeting where the conference room was locked. At first, I sat on a bench outside of the room and immediately felt drawn to my phone. I asked myself why I was reaching for my phone and my answer was that I was bored. So I kept my phone in my purse and started looking around. This felt somewhat uncomfortable - there were people sitting at tables and desks all around me, and I thought it looked strange for me to be starring into space. I think many of us feel like we need to look busy and important all the time - and we use our phones to perpetuate this illusion. So instead of trying to make myself look busy, I sat with my feelings of discomfort and boredom and focused on my breath and my surroundings. It's not like anything magical happened as a result of this practice, but I did feel more present in the moment I was in, instead of bringing myself into a virtual, imaginary place. I made eye contact with people, I noticed the unique construction of the building I was in, and I gave myself a moment to chill out and disengage from over-stimulation.

 

I think the same principle holds for other forms of technology, like TV. Again, I'm not saying that TV is bad. I love watching movies and documentaries, and even some shows (Game of Thrones, anyone? Yes, I want to be Daenerys Targaryen and own a few dragons - however in my version I'd also have a couple of unicorns). Anyway, I've noticed that sometimes my approach to TV isn't exactly mindful. For example, on weeknights, if my husband and I are both at home, we'll usually watch an episode of something on Netflix. Over the years this has turned into a bit of a habit, and we rarely think about other ways that we might use this time.

 

Recently our American Netflix account finally caught up to the fact that we now live in the Czech Republic, despite our use of different types of IP-switching-software (see how tech savvy I am - not?). Without Netflix we don't have much to watch because while my husband understands Czech TV, to me the Czech language still sounds like telephone wires hitting each other to create electric shocks. Before switching to the Czech Netflix (or "Czech-flix" as I've started to call it) we've decided to go a little while without a consistent source of TV. This means that we can approach our evenings more intentionally and mindfully, by being present with what's up for us in that moment, and by paying attention to what we truly feel like doing.

 

I often wonder what people did in the evenings before the advent of TV. I'm not a historian, but I imagine people probably talked more, or listened to music, or read. Or maybe they went to sleep early because they were exhausted from working on their farm all day. Regardless, I think it would be interesting for each of us to spend a bit of time without evening technology. What would your weeknights look like if your entire family was at home, but no one used any form of technology? How would you engage with each other? What would you do to occupy yourselves?

 

I think these are extremely important questions to answer. Because the truth is that if you watched less reality TV or spent less time on your iPad, you might end up engaging in activities that are more meaningful to you. Maybe you would pick up the guitar you haven't played in three years or pull out your sketch pad or have an engaging discussion with your partner. Maybe you would learn more about what lights your children up. Or maybe you would have time for some self-care or spend some time working on your personal/psychological development.

 

I believe that cultivating a more mindful relationship with technology will help us harness innovation to move forward, instead of using our gadgets to remain stagnant.

 

What about you? Have you ever practiced a mindful approach to reaching for your phone? Have you ever gone a period of time without TV? Have you ever taken a "technology fast" or a social media fast? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

What If Your Purpose Has Nothing To Do With Your Career?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 20, 2016 at 4:50 AM

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These days there's a plethora of self-help books and online courses aimed at helping you find your passion and live your purpose (full disclosure: I offer such a course). Many of us get hooked very quickly on the idea of monetizing our passion. We want to make money doing what we love and we want to make the world a better place in the process. This is a noble goal, and if you're lucky enough to have achieved it then I tip my hat to you.

 

But this blog is for the rest of us.

 

This blog is for those who have a tricky time getting paid to be their True Self. This blog is for people who poured all of their savings into what they thought was their purpose, only to lose it all. This blog is for those who are biting their nails while looking at their bank account - hoping that the law of attraction will eventually kick in and bring them the Ferrari on their vision board. This blog is for people who repeat affirmations about being financially abundant when they don't actually believe a word they're saying.

 

Because here's the hard truth that many of us need to hear: sometimes your purpose isn't supposed to have anything to do with making a living. Your passion might not actually want (or need) to be monetized. And the more you try to convince people to pay you for a purpose that doesn't need money, the less authentic you appear to your audience.

 

This doesn't mean you'll never make money from following your passion, or that you're doomed to work at a boring office job for the rest of your life. It means you might spend years (or decades) cultivating our passion without making a cent - until the time is just right - and suddenly people start paying you to do what you love. Or you might spend your whole life working at a boring job to pay the bills so that you can follow your passion (for free) in your spare time.

 

None of these options are wrong. None of them are less "evolved" or "enlightened." We each have unique gifts and reasons for being on this earth at this time, and not all of these gifts need to be tied to earning an income.

 

Because sometimes when we tie money to our passions, the passions themselves start to fade. Other times, our passions morph into things that aren't even our passions anymore but we keep doing them to pay the bills. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. It is simply our job to be aware of what's going on beneath the surface, and get back on track if we've fallen off.

 

 

 

Trust me when I say I need to read this blog as much as you do. From an early age I tied my purpose to my profession. When I was 16 I decided I wanted to be a psychology professor so that I could do research that would reveal the deepest truths of the human mind, and ultimately, the universe (easy, right?). After getting my PhD that passion shifted (for a variety of financial and non-financial reasons) and I ended up in the corporate world where I made great money - but felt 0% passion about what I was doing.

 

So I did what many self-helpers advocate: I quit my job to follow my bliss. Since 2010 I've gone through a variety of iterations trying to make money from my passions. I've tried coaching, teaching yoga, leading workshops (online and offline), writing books, and doing research. I even worked in a greenhouse for a few months. All with the intention of helping the world and making an income at the same time.

 

But the relationship between my passions and my bank account is complicated. Sometimes, money rolls in almost effortlessly from projects that I'm not all that interested in. Other times I create products and videos for things that I'm passionate about - but they end up being painful to watch because people can sense how badly I want to be validated by having them purchase what I'm offering.

 

On the surface my life might seem like I'm one of those people who "made it" at making a living doing what I love. And in many ways I'm extremely fortunate that I work for myself and can afford a pretty great lifestyle. But the truth is that I worry about money regularly. And I often wonder whether it makes sense for me to link my passions with my income. These days, most of my income comes from doing research on yoga in schools. But do I jump out of bed every morning eager to prove the benefits of yoga for children? No. The research I do is for a worthy cause and it pays the bills, but it isn't quite my passion.

 

One of my passions has always been writing, but I rarely get paid to write. And some days I don't feel passionate about writing at all. At this very moment I have a publisher who is interested in working with me on a new book - which I will write entirely for free. Sure, I might make some royalties if the book sells well, but it's very difficult to make a living solely from writing books (even if you're a New York Times bestseller). The idea of spending a ton of unpaid hours writing this book is scary. Which is why, for me, linking my passions with my income is a complicated, and often uncomfortable, process.

 

This is also why I think it's crucial for us to take a good hard look at our underlying motivations for monetizing our passions. Perhaps you want to make a living while also helping the world. Great. But it might not happen all at once, or in the order you expect, or at all. It might be that what you're actually seeking is validation for your lack of self-worth, as opposed to really wanting to help anyone. Or it might be that your purpose is to simply enjoy life and have fun regardless of your bank account.

 

Your passion and purpose might end up having absolutely nothing to do with your career. You might never make a penny from your passion or get any recognition for it. Heck, most of us are lucky to even figure out what our passion is.

 

So the question becomes: Do you want (or need) to monetize your passion? Why or why not?

 

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

The Downside of Pushing Toward Your Goals

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 7, 2016 at 3:35 AM

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Most of us are raised to believe that it's a good idea to have goals. We're taught to work hard to reach our dreams. We're told that with persistence and dedication, we will eventually get from point A (where we are now) to point B (some idealized place in the future). This line of thinking is even embedded in our education system, where grades act as carrots to push us toward what's next. And next. And next. Alan Watts describes this perfectly:

 

"What we do is we put the child into the corridor of this grade system, with a kind of “come on kitty kitty kitty.” And yeah you go to kindergarten you know, and that’s a great thing because when you finish that you’ll get into first grade. And then first grade leads to second grade, and so on and then you get out of grade school and you go to high school, and its revving up – the thing is coming. Then you go to college, and then maybe grad school. And when you’re through with graduate school you go out and join the world. Then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance. And then you have that quota to make, and you’re going to make that. And all the time the thing is coming, it's coming; that thing, the great success you’re working for. Then when you wake up one day when you're about forty years old, you say ‘My god, I’ve arrived. I’m there!' And you don’t feel very different from what you’ve always felt."

 

In other words, while goals are useful for driving us forward, many of us have become so goal-focused that we've lost track of the life we're actually living, right here, right now. We're dominated by linear thinking - we see our life as a path that's supposed to move directly from point A to point B. And when we get to point B we will finally be happy.

 

 

 

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the only point B that we are all guaranteed to arrive at is death. The rest of the the things that we thought were point Bs are really just pit stops on a non-linear journey. None of our point Bs (aside from death) are ends in and of themselves, and none of these point Bs are going to make us eternally happy (unless your point B ends up being some form of nirvana or spiritual enlightenment!).

 

What I'm getting at here is that we need to back off on our linear ways of thinking and begin to appreciate that life is non-linear, and often works in cycles. Cycles abound in the natural world that we evolved in, and that we continue to be part of, despite our best efforts at modernization. The seasons are a clear example. There are times when trees and flowers produce fruit, and other times when the tree or plant pulls back and maybe dies. There are times when forest fires or tornadoes create mass destruction by ravaging huge pieces of land. And slowly, over time, the land recovers.

 

In the same way, there are times in our lives when we're working our butts off to get to point B, when a simple phone call about a terminal illness changes our lives forever - and makes point B far less important. Or perhaps we try really hard to get to point B but lose all of our savings in the process. Or you might be working toward an awesome point B when an even more fantastic opportunity comes your way. Our life journeys very rarely feel like a direct expressway. Instead, life is more like a non-linear path that ebbs and flows within the natural cycles of our universe.

 

Here's another example. Women go through a cycle every 28 days until they reach menopause. Coincidentally (although I don't think it's actually a coincidence) the moon goes through its own 28 day cycle every month. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that women are different every day of the month - like the moon. Some days (particularly during ovulation) women are bright and open, like the full moon, and other days (during PMS and menstruation) women are dark and mysterious (like the new moon). Most women are taught to ignore their cyclical nature and "push through" their cycles to operate in a linear way. So for example, when women are emotional during PMS or tired during menstruation they often apologize to those around them instead of honoring whatever it is that their body needs. (For more on this topic, check out Shakti Milan's course on the Wisdom of Women's Sexual Cycles).

 

Perhaps one of the reasons so many of us feel disconnected from our true selves is that we're ignoring the natural rhythms inherent in the world around us, and even within our own bodies. We're so hyper-focused on reaching our goals that we fail to realize that our lives are moving in a cyclical pattern, like a spiral. We might take a few steps forward, then a few steps back, then a few steps in a completely different direction. None of it is wrong. All of it is life.

 

Personally, I've spent most of my life in the pursuit of goals. As a recovering achievement addict, I still tend to be hyper-focused on reaching point B. As I pointed out in my last blog, lately I'm experiencing a lot of self-doubt and questions around what's next. I'm not sure whether I should stay in the Czech Republic or eventually move back to Canada. And I don't know exactly what direction to take with my career. Sometimes I get caught up in linear thinking and trick myself into believing that there's an endpoint to all of this - a magical time when I'll finally have it all figured out. But, as I mentioned before, the only guaranteed endpoint is death. So why not enjoy my life while I'm alive, instead of always focusing on the future?

 

This doesn't mean I can't have goals or dreams. It means that I'm going to continue to do my best to keep one eye on the future while emphasizing and enjoying the present.

 

This is a delicate balancing act. And I fall off the tightrope quite often.

 

But as Alan Watts shared so beautifully in this short speech, our lives are like a symphony. And the point of a symphony isn't to get to the end. It's to enjoy the music while it's playing.

 

 

 

The Hard Truth Behind Creating a Life You Love

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 24, 2016 at 3:45 AM

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Over the past month I've been updating my website with a few new headshots and banners that include the sentence "Create a Life You Love." The theme of creating a life you love has been my motto since I started blogging in 2010, and I've learned a lot from sharing my experiences and journey.

 

One of the main things I've learned is that, contrary to what you might think, creating a life you love isn't easy or pretty. Sure, I can put on some make-up and nice clothes and pose for pictures that make it look like I have my shit together. I can post these pictures all over my website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram so that people who don't know me will think that I have a polished professional image. I can try to emulate more popular self-help gurus like Danielle LaPorte and Gabrielle Berstein and Marie Forleo.

 

 

 

But the truth is that despite my semi-polished image around creating a life you love, I don't love my life 100% of the time. In fact, I spend a good deal of time buried in self-doubt. Here's an example of what my self-doubt sounds like:

 

"Ok seriously, WTF am I doing with my life? I'm 37 years old and I don't have a full-time job. I don't have a pension. I don't own a house or a car. I have no children. I live in a country that's thousands of miles away from most of the people I love, and I don't speak the language here. I spend most of my days doing research consulting work that's interesting, but not something that I want to do full-time. Plus my consulting work isn't financially stable because projects and funding can come and go on a dime. I spend the rest of my time doing things that most of society would consider unproductive, like walking in the park and writing blogs and growing herbs and cooking. What is my game plan here? Should I eventually move back to Canada? Should I buy property in Prague? Should I look for more stable work? What do I really want out of my career? Do I even have a career? Why haven't I taught any yoga classes or led any workshops here? Why haven't I worked on the book that I've been meaning to write for three years? Am I lazy? Depressed? What if my consulting work dries up? Why am I wasting my time walking in the park? Why am I wasting my time writing this blog? If I keep living like this I'm going to end up penniless and alone."

 

Sound familiar?

 

Even if your self-doubt has a slightly different tone, I'm sure you can relate to feeling like your life makes no sense and that you're going nowhere. Usually, if you follow these thoughts all the way to completion, they end with some sort of fear around being homeless or penniless or insane (or dead). Ultimately, we all fear the end of our existence.

 

Here's why I think these thoughts are particularly common when it comes to creating a life you love: because creating your best life isn't meant to be comfortable. Sure, there will be times when you're on cloud nine and things are going great. But there will also be times when you need to make tough choices that go against the grain of what society, your friends, your spouse, or your parents want you to do. And that will be hard.

 

Personally, my process of creating a life you love has forced me into some of the most difficult decisions I've ever made. It's pushed me into tough conversations. It's sent me so far outside of my comfort zone that I have trouble figuring out where my comfort zone is anymore. It's asked me to expand my boundaries beyond what I thought was possible. I've had to make decisions in my personal and professional life that I'd never dreamed of making.

 

Very little of it has been easy.

 

And to be honest, sometimes I get the urge to throw in the towel, move to a suburb outside of Toronto, get a steady job with a 2-hour commute and spend my free time watching the Kardashians. Sometimes I just want my life to be easy and boring and not require even one ounce of personal growth. I want to throw away my self-help books, stop meditating, eat a ton of processed food and perhaps slip into a sugar coma (which would thankfully save me from the Kardashians).

 

But something keeps driving me forward on this path of creating a life I love. And the kicker is that I already know the path has no end point. It's not like I'm going to wake up one day proclaiming "I did it! My life is perfect. I'm completely happy and no longer need to grow."

 

Which is why creating a life you love is about the journey.

 

I'm on a path, tracking the scent of my soul's desire. My soul (or true self) doesn't work in the linear ways of the modern world. My soul works in winding trails that sometimes take me into the deepest, darkest forests. My soul works in images and feelings and longings and dreams that don't always make sense to my logical mind. But when I follow my longings, my soul leads me on adventures of both bliss and discomfort. Confidence and doubt. Light and dark.

 

And doubt is part of the journey.

 

I'm not going to end this blog with advice on how to handle your doubt, or even on how to create a life you love. My lived experience and my personal sharings are my advice and my message. The most I can offer is to say that if you choose to be on this journey, at least we're on it together

 

Have you experienced self-doubt while creating a life you love? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Want To Ditch Your Life To Travel? Consider These 6 Tips First.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 10, 2016 at 4:05 AM

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On August 10th 2015 my husband and I boarded a plane in Toronto to start a new chapter of our lives. After a 10 hour flight we landed in Prague, Czech Republic. Our decision was very intentional. I'd just quit my job at Harvard Medical School, and we'd spent the past two months saying good-bye to friends and family before embarking on our journey.

 

 

 

Many people dream of making similar choices. Perhaps you've sat in your cubicle at work trolling Facebook and feeling envious of your friends who are exploring the world. Or maybe you recently had a baby and feel like you'd pay $1,000 just to be able to leave the house. We often glorify travel as a luxury reserved for 20-somethings who don't know what to do with their lives, or millionaires who can afford to own property in multiple locations.

 

Well, I'm neither of these things, but I've devoted a decent amount of time and money to travel over the past few years - despite the fact that I'm in my late 30s and I don't own an unlimited bank account. Given that today marks one year since I made my move to Europe, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on my experience and share what I've learned so far.

 

If you've been bitten by a temporary travel bug or you'd like to make a semi-permanent move abroad, use the tips below to help bring clarity to your experience.

 

1. Expect The Unexpected

 

One of the main things that worried me about moving to Prague is that I don't speak Czech. My husband was born and raised in Canada but his parents are Czech, so he speaks the language. But I didn't want to rely on him as my personal translator. I had visions of being incapable of accomplishing basic tasks like grocery shopping without dragging him along.

 

I also had fears about not being able to find fresh, healthy food. Listen, I love Czech food. My mother-in-law introduced me to all sorts of goulashes, sauerkraut, and smoked meats that make me salivate just thinking of them. But traditional Czech food tends to be very meat heavy, gluten heavy (dumplings!) and vegetable light. I had visions of myself eating processed meat every day and possibly developing scurvy.

 

And don't get me started on my fears around personal hygiene. Most of my beauty products are natural/organic, and I was convinced that I wouldn't be able to find these products in Prague. When I moved here, half of my suitcase was filled with organic soaps, lotions, and make-up (luckily none of them exploded en route).

 

But here's the thing - all of these fears turned out to be completely false. Let's start with the language. I've been absolutely amazed at how easy it is for me to speak English in Prague. In fact, it's too easy, which has resulted in a certain degree of laziness around me taking Czech language lessons. Pretty much everyone under the age of 40 speaks at least some English. Sure, sometimes I need to use creative sign language or pull out Google Translate, but it isn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

 

When it comes to food, Prague has so many farmer's markets that I still haven't had a chance to visit them all. And if you drive 15 minutes outside of the city the small highways are full of farmers selling their goods. The Czechs seem to be all about supporting local vendors, whether it's for fruit, vegetables, honey, or clothing. My husband's relatives make their own teas and syrups out of fresh herbs, and they regularly offer us free-range eggs from their chickens. And the most surprising part: Prague is full of fantastic vegetarian restaurants. There are also lots of stores where I can buy every freaky deaky superfood and gluten-free product out there (Gluten-free bread? Yes. Maca? Yep. Coconut oil? For sure! Kelp flakes? Absolutely).

 

My point here is to check yourself before you wreck yourself. North Americans tend to see themselves as living in a land of plenty that no other country could possibly match. Don't let unfounded fears about a foreign location prevent you from making a temporary, or even permanent, visit. I bet you'll end up being pleasantly surprised.

 

Do, however, keep in mind that some of the things that you think might go wrong will go wrong. Flights will get cancelled, documents will get lost, food poisoning may occur. This is all part of the experience. If you can't hack it, then it might be best to plan your trip for escape rather than growth (more on this in a moment).

 

2. Knowing Is Different From Experiencing

 

No matter how much you think you know about a culture, you will encounter surprises when you immerse yourself in it. I learned a lot about Czech culture from my husband's parents, and I even spent 10 days in Prague in 2005. But visiting here and living here are two completely different things. It didn't matter how many articles I read on expats.cz or questions I asked my father-in-law. I'm sure that having a baseline level of knowledge about the Czech Republic was helpful, but for the most part living here has been a trial by fire. In other words, I simply had to rip off the band-aid and experience it instead of filling my head with information.

 

Here's an example. I've been amazed at the general vibe here around leisure and quality of life. I've been told countless times that Europeans tend to have a more laid-back lifestyle, but I didn't fully understand it until I experienced it. On the one hand, I absolutely love the way that many Czechs seem to value time with friends and family. Every day of the week (day and night) the pubs, patios, and parks in my neighborhood are full of people enjoying time with each other. There's a palpable feeling of slowing down, especially in the summer (as long as you avoid the tourist areas).

 

On the other hand, the North American side of me that's used to a more frantic pace of life is still learning how to take it easy. In most major cities in North America you can get things done when you need to. Stores are open 7 days a week and customer hotlines are available 24/7. In Prague, on the other hand, it's not uncommon for stores to close at 5pm or 6pm. Sometimes offices are randomly closed mid-week from 2-5pm. And it's almost impossible to get anything done on a Friday afternoon. In the summer, some stores and restaurants even close down for an entire month. People get a decent amount of vacation time here, and they use every minute of it!

 

Sometimes I get really frustrated when I show up at a government office on a Wednesday afternoon to find it closed. Or I try to book a meeting with someone to find out they're away on vacation for 3 weeks. But immersing myself in this culture is slowly (very slowly!) breaking me out of the frantic pace that I followed in Boston.

 

Government office closed? I guess I'll go enjoy a Czech beer instead.

 

3. Use Anonymity for Discovery

 

When we moved here I didn't know a single Czech person. I'd briefly met some of my husband's relatives, but very few of them speak English. In some ways this has been a blessing. When I walk down the street here I have very little chance of running into anyone I know. Each person is a blank canvas, as am I. When I meet people, they have no preconceived notions about who I am, what I do for a living, or what I'm all about.

 

This sense of anonymity has led to a lot of personal discovery. When no one knows who you are, it gives you a chance to be who you want to be. I don't mean this in a deceptive way, like telling people I'm a circus performer who travels the world in a caravan (although that might be fun). What I mean is that since people have no expectations of me, I can simply be who I really am. When I meet people here, I tend to talk about meaningful, interesting topics instead of immediately focusing on questions about the weather or what I do for a living. People don't look at me and automatically know my career path or family history. It's extremely liberating to simply be myself.

 

Plus, when you don't speak a verbal language, you need to rely more closely on things like body language, energy, and intuition. This opens up a whole new world in terms of experiencing people's personalities that can be quite illuminating.

 

Whether you're considering a temporary trip or a permanent move, consider how it might feel for you to be anonymous (and non-verbal). Who are you without your current identity of mother, father, doctor, plumber, Canadian, etc.? Perhaps a bit of travel might help you figure it out.

 

4. Discern Between Escape Versus Growth

 

People typically engage in voluntary travel for one of two reasons: escape or growth. Escape travel happens when we go on a trip to get away from our daily lives, like heading to Florida on spring break. Growth travel involves a desire to expand our horizons and learn about new cultures.

 

Both types of travel are equally valid. Escape travel isn't necessarily a bad thing - we all need a break and vacations are awesome. And growth-motivated travel helps us discover new people and places and learn about ourselves in the process. 

 

However I think it's important, when planning any travel, to pay attention to your motivation, because doing so will help you plan the right trip for you. If you love your job, but you need a short, relaxing trip, plan an escape. If you want to explore new cultures then plan a growth-inspired trip.

 

Some people have accused me of moving to the Czech Republic out of a desire to escape. And while it's true that I did want to leave the Harvard stress and frantic Boston lifestyle behind, I'd done enough personal reflection to know that my primary reason for moving was for growth. No one can answer the escape vs. growth question for you, it's something you need to discern for yourself. But the more confident you are about your travel motivation the better, because you will inevitably face questions.

 

5. Resist Having All The Answers

 

When you plan an extended trip or a permanent relocation (especially if you're over the age of 30 and it's not a job that's relocating you) people are going to ask you a lot of questions. They are going to want to know why you aren't fitting into the script that people your age are supposed to follow. They will wonder why you aren't married, or why you don't have kids, or why you don't just settle down or go to grad school or pay off your student loans.

 

They are going to wonder why you seem like you don't know what you're doing with your life.

 

And guess what? You are probably going to be wondering the same thing.

 

Which is why you don't need to have all the answers. Why? Because you don't owe anyone any explanations.

 

When people started asking me why I was moving to Prague I felt tremendous pressure to give some sort of rational, mature, adult-like answer. I gave answers about personal growth and my husband's heritage. But I noticed that these answers didn't often satisfy people. So I started to simply reply, "Because I feel like it."

 

These days I'm getting two new sets of questions. Our Czech friends and relatives keep asking us whether we're staying here, while friends and family in Canada keep asking when we're coming home.

 

And we don't have the answers, so we just keep saying that we don't know. Because really, does anyone have answers? These days, people can work at a job for 25 years and get laid off in a heartbeat. But for the 25 years that they spent in that job I can almost guarantee that no one asked why they were working there or whether they planned to stay or go.

 

My take home point: Make your decisions from a soul-centered place and don't feel obligated to justify your life to anyone.

 

6. Balance Exploration With Ease

 

My desire for growth-related travel is often on overdrive. I want to see and experience as many new people, places, and things as possible. I've tried laid-back vacations like all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and Caribbean cruises, but after 3 days I'm so bored that getting stung by a jellyfish seems like it would be a good time. So these days I tend to travel to cities where I can explore and grow. Take, for example, a 17-day trip I took this past June, where I cruised the Baltic Sea to visit countries like Sweden, Russia and Estonia.

 

However, as any experienced traveler will tell you, travel is often overrated. There's only so much living out of a suitcase, eating out, and visiting crowded tourist traps that any person can handle. It's important to bust the illusion that travel is going to magically fix your life - or even leave you feeling refreshed. Truth be told, I'm often exhausted after many of my vacations. I expect to be exhausted because I tend to travel for growth-motivated reasons. After an extensive period of travel I usually become a hermit for several weeks and barely leave my house. Or I'll make sure my next trip involves a simple getaway in nature.

 

This is why exploring your motivation for travel is important. Balancing exploration with a sense of having a home base can be an important part of keeping yourself sane during travel and coming to terms with the fact that sometimes travel isn't all it's cracked up to be.

 

Final Boarding Call

 

I hope these tips are helpful as you ponder, plan, and explore your travel options. While it's important that we don't over-glorify travel as the answer to all of life's problems, it's also useful to keep in mind that travel can be worthwhile - and possible - regardless of your age or stage. Because as J.R.R. Tolkien so famously said, "Not all those who wander are lost."

 

 

 

Reclaiming Your Imagination

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 27, 2016 at 3:20 AM

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When I was younger I had a vast imagination. I was obsessed with all things fantasy. I loved unicorns, fairies, witches, trolls, and gnomes. I created entire worlds in my mind - medieval lands where I interacted with people in King Arthur's court. I believed that I had magical powers, and would often try to cast spells or speak with fairies or make unicorns appear in my bedroom. I loved being in the woods, where I hunted for fantastical creatures and nurtured my sense of wonder.

 

I often shared my imagination through stories. I wrote mini novels on my great-grandmother's typewriter and dreamt about being a New York Times bestseller. In high school I wrote hundreds of poems and even had a piece published in a national literary magazine. My teachers praised my imagination and said that my writing was among the best they'd seen.

 

 

 

Then I went to university.

 

In university I fell in love with two things: science and achievement. And I fell hard.

 

I poured my writing skills into my academics. I excelled on exams and essays, often getting the highest grades in classrooms of 500 people. Tests became my drugs. I was addicted to checking my grades - the better the grade, the bigger the rush.

 

I became enamored with research methods. I loved the process of asking questions and searching for answers using data and statistics. My professors praised all things quantitative and observable: hard numbers, rigorous analytic techniques, and strong theoretical models. There was no room for "fluffy" concepts - especially within psychology which was having a hard enough time proving that it was a "real" science. Theorists like Freud and Jung were discussed - but more out of respect for history than actually acknowledging any scientific basis for their reasoning. Alternative research methods, like conducting one-on-one interviews, were touched upon - but never to the point where I actually learned how to conduct this type of research.

 

And so I stopped writing poetry. I stopped reading novels. I stopped dancing in the woods. I stopped tapping into my love of fairies and magic and fantasy. I was embarrassed at having loved these things. I was taught that they represented childish urges that had no basis in reality.

 

But I got great grades. I had cool friends. And my life looked awesome.

 

Except for the fact that I was miserable.

 

I was on antidepressants. I was addicted to achievement. I cried almost every day. I'd become a grade-obsessed robot that had no other goal than to please her superiors.

 

I had utterly lost my creative life force.

 

And I've spent the past decade trying to get it back.

 

I started blogging about self-help topics that probably made some of my scientific colleagues cringe. Then I started researching these topics, which I'm sure made them cringe even more. I started reading about transpersonal research methods and I've opened myself up to the idea that while the modern scientific method has a lot to offer, it simply might not be the best way to study certain types of human experiences.

 

This path has led me to believe that we need more creativity, both in the sciences and in our everyday lives. Many aspects of the ivory tower simply aren't working - from the ways that grants are allocated to the ways that data is collected to the ways that research is published. We need creativity and innovation to break through these outdated systems. Luckily this is starting to occur with explorations into open science (which you can learn about here and here) and even with the idea of spiritual research paradigms.

 

We also need more creativity and imagination in our personal and professional lives. How many of us, as adults, have forgotten what it feels like to play? Or to wander aimlessly? Or to open ourselves up to the possibility of magic? How many of us go through the same old routines at our jobs, without thinking to push the boundaries or make change?

 

Innovation isn't always easy. Personally, I've tried to get creative in my professional life by experimenting with the idea that I can conduct research without being a tenure track professor. I've done IT research in the corporate world, I've done research for free as a volunteer, and I've charged for my services as an independent research consultant. And in order to reclaim my sense of imagination and play, I try to devote a significant chunk of time each week to reading, blogging, wandering, and personal development.

 

This isn't a perfect formula. Sometimes I find myself full of self-doubt, wondering what the hell I'm doing with my life. I'm in my late 30s and I have no pension plan, I own no property, and I have no idea where I might be living 2 years from now. Heck, I don't even own a car. I live in a country where I don't speak the language and where it would be somewhat difficult for me to find a full-time job, especially as a professor. Sometimes, when I'm wandering in the park on a Tuesday afternoon, I start to seriously worry about my professional life (and my sanity). I worry about things like money and the big gaps on the timeline of my CV.

 

However my life is a continuous process of bringing myself back to why I'm choosing to live this way. And the answer is that I've seen the alternative. I know what it's like to own a house and a car and have a corporate job. I know what it's like to work in an academic environment that crushes your imagination. I remind myself of the complete lack of creativity and soul-loss that I felt during these times, and then I continue wandering.

 

My invitation to you is to open up to your imagination and your creativity. Reclaim it, because it's yours. Stop listening to people who tell you that your ideas are strange or that you need a dose of "reality." Even if you feel like the most un-creative person on the planet, start trusting that there is creativity within. I like to think of us as caterpillars, as Bill Plotkin perfectly describes in this quote from the book Soulcraft:

 

"There are three phases to the butterfly's life cycle: the larva (caterpillar), the pupa or chrysalis (in the cocoon), and the imago (a mature adult, a butterfly). No one knows exactly how the caterpillar changes form in such a dramatic way. But this much is known: inside the caterpillar's body are clusters of cells called, of all things, imaginal buds. Imaginal refers to the imago, the adult phase, but it also means to imagine, and psychologists use the word imago to mean an idealized image of a loved one, including the self. The imaginal buds contain the idealized image, the blueprint, for growing a butterfly. While the caterpillar goes about its earth-crawling business, these cells, deep inside, are imagining flight. The caterpillar and butterfly are not really opposed to each other; the butterfly is not an alien organism within the caterpillar. They are, in fact, one and the same organism with the same genetic code. The caterpillar is to the butterfly as an uninitiated ego is to an initiated one. The imaginal buds are to the caterpillar as the soul is to the uninitiated ego. It's no coincidence that the Greek word for butterfly means "soul."

 

You too have imaginal buds that are waiting to be tapped. Start accessing them in whatever way(s) feel right to you. Perhaps you sign up for a watercolor class or read a science fiction novel or write a poem. As you continue reclaiming your imagination, your life will start to look more spontaneous, more innovative, and more fun. You will encounter solutions to problems that you hadn't considered before.

 

You will, eventually, become your own butterfly.

 

 

What Are You Doing With Your Privilege?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 13, 2016 at 3:25 AM

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These days the internet is full of people who left their jobs to "follow their bliss" or "pursue their passion." They leapt, and the net appeared. They run six-figure online businesses from their living rooms (and you can too if you purchase their 5-step program for $500 per month!). Sometimes these people maintain blogs. And sometimes they write pieces about how you should leave your meaningless 9 to 5 existence to create art in Bali or surf in Hawaii.

 

I think three main questions run through people's heads when they read these types of blogs:

 

1. Is this person for real? (In other words, are they telling the truth about their "amazing" life?)

 

2. Is it even possible to create a life you love?

 

3. If it is possible, how can I do it?

 

I've written previous blogs about leaving the 9 to 5 grind and how to create a life you love, so I won't focus on that here. What I'd like to focus on is a series of reactions people often have when asking themselves question #1. When we ask ourselves this question we can go in one of three directions:

 

A) This person is NOT for real. They're making their life out to be way better than it actually is so that I'll buy their product/service. In fact, they're actually doing harm by perpetuating a myth that everyone has to leave their job. They are a privileged human being who has the luxury of doing what they love. I could never do that.

 

B) This person is for real, and their life makes me feel a lot of guilt and shame because I've done nothing with my life. I work at a job I hate, I'm stuck in a meaningless relationship, and I binge watch Netflix every night. I'm a worthless human being.

 

C) This person is for real, and the light that I see in them is my own potential being reflected back to me. I think I'll try their product/service (or read more of their work) and see if it inspires me to make changes in my life.

 

I recently read two blogs that focus on options A and B. In one blog, Janelle Quibuyen highlights the fact that many self-helpers are privileged, and that they fail to consider or acknowledge the fact that most people in the world don't have the option of leaving their job to follow their bliss. Many people around the world are suffering through horrific life circumstances, or are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, or are homeless. 

 

In a different blog, Janne Robinson shares her opinion that creating a life you love is actually very simple. You just need to stop doing things you hate. If you hate your job, leave it. If you hate your marriage, get out. Janne believes that "shit really is that simple."

 

In skimming through the comments on Janne's blog, I noticed people were responding to her in a way that is very familiar to me. People accused her of oversimplifying the situation and being blind to how privileged she is. 

 

The word privilege keeps appearing over and over again in these conversations so I've decided to address it head on.

 

First, let's get something out of the way.

 

I am privileged.

 

I'm a white female who was born and raised in Canada - a country that provided many opportunities and freedoms not available in other parts of the world. My family didn't have a lot of money, but I never went hungry. I didn't have to fight to receive an education. I have no first-hand experience of war or extreme violence or poverty. 

 

I'm not ashamed of the fact that I'm privileged. In fact, I'm extremely grateful for it. I took my privilege by the horns and worked my ass off to make the most of what was given to me. I was the first person in my family to ever attend university. I did it through a combination of student loans, part-time jobs, and scholarships awarded for academic excellence. I continuously examine my life, assess where things are and are not working, and make changes accordingly.

 

And in case you're wondering, my answer to question #1 above is yes, I am for real. My life isn't perfect, but it's pretty awesome. The reason it's awesome is that I'm using every last bit of my privilege to make sure I don't take what I've been given for granted.

 

 

 

If you tend to feel a mix of guilt/shame/anger when reading posts about other people's awesome lives (and/or post mean or hurtful comments), my question to you is: why?

 

If you have the luxury of reading blogs by privileged people like myself or Janne, I would argue that you are privileged, too. You have access to a computer and the internet - a luxury that many people around the world do not enjoy. You have the luxury of time - time to sit and surf the web. My guess is that your basic survival needs are probably being met - you probably have food, water, and shelter, and your life is not in immediate danger - otherwise you probably wouldn't be taking the time to read this blog.

 

Sure, I bet you've had your struggles, and some of them have probably been excruciatingly difficult. You might be a member of a minority group, or you might have experienced prejudice or discrimination, or sexual violence, or abuse. You might sometimes struggle to make ends meet. You might have an addiction or mental illness. You might have had a very hard life.

 

But if you're reading this blog right now, you have a heck of a lot more privilege than many people in the world.

 

So the most important question becomes: what are you doing with your privilege?

 

Because here's the thing. When people like myself or Janne Robinson write blogs encouraging you to create a life you love, we're not doing it to make you feel guilty or ashamed about your current situation. And, perhaps most importantly, I would argue that we aren't addressing our blogs at  people who are barely getting their survival needs met. Those people probably don't have the time or interest to read our blogs anyway.

 

We're writing our blogs for people like you. People who have the time and luxury, and I would argue privilege, of reading them. We write these blogs to shake you up. Expand your horizons. And to give you examples of what's possible.

 

Personally, I'm not advocating that everyone immediately quit their jobs and leave their former lives in the dust. You might be working three jobs to pay your bills. You might be a single parent with small children. You might be caring for a sick family member. I get it.

 

Here is what I'm advocating. I'm advocating that you listen to your true self - your soul - and see what it is asking of you. Then have the courage to do what it asks. Your soul might be asking you to leave your job. Or it might just be asking you to take a bubble bath. Or a deep breath. Find that light inside of you, even if it's just a flicker right now, and follow it. This doesn't mean you have to make drastic changes. It just means you need to find your way home.

 

Home to you.

 

If you're lucky enough to be privileged, use your privilege wisely.

 

How many of us have enough privilege to follow our true self, but are too afraid to do it?

 

Your privilege provides you with an opportunity to make your life - and the world - a better place. Don't be complacent. Don't settle. Make changes in baby steps or in huge sweeping strides. It's really up to you. And know that you'll inspire yourself - and others - along the way.

 

It's Hip To Be Cynical (And I Refuse To Be Hip)

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 14, 2016 at 3:25 AM

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Sometimes I worry that the people who read my blog might think I'm woo-woo or airy fairy or "out there." I wonder if people lump me in with other self-helpers who promise eternal happiness in three easy steps. I ponder whether my words reek of false positivity - like a band-aid too small to cover a large wound.

 

In sitting with these feelings, I realized they come from a deep rooted need that I've always had: the need to belong. When I was younger, I never felt like I belonged in any social group. I was bullied and teased, and I always felt different from my peers.

 

My blogs help me connect with others. They are one of the ways that I've managed to find my tribe of like-minded people.

 

But every once in a while a nagging voice pops in. The voice tells me that my words are bullshit. It tells me that no one cares about what I have to say. It tells me that only two people in the world ever read my blogs (my husband and my mom). It tells me that the world is a dark, terrible place, and that my attempts to share love and light are misguided and naive.

 

So I got to thinking, where does this voice come from?

 

This voice probably comes from many places. But one idea that came to mind relatively quickly was this: I think it has become hip to be cynical.

 

Perhaps this is nothing new. Adolescence, for example, is a time when most youth think it's hip to be cynical. In many ways, teens are hard-wired to go against the grain and reject whatever society throws at them.

 

But I think our cynicism is more pervasive than a short-lived bout of teen angst.

 

These days, people in their 20s, 30s, 40s (and beyond) seem to think it's cool to be a cynic. Along with other hipster trends like beards, skinny jeans, and thick black-rimmed eyeglasses, my generation seems to enjoy criticizing everything - especially things that are infused with even one atom of positivity. We see humans as motivated purely by self-interest, even when they display kindness, empathy, or altruism. 

 

Along these lines, it's cool to be an atheist (or agnostic). It's hip to bash people who are into alternative medicine or anti-vaccine or angel readings. Rational thought rules. It's realistic and intelligent to perceive the universe as a physical object that can be perfectly measured by the laws of science. There is no room for mystery, for magic, for the unknown.

 

I was trained as a research scientist - so trust me when I say that I love science. I think that rigorously evaluating the natural world is a fascinating and worthwhile endeavor. But I also think that my scientific training turned me into a cynic - a situation from which I'm slowly starting to recover.

 

Personally, I try to blend science and what some might call spirituality by studying topics that fall within the realm of positive psychology. I research topics like yoga and well-being, and I teach an undergraduate positive psychology course. But even here, cynicism abounds.

 

When teaching my positive psychology course last semester, I was surprised to find that a decent number of my students were wary about the course content. They seemed to have an underlying desire to refute much of what was being taught. On the one hand, this was a great example of critical thinking, a skill that professors often try to foster in students. We don't want our students to be opinion-less robots who take everything we say at face value. And from this perspective, many of my students brought up valid points that led to interesting discussions.

 

But I couldn't help but wonder: is our desire to teach "good science" and critical thinking creating a generation of cynics? Perhaps we're going too far, to the point that critical thinking is becoming cynical thinking.

 

While I agree that the world can be a dark, sad, tragic place, and that bad things happen to good people every day, I worry that if we become too cynical, too rational, too focused on the mechanical laws that we believe govern our physical universe, then we will lose our ability to spread hope, to share love, and to dwell in the mystery of both the dark and the light.

 

I'm not trying to avoid the negativity that exists in our world. I'm not averting my gaze or hiding. I'm here. And I'm trying to remind all of us that there are also many, many good things that happen every day. (Check out the Good News Network for examples). There are kind, generous, loving people in the world. There is magic all around us - it comes in the form of synchronicities, transcendent experiences, and your lover's eyes. There are questions that science simply can't answer (yet).

 

 

 

So if it's hip to be cynical, then I guess I'm a geek. My scientific colleagues might scoff at my words. My friends and family might think I'm a Pollyanna. Readers might bash my blogs.

 

But perhaps, for the first time in my life, I don't want to belong to the cool crowd.

 

I want to forge a new path. A path that combines rigorous scientific inquiry with an openness to magic. A science that goes beyond the red tape and white walls of academia to exist within and around us.

 

A science of the soul.

 

This soul-science means that sometimes I'll sit at my computer for eight hours straight conducting complex statistical analyses. Other days, I might wander in the park or have a three-hour philosophical conversation or go for a pedicure. Soul-science involves a desire to integrate the physical, material world with what's above (i.e. spirituality) and below (i.e. soul). It means that sometimes I'll focus on the dark. And other times I'll focus on love and light.

 

You might think I'm naive, or that I've lost my scientific chops, or that I'm avoiding reality. You might think I'm a geek. But that's ok - being cool is overrated anyway

 

 

 

Facing Your Fears At Any Age

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 1, 2016 at 3:50 AM

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Age is a funny thing. Sometimes we look younger than we are, or feel older than we look. Some people have "old souls" that impart wisdom from a young age, while others maintain a childlike sense of wonder well into their 90s.

 

No matter how old we are, most of us have one thing in common: fear. We are all afraid of something. You might be afraid of death, or spiders, or subways, or seaweed. You might be afraid of failure - or even of success. Modern society makes it pretty easy to be afraid. We fear violence, we fear terrorism, we fear debt, we fear people who are different from us.

 

My mom, for example, is afraid of a lot of things. My stepfather used to call her "snowflake" because she wouldn't drive her car if there was even one snowflake falling from the sky. One of her biggest fears is airplanes. At the age of 65 she had never owned a passport. She had only been on an airplane once in her life (a 3 hour domestic flight), and she had never left North America.

 

Until last week.

 

Last week my mom put her fears aside (to the best of her ability) and took a 9 hour flight to visit me in Prague. It wasn't easy for her. In fact, she was terrified. But she did it. We're spending two weeks together before she heads back to Canada, and I know it's a time that we will both cherish for the rest of our lives.

 

 

 

My mom's first trip to Europe got me thinking about how we often use age as an excuse. We often believe that we're too old to learn a new skill, or adopt an exercise routine, or find love, or spruce up our sex life, or [fill in the blank]. Of course, it's possible to have physical limitations that sometimes (emphasis on the sometimes) reduce our ability to do certain things. But in many cases, age should not limit us. Here are some examples (from here):

 

  • After a career in science, Peter Mark Roget compiled the first thesaurus and published it at age 73.
  • At age 65 Colonial Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • Henry Ford introduced the Model T at age 45, but invented the assembly line at age 60.
  • Andrea Bocelli didn’t start singing opera seriously until the age of 34. Some ‘experts’ told him it was too late to begin.
  • Phyliss Diller became a comedian at the age of 37. She was told by many club owners that she was “too old” to become a success.
  • Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, was 43 when he began drawing his legendary superheroes.
  • Julia Child didn’t learn to cook until she was almost 40 and didn’t launch her popular show until she was 50.
  • At 90, Pablo Picasso was still producing art.
  • At 85, Coco Chanel was the head of her fashion design firm.
  • Thomas Edison invented the telephone at age 84.
  • Barbara McLintock was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine at the age of 81.
  • Benjamin Franklin signed the declaration of independence shortly after he retired from printing at age 70.
  • Yoko Nakano took up running at age 60 and ran the 2016 Boston Marathon at age 80.

 

Personally, I'm approaching my 40s, an age that many people associate with "mid-life." But in reality, mid-life means you're only halfway through! If I focus on my best years being behind me, then all I feel is regret and loss. But when I think of all the amazing experiences I've had up until now, I get excited about what's to come.

 

Here's a question. Is there something you've always wanted to do, but you've been telling yourself that you're too old? Maybe you want to travel to Europe, or take a tap dancing class, or learn Spanish. My advice is: do it. It's possible to fill your later years with joy and enthusiasm and meaning, it's just a matter of seeking these things out in whatever way feels right for you.

 

What have you been telling yourself you're too old to do? Are you willing to give it a try? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Tired of Trying to Fix Yourself? Try This Instead.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on May 19, 2016 at 3:45 AM

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Do you have a nagging issue that's bothered you for years? Yeah, me too. I've spent decades experimenting with a cornucopia of ways to get rid of my issues. I've tried:

 

Psychotherapy

Support groups

Personal development workshops

Life coaching

Yoga

Self-care

Online seminars

Naturopathy

Antidepressants

Affirmations

Psychics

Self-help books

Retreats

Reiki

Tapping

Healthy eating

Meditation

Massage

 

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Most of my adult life has involved a valiant effort to "fix myself." This is because I've often assumed that I was broken and in need of fixing. After a few years of the "fix it" approach, I started trying to convince myself that I wasn't broken - I was perfect - and that I should just flat out accept myself regardless of whatever issue was bothering me that day.

 

The problem is that neither approach really worked.

 

Don't get me wrong - I've made a lot of "progress" through my dedicated efforts at personal development. I got off antidepressants and significantly reduced the anxiety and depression that used to plague me. But it's not like these things completely disappeared. And therein lies one of the problems: I expected these issues to disappear. At some deep level I believed that one day I would wake up without a single worry or issue - and maybe even ride off into the sunset on a unicorn.

 

The second problem was that when I tried the self-acceptance approach, I felt like I was being fake. I would repeat affirmation after affirmation, or force myself to come into the present moment to watch my anxiety or pay attention to my breath (a mindfulness approach that, while useful, also sometimes feels too much like I'm forcing myself to accept or ignore something that feels uncomfortable). 

 

 

 

I'll preface what I'm about to write next by saying that I don't think I've figured out a solution to this problem. But lately I've been experimenting with an approach that feels different than anything I've ever tried before.

 

It involves play.

 

Yes, play. I think as adults many of us have forgotten what it means to play. When is the last time you ran out of your house on a beautiful spring evening to go play? With no goal or purpose or task you needed to complete. Simply a desire to have some fun.

 

Can you access a part of you that remembers what play was like as a child? Personally, I remember wandering around my neighborhood simply being open to opportunities for magic. My imagination would run wild with stories, ideas, and alternate realities. Suddenly my backyard would become a medieval garden where I was the princess, or a tower where I was trapped. I would cast spells on caterpillars, plant time capsules in my garden, and throw bottled notes into lake Ontario. I didn't plan these activities - they just happened, in the moment, through my willingness to be open.

 

I recently listened to online seminars by Sera Beak and Martha Beck, both of whom brought up a playful approach to handling our issues. Sera talked about names she gives to her complexes, and the ways in which she speaks to those complexes in a loving, playful, and compassionate way. I've heard of a similar approach before - mostly from life coaches who refer to their complexes as "gremlins" or other such beasts that need to be tamed and ultimately eliminated.

 

Sera's approach was different. She wasn't trying to get rid of her complexes. Instead, she gave them playful names, thanked them for what they were trying to do, and had some fun with them.

 

This inspired me to see if I could name my complexes and be playful with them. Here's an example. I have a complex that I've decided to call "Frugal Fanny." When I try to envision her, Frugal Fanny looks like an elderly spinster-type woman who lived through the Great Depression. She worries about, and hoards, every cent that she makes - to the point that she dies with millions of dollars in the bank - and feels like she never truly lived.

 

I've spent years trying to get rid of Frugal Fanny. In therapy, I tried to recognize and refute the irrational cognitions that often led to my financial fear. In the self-help world I repeated affirmations about abundance and posted these affirmations all over my house. I tried tapping away my financial fears. I tried giving to charity when I was low on finances. I tried repeating gratitude prayers while paying bills. I tried to access past lives to understand why I held so much fear about lacking money. I tried focusing on my breath when financial fears arose. I tried printing a fake check and writing a large monthly income on it, then pinning this check to my vision board.

 

But Frugal Fanny is still here. She is here whether I have $100 or $1,000 in the bank. She is here no matter how hard I try to make her disappear.

 

Lately I've been taking a more playful approach with Frugal Fanny. First, I named and acknowledged her existence - and I did this by giving her a funny name that makes me smile. Second, when she appears, I first thank her for her efforts. Then I gently let her know that her services are not needed in that moment. The conversation might go something like this:

 

"Thank-you, Fanny, for trying to protect me. Throughout my life you've helped me avoid making irrational financial decisions and you've prevented me from going into huge amounts of debt. I remember when I was 18 years old and you helped me squirrel away all the tips I made at my waitressing job. Those tips helped me buy a used car, a computer, and paid for my first year of university. So trust me when I say that I appreciate you. At this exact moment, however, your services are not needed. I'm about to purchase a $10 bottle of body lotion, and I have more than enough money in the bank to afford it. So how about you let me take the lead here?"

 

Elizabeth Gilbert described a similar approach that she takes when fear tries to interfere with her writing process. She thanks her fear for keeping her safe in situations that are actually dangerous and then she gently lets it know that writing is not life-threatening and thus fear is not allowed to be in the driver's seat in that moment.

 

I've created names for some of my other complexes, too. I have Work-Horse Wendy, who is a slave driver that tries to make sure I'm being productive during every waking moment of the day. I also have Humbleina, who tries to keep me humble and modest, and who wants me to play small in the world. And sometimes my complexes like to work together. For example, Frugal Fanny and Humbelina sometimes team up to warn me that I've set my hourly rates too high, or that I don't deserve financial abundance, or that the money I have in the bank could disappear at any moment.

 

Being playful with these complexes doesn't make them go away. It also doesn't mean that I blindly accept them with overflowing love and compassion. It just means that I talk with them. I acknowledge them. I play with them. I laugh with (and at) them. I don't try to figure out where they came from. And I don't try to eliminate them.

 

I'm taking an approach that Rumi recommended long ago in this poem:

 

The Guest House

 

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

 

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

 

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

 

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

 

Which of your complexes are serving as your guides right now? What are their names? What are they trying to teach you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

A Letter To My Teen (And Your Teen)

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on May 4, 2016 at 8:55 AM

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Recently, while doing yoga, an image appeared in my mind's eye. The image was of myself as a teen. Actually, it was more than just an image. It was a feeling. I was reminded, in mind and body, of what life felt like back then. And I was infused with a deep sense of compassion for the young woman who was struggling to find her way through her teens and early twenties.

 

While my early years weren't as devastating or traumatic as what many people go through, I experienced my fair share of difficulties. My parents divorced when I was young, and my father eventually stopped communicating with me. My stepfather was a decent, but troubled man - a recovering alcoholic who was blind due to a gunshot wound that almost killed him in his twenties. I also seemed to have been born with a pervasive sense of anxiety that was way beyond my years and that often resulted in random illnesses, phobias, and insomnia. I was often bullied or ignored in elementary school, and I ended up on antidepressants in my early twenties.

 

Don't get me wrong - my childhood wasn't all bad. I had food and shelter, a caring family, a few close friends, several hobbies, and a general sense that I was loved. But I also had a crushing sense of low self-esteem. I never felt good enough and I constantly compared myself to others who I believed had it "better" than I did. I also suffered from a crippling lack of confidence in my opinions, beliefs, and experiences. I always deferred to authority figures, or to people who were "cooler" than I was. When it came to having opinions or making decisions, it's almost as if I lacked a sense of self.

 

Even in high school, when by some twist of fate I ended up hanging out with the "cool kids," I always felt inadequate. I felt like I lived on the fringes of the cool crowd - sort of cool, but never cool enough.

 

In my mind I was never:

 

Pretty enough.

 

Funny enough.

 

Athletic enough.

 

Smart enough.

 

Witty enough.

 

Blonde enough.

 

Relaxed enough.

 

Big-breasted enough.

 

Hip enough.

 

I felt like boys ignored me, girls tolerated me and that for most intents and purposes, I was relatively invisible.

 

 

Me at age 16.

 

The kicker is that most of these things were absolutely false. And I even had evidence for it. Concrete evidence that was presented to me on a regular basis. For example, I won almost every academic award in my high school. I even won an award for being the "sassiest girl," which, from what I can recall, had something to do with being witty/funny. I had boyfriends and close female friends who complimented and supported me regularly. At the end of high school I even ended up being Valedictorian of my graduating class through a combination of academic excellence and being voted in by my peers. I'd obtained a scholarship to attend university and the world seemed to be my oyster.

 

But my insecurities continued to crush me.

 

I spent my early twenties in therapy, on antidepressants, and desperately seeking all forms of male approval. A messy love triangle contributed to me hitting rock bottom by age 24. Since then, I've spent over a decade on a journey of personal development, healing, and self-discovery. I got off antidepressants, worked on building my self-confidence, and managed to create a pretty awesome life for myself.

 

What I discovered throughout this healing journey is this: I have always been good enough.

 

I was good enough as a child. I was good enough as a teenager. I was good enough in my twenties. And I'm good enough now.

 

Sometimes I wish I could sit down with the teenage version of myself, take her hands, look deeply into her eyes, and tell her these things. I would encourage her to listen to her own inner guidance. I would ask her to trust that everything would be ok - even during difficult times. I would urge her to stop basing her self-worth on her academics or on what other people thought of her or on what she looked like compared to everyone else.

 

I have such immense compassion for the young woman I once was. She took many difficult situations and did her best to persevere through them. She showed immense strength, resilience, and determination in the face of adversity. Beneath all of her accomplishments was a deeply entrenched belief that she was worth it. That it was not only possible for her to live an incredible life - but that she deserved it.

 

I hope that any teens reading this blog (or adults accessing their inner teen) who can relate to aspects of my teenage years will take comfort in the idea that things can (and will) get better. When I say "get better," I don't mean you're going to be happy all the time or that nothing bad will ever happen to you. Case in point: yesterday would have been my stepfather's 64th birthday. He died tragically and unexpectedly 9 years ago - an event that is burned in my memory and that was extremely difficult to process.

 

What I mean is that despite life's tragedies, there is a glimmer of light on the horizon. Follow it. Trust yourself in all of your beauty and your darkness.

 

Know that as you age and mature, one day you will look back and feel immense love for the young woman you once were. Because that woman is incredible just as she is.

 

 

 

How To Find Bliss in Your Everyday Experiences

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 18, 2016 at 7:25 AM

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Last week I gave a lecture on "Religion, Spirituality, and Well-Being" for an undergraduate Positive Psychology course that I'm teaching. The lecture covered a range of topics, with a particular focus on scientific and individual explorations of what some call "transcendent experiences." These experiences are extremely difficult to define, but they've been reported by religious and non-religious people throughout history.

 

Take, for example, Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuro-anatomist who had a transcendent experience when her left hemisphere shut down during a stroke. Or Gary Weber, a scientist who, one day 17 years ago, was practicing a yoga posture and lost his sense of I/self (and who has managed to continue to function in society). Or Lissa Rankin, a medical doctor and author who went through a spontaneous transcendent experience with two friends on a beach, during which the normal laws of space and time did not seem to exist.

 

What all of these experiences have in common is a departure from ordinary reality (without the use of alcohol or drugs) that instilled the experiencer with a sense of awe, wonder, connectedness, and love. Each individual returned to the "ordinary" world as a changed person who felt they received (and perhaps continue to maintain) a glimpse into the mysteries of life and the universe.

 

Now, before we all go off and try to have our own transcendent experiences, let me make a few things clear. First, while scientists have started to investigate topics like enlightenment, research in this area is still very preliminary. There are, for example, questions about what makes some experiences transcendent or mystical, while others are labeled psychotic or delusional (such as in schizophrenia). Many questions remain about how to even define transcendent experiences let alone measure them.

 

However some scientists, particularly in the field of transpersonal psychology, suggest that transcendent experiences may give us a glimpse into optimal human functioning. For example, in 1902 William James, the father of American psychology, vigorously argued that scientists should study transcendent experiences, as these experiences hold keys to help us explore the heights of human personality. James believed that the world that we perceive when we experience a sense of wonder is actually an accurate representation of reality, but that this "true reality" often escapes us as we get bogged down in our busy, day-to-day lives.

 

James' hypotheses were largely dismissed until around 50 years later when Abraham Maslow, originator of the well-known hierarchy of needs, began his explorations into self-actualization. Maslow became particularly interested in peak experiences, which he described as brief moments of intense joy, wonder, appreciation, or connection to a larger spirituality. Maslow argued that these types of peak experiences should be fostered in education settings by instilling a sense of wonder and appreciation in children, which he believed would produce more creative individuals in the sciences and the arts.

 

Later in his life, Maslow went on to hypothesize about a phenomenon that he called the plateau experience, in which peak experiences become an almost permanent part of our day-to-day lives. During a plateau experience, all aspects of the world take on a sacred quality, which Maslow referred to as resacralization, or restoring a sense of the sacred to the ordinary world. Maslow saw this as an antidote to the modern-day tendency toward desacralization, in which humans tend to perceive the world as a set of material/mechanical objects with no inherent meaning or sacredness.

 

Unfortunately, as was the case with James before him, Maslow's ideas about plateau experiences have not received a lot of empirical attention (see here for an exception). But personally, I think Maslow was on to something.

 

No matter what we call ourselves (spiritual, religious, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, etc.), I think we all have the capacity to experience the transcendent in the mundane. Each new day provides us with countless opportunities to witness beauty. Whether it's a lovely garden, a smile from a stranger, or the face of someone we love. We can consciously choose to fill our days with elation, awe, and wonder, which many believe are the key stepping stones toward more powerful transcendent experiences. Research also suggests that cultivating a sense of sacredness in life is related to greater personal well-being.

 

In other words, while we might not all have the capacity (or the desire) to have a full blown enlightenment experience, we can choose to make peak experiences so common that we end up living in a state of plateau experience. One of the best ways to do this might be to simply become more aware of the beauty that's already around you. And remember, beauty doesn't always have to be sunshine and rainbows. There can be beauty in saying good-bye to someone in the final moments of their life. There can be beauty in your heart breaking open so wide that you allow new love in. There can be beauty in the surrender that comes from facing the realities of a terminal illness.

 

All of it can be perceived as sacred.

 

Imagine what your life (and the world) would be like if we were all living Maslow's plateau experience. I'm not saying we would have a utopia, but I get the sense that we would have a lot more love, respect, and happiness floating around. Imagine perceiving your fellow humans as sacred, regardless of whether they look like you or share your beliefs. Imagine perceiving Mother Earth as sacred, thereby doing your best to minimize your environmental impact.

 

 

 

Perhaps, as James and Maslow suggested, this is how humans are meant to live. Perhaps the plateau experience reflects humanity at its best - in a state of optimal flourishing. Perhaps, by taking 30 seconds to appreciate the sun on your face, you are contributing to your ability to transcend the busy-ness of day-to-day life in the service of something greater. Perhaps one of the keys to human happiness is to find the sacred in the mundane, the transcendence in the turmoil, and the plateau of peak experience that we are all capable of living.

 

Today I encourage you to invite awe, elation, and wonder into your life. No matter how dark your world currently seems, I bet you can find beauty somewhere. (Because there is beauty in your darkness. Trust me, it's there.).

 

Maybe the keys to flourishing have been right in front of you all along, just waiting for you to notice. So go ahead, take them in. Because as Gary Weber suggests, "Enlightenment is capable of endless enlargement."

 

 

Our Pathological Pursuit of Productivity Over Pleasure

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 4, 2016 at 7:55 AM

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Many people struggle with procrastination. No matter how hard they try, they can't seem to get started on whatever it is they're supposed to be doing. There always seems to be something more interesting competing for their attention, like the latest episode of the Kardashians or Beyonce's Instagram feed.

 

For much of my life, I've joked that I'm incapable of procrastination. In university, friends often envied my inability to skip class or pull all-nighters or hand in late projects. They would ask me why. Why can't I procrastinate, and how might I inject them with some of this anti-procrastination vaccine? Well, I haven't quite figured out the vaccination question, but I did figure out the why. The reason I don't procrastinate is because procrastinating makes me so anxious that it's simply not worth doing. For me, procrastination just isn't enjoyable.

 

Or so I thought.

 

It ends up that I've been lying to myself for years. Because guess what? I do procrastinate. In a major way.

 

I procrastinate pleasure.

 

In other words, I'd rather do work - any type of work - than give myself permission to experience pleasure. For example, let's say I have a book that I really want to read. I'll prioritize any number of miscellaneous "productive" tasks above reading that book. I'll decide that I need to water my plants, or re-organize my bookshelf, or empty my inbox, or cut my nails. I'll do task after task after task until lo and behold, I no longer have time to read my book. But my apartment is spotless and my inbox is clean and I appear to be a highly functioning member of society.

 

Although it might sound strange, I believe that my particular form of procrastination is far more common than you might imagine.

 

Many of us have prioritized productivity for so long that we've become incapable of experiencing pleasure, to the point that pursuing pleasurable activities actually makes us anxious. And the kicker is that the procrastination of pleasure is so deeply entrenched in modern society that no one gets on our case about it. (And we might not even notice we're doing it).

 

No one shows up at my apartment to berate me for not reading my book. Quite the opposite. People praise me for my achievements and my work ethic and how I seem to "have it all together."

 

This is seriously f*cked up!

 

Because I believe that my procrastination of pleasure is a serious problem. And no one ever calls me on it.

 

We've prioritized productivity to the point that it has become pathological. How many of you are trying so hard to 'have it all' that your health and well-being are suffering? Many Americans don't even bother taking all of their vacation days. Take, for example, Amy Westervelt, who recently wrote an article on how Having It All Kinda Sucks. Amy took one day off to have her baby. One day. Then she basically hid her child from her clients because she didn't want them to worry she would flake out on potential jobs.

 

Society not just endorses, but subtly and insidiously encourages this sh*t.

 

In Pursuit of Lost Pleasure

 

In an effort to combat this problem, I've spent the past few years in pursuit of pleasure over productivity. It's an extremely slow and difficult journey for me, but I refuse to give up. I started by committing to taking evenings and weekends off - with very few exceptions. I don't check my work email after 6pm during the week, or on Saturday or Sunday. I stuck to this principle when I worked in the corporate world, I continued it at Harvard, and I still do it today. I also go on retreats pretty regularly and devote periods of time to doing nothing. I even took 2 months off to live in the woods and then revamped my lifestyle so that I could live in Europe. And recently I took a complete time out from all social media and blogging.

 

While I've been good at "giving" my evenings and weekends back to myself, I haven't been so great at prioritizing pleasure during these times. Instead, I often take this time to run errands or catch up on personal email. However, my recent move to Prague has brought me face-to-face with a European culture that, in many cases, prioritizes pleasure over productivity. This is extremely frustrating when you're a client who needs to get something done on a Friday afternoon. But it's liberating when you make a spontaneous decision to meet a friend at a cafe at 2pm on a Tuesday and realize you can barely get a seat because so many other people are doing the same thing. I'm eating more sweets, drinking more beer, and indulging in more pleasurable activities than I have in a long time. And it feels fantastic.

 

 

 

Recently, as I was enjoying a leisurely walk in the park on a Thursday afternoon (which was difficult to convince myself to do), it occurred to me that pleasure can be productive. Giving my brain a chance to rest, enjoying the beauty of the world around me, and nurturing my social relationships can actually contribute to me being more effective at work. How? Because when I approach my work with a well-rested, happy, healthy brain, my output can't help but be good.

 

Lately I've been committing to not only seeing pleasure as a spiritual practice, but also to trusting that pleasure is actually productive. It might not look like the productivity that's commonly encouraged by modern society, but it is productive, in its own sweet way, nonetheless. It is productive in maintaining my health, my well-being, and my sanity. It is productive in re-connecting me to my Soul. I'm not pursuing a completely reckless, hedonistic lifestyle, or using pleasure as an avoidance tactic (I need to do at least some work, after all...don't I? Or do I? Perhaps this is a topic for future blogs :)).

 

In the end I think that, despite my pursuit of pleasure, I'll continue to be just as productive as I have in the past.

 

What about you? Do you have trouble pursuing pleasure? Do you think pleasure can be productive? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Feel Like You've Gotten Off Track? Read This.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 23, 2016 at 4:45 AM

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Do you ever find yourself stuck in a rut? One minute you feel on track, tapped into your authenticity, and blazing with enthusiasm. Then, for no apparent reason, you lose it. Negative thoughts start having a party in your psyche. You feel off track, disconnected, and like someone poured ice on your fire.

 

You fall off the "Soul wagon," so to speak.

 

Lately I've been feeling like someone took my Soul wagon, turned it upside down, and dumped me in a forest of old habits that I thought I was finished with.

 

And I have no idea why.

 

Externally, things are going great. I'm teaching a course on a topic that I'm passionate about (Positive Psychology), I'm consulting on a topic I'm passionate about (yoga in schools), and I live in an amazing city (Prague). I have a great husband, money in the bank, and new friendships that are blooming all around me. I'm exploring new cultures, cooking healthy food, and continuing to explore my personal development. I'm young and healthy. I have every reason to be happy.

 

But.

 

Something feels off.

 

I've experienced this type of conflict between my internal and external worlds several times, but it always catches me by surprise. Like when I had a good corporate job, a cute house and car, and lots of close friends - but cried every day on my way to work. Or when I worked for one of the top academic institutions in the world (Harvard Medical School) - but felt trapped.

 

So here I am. Again. The question is, why?

 

I suppose there are a few options:

 

1. I'm simply incapable of being happy, no matter how great my external life is.

 

2. I'm relying too much on my external world to make me happy.

 

3. I'm experiencing the normal ups and downs that come with choosing to pursue an authentic, Soul-based life.

 

Personally, I think (hope) that I'm experiencing a combination of #2 and #3. For much of my adult life, I've overly identified with external indicators of my worth. In school, my grades determined how I felt about myself. In the corporate world, it was my ability to win awards at work. At Harvard, it was my ability to get grants and publish research articles. Now, in Prague, it's my ability to effectively teach my course and get/keep consulting clients.

 

The problem is that when I use these external factors as indicators of my self-worth, I never feel worthy enough.

 

There's always more I could do when teaching my course or consulting for a client. There's always more I could do in general. This is where all of the "shoulds" come in. I should be writing a book. I should be updating my website. I should be offering a new online course. I should be setting up a new workshop. I should be building my online platform.

 

It will never, ever be enough to satisfy my ego's need for external approval.

 

During these times, I've noticed a sneaky set of habits that start to creep in. They enter subtly, like mist through a crack in the door. At first I don't even notice I'm doing them, until one day I wake up and realize these habits are running the show. They might seem innocuous to you, but in my life these behaviors are signals that something is off balance. Here are a few of them:
 

  • I start setting an alarm every morning. And, over a period of weeks, my "wake-up time" gets earlier and earlier (so that I can get more done).
     
  • I start to worry (even obsess) about my finances - no matter how much I have in the bank.
     
  • I engage in a lot of ruminative, negative self-talk, telling myself that I should be over these habits by now.
     
  • I avoid "indulging" in things that feel good (like having dessert or buying myself a specialty tea).
     
  • I start styling my hair very straight. This sounds strange, but it's true. My hair is naturally wavy, but I've been blow-drying it straight since I was a teenager. When I fall off the "Soul wagon," I tend to wear my hair very, very straight.
     
  • I become obsessed with being at my computer - I feel the need to constantly be doing something "productive" and feel nervous when I take time to unplug.
     
  • I become very strict with my work hours (even as an entrepreneur who can set my own schedule). I force myself to work from 9 to 5, even though I work from home - and I feel guilty when I don't follow this schedule.
     

What do all of these things have in common?

 

They are all indicators that I'm trying too hard.

 

They are all artifacts of the work-horse element of my ego. The part of me that refuses to believe I'm good enough no matter how much I do or how much I accomplish. They all involve a strictness. A tightness. An inability to be flexible and in the flow.

 

Ultimately, they all involve restricting pleasure.

 

If you're still reading, you're probably hoping that I'm going to reveal a magical solution to solve this issue. The problem is, I don't actually have a solution. What I've realized is that this is my Soul's work in this lifetime. My Soul's work is to live what I teach by going through the mud, dirt, and dark nights involved in fighting my demons.

 

My Soul's work is to try not to try (so hard).

 

This means that, as best as possible, I am to notice the habits above without judging myself for having them. I am to notice these habits without getting down on myself that they are here, again. Just like when I practice mindfulness meditation, I am to notice that these habits are here. And just be with it. I can even congratulate myself for having enough self-awareness to notice my patterns.

 

Then, as best as possible, I am to bring more pleasure into my life. A dear friend recently shared with me the idea of pleasure as a spiritual practice. The basic idea is that for some us, bringing more pleasure into our lives is a way for us to commune with the divine. This stands in stark contrast to the idea of suffering in this life so that we can achieve happiness later on. Instead, what if, for some people, the way to fully incarnate our Soul (or authentic self) in this lifetime is to experience the pure pleasure and bliss that can come from being in this human body, on this earth, at this time? Even in the midst of suffering that might occur within us and around us?

 

It's a paradox, I know. But I think it is a paradox worth exploring.

 

And so here I am, with bruised knees and many scars, doing my best to crawl back into my Soul wagon. It is highly likely that I will fall off again. And again. And again. But this is part of excavating your authentic life. This is part of doing the internal work so that you don't rely so strongly on external factors.

 

This is the beauty and the banality, the pleasure and the paradox, of being fully human. Because as I've mentioned before:

 

 

 

Do you have any tips for getting back on the Soul wagon? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

5 Tips to Become More Authentic on Social Media

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 6, 2016 at 9:40 AM

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In February I decided to take a break from social media. No Facebook. No Twitter. No blogging. Prior to this, I was posting and tweeting daily, and writing a blog every 2 weeks. As an avid user of social media, I was nervous that my February Facebook Fast would result in some serious withdrawal symptoms.

 

I'm happy to report, however, that my detox actually went quite well.

 

I didn't experience enlightenment. Nor have I come to believe that social media is the devil. But I did notice a few interesting patterns that inspired me to change several habits and make a general call for increased authenticity in social media.

 

Here are a few of my habits and changes:

 

Habit #1: Posting When I Don't Feel Like It

 

I have two Facebook pages - a professional page and a personal page. I typically post on my professional page daily, which is recommended as a general practice to keep your audience engaged and grow your platform. However some days I used to struggle to find something to post. This often resulted in me wasting time seeking out an inspirational nugget to share.

 

Solution: Only Post When I Have Something True to Share

 

From now on, I'm only going to post on my professional page when I truly have something to share. It might be something directly from me, or a quote, or an article, but I'm not going to force myself to post every day. This might mean that my number of followers decreases, or that I don't grow my platform as quickly, but at least my posts will be coming from a true and inspired place within me.

 

Habit #2: Facebook as Distraction

 

In the past I typically only checked Facebook once per day, however sometimes I would linger, trolling through my newsfeed out of boredom or as a method to distract myself from how I was currently feeling. Or, like many people, I often trolled through my feed while waiting for public transit or an appointment.

 

Solution: Get Into The Moment

 

Now, when I feel the urge to go on Facebook as a distraction, I avoid logging in and instead bring myself into the present. If I'm waiting for the bus or subway, I take a deep breath and notice the people, animals, trees, and sky around me. If I'm at home, I take a moment to check in to see what (if anything) I'm distracting myself from. If it's a feeling, I pull out my journal or put on some good music to dance it off. If it's a conversation, I go have the conversation. If it's a task, I do the task.

 

Habit #3: Constant Notification

 

I've never been a fan of receiving instant notifications from email or Facebook (or any app) on my cell phone, so I never turned on these notifications. However, I was receiving Facebook notifications via email. So every time I logged into email, my "social" tab would be full of Facebook messages that I felt pressure to answer. I thought that by not receiving these notifications instantly on my phone, I was giving myself some healthy separation from social media by allowing myself to choose when to check these messages. But I realized that even just seeing that I had new messages under my "social" tab in email sometimes felt overwhelming.

 

Solution: Turn Off Email Notifications

 

I turned off all email notifications from Facebook. What this means is that I don't receive an email every time someone comments on one of my posts or sends me a Facebook message. Instead, I choose when to log into Facebook, and then I check my notifications center to see if anyone has commented on my posts or messaged me. My inbox has never been happier!

 

Habit #4: Leaky Boundaries

 

I've always loved taking photos, and I post a lot of photos on my personal Facebook page. This habit has increased since I moved to Prague, because photos help keep my friends and family back home updated on how I'm doing. However, during my Facebook Fast, I noticed a sense of space and relief that emerged as I no longer felt I had to take a picture of every single thing I was experiencing. I realized that, while I wasn't posting about every intimate detail of my life, in many ways I had leaky social media boundaries. I was posting about most of my social activities, including who I was with, what I was doing, and even what I was eating/drinking. This often resulted in not being fully present doing what I was doing, because I was trying to snap a perfect photo of it.

 

Solution: Plug the Leaks

 

I've decided to pull back from posting so many details about my life - particularly on my personal Facebook page. Instead, I'm making an effort to be more present in the moment by just being in that moment - and realizing that some moments are, in fact, sacred. Don't get me wrong - I intend to continue posting photos about my adventures, I just plan to be more selective about what I post. This has already resulted in feeling like I'm more physically present in my actual life as it is happening, instead of having one foot in reality and the other foot in my "cyber-life."

 

Habit #5: I've Got Something to Prove

 

I never saw myself as someone who posted on social media to show other people how awesome my life is compared to theirs, however my Facebook Fast made me realize that there are times when I fall into this trap. I seem especially likely to post in this way after I make a big decision in my life, like when I left Harvard to live in the woods or when I left the woods for Prague. Part of me wants to prove to others that I made the right decision, even when my decisions seemed risky.

 

Solution: WAIP

 

Author Gabrielle Bernstein once told me about a technique she uses that helps her be more present to the needs of others. Whenever Gabby finds herself dominating a social situation by talking too much, she uses the WAIT acronym, which stands for "Why am I talking?" In other words, she takes a step back and assesses her motivations for saying what she's saying. She pauses and lets other people have the stage.

 

I've decided to adjust this acronym slightly for social media purposes by calling it WAIP, "Why am I posting?" If, when asking yourself this question, your answer has anything to do with trying to show superiority, put others down, or be cruel, stop and consider deleting your post. Any post that feels like it could include the hashtag #mylifeisbetterthanyours or #imrightyourewrong probably shouldn't be posted anyway.

 

A Call for Authenticity

 

The main thing that my habits, and proposed changes, have in common is that they all relate to being more authentic - both in my real life and my social media life.

 

I think we're all craving a dose of authenticity in social media. Take, for example, Essena O’Neill - a teen instagram star with more than half a million followers who recently deleted many of her posts and/or edited her captions to give viewers a more authentic glimpse into her online presence. She ended up deleting all of her social media accounts and came clean about situations where she spent hours taking selfies to get the perfect "candid" shot, or times she restricted calories to look thin.

 

An authentic approach to social media makes a lot of sense, both personally and professionally. Think about it. Who do you most enjoy reading about on your Facebook feed? Is it your "perfect" friends who constantly post about how #mylifeisbetterthanyours? Or do you appreciate the friends and professional figures who admit their imperfections? Of course, everything should be shared in moderation (see point #4 above), so I'm sure you don't enjoy seeing posts from people who constantly complain. But in general, there is a sense you get from reading about people who are real - really real - on social media. And it feels good.

 

Because let's face it - perfection is boring. It's time we stop trying so hard to capture the perfect selfie, use the perfect filter, and share about our perfect lives. The beauty of life - the place where we are most likely to grow - is the place where we share our underbellies. It's the place where we share us, as authentically as social media will allow (which, of course, has its limitations).

 

 

 

So the question becomes, who are you? And do you want to share this authentic you on social media? If not, that's totally cool. Social media isn't for everyone. But if you do want to have a more authentic social media presence, you have to start by digging into the who behind the authentic you.

 

Your profile picture might be a good place to start. Right now your profile photo might be a contrived selfie, or a photo of your child - sorry to my friends who do this, but it is a pet peeve of mine. Newsflash: you are not your child! If you want to use a photo of your child as your profile photo, try to at least make it a photo of you with your child. Or, instead, try using a photo of you during a time when you felt most natural or happy, regardless of whether you're wearing makeup or looking your best.

 

Personally, I'm going to continue to try to cultivate an authentic social media presence. I'm sure I'll mess up at times, but at least my Facebook Fast helped me become more aware of my blind spots.

 

Would you like to see more authenticity in social media? Care to join me on my authentic Facebook quest? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

Trading Screen Time for Me Time

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 27, 2016 at 8:00 PM

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Facebook often gets a bad rap. Some say that social media is causing our real relationships to deteriorate while turning us into screen-addicted zombies. Others argue that social media – and much of the internet – is a mechanism for shameless self-promotion that allows us to express endless self-obsession through posts about everything from our child’s first bowel movement to what we ate for lunch.

 

 

Personally, however, I quite enjoy social media. And I’m "guilty" of posting regularly on both my personal and professional Facebook pages. In many ways I treat Facebook like my daily news. I avoid reading most major news outlets, as they typically focus on spreading fear and negativity. Instead, once a day I read my “social news” and if I feel like posting something, I do.

 

 

In general I'd say that I have pretty healthy social media habits. I check Facebook once or twice per day – usually in the evening and rarely during work hours. And I don’t typically spend more than 15-30 minutes on social media per day. When waiting for the bus or for an appointment, I rarely “troll” through my newsfeed on my phone. I never complete online quizzes or games, and I typically log out as soon as I notice myself “glazing over” while scrolling.

 

 

However, even with my limited amount of social media exposure, I notice that Facebook takes up a lot of mental space. I think about what I’m going to post (especially on my professional page, where I post daily). I think about what other people post. And I think about what people think about my posts.

 

 

I often log on to Facebook to “relax,” but it isn’t actually very relaxing.

 

 

Lately I’ve been wondering what would happen if I opened up my mental space by trading screen time for me time. What if I replaced Facebook with a real book, or some yoga, or painting, or playing an instrument? Is it possible that I might feel more creative and less mentally drained?

 

 

Or perhaps I’ll end up feeling disconnected and lonely. It's hard to tell.

 

 

My curiosity led me to decide to participate in a self-imposed February Facebook Fast, with a “blogging break” thrown in for good measure. During the month of February, I’m going to refrain from logging into Facebook. No posts. No responding to messages. No scrolling through my feed. I’m also going to take a month off from writing blogs, which I typically write every two weeks, and my e-newsletter, which I typically send out once per month.

 

 

 

 

I have no idea what the result of this little experiment will be. Maybe I’ll have a creative breakthrough. Or maybe I won’t notice a difference. Either way, I’m interested to see what the next month will hold.

 

 

Intrigued? Consider joining my February Facebook Fast (and let me know about it in the comments below!). At the beginning of March I’ll share my experience, and you can share yours, too.

 

 

See you on the other side!

 

 

7 Real-Life Examples of The Benefits of Trusting Your Gut

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 12, 2016 at 8:10 AM

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For most of my life I’ve been a “yes woman.” I often agree with what people say, sometimes before I’ve even thought through what they said. Someone might share their opinion about recent political events or something that’s going on in their relationship, and before I realize what I’m doing, I find myself nodding and “mhmm’ing” in agreement.

 

 

 

I think one of the main reasons I do this is to avoid conflict. I’ve always perceived conflict as the enemy. Conflict makes my skin crawl. It creates knots in my stomach and pain in my shoulders. Many times, I would rather drink hot sauce than disagree with someone.

 

 

 

Most times, this has resulted in me not getting my needs met. Or laughing at sexist jokes. Or witnessing unacceptable behavior without doing anything to stop it. Or thinking that I’m a horrible person because of someone else’s opinion of me (yes, I tend to agree with people about everything – including their opinions of me – even on Facebook).

 

 

 

This tendency gets even worse with authority figures. Put me in front of a doctor, or a self-help/spiritual leader, and I often find myself taking their words as truth.

 

 

 

Over the years, however, authority figures have told me several things that were, in fact, not true. Things like:

 

 

1. “Based on your personal and family history, you will probably need to be on antidepressants for the rest of your life. But it’s ok, because for depressed and anxious people, taking antidepressants is like diabetics taking insulin – you need the drugs to balance your system.” (My doctor)

 

 

2. “Your professional choices are career suicide.” (My boss)

 

 

3. “You need to focus on the positive. Positive affirmations. Moving energy to the higher chakras. Connecting with spirit. Meditate more. Eat raw. Go vegan.” (Various spiritual teachers)

 

 

4. “After getting a PhD in social psychology, the only option you have is to find a postdoctoral fellowship, then become a professor. It’s rare for companies to hire people with research-focused psychology PhDs. And even if they do hire you, you’d be taking a step down. The only acceptable place for you is at a top-tier university.” (My graduate school program)

 

 

5. “What are you doing trying to meet guys on the internet? Isn’t internet dating for losers?” (Friends)

 

 

6. “You can’t just quit your job to go live in the woods, then skip off to Europe. You’re being financially reckless and professionally irresponsible.” (My ego)

 

 

7. “You can’t write a book about how to get off antidepressants based on your personal experience. You aren’t a medical doctor or a psychotherapist. You’re being unethical.” (Former colleagues)

 

 

 

In all of these cases, people vehemently denied or opposed things that my Soul, or True Self, was nudging me to do. In all cases, I followed the advice of my Soul. And I don’t regret a single decision I made.

 

 

 

In contrast to what those around me expected, my choices led to:

 

 

 

1. Ending a 6-year stint on antidepressants (I’ve been off the medication for 10 years).

 

 

2. Doing research on yoga for Harvard Medical School and the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, as well as school-based yoga companies across the United States.

 

 

3. Focusing on the deep, dirty, difficult (and rewarding) work of connecting with my Soul. (Plus connecting with mother earth, meditating less, playing more, eating cooked food - and meat - and feeling great).

 

 

4. Getting a corporate job that paid me well and taught me a lot.

 

 

5. Meeting my future husband online.

 

 

6. Moving to Prague, where I have a higher quality of life and am more financially healthy than I’ve been in years.

 

 

7. Writing a book that has helped many people safely and gradually taper off antidepressants, including those who have been on medication for years.

 

 

 

I'm not trying to suggest that authority figures are always wrong. If your doctor tells you that you need medication, don’t immediately throw his or her advice out the window. But if your Soul is nudging you otherwise, get a second opinion from a different doctor or a naturopath. Similarly, listen to what your bosses and supervisors tell you. Digest it. Then take it with a grain of salt.

 

 

 

Because what I’ve learned from these experiences is that when it comes to making decisions, my Soul is the one with the answers. Friends, colleagues, and authority figures can provide advice, and I will listen. However these days I’m doing my best to avoid being a “yes woman.” I don’t automatically agree. I consider their opinion. Then I take some quiet time to tune into my Soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes this means that I stand up for myself. I might make other people angry. I might disappoint people who I really respect. But, oddly enough, this is not often the case. Over time I’ve noticed that people respect the fact that I have the courage to make decisions that are right for me. I have yet to burn a bridge with a professional colleague. And people who have known me for awhile have gotten used to trusting my sometimes strange ideas, because they’ve seen how things tend to work out in the end (even if there are difficult periods at first).

 

 

 

Today I encourage you to listen to your truth, instead of immediately trusting the advice of others. The path of the Soul is not always easy. You might be called to make choices that scare you. Things might go badly for awhile. But the difference between following your truth versus the advice of others is this: when things go badly, you are willing to take a huge bite of the shit sandwich that your true life is serving. Why? Because it’s way better than a shit sandwich served by someone else.

 

 

 

Resolutions are Overrated. Try This Instead.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on December 29, 2015 at 5:10 AM

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I always get a bit antsy around the new year. Every year, no matter where I'm at in my life, I experience an internal battle between my ego and my soul. It goes something like this:

 

Ego: "Alright, we're about to start a new year! Let's get our shit together."

 

Soul: "But I'm exhausted! I just spent a month eating all sorts of unhealthy food and listening to endless small talk."

 

Ego: "Suck it up, weakling! You can't handle a few treats and some conversation? What are you, a hermit? We need to start planning for an epic new year!"

 

Soul: "Can't I just put on this snuggie and lay on the couch for awhile?"

 

Ego: "Snuggies are for sloths! You're not a sloth - you're a leader. A trailblazer. What would the world be like if Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. had chosen snuggies over success?"

 

Soul: "Well, I'm hardly Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. Can't I just allow the year to unfold organically?"

 

Ego: "Stop speaking woo-woo. The only thing that should unfold organically next year is your kale. Otherwise we need to get to work. You need goals! A business plan! A 10-step process!"

 

 

 

You get the idea.

 

So here I am, on December 29th, with no solid business plan for 2016. I have a few things in mind, like teaching a positive psychology course and continuing my research consulting business, but I don't know exactly how these things are going to unfold or where they are going to lead.

 

At the moment I have no grand professional goal. I'm not trying to reach diamond status while selling vitamins or essential oils. I'm not trying to obtain a certain dollar figure in my bank account. I'm not planning to have children or buy a house or get a new car. I have no strategy for retirement. 

 

Then there are the things I feel like I "should" do. Things like fleshing out the book idea I've been sitting on for 3 years...or leading a personal development retreat in Prague...or updating my website...or creating a new online course.

 

Some of these things might happen. Others might not.

 

Am I being irresponsible? Maybe.

 

Maybe not.

 

Because despite the waves of anxiety, sadness, and disillusionment that I often experience while in this in-between space, I'm also happier than I've been in a long time. Right now, my time is my own. And after years of experimenting with a variety of jobs in academia and the corporate world, I've gotten somewhat used to what it feels like to be a one-woman entrepreneur.

 

Sure, I could make all sorts of business plans for 2016. I've tried this type of thing in the past. It turns me into an obsessive, goal-focused gremlin who has trouble harnessing the agility that's often needed in small business environments. For example, right now I'm scheduled to teach a positive psychology course starting in February, and I have a few research consulting clients who are interested in starting new projects with me in 2016. However, my Czech work visa still hasn't been approved, which means my course might get canceled. And while I have every hope that my consulting clients will continue to want my services, I have no guarantees.

 

I can choose to hold tightly to these goals, or I can choose to trust a formula that has worked for me in the past:

 

Intuition + Good Work = Success on My Terms

 

When I work, I work well. I strive to be at the top of my game. But I try to limit myself to projects that my intuition (and synchronicity) guide me toward. This formula leads to my own personal definition of success, which typically involves living an authentic life that honors my values.

 

This means that my one-woman show is often a paradox of intense fear and boundless grace.

 

It requires me to push myself. A lot. And it also requires down time so that I can recover from the pushing.

 

This new year, try taking a step back from your well-laid goals and plans. What would 2016 look like if you allowed your Soul, or True Self, to take the lead? Maybe you'll curl up in a snuggie for two weeks (or months) and then emerge with an idea to invent the next big thing. Or maybe you'll find a mentor to take you through the steps required to eventually reach your goals. 

 

If you're like me, and your soul and ego are in the midst of a heated battle, experiment with listening to your soul. See if you can trust that your soul has a plan that's bigger than any MBA-inspired process. And by bigger, I don't mean easier. I just mean more authentic.

 

My wish for you (and for myself) in 2016 is to trust our souls more. To embrace the paradox of love and fear that often comes with following the guidance of our True Self. This year, may you hear your own voice with such intensity that it is impossible to ignore. May you follow its guidance, regardless of what others think.

 

In 2016 may you simply become more You.

 

Happiest of new years

 

 

5 Tips to Align Your Life With Your Values (Regardless of What Others Think)

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on December 16, 2015 at 7:20 AM

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My husband and I have lived in 3 different countries in the past 3 years. We started in Canada, then moved to the United States, and now we're living in the Czech Republic. To some, the personal and professional choices that led to this lifestyle seem erratic. We're in our late 30s, after all. Shouldn't we be settling down, finding stable jobs, and sheltering ourselves behind a white picket fence so that we can pop out a few kids? For us, the answer is no. And that makes some people uncomfortable.

 

 

Luckily there are a growing number of examples of people our age who are living unconventional lives. Take Stevie Trujillo, who has been living out of a van for 6 years while her and her husband explore North and South America with their 3-year old daughter. Or Bryan and Jen Danger, who quit their jobs to travel the Americas in a 1967 VW bus. Or how about the Gourlay family, who make enough passive income through online businesses that they can travel extensively with their two children.

 

 

Technology is allowing us to broaden our views about what life should look like between the ages of 25 and 45. Traditionally, this is a time when you're supposed to find a mate, settle into one spot, and start creating some stability with your growing family. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this lifestyle - however it just doesn't suit everyone anymore.

 

 

Some people prefer to stay single (or partnered but unmarried) well into their 30s so that they can take time to make sure they've found a love that will last. Many women are waiting until their late 30s or early 40s to have children, or choosing not to have children at all. Some people, like Chris Guillebeau, who visited every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday, are choosing lives of travel and intrigue.

 

 

In general, there is a growing movement to value experiences over possessions.

 

 

People often get confused about how my husband and I have managed to move around so much without breaking the bank (or our relationship). While our lifestyle of travel and intrigue isn't as extreme as the Trujillos, Dangers, Gourlays, or Chris Guillebeau, we've found our own ways to create a life we love at a pace that works for us.

 

 

Here's a peek into our process:

 

 

1. Figure out what you value.

 

 

Around a year ago, when we realized that our quality of life in Boston wasn't what we'd hoped it would be, we started brainstorming about what we value individually and as a couple. We came up with a few values like inspiration/meaning, low cost of living, personal growth, friends/family, adventure, art/culture, and freedom/flexibility. The scientist in me likes to be systematic about everything, so we created an Excel spreadsheet that listed each value in the first column. We headlined the remaining columns with cities that we had an interest in exploring. Then we rated each city on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of how much that city aligned with each value.

 

 

We completed our ratings separately, and then discussed our results as a couple. This "analysis" revealed that we wanted to spend some time in nature and move to Prague. So I left my job at Harvard Medical School, we sold most of what we owned, and we rented a cabin in the woods for 1.5 months in northern Canada. Then we spent a few weeks saying good-bye to friends and family before we hopped on a plane to Europe.

 

 

2. Get realistic about costs.

 

 

One of our goals as a couple is to create a life we love without going into a huge amount of debt. So, after we decided where we wanted to live, we started hashing out how much money it would take to get there. Many people mistakenly assume that a life of travel and intrigue is financially irresponsible, but we were pleasantly surprised to find out that it would cost us less to rent a rustic cabin in the woods than it cost to rent our apartment in Boston. (For more, read this article about how the Trujillo family saved $40,000/year by downsizing their life).

 

 

And while our move to Prague did require some finances upfront to pay for plane tickets and shipping some of our belongings, we came up with a plan to save up enough money to do it.

 

 

3. Be patient.

 

 

Related to point #2, we couldn't run to the woods or to Prague the minute we finished our Excel analysis. We needed to get our ducks in a row personally, professionally, and financially before we could make any moves. This took a few months of tightening our belts and having some difficult conversations. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it.

 

 

4. Be flexible.

 

 

In order to even consider embarking on this journey, both my husband and I had to get open-minded about the potential of our lives and careers. We allowed ourselves to consider all options, no matter how outlandish they sounded at first, and no matter how many logistical obstacles appeared on the surface.

 

 

One of the things that we realized we value is freedom and flexibility in our schedules, which is why we both remained open to creating careers that would give us this flexibility. My husband owns his own business that he can manage from anywhere in the world as long as he has the internet and a telephone. My choice, on the other hand, was a bit more difficult. As a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard, I was following a career track that was supposed to lead to me becoming a tenured professor. I applied to over 40 tenure-track positions and, despite the relative strength of my resume, only got one interview. This process forced me to think outside of the box in terms of my career, which leads to point #5.

 

 

5. Be fearless.

 

 

We knew that we wanted to move to Prague, but I wasn't sure what I would do professionally when we got there. So I started emailing professors at a few universities to ask whether they would be interested in having me teach a course or two at their institution. I had no idea whether anyone would respond to these "cold emails," but luckily someone did. And they invited me to teach a course on a topic that I've always wanted to teach about. Also, once I put out the word that I was becoming a "free agent" in terms of my research skills, I managed to start attracting clients who were willing to hire me as a consultant to study their school-based yoga programs.

 

 

Some people might perceive my recent professional decisions as career suicide. After all, who in their right mind quits Harvard? It's important to point out that when I say, "Be fearless," I don't mean, "Be reckless." What I mean is that you need to be fearless about pursuing your values with conviction. People will doubt you. People will tell you that you are making a mistake. You will get scared. Then you will remind yourself of what's important to you, and you will keep moving forward. I've been living in Prague for 4 months, and while things definitely aren't perfect, my quality of life has improved exponentially.

 

 

 

The Bottom Line

 

 

Sometimes I wonder whether my blog, newsletter, and Facebook/Twitter posts really make a difference. Some days I feel like I'm just tweeting into the stratosphere, where two people (one of which is probably my mom) actually read what I write.

 

 

Then, every once in awhile, someone emails to tell me that my blog inspired them to move out of the city and take over their family farm, or retire early, or quit their job.

 

 

In these moments it becomes clear to me that while writing a blog and posting on Facebook/Twitter is useful, it's actually my embodied experience of living my life that is helping people. I'm doing enough just by living. I don't need to create a new online product or write a new book at this exact moment. I just need to live. And share my experience with people.

 

 

As Gandhi said in my favorite quote, I need to be the change that I want to see in the world.

 

 

So I will continue living this life, and doing my best to authentically share it. And regardless of whether you comment on my blogs or like my Facebook updates or share what I post, it is enough for me to know that my words are reaching you. I hope my life inspires you to embody the full potential of your life.

 

 

I hope my life inspires you to be the change.

 

 

 

The Downside of Being Authentic

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on December 1, 2015 at 4:55 AM

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Lately there's been a lot of hype around the idea of being authentic. We're being urged to find and focus on our true selves, get in touch with our souls, and do what really matters to us. Brene Brown's TED talk on the power of vulnerability has been viewed over 22 million times. A teen's article on the years she spent staging photos to become an instagram star recently went viral.

 

In an age of staged photos and photoshopped celebrities we are aching for authenticity. We yearn for what is true. Some part of us, no matter how small, wants to wholeheartedly give in to the mantra "Just be yourself."

 

But how exactly are we to do this? And are there any downsides to showing up as the true you?

 

My personal experience suggests that the authentic path is not an easy one. It requires repeated diligence and discernment - a sense of hyper-vigilance - in which you are constantly searching, directing, and redirecting to keep yourself on the path. Like an ancient hunter tracking a wild animal, sometimes you lose the scent. You might lose the scent for hours, days, months, or even years. Then, on a seemingly ordinary day, you will be shaken awake and brought face to face with the animal that has been ignored.

 

The process of being shaken awake happens differently for each of us. For some, their authenticity saunters through the door on an easy breezy Sunday morning. Others are awakened by a meaningful dream, or a death, or a diagnosis. Sooner or later authenticity will knock on all of our doors. Sometimes we answer. Other times we don't.

 

So what happens when we do answer? Does the world become a magical fairy tale full of unicorns and rainbows?

 

Hardly. (Although I wish it did!).

 

In my experience, authenticity often brings difficulty. It forces you to make decisions that feel scary. You might lose jobs, friends, spouses, homes and a variety of other things that make you feel safe. You might burn bridges. You might make enemies. You might feel like you're losing your mind. People will probably talk about you (in not so nice ways).

 

You might have to admit things to yourself that feel terrible. Like the fact that you are jealous of your daughter, or that you don't want to be responsible for your aging father, or that you are no longer in love with your partner.

 

This will hurt.

 

 

 

We tend to place a lot of emphasis on moving up. Climbing the corporate ladder. Praying to God or spirit or Buddha or some other being who is "above" you. Moving from your lower, "base chakras" to your higher chakras. Bringing energy up your spine. Finding "higher love."

 

Becoming authentic, however, often requires that you go down. It asks you to reach into your roots, get your hands dirty in Mother Earth, and crawl through the mud and shit and vomit in your life that you are afraid to admit exists. It asks you to have the toughest conversations you've ever had. It asks you to hold paradox and mystery without trying so hard to find the answers.

 

In a nutshell, sometimes authenticity sucks.

 

But throughout it all, if you get still enough to feel it, there is a sweetness. A sublime darkness. A soft sadness that breaks your heart in just the right way. You might feel scared and alone - but you also feel alive. There is a pulsing deep within. A force that is stronger than any sadness you've ever felt. This force is your True, Authentic Self, and it is willing to work with you when you're ready.

 

If you don't answer when authenticity knocks, don't worry, She'll come back. She will continue to knock and ring and text and call until you listen. She'll show up in your job, in your friends, in music, in billboard ads, in TED talks, in articles. Sometimes She'll be subtle. Other times She will blow your house down with a love so fierce you will wonder how you ever ignored Her.

 

My hope is that the sooner we start listening, the less forceful She'll have to be.

 

See if you can feel Her right now. Is there an energy, a tick, a pulse, a desire, an urge that you are scared to follow but that feels right? That's Her. That's Authenticity. That's your Soul. That's your True Self.

 

Open the door.

 

 

Yoga in Schools: Promises and Pitfalls

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 24, 2015 at 5:40 AM

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Lately there’s been a surge of interest in teaching yoga and mindfulness to young people, particularly in school settings. This interest makes perfect sense given that youth are suffering. Research suggests that the majority of serious psychological disorders begin in childhood, and the most consistent predictor of these disorders is stress.

 

On the surface, yoga and mindfulness are perfect solutions to these problems. And while the initial findings are preliminary, research is beginning to show that school-based yoga and mindfulness have positive effects on outcomes like self-regulation, academic performance, and psychosocial well-being. Scientists have even started using sophisticated methods like meta-analyses, where the results of multiple studies are compiled and analyzed, to show the benefits of both yoga and mindfulness in schools. At a practical level, a group of 23 yoga teachers, researchers, and education professionals recently collaborated to create a white book that outlines specific best practices for implementing yoga in schools.

 

Personally, I spent 2.5 years as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School, where 100% of my time was devoted to studying the effects of yoga in schools. One of my main projects involved running a large, government-funded study where our team implemented a 32-class Kripalu Yoga in Schools program into the 7th grade physical education curriculum at a Boston-area school. At the moment I consult for a variety of organizations that implement yoga in educational settings such as Kripalu Yoga in Schools, Yoga Foster, and Yoga 4 Classrooms. This work has given me a ground-level glimpse into the promises and pitfalls of teaching and researching yoga in schools.

 

Promises

 

Let’s start with the good. As I mentioned above, yoga is perfectly positioned to help youth develop mind-body awareness, self-regulation, and physical fitness which, when taken together, may have positive effects on a variety of outcomes related to student behaviors, mental state, health, and performance:

 

 

 

 

Research is beginning to support this model. For example, a quick search in PubMed using the terms “yoga” and “school” brings up a variety of studies that have examined the effects of school-based yoga on outcomes like memory, fitness, classroom behavior, and grades. Personally, my published research has shown that yoga may benefit students’ mood, academic performance, social-emotional skills, cortisol concentrations, and performance anxiety. I also just completed a research review in which we found 50 peer-reviewed studies of yoga in schools, most of which suggest that school-based yoga has beneficial effects on students. And I recently published a survey study that found three-dozen school-based yoga programs in the United States. These programs have trained over 5,400 instructors and are being taught in close to 1,000 schools across the U.S.

 

I’m still working on publishing the results of the study that I ran in Boston, but for now I can give you a sneak peek into what I found. Our team conducted one-on-one interviews with a randomly selected group of 16 students who participated in the yoga intervention, and the majority of students had positive things to say about the effects of yoga on outcomes like stress, sleep quality, and relaxation. We also gave self-report surveys to 209 students at four time points throughout the study, however these analyses didn’t show many differences between the students who received yoga versus the control group who participated in physical-education-as-usual. On a practical level, the study was both a joy and a beast to implement, which brings me to the potential pitfalls of teaching and researching yoga and mindfulness in schools.

 

Pitfalls

 

My professional background suggests that I’m a “believer” when it comes to the benefits of yoga and mindfulness for youth. However, in the interest of radical transparency, I think it’s vital for those of us who are involved in this field to be honest about a variety of factors related to our backgrounds, biases, and results.

 

As a scientist, I’m supposed to be objective and unbiased when it comes to my research. For me personally, however, (and I would argue for most scientists in this field) this is impossible. I came to yoga based on struggles with anxiety and depression that I experienced as a young adult. Yoga was a huge part of my personal healing, which is one of the reasons why I’m so interested in studying the potential benefits of yoga for youth. I don’t want other young people to go through what I went through – including a 6-year stint on antidepressants and countless therapy sessions.

 

During my time as a postdoctoral research fellow, my inner scientist started to become uneasy. I began feeling like a yoga “pusher” rather than a researcher. My entire professional life was consumed with trying to prove that yoga had beneficial effects for youth. In a sense, this isn’t all that different from researchers who study other things, like scientists who are doing everything in their power to find a cure for cancer. All scientists, whether we like to admit it or not, come into our research with preconceived notions and biases (isn’t this what a hypothesis is, after all?).

 

But there is something about studying yoga and mindfulness that makes these potential biases particularly apparent. For example, scientists and practitioners have cautioned against the “McMindfulness” revolution, in which research is conducted on ancient practices that have been secularized and completely divorced from their roots.

 

Personally, I started to feel like my research field was treating school-based yoga and mindfulness like a new form of Ritalin. In other words, it felt like we were promoting these practices like a pill that would get students to sit down, shut up, and pay attention for their entire 8-hour school day. It also feels like school-based yoga and mindfulness are sometimes used like a Band-Aid that’s trying to cover the scars of a broken education system.

 

Trust me when I say that I get it. I get why people in this field (myself included) are so desperate to find scientific results proving that yoga benefits things like academic performance. We want these results because these are the outcomes that are important to schools. This is our way in. If we can slap some data on a principal’s desk suggesting that our yoga program will increase students’ grade point average by 15% then we know he or she will find it difficult to refuse us.

 

The problem is that conducting high quality research on yoga and mindfulness in schools is extremely difficult. The gold-standard of scientific research is the double-blind randomized controlled trial, in which participants are randomly assigned, by chance, to receive either an intervention or some sort of control condition. Neither the experimenter or the participant knows which group they’ve been assigned to, and the intervention is given in the exact same way across all participants.

 

This type of arrangement is nearly impossible when you’re studying yoga and mindfulness in schools. Students will always know what condition they are in, and typically the experimenter needs to be aware of this, too. In addition, busy and complex school schedules make it very hard to randomly assign students to groups. Teaching the intervention in a consistent, reliable manner is also a challenge. Yoga and mindfulness are also unique in that some parents may have problems with their children being taught practices that have roots in ancient religions.

 

Key Questions

 

As researchers and practitioners, I think we need to be very honest with ourselves by contemplating 10 key questions:

 

1. How might my personal background, biases, and interests affect my research and/or practice of yoga and mindfulness in schools? In other words, where are my “blind spots,” both personally and professionally? Are there assumptions, biases, or preferences that I’m not acknowledging?

 

2. Am I trying to push or sell yoga/mindfulness to schools by over-stating the results of preliminary research in this field?

 

3. What if yoga and mindfulness aren’t the answer for all students? In other words, what if yoga and mindfulness are more effective for some students than others?

 

4. What is the most appropriate “dose” of yoga/mindfulness for students? Is more yoga/mindfulness always better?

 

5. Should all students be “forced” to do these practices, or should students have the right to choose?

 

6. Is it possible that school-based yoga and mindfulness might have negative or counter-intuitive effects for some students?

 

7. How might we work with schools and government to revolutionize education from the ground up instead of layering interventions over an already broken system?

 

8. What if it’s not possible to conduct “gold standard” research on yoga and mindfulness in schools? Are there other approaches we can use to examine the nuanced and complex effects of these interventions?

 

9. For scientists whose livelihoods depend on obtaining grant funding for their studies, and for professionals who create and sell school-based yoga programs, what are the implications of having a vested personal, professional, and financial interest in proving that school-based yoga and mindfulness “work?”

 

 

10. For scientists, what are the implications of the file drawer effect? In other words, what type(s) of publication biases might we be creating by not publishing our studies that showed no effects of school-based yoga and mindfulness?

 

The Bottom Line

 

I caution us to avoid becoming yoga “zealots,” showing up at school after school in our finest suits with a pamphlet of highly preliminary research to hand to any school staff member who will give us 3 minutes of their time. No one, including students and classroom teachers, like to have practices shoved down their throats.

 

Yes, school-based yoga and mindfulness do show promise, but we need to proceed with caution. As some researchers have suggested, our current enthusiasm for these practices outweighs the evidence. Research on these practices will continue to grow, and we will grow with it. Until then, let us continue to be optimistic, let us continue to try to help our youth, but let us do it in a balanced, ethical, and professional manner.

 

This is how true change happens. Slowly over time. And as most yoga and mindfulness programs (and research methods courses) teach, we need to do our work and then release our attachment to the outcome.

 

So do your work. And then release it. Again and again. Your students, participants, colleagues (and this field) will be all the better for it.

 

 

This blog is based on a blog that I wrote for Yoga Foster and will soon be published on Medium.

 

Sometimes The Most Productive Thing You Can Do Is Nothing

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 12, 2015 at 6:35 AM

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Many of us have developed an obsession with keeping ourselves busy. And I don't just mean with work. In addition to our professional lives, we overload our personal time with so many extra-curricular activities that we aren't left with a single minute for ourselves.

 

This is an insidious obsession that often masks itself as being healthy for us. We delude ourselves into believing that as long as our extra-curricular activities are wholesome and healthy - like going to the gym and spending time with family - then it's ok for us to be so busy that we barely have time to catch our breath.

 

Well, as a recovering achievement addict and workaholic, I'm here to bust this myth. It's a myth that I've bought into for most of my life. The myth that I'm only good enough if I'm working hard, achieving a lot, and in hot pursuit of "having it all." However, as Anne-Marie Slaughter shares in this article aptly titled Why Women Still Can't Have It All, "The women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed."

 

In other words, it might actually benefit your health and well-being to stop trying to have it all. (And the same goes for men, too).

 

As Elizabeth Gilbert shares in this fantastic article:

 

"Let's just anticipate that we (all of us) will disappoint ourselves somehow. Go ahead and let it happen. Let somebody else be a better mother than you for one afternoon. Let somebody else go to art school. Let somebody else have a happy marriage, while you foolishly pick the wrong guy. (Hell, I've done it; it's survivable.) While you're at it, take the wrong job. Move to the wrong city. Lose your temper in front of the boss, quit training for that marathon, wolf down a truckload of cupcakes the day after you start your diet. Blow it all catastrophically, in fact, and then start over with good cheer. This is what we all must learn to do, for this is how maps get charted -- by taking wrong turns that lead to surprising passageways that open into spectacularly unexpected new worlds. So just march on. Future generations will thank you -- trust me -- for showing the way, for beating brave new footpaths out of wonky old mistakes."

 

 

 

Many of us are tired. Tired of trying to fit it all in. Tired of trying to be the perfect mother, father, husband, wife, employee, boss, and everything in between. But we keep pushing. We keep trying. We keep filling our schedules to the brim.

 

I think a fundamental question that arises in relation to this issue is, what are we distracting ourselves from?

 

In other words, why are we so obsessed with keeping busy? Are we afraid of what we might find if we spent more than 2 minutes face to face with ourselves - without Facebook, work, or TV to distract us? Are we keeping ourselves busy to avoid admitting that we are unhappy, or that we feel inadequate, or that we've never taken a single minute to contemplate our lives and how we want to be living them?

 

This reality hit me hard recently as I started noticing how busy I've been since moving to Prague. One of the reasons I moved here was to take on part-time work so that I would have time for personal development and other Soul-filling adventures. But I've barely had time for anything except work.

 

And I noticed another disturbing habit. I work from home, and my new apartment is very open-concept, so the kitchen, office, and living room are basically one huge room. I realized that in this space, I don't know what to do with myself if I'm not at the computer. I only feel productive and worthwhile when I'm at the computer "doing something." I've resisted going for afternoon walks, or spending time journaling, because I feel like these things aren't worth my time.

 

So I started asking, what am I distracting myself from? There are many layers to the answer, but one obvious piece that came to mind is that I'm distracting myself from homesickness. Because the busier I keep myself, the less time I have to think about friends and family that I miss back home, or about how hard it can be to live in a country where you don't speak the language.

 

There is also a part of me that is scared to spend time with my Soul. My Soul has asked me to do some pretty crazy things in the past, like quitting two perfect jobs and living in the woods for 2 months. A big part of me is tired of personal development and craves stability.

 

Which leads me to the antidote for the busy-ness plague that is infecting us:

 

Do nothing.

 

Really. Book a day or an hour or five minutes where you turn off your cell phone/computer, you don't speak to anyone, and you simply spend time with yourself. Maybe you go for tea or meditate or journal or go for a walk. Don't pressure yourself to do anything - not even personal development or Soul-work.

 

Personally, I think there's an authenticity revolution that's gaining momentum all around us. Marriages are crumbling. People are losing jobs. Many of us are being stripped, piece by piece, of everything we thought was important (emphasis on the word thought).

 

It would be relatively easy for me to post regularly on Facebook about how awesome my life is, how I went from bankrupt to 6-figures in 1 year (and how you can, too!), and how I've managed to create a perfect job, marriage, social life, and physical health.

 

But that would be bullshit.

 

In my opinion, authenticity is way sexier than pretending you have it all. And part of being authentic involves tuning in to your authentic Self. And in order to tune in to your authentic Self, you need to spend time doing nothing.

 

(Note that by "doing nothing," I don't mean binging on Netflix or spending hours on Facebook or even reading a really good book. I mean pretending, at least for a moment, like none of these distractions exist and asking your Soul what it would most like to do).

 

It's an uncomfortable paradox, but sometimes the most productive thing you can do is nothing.

 

Maybe your time spent doing nothing will give you the inspiration for your next book or the stamina to finish your next big project. Or maybe it won't seem like your nothingness did anything. And that's ok too. Sometimes there is work going on behind the scenes that can take years for us to fully understand.

 

Take my recent work-life sabbatical for example. I spent 2 months living in the woods, but I'm not exactly sure what came out of that time (from a productive, tangible perspective). Even from a Soul perspective, did my time in the woods lead to enlightenment or any grand insights? Not particularly. But I know that on a Soul level, I'm still deeply processing that experience. And while any future insights that I have might not seem directly linked to my time in the woods, I can almost guarantee that they are related on some level.

 

I will end by asking you to add one more thing to your already busy schedule:

 

Spend some time doing nothing.

 

Unplug from Facebook. Stop reading blogs (even this one). Unsubscribe from newsletters (even mine). Tune out. Tap in. And ask your Soul how it wants you to spend this sacred time together.

 

You never know what sorts of productivity might come out of it.

 

 

How To Cope When You Feel Broken

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 27, 2015 at 4:45 AM

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For over 10 years I've made a conscious effort to make my health and well-being my #1 priority. I try to eat healthy, I have a (semi) regular yoga and meditation practice, I've chosen career opportunities that are aligned with my Soul's purpose, and I do my best to balance my work and personal life so that I feel happy and fulfilled. But guess what? I'm not happy 100% of the time.

 

In fact, I'd say that I still spend a decent chunk of my time buried in self-criticism, self-doubt, and general stress. I lose my temper, I cry, I hurt, I make mistakes. Because as I posted recently on Facebook:

 

Let's face it: sometimes life is hard. And no matter how many positive affirmations you recite, green smoothies you drink, or yoga classes you attend, there will be times when your heart hurts. Your heart will hurt for yourself, for your family, and/or for your friends. None of us escape this fate. And on the days when you feel like you can't go any further, you do what we all do. You take a step forward. And then another one. You breathe in. You breathe out. You take your shattered self through the motions and you hope that time heals. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. This is the paradox and the mystery of life. Our strength comes from recognizing this fact - not hiding from it.

 

In other words, sweeping our difficulties under the rug doesn't serve anyone. Life is a continual wave of ups and downs, and the more we cling to the ups and reject the downs, the more resistance we create and the more we struggle.

 

 

 

Lately when I've found my heart hurting for myself and others, I've been receiving a consistent message:

 

"Hold it."

 

Sometimes I can't fix my problems or my family's problems or my friends' problems. In these situations, the best I can do is hold space. Hold space for myself and for others to heal. Hold space for waves of emotions to pass through. Hold space for anger and tears and frustration and loss and regret and forgiveness.

 

As Kate Tempest shares in this amazing spoken word poem, I hold my own.

 

 

 

In Tempest's words: "When all there is is knowing that you feel what you are feeling, hold your own." Sometimes, this is all that we can do.

 

Stop trying to fix it or gloss over it or figure it all out. Stop affirming and meditating and juicing and distracting yourself. Just be with it. Experience the ebbs and flows of life as they pass. Don't hide from them or run away. Stand in the storm and hold your own.

 

Regardless of how everything turns out, you will emerge on the other side so much stronger than you were before. You might be cracked. You might be broken. You might not know how you are going to keep moving. But, as Leonard Cohen so beautifully wrote:

 

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in.

 

 

The How and Why of Creating a Life You Love (Hint: There Is No Magic Formula)

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 13, 2015 at 8:00 PM

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The past 6 months have involved huge shifts in my life. I went from working at Harvard Medical School to living in a cabin in the woods to relocating to Europe. The two most common questions that people ask about this experience are "How" and "Why." In other words, why did I make these changes in my life, and how did I do it?

 

I've touched on my answers to "how" and "why" in other blogs, but today I'd like to delve more deeply into how. How did I manage to create a life that honors what I value, particularly my health and well-being?

 

A related question that reporters, friends, and colleagues also inevitably ask is, "How were you able to make these changes within the context of your marriage?" In other words, what does my husband think of all this, and how has he been able to maintain a professional life while we move around the world?

 

Well I'll start by saying that my life isn't perfect. There are pros and cons to all of the decisions that I've made over the past few months, so let's not get off track by assuming there's a magic formula you can use to create a personal utopia. In previous blogs I got into some of the nitty gritty behind the financial aspects of my recent transitions. But after reading a recent newsletter by Martha Beck, I realized there is a deeper "how" to my story.

 

In her newsletter, Martha mentioned that she has coached many people who want to make changes in their lives, but who are worried about the financial implications. Her clients often ask how they can easily manifest money in their bank accounts while pursuing their passion. After much contemplation, Martha realized that there are two factors that often combine to create financial success:

 

Freedom from fixed ideas and attention to inner guidance.

 

In reading Martha's words I realized that these two factors are exactly what has brought me to where I am today. And the same is true for my husband.

 

Let's start with me. When I was in grad school there was an underlying assumption in my department that the only job that was worth getting when you finished your PhD was a tenure-track faculty position at a top tier university. But tenure-track positions are hard to come by these days, so I had to start thinking outside of the box. In other words, I freed myself from the fixed idea of myself as a professor and started listening to what my inner guidance was asking me to do.

 

Through a combination of hard work, optimism, and willpower (plus a bit of fate - because the universe always intervenes when we follow our inner guidance) I ended up with a job at an IT research firm. I was the first person the company had hired who had a PhD in psychology (psychology wasn't typically part of their job descriptions!). But they were an innovative organization and I learned a lot of crucial skills there.

 

However, as many of you know, I ended up feeling trapped in a cubicle for 8 hours a day. So again, I freed myself from the fixed idea that I needed to have a stable 9 to 5 job in order to survive, and I listened to my inner guidance, which told me to quit. I started my own health and wellness business and then, 2 years later, re-entered academia as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School (even though many people had told me that once you leave academia, it's really hard to get back in).

 

Another thing that most people will tell you is that if you have a job at Harvard, you should hold on to it for dear life. But I ignored that fixed idea, too. Instead, I listened to my inner guidance that told me I needed to spend some time in nature, which led to my summer sabbatical in the woods. During the months leading up to my sabbatical, I did a lot of soul-searching around what I value and what I want my life to look like. I realized that, among other things, I value freedom and flexibility in my schedule - freedom that allows me to explore the world while leading a healthy, satisfying life. This is why I ended up making the decision to move to Europe.

 

Now let's bring my husband into the mix. David is a private guy, which is why I don't often share details about his life, but he's given me permission to let you in on how we navigated these transitions as individuals and as a couple.

 

Unlike me, David seems to have been born with a huge capacity to free himself from fixed ideas and follow his inner guidance. He's almost always been an entrepreneur, and he's a visual artist, so he's a great example of how to blend the practical and the creative. When David and I first met he was co-running a business in the automotive industry, however the economic downturn of 2008 threw his employment for a loop. For the first time in a long time, he ended up taking a series of jobs where he was working for other people.

 

And he was miserable.

 

At one point he was working as a headhunter at a recruiting company, when he realized that he could easily start his own business doing the same type of work himself, with the freedom of being his own boss. So he quit his job and, yet again, ventured out on his own. He's owned his recruiting firm for over 5 years now, and it's a job that allows him to work virtually from anywhere in the world.

 

As a couple, David and I are doing our best to blend our professional passions into an innovative lifestyle that allows us the time and flexibility to be creative. We both have jobs that allow us to work from home - wherever home happens to be at the moment. We've also created schedules that give us time to cultivate our art. David paints, I write.

 

So when people ask what my husband thinks of all of these transitions, I reply that he has been one of my biggest inspirations and my key supporter. Throughout our relationship, David and I have been dancing with our careers and with each other. And it hasn't always been easy. There has been professional stress, financial hardship, and personal difficulties. But together we are doing our best to co-create a life that reflects what we value.

 

When people ask "how," I emphasize that it's not luck that brought us here. It's been a mix of hard work, optimism, and willpower. And sure, the universe has thrown in some sprinkles of fate, synchronicity, and magic. But I firmly believe that we experienced this magic because we were open to it. Because we were willing to free ourselves from fixed ideas and listen to our inner guidance.

 

This is our H.O.W.:

 

 

 

In an interview with Amber Rae, artist Elle Luna described her new book "The Crossroads of Should and Must" this way:

 

"The great mythologist Joseph Campbell once said in an interview that the great spiritual teaching could be summed up thusly: “A man stands on a whale fishing for minnows.” Must is that whale. It’s the mysterious force that flows through our lives and guides us towards that higher place. If you feel far from your calling, remember that your calling is with you because it *is* you. It can’t go anywhere. It can’t be lost. Once you understand this, the concept of “looking for our calling” no longer makes any sense. It’s impossible to be separate from that which you are."

 

This is what I feel David and I are doing. Instead of listening to all of the "shoulds," we are following our "must." We are pursuing that which we must do, because it is who we are and it allows us to express our gifts fully in this world.

 

Author Tama Kieves put it this way:

 

"Listening to your inner voice requires honesty, integrity, and courage. There are no formulas. It’s all fresh chemistry every second. Many of my coaching clients only seem to trust their inner voice when it suggests something like studying for an MBA or saving the whales. That is to say, only “virtuous” things count, things you could tell your Austrian aunt Helga, and make her pat her dress in pride. But I tell them and I’ll tell you, you do not know what is most productive on this path. You have no idea of the progress you can make when you listen to instincts that are not conditioned by our society. Why would you attempt to create a life of unbounded freedom by listening to the advice of the bound one within you?"

 

If you haven't guessed already, my advice to you is this: free yourself from fixed ideas and follow your inner guidance. You might not end up with instant success or a million dollars in the bank or a magic pill to cure all that ails you. But, day by day, you will find yourself inching closer and closer to a life of integrity and authenticity - which is worth more than all the money in the world.

 

HOW will you choose to live?

 

 

 

Are You a Workaholic? Read This.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 29, 2015 at 3:50 AM

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When I was in graduate school I experienced a radical shift in my health and well-being. It was 2005, and I'd been on antidepressants for 6 years. I was working myself to the bone and experiencing crippling levels of anxiety. But things were starting to turn around. I was seeing a psychotherapist and a naturopath, I was beginning to eat healthy, nourishing foods, and I'd made yoga a regular practice in my life.

 

Eventually I got off the antidepressants (which you can read about in my book), but I still found myself extremely stressed about school. I'd gone straight from kindergarten to PhD with no breaks, and I was starting to burn out. Like many college students, I'd spent years going to class all day and working part-time, then studying until the wee hours of the morning. There was barely a separation between my personal life and my work life.

 

In 2006 I decided that enough was enough, and that I needed to implement some balance into my daily living.

 

So I made a commitment to start treating grad school like a 9 to 5 job. I forced myself to wake up at 7am every day (even if I didn't have class) so that I could be on campus by 9am. I took a 1 hour lunch break and a couple of coffee breaks each day, and the latest I'd leave campus was 6pm. For the first time in my adult life I had a sense of routine, and it felt fantastic. I was hugely productive and finished my PhD on time. I even won a few academic awards and landed a great job right out of school.

 

In the first 2 years after finishing my PhD I worked as an IT research analyst in the corporate world, which brought me face-to-face with the realities of working a 9 to 5 job. And despite the fact that I was paid well and worked with great people, I was miserable. I hated being forced to sit in my cubicle for a set amount of hours every day. I felt like a caged animal.

 

So I quit.

 

Over the next 2.5 years I ran my own health and wellness business. I wrote a book, taught yoga, gave workshops, and did some research consulting. My schedule was my own. I could work when I wanted, where I wanted, on what I wanted. But guess what? I still forced myself into a 9 to 5 schedule. I would wake up at 6:30am every morning so that I could take 2.5 hours to make myself a green smoothie, meditate, and shower - all so that I would be at my computer by 9am (even though I rarely needed to be at my computer at that time). I'd left my corporate job to give myself more freedom, but I wasn't taking advantage of it.

 

In 2013 I moved to Boston, where I spent 2.5 years as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School. On the surface, this job also offered a lot of flexibility. My boss explicitly told me that he didn't care where I worked or when I worked, as long as the work got done. But still, I found myself arriving at the office by 9am every day, and leaving at 5pm. I spent most days at the computer, in a windowless office, wishing I had more flexibility. I experienced a sense of guilt every time I ran an errand in the middle of the day - even important errands like doctor's appointments.

 

Then came the summer of 2015. As many of you know, I left my job at Harvard to take a 3-month work-life sabbatical. I spent some of this time living in a cabin in the woods, where I had no work to do, no schedule, and no routine. I stopped using an alarm clock and refused to plan what I was going to do each day. At first this felt very foreign, but eventually it became somewhat normal.

 

In August 2015 I moved to Prague, where I again have much more flexibility in my schedule. I'll be teaching a positive psychology course at a local university, which means that I can mostly work where I want, when I want. But over the past few weeks I've noticed myself gravitating back to a 9 to 5 schedule. Again, I experience a sense of guilt and anxiety when I run errands in the middle of the day.

 

Eventually it dawned on me that I've become a closet workaholic. Working an 8 hour day has become so entrenched in my being, perhaps through culture, perhaps through media, perhaps through the workaholism that pervades our society. Regardless of the cause, I've developed a habit of thinking that I'm not a productive, worthwhile member of society unless I'm working every minute from 9am to 5pm.

 

In other words, the problem wasn't with the 9 to 5, it was with me.

 

On my website and promotional materials I tout myself as someone who helps people create a life they love - which sometimes (but not always) involves leaving the 9 to 5 behind. I truly thought I'd left this mentality behind, but I hadn't.

 

 

 

So today I'm coming clean by admitting that I'm a 9 to 5 addict. But, like members of 12-step programs around the world, I'm determined to do the personal work necessary to manage this addiction. Here are a few concrete steps that I'm taking:

 

  •  I'm not setting an alarm on weekdays unless I have an early morning meeting.
  • I meditate for however long I feel like meditating each morning.
  • I'm going for afternoon walks and/or running errands in the afternoon.
  • I'm visiting a farmer's market every Friday morning.
  • I'm taking as long as I need to make and eat a healthy lunch every day.
  • I write blogs (like this one) on weekday mornings, instead of working on pro bono projects "after hours."

 

I still get a sense of anxiety when I inject this type of freedom into my schedule, but I'm breathing into it and working with it. And besides, so far I'm still being productive - in other words I'm managing to finish all of the work that I need to finish.

 

I think that for many of us, workaholism comes down to a basic belief that we aren't good enough. We aren't good enough unless we have that fancy car or designer shoes or flashy job title.

 

But we are good enough simply by virtue of the fact that we are human. We don't need to DO more. We need to BE more. By "being more," I don't mean becoming CEO. I mean becoming YOU. The real you. The authentic you. The You that is here on this earth at this time to share your unique gifts with the world. This might mean that you have a lot in your bank account - or very little. It might mean that you wear fancy clothes or second-hand items. It might mean that you work from 9 to 5 every day - or you might work midnights.

 

What's important is that your sense of drive and purpose comes from You. Not from external forces telling you how to be you. Today I invite you to bring the real You forward.

 

What would your ideal workday look like? What's one step you could take to begin creating that day? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

On Orgasms and Enlightenment

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 15, 2015 at 4:00 AM

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A couple of weeks ago I was having a wonderfully deep conversation with a friend. It was one of my favorite kinds of conversations - you know the type - the ones where you contemplate life and existence and All That Is. We were on a 5 hour car ride from Germany to Prague after attending a conference about the science of living a contemplative life, so there was a lot to discuss.

 

At one point I shared a pet peeve that often comes up for me. This is going to sound strange, but sometimes I get annoyed at the fact that I don't know everything. Not because I want to be a know-it-all. Rather, I think the universe is such a fascinating place that I want to know everything there is to know about it. Sure, I have pretty deep knowledge in a couple of areas of Psychology, because that was my area of specialization in grad school. But I also want to have a complex understanding of a whole host of other topics like quantum physics, the philosophy of science, astronomy, and meditation.

 

This brought up some ideas for me around knowing versus experiencing. For most of my life I've prided myself in my ability to know things. I've studied hard and learned a lot. But learning something in a textbook is vastly different from experiencing it.

 

Here's an example. When I was in 8th grade my teacher showed our classroom a sex education video that described all sorts of things about puberty. One piece that stuck out for me was the video's description of orgasms. The host described orgasms as being like sneezes, where you experience a build-up of energy and then a pleasant release. Needless to say, I developed a huge interest in sneezes after that.  Every time I sneezed I would wonder, "Is that really what an orgasm feels like?"

 

The analogy was somewhat useful, but as most of us know, even the best sneeze doesn't come close to how it feels to have a good orgasm. When I was in 8th grade I learned, on a cognitive level, that sneezing was vaguely like having an orgasm. But it wasn't until I actually experienced an orgasm that I knew what orgasms were really like.

 

Similarly, I've read lots of books and taken my fair share of courses about meditation. I've been to scientific conferences where we've discussed research on the tiniest intricacies of what meditation really is. I've stared at brain scans of monks meditating in fMRI machines. I've heard meditation masters describe their glimpses into states of enlightenment. But, like sneezes compared to orgasms, I have no clue what enlightenment is actually like because I've never experienced it.

 

When discussing this with my friend, I brought up the fact than in addition to knowing everything, I would also like to have experienced everything - particularly the experience of being enlightened. There is a part of me that desperately wants to know what it feels like to inhabit a space of oneness and equanimity, where I am detached from the needs and wants of this world, but also living in it.

 

 

 

To this, my friend posed a provoking question. She asked, "Are you sure you really want to experience enlightenment? Do you really want to feel such equanimity that your feelings for your closest loved ones are the same as your feelings for a stranger on the street? Do you really want to let go of the highs and lows, the pleasures and pains, that come with being human?"

 

(Watch this video by Gary Weber to hear his experience of an enlightened state to get an example of what she meant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOvdVjOtMXg)

 

This got me thinking about an experience that I had while at the conference in Germany. One beautiful summer evening, I went and sat on a bench overlooking lake Chiemsee and the Bavarian alps. It was warm and slightly humid, and the air was thick with the smell of roses. The full moon was rising over the lake and my bare feet were planted firmly in the grass. Just when I thought the moment couldn't get any better, someone started playing an acoustic guitar a few feet away from me. The music was light and dark and perfect. Then, to top it off, hundreds of fireflies started dancing over top of the water, underneath the moon.

 

The moment was so gorgeous that my heart ached. Tears came to my eyes as I was filled with such a sense of gratitude, and I wanted my deepest soul friends to be there with me to share the experience.

 

Of course, I can describe this moment to you in words so that you can understand it cognitively, but knowing this moment and experiencing it are completely different. I sat there for over an hour, in absolute awe at the beauty around me.

 

One of the main tenets of Buddhist philosophy is that life is suffering. In other words, one common thread that unites humans is that we all suffer at one point or another. But something that is rarely discussed is the other aspect of this philosophy, namely that pleasure is also suffering. In other words, all beautiful experiences inevitably end, which causes us to suffer. Enlightenment serves to break this cycle of suffering, so that we no longer experience pleasure or pain.

 

And so I return to my conversation with my friend. Would I really want to experience this world without feeling the pleasure of an orgasm or the beauty of a summer night or the bittersweet pain of a broken heart? Part of me believes that my Soul is here on this earth at this time to Feel. To feel the embrace of a lover and the sensual touch of a summer night and the longing for human connection on all levels.

 

I am by no means an expert on meditation or enlightenment. Perhaps enlightened states involve feelings of such continuous, overwhelming joy that it's like you're having an orgasm all the time. And the pleasure that we feel here in this world pales in comparison, like a sneeze.

 

What I do know is that for now I'm going to continue feeling and meditating and getting annoyed that I don't know everything and that I haven't experienced everything. I'll do my best to appreciate what it means to be human. And then someday, perhaps in this lifetime or the next, I might catch a glimpse of what's beyond the veil of this human experience.

 

What about you? What are your thoughts on pleasure, suffering, and transcendence? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

Is It Naïve To Believe That You Can Create a Life You Love?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 2, 2015 at 9:40 AM

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A Canadian article about my decision to quit Harvard to live in the woods for a couple of months recently started spreading around the world. Versions were published in the USA, UK, Italy, and even Vietnam and the Czech Republic. Throughout its iterations the article became a bit sensationalized, but I’ve received so many supportive messages and feedback about my journey that it has warmed my heart and encouraged me to keep moving forward.

 

Another consistent response to the article has been criticism. Some readers perceive me as a privileged white girl who took a vacation between two jobs. Others question why someone leaving a prestigious academic institution to take time off is such a hot topic.

 

Before I get into what I learned from this experience, I think it’s important to clarify a few logistical factors. First, I made the decision to leave Harvard before knowing what I was going to do next professionally. I went to live in the woods to give myself some time to contemplate what I value and what I want my life to look like. Second, my time off was unpaid. I didn’t make a lot of money as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard, and I had to save up enough to buy myself 2 months off. And yes, I am privileged in the sense that I live in an environment and time period that allows me to contemplate my life, but I am no more privileged than anyone who had the time and money to read the original article or this blog.

 

Logistical factors aside, I want to address a fundamental problem that I think underlies many of the negative responses to the articles about my work-life sabbatical. The problem is that many of us have stopped believing that it’s possible to create a life we love. We’ve become jaded – thinking that 2-month sabbaticals are only for the rich and privileged. We think that taking time and space for ourselves is a luxury that we just can’t afford – both personally and professionally. We think things like, “She was able to do this because she’s white and has a PhD and probably makes a lot of money. Who am I to think I could do something similar?”

 

My question for you is, Who are you NOT to believe in your own greatness?

 

My life currently looks the way that it does because I’ve been courageous enough to make choices that align with what I value. And I’ve realized that what I value is my mental and physical health and quality of life – above any type of prestige or fame or material possession.

 

This means that sometimes I might piss people off. Or burn bridges. Or take personal or financial risks. To be honest, it often scares me shitless.

 

My life is far from perfect. But I’m doing my best every day to create a life I love – both for my personal health and happiness and to serve as an example for others to realize that it is possible for them to do the same.

 

 

 

To be clear: I think it’s fundamentally wrong to believe that creating a life you love is a naïve pipe-dream. On the contrary, I think that those of us who are privileged enough to contemplate what our ideal life might look like have a duty and obligation to do our best to live it. Because the more of us who are courageous enough to shine and share our light, the more we will inspire others to do the same. And that will make the world a better place.

 

This week I’m at the Mind & Life Europe Summer Research Institute in Germany. It’s a conference that brings together people who are interested in the science behind contemplative practices like yoga and meditation. The attendees are varied. There are neuroscientists, psychiatrists, yoga teachers, Catholic priests, Tibetan monks, and everything in between. A common theme that’s been emerging this week is that living a contemplative life isn’t a luxury reserved for religious freaks who hide far away in the mountains of Tibet. All of us – from all walks of life and professions – owe it to ourselves and to the world to contemplate our lives.

 

I don’t think it’s naïve to re-envision a world where people are consistently living in ways that make them feel joyful and alive. Change-makers throughout the ages, people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., accomplished what they were able to accomplish by envisioning worlds that didn’t exist (yet). People told them that they were crazy, that the problems they were trying to address were too complex, and that things would never change.

 

But things did change.

 

Right now, I’m envisioning a world in which, more often than not, people are feeling psychologically healthy, doing things that bring them joy, and using their unique gifts to serve themselves and the world. I’m imagining a world in which we have compassion for ourselves and for others, and where we treat Mother Earth the way She deserves to be treated.

 

As John Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

 

Over 10 years ago, a group of people pictured a space where scientists, practitioners, Catholic priests, Tibetan monks, and people from all walks of life could come together to contemplate mind and life. I’m so grateful that those people had that vision, because this week I’m reaping the benefits.

 

To those of you who are supporting my journey: Thank-you. To those of you who think I’m being foolish: I send you nothing but compassion and love. May you be happy, may you be healthy, and may you live with ease. I encourage you to create a life that serves you and the world. Because ultimately, this is my wish for all of humanity. And that’s why I’m living my life the way that I’m living it.

 

How might you begin creating a life you love?

 

Advice For Worry-Warts

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 19, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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I’ve always been a worry-wart. For as long as I can remember, I’ve worried about almost everything. When I was little, I even asked my mom what a mortgage was and how I would afford to pay one when I grew up. I worry about big things, little things, and everything in between.

 

The frustrating thing is that for the most part my worrying is absolutely useless.

 

For example, let’s say I’m worried that something bad will happen. And then that bad thing happens. My worry didn’t prevent the situation, and it definitely won’t help me once the situation has taken place.

 

Similarly, let’s say I’m worried that something bad will happen. And then that bad thing doesn’t happen. Well what was the point of my worry?

 

 

 

Over the years I’ve gotten better at noticing my worry and using tools like yoga and meditation to keep it in check. But it still creeps up on me like an old friend (or perhaps enemy) who just doesn’t want to take a permanent leave of absence – especially during big transitions in my life.

 

This month has been full of transitions. I moved from Canada to the Czech Republic – a process that brought out my worry-wart with a vengeance. I was worried about finding an apartment, learning the language, getting my visa paperwork sorted out, and not having all of the possessions that make me feel safe and secure.

 

Throughout this transition, some of my worries came true. For example, the transition into my new apartment wasn’t exactly smooth. The apartment was supposed to be furnished, but when I arrived the bed was missing. There had been a miscommunication between my landlord and rental agent, and the previous tenant ended up taking the bed. So I had to spend an extra night in a hotel, and then sleep on a chair for two nights. But guess what? The world didn’t end.

 

Some of my other worries, however, didn’t even come close to happening. One of my worries, for example, was that it would be hard for me to access fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy food in general. My husband is Czech, and while my experiences with Czech food have been tasty, the cuisine that I’ve tried hasn’t usually involved a lot of fresh produce.

 

Well, within 4 days of being in Prague I found a juice bar that’s a 5-minute walk from my apartment. I also visited my husband’s relatives who provided us with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables from their garden and who informed us that there’s a farmer’s market every Saturday close to our new place. I even found a vegetarian restaurant and a store that sells organic and gluten-free products. I didn’t look any of these things up online – I just happened to come across them while exploring.

 

My point here is that all of my worrying was a waste of energy. Some frustrating things happened, and some great things happened. My worrying didn’t change any of it.

 

So for the next few weeks, whenever I start worrying, I’m going to try to take a mindful approach. When worries come up, I’ll notice them and label them as worries. But, as much as possible, I’m going to try not to engage with the worries. I’ll try to watch them float by, like credits on a movie screen, and remind myself that regardless of how much I worry, things will happen – both good and bad – and that I will find a way to cope with whatever comes my way.

 

What about you? What role does worry play in your life, and how do you manage it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

You Hold The Answers You Seek

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 4, 2015 at 9:20 AM

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Most blogs (including mine) are designed to offer tips and suggestions. Lately I’ve been called to pay less attention to what those around me are suggesting I should do, and more attention to what my unique Soul wants and needs me to do.

 

I’ve written about this topic before, as have many others. Our blogs are riddled with statements like “Just be yourself!” “Follow your heart!” “Listen to the still, soft voice within!”

 

Intellectually, I get it. But practically, I sometimes fall short of following it.

 

Over the past few years I’ve done a pretty good job listening to a voice/sensation/feeling that I’ve labeled as my True Self or Soul. I’ve left jobs that were sucking my Soul. I’ve made big moves and small moves and all sorts of moves that left some people thinking I was a bit nuts.

 

But lately I’ve noticed all of the small and subtle ways that I’ve been turning my back on my Soul. For example, walking through the airport recently, my mind told me “You should buy a salad because you haven’t been eating enough produce on this trip.” But when I stopped for a brief moment to check in with what my Soul wanted, I realized that She needed something warm and nourishing to eat.

 

We all read well-intentioned blogs and newsletters telling us to drink green smoothies, meditate, follow our bliss, quit our jobs, do yoga, take a $10,000 workshop, wear crystals, go to Costa Rica, have more sex, have less sex, avoid gluten, eat meat, don’t eat meat. Etc. Etc.

 

But what about checking in with our True Selves (our Souls) to figure out what we really need?

 

I’m still working on the best way to do this for me. Some people hear their Soul as a voice. Others get a feeling or nudge. Some get a body sensation or see colors. I’m somewhere in between all of this.

 

When I check in with my Soul there’s a certain feeling that I get when I know my Soul has answered me. I don’t have an enlightenment experience or see angels or receive psychic messages. I experience a simple, very natural sensation of “Yes, that’s it.” What my Soul wants me to do might not always be easy, but it always feels organic and True.

 

 

So instead of me taking up space telling you what to do with your life or how to access your Soul, I invite you to just close your eyes. Take a few seconds to see if you can feel into the answer to whatever question you might have in your life right now. Don’t rely on me to answer it for you. Only You can do that.

 

What is your Soul nudging you to do today?

The Counterintuitive Way To Get Into a State of Flow

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 22, 2015 at 10:05 AM

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I've always envied my hippie yoga friends who seem to live in a perpetual state of flow. They don't do much planning or organizing, they rarely create To Do lists, and they don't seem as attached to their calendar as I am. They float from task to task and place to place, and somehow, things always seem to work out for them. They'll take a trip on a whim and suddenly the perfect friend materializes to offer them a place to stay. Or they'll lose their job and be offered a new job a week later - without having to submit a resume.

 

Of course these people's lives aren't perfect, and it's not like things work out for them 100% of the time, but for the most part they embody a sense of grace and ease that I've always admired. My life, on the other hand, feels vastly different than what I observe in my flow-y friends.

 

Why? Because I organize the sh*t out of everything.

 

I plan right down to the most minute detail - leaving nothing up to chance. As a teen and young adult I put hours of thought and research into big decisions like where I would go to university, what type of degree I would pursue, and what I wanted to be when I grew up. I sought out and actively pursued everything - from companies and professors that I wanted to work for to men that I wanted to date. This level of planning and detail has led to some personal and professional success - and a lot of stress.

 

I always seem to be trying too hard.

 

Every once and awhile, however, I would catch glimpses of a flow-like intervention. Like the time I submitted my resume to a company only to run into the CEO at a pub later that night. He gave me his business card and asked me to send my resume straight to him - and I got the job. Or the time when I quit that job and attended a Hay House "I Can Do It" conference on my last day of work - where I found out that Hay House had just opened a self-publishing platform that subsequently published my book.

 

Often when we think about getting into a state of flow, we imagine it feeling easy. Like my hippie yoga friends, we will suddenly enter a magical realm where every door is an opportunity and every meeting a bridge.

 

 

 

But here's how it seems to work for me. Getting into a flow state is messy and excruciating. For me, it requires a level of courage that I'm often not comfortable with. It requires me to take leaps of faith that leave my security blankets (i.e. my calendar and To Do list) behind. It means that I leave prestigious jobs with steady incomes, or relationships that are safe but unhappy.

 

For me, flow states start with butterflies - and sometimes pain - in my stomach. I get nervous over finances and unanswered questions and the general unknown. I feel fearful that nothing will work out and everything will be lost.

 

For me, flow has to be forced. (At least at first).

 

I have to push myself off the cliff and pray that the net will appear. I have to surrender how I want things to be, and accept things as they are. I have to trust that as long as I listen to the still, soft voice within, somehow things will work out. This doesn't mean that there won't be stress or tears or adversity. There will almost always be plenty of these things. It just means that instead of fighting it, I access the beauty and sweetness that exists even in darkness. I'm able to hold the mystery and paradox of being human - and of forcing flow.

 

It's like shifting the tiny jib sail on a catamaran boat. One small movement and the entire boat can change direction. It's a small, internal shift that can produce big results.

 

I've spent the past 2 months living in a more flow-like way than I have ever lived. I currently have no home, no car, no kids, no job, and, subsequently, no keys. Sometimes this feels excruciating. Other times it feels like paradise. And the beautiful thing is that I've been supported every step of the way. From my mom picking up my mail to my brother-in-law hosting me at a beautiful cottage to my sister-in-law sharing freshly made green juice to my father-in-law letting me stay at his condo overlooking lake Ontario to my husband driving me to the airport so I can attend a retreat in Montana to my colleagues offering me consulting gigs when I'm ready to re-enter the working world in August to far-off relatives helping me find an apartment for my next step in Prague.

 

I feel blessed beyond measure.

 

However this blessing didn't come in an easy peasy way. It came from me having the courage to force myself into a flow. To escape the drudgery of a 9 to 5 routine that felt comfortable and safe. To trust that, even though I might be a hyper-organized control freak, I am capable of flow and grace and ease.

 

And so are you.

 

Let's keep the flow going! When have you experienced flow in your life? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

We All Struggle. Some of Us are Just Better at Hiding it Than Others.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 5, 2015 at 10:30 AM

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If you have any interest in the self-help and personal development world, you might have already gotten sick of "gurus" telling you how awesome their lives are. You know the types:

 

"Look at me, I make a six-figure income coaching people from home and lounging on the beach - you too can achieve this if you come to my $10,000 workshop!"

 

"Look at me, I write New York Times best-selling books and travel around the world - you too can achieve this if you start charging what you're worth!"

 

Or how about...

 

"Look at me, I quit my job at Harvard Medical School to live in a cabin in the woods - then I'm moving to Prague where awesome opportunities await. You too can achieve this if you're brave enough to quit the job that's sucking your soul and choose to follow your heart!"

 

Oh wait, that's me

 

I'm not going to lie - taking a work-life sabbatical was the best decision I've ever made. My time here in the woods has been absolutely amazing. But I want to make sure that I don't fall into the trap of making my readers feel like my life is a bowl of peaches while their existence sucks. Trust me when I say that no one's life is a bowl of peaches - ever. We all struggle. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others.

 

 

 

Unfortunately, hiding our struggles disconnects us from what makes us human. We become un-relatable shells to which people partly aspire and partly despise. I know we've all felt that pang of jealousy while scrolling through Facebook. You see your friend's amazing vacation photos, or notice that one of your idols met with Oprah. Part of you feels happy for these people, while the other part wants to kick them off their pedestal (and maybe bring them to your tiny cubicle so that they can feel what it's like to spend countless soul-less days staring at the computer).

 

Here's an example. I was recently featured in a newspaper article called "Quit Harvard for a Cabin in the Woods? She Did." The reporter did a lovely job chronicling my mission to follow my heart. However, most of the 80 or so comments on the article completely missed this point. Instead, the readers resorted to mocking and attacking my decision. Their feedback ranged from comparing me to Ted Kaczynski to suggesting that I have children so that I can add some real meaning to my life.

 

I think the reason some readers reacted in this way is because the article takes a purely positive stance toward my decision - which I think is great. However, readers who don't follow my blog and who don't know the more intimate details of my decision perceived the article as a self-glorifying media ploy. And, of course, there are always people out there who love to hate.

 

Going through the readers' comments was an important lesson for me in making sure that I convey all aspects of my life and my process. I'm not being of service to the world if I present the illusion that my life is perfect. Rather, I can be of the most service by sharing my authenticity and vulnerability.

 

With this in mind, I think that many of the decisions we make in life come down to this question:

 

What type(s) of stress are you willing to put up with?

 

Don't be fooled - even people who seem to have it all together experience stress. If they're lucky, however, they are putting up with the exact type(s) of stress that they are most willing to put up with.

 

Take my time in the woods as an example. On the surface, it might seem like I'm lounging all day, staring at trees, swimming, and reading books. Ok, this is partly what I'm doing. But the process of getting here, and being here, has also involved some stress. And while these stressors are first-world problems, they are stressors nonetheless. For example, the process of getting here caused some professional and financial stress. I had to leave my job - which my colleagues weren't overly thrilled about - and save up enough money to buy myself 2 months off. Postdoctoral research fellows don't make much money - even at Harvard - so this wasn't an easy task.

 

Being here has also been an interesting exercise in just being here - instead of stressing about the future. As some of you know, I've been offered an opportunity to teach a Positive Psychology course at the University of New York in Prague this fall, so my husband and I are moving to Prague in August. On the surface, this is an amazing opportunity. However it involves a lot of logistical details, like finding an apartment, getting a work visa, and figuring out how to ship our belongings - all of which cost additional money and are hard to coordinate from a cabin in the woods.

 

So sometimes, when I'm supposed to be relaxing and staring at trees, I find myself ruminating about what's next. What if the lease on our apartment falls through? What if my husband can't get his Czech passport renewed on time? How will we get bank accounts and cell phones and internet access?

 

During these times, I try to remind myself of two things:

 

1) I need to focus on being here, now, in the present moment. Wouldn't it be such a waste for me to spend all of my time here in the woods worrying about a time in Prague that hasn't even happened yet?

 

2) The types of stressors that I'm experiencing right now are the exact types of stressors that I am most willing to put up with.

 

What I've realized about myself is that I have a very low tolerance for stressors that make me feel dead inside. For example, I've quit two jobs that, on the surface, were amazing - but that made me feel stifled and anxious. Eventually, the pain of staying at these jobs began to outweigh my fear of leaving.

 

I am, however, willing to put up with stressors that, in the end, will make me feel alive and bring me closer to my True Self. I'm willing to put up with the stress of leaving a prestigious job, or combing through the logistics of Prague, because I know that these stressors provide short-term pain for long-term gain. For me, toiling away in a windowless office day after day provides long-term pain for short-term gain (i.e. slaving away for a salary that allows you to enjoy a couple of hours per week of freedom).

 

You will never be able to completely rid your life of stress. So my question to you is this: What type(s) of stress are you willing to put up with?

 

My advice is to choose stressors that are linked to meaning. For example, having kids isn't all sunshine and rainbows - it can be quite stressful - but it is highly meaningful for some people. Similarly, following your heart regardless of the professional and financial consequences can be stressful - but can also lead to a life full of meaning and fulfillment.

 

Personally, I'm going to try to live a meaningful life. But my promise to you, my reader, is that I will not sugar-coat it. I will not lead you to believe that my life is superior to yours. Rather, we are both on our own paths, finding our way to love in different ways and at different times. And neither is better or worse than the other.

 

What stress will you choose?

 

 

 

Your Spiritual Guide Might Be Right in Front of You

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 23, 2015 at 10:45 AM

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Lately I've been spending a lot of time outdoors. Like me, perhaps you love being outside. But have you ever stopped to wonder why?

 

Why is it so soothing to watch sunlight filtering through tree leaves?

 

Why is there nothing better than a clear, starry night?

 

Why do scenes like the Grand Canyon take your breath away?

 

When I'm stuck inside, at a computer, on a beautiful sunny day, I feel physically ill. I feel desperate to get outside. My body tightens at the thought of spending one more minute at my keyboard. When I lived in Boston, the park across the street literally saved my life. I could escape for a walk at lunch or after dinner and feel the stresses of my day melt away.

 

Now that I'm living in the woods, I've realized how much noise pollution I was putting up with in my city life. Here, I go out on a tin boat with my husband, and as soon as he cuts the engine there is an immense sense of peacefulness. The only sounds are water, birds, and wind. Spending just 20 minutes in this level of peace is enormously healing.

 

There are probably many reasons why most of us love being outside. From an evolutionary standpoint, ancient humans spent most of their time outdoors - listening to water, birds, and wind - not traffic, TV, and cell phone conversations.

 

But I also think there's a deeper, dare I say spiritual, reason that we love the outdoors. Intellectuals and philosophers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau believed that a deep study of the natural world represented a path toward transcending this world and reaching enlightenment. Transcendentalists like Emerson believed that the natural world is an outward reflection of our inner spirit. In his most famous essay, Nature, Emerson wrote that nature expresses the "radical correspondence of visible things and human thoughts" and that “The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors, because the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.”

 

Thoreau, who spent 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days living in a cabin in the woods, put it this way:

 

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

 

During my past few weeks of living in the woods, these authors' sentiments have finally started to dawn on me. I've observed beautiful aspects of nature, like sunsets and loons and deer. But I've also seen the darker side of mother earth, like death, decay, and the fight to survive. What I've come to realize is that nature is perfect. But not in a romantic, idealized way full of rainbows and flowers.

 

The natural world is a perfect representation of our inner world.

 

There is beauty and depth and love beyond our wildest imaginings. But there is also suffering and death. These are cycles that repeat themselves in all of us. And all cycles have their place. In the same way that a spontaneous forest fire might be necessary to cut back on overgrowth, or one animal needs to eat another - we all experience inner cycles of suffering.

 

An interesting difference between us and the natural world, however, is that mother nature doesn't complain about it. She doesn't resist it. She doesn't worry about it. She holds it all. Accepts it all in the present moment exactly as it is. She knows that this animal had to die to feed another. She knows that the thunderstorm had to happen so that the trees could grow. And she knows that the sun will rise tomorrow - even if it's cloudy and we can't quite see it.

 

On the spiritual path, many people seek a guru or teacher. However this process has always felt false to me. Like Emerson and Thoreau, I've had a longstanding belief that while teachers can be helpful at times, the path to Ultimate Truth exists within each of us individually. My time here in my cabin has made me realize that my teacher, my guru, and my spiritual guide is nature itself. By simply observing mother nature's cycles in relation to my own, I believe that I can tap into my Truth, my Soul, and my ultimate potential. I can do my best to embody the essence of a tree - firmly grounded into the earth but flexible enough to withstand the most brutal storms. I can embody the patience, presence, and delicate nature of a deer. I can hold the heartache of a mother bird that just lost its baby to a predator.

 

 

 

In a sense, this blog is an open letter to mother nature herself, saying that I am ready. I am ready to take her on as my teacher and guide. I am ready for the lessons that she needs to teach - even if they are difficult. I am ready to surrender the way that I think things should be, and accept things as they are. I am ready to be soft like the wind, passionate like fire, grounded in the earth, and as supple as water.

 

As Emerson said, “The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.”

 

What has mother nature taught you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

The Sneaky Habit That's Keeping You From Knowing Your True Self

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 9, 2015 at 2:55 PM

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Most of us have a desire to know ourselves. We feel as though there is a deep and true part of us that holds answers to questions that have plagued humanity for eons. Questions like, "Why am I here?" "What am I supposed to do with my life?" and "What gifts do I have to offer to the world?"

 

Unfortunately, most of us feel blocked from the answers. It's like there's a thin (or thick) fog that keeps our True Self hidden from us. At times, however, we feel the veil lift. This typically happens in situations like gazing at the stars or looking into our children's eyes or sharing a deep part of ourselves with a lover.

 

What do all of these situations have in common?

 

We are fully present. In the moment. Not distracted.

 

During these times, we feel a connection with something much bigger than ourselves. And for some people, this feeling can even turn into an enlightenment experience. For the rest of us, we catch a glimpse of what's possible. We sense the common humanity that connects us all. And we feel awe.

 

Then the veil snaps shut.

 

We find ourselves back in the "real world" with all of our problems and obligations. And we forget how thin the veil really is.

 

Personally, I think there's a sneaky habit that keeps most of us from knowing ourselves. It's called distraction. We distract ourselves in a multitude of ways, but a few common examples include alcohol, the internet/cell phones, food, and TV. We use these things to soothe ourselves when we feel pain, instead of dealing with and feeling whatever it is that's painful. We use these things to avoid facing our demons, to placate the negative voices in our heads, and to avoid experiencing what's right in front of us: life.

 

 

 

The past 7 days have represented the first week of my 8-week sabbatical. I'm living in a cabin in the woods with no TV, limited internet, and limited cell phone. We need the internet so that my husband can run his business - but I'm limiting my usage. The cabin is on an island that can only be accessed by boat - there are no streets, no cars, no sidewalks, and no stores. In other words, I have very few distractions. On the one hand, this has been liberating. I wake up every day without an alarm clock. I don't feel any pressure to hover over my email or constantly check my phone. Every morning I drink tea on my front porch and watch nature unfold. Every night is pitch black and completely silent - aside from the occasional loon call.

 

On the other hand, this is excruciating. I have nothing to distract me from me. I can lay in a hammock with my thoughts. I can sit on the dock with my thoughts. I can hike with my thoughts. When night falls, I could wander around with a flashlight - but I choose not to because of the bears. My evening no longer involves distracting myself with a Netflix binge. It's just me, my husband, 450 square feet, and...our thoughts.

 

This experience has reinforced the concept of "monkey mind." My brain is like a monkey, bouncing from tree to tree, wondering, "Shouldn't I be doing something purposeful right now?" "I wonder what I'll make for dinner." "Man this bug bite is itchy." "I hope that deer comes back to see me tonight." "Maybe I should go out on the boat." "I hope it's sunny tomorrow." etc. etc. etc.

 

In my old life, these thoughts would be pushed into the background by the multitude of tasks that I needed to get done that day...or the Facebook feed that I checked regularly...or the latest episode of [insert show name here] on TV. Now, my inner workings are open and bare for me to see. And as painful as this can be, I also realize that it is a doorway. By witnessing my thoughts, ruminations, and distractions without judging them, I edge closer and closer to simply being present - with Me. The True Me. The part of me beyond the veil.

 

These days, the mundane tasks of my old life, like doing the dishes or making dinner, have become front and center. I'm no longer rushing through these things, hoping to finish them as quickly as possible so that I can get started on the next thing on my To Do list. Instead, I'm doing my best to be fully present for these events - to experience them as important in and of themselves - simply by virtue of the fact that I am blessed enough to be alive, doing them, without distraction.

 

You might not be able to take a complete time out in your life right now. But what if you could do just one small thing each day to minimize distractions? Maybe you could limit your Facebook use. Or the next time you're waiting for the bus, just wait - instead of pulling out your phone. Perhaps you could meditate for 5 minutes a day. Or enjoy your cup of coffee without surfing the web.

 

I encourage you to find a sliver of time to just be with yourself. This time might feel challenging at first - but it will serve as a doorway - a bridge that will bring you one step closer to your True Self.

 

 

Think The Universe Isn't Supporting You? Think Again.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on May 24, 2015 at 10:25 AM

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Sometimes it seems like nothing is going right. You don't get the job you wanted. Your partner breaks up with you. You accidentally flush your cell phone down the toilet.

 

All in the same day.

 

A story starts running through your head, mostly consisting of thoughts like "Why me?" "Why is the universe out to get me?" and "Why doesn't anything ever go my way?"

 

 

 

It's important to realize that you are at a very important crossroads during these times. It's a crossroads that each of us faces every moment of the day - but it becomes particularly pronounced during tough times. You, my friend, have an amazing opportunity to choose love over fear.

 

You can choose to believe that everyone is out to get you and that more bad luck is right around the corner. Or you can choose to believe that, in some way that you don't completely understand, you are being loved, supported, and held by the universe. You are being guided through situations and events that are for your highest good. It might seem hard to believe, but you are always being supported by the universe, even when this "support" doesn't feel like support at the time.

 

Maybe you're experiencing a break up so that you can face and overcome your own demons. Maybe you didn't get that job because there's a better opportunity on the way. Maybe you flushed your phone down the toilet because you desperately need a break from technology.

 

Here's an example. A little over a year ago, my husband and I had to evict tenants from a house that we'd decided to rent out. It was our first home, and we'd loved and cherished it. The tenants had created thousands of dollars in damage, so my husband had to spend 6 weeks back home in Canada to renovate and sell the place. I stayed in Boston, feeling terribly stressed and lonely. We couldn't afford to rent our place in Boston and continue to pay our mortgage back home, so it was essential that we sell the house quickly. On top of this, both of my husbands parents were struggling with serious illnesses, and he was doing his best to care for them at the same time. Then, a few days before my husband was scheduled to come back to Boston, his mother passed away.

 

At the time, we were both stressed to the max and wondering why all of these terrible things kept happening. However now, looking back, we realize that if we hadn't had terrible tenants and needed to sell our house, my husband wouldn't have spent 6 weeks with his mother before she passed away. He wouldn't even have been in the same country during her passing. In time, we also realized that selling our house was a blessing in disguise. We were able to pay off a lot of debt - and now we have a level of freedom that allows us to make exciting decisions about what to do next.

 

Another example involves the recent passing of my cat, Chloe. She died very unexpectedly, and I was crushed. However I can also see that there was a blessing in her passing. She would not have enjoyed the transition and change involved in the adventures that are coming next for me. And as much as I miss her, I can see how not having her around gives me a level of freedom that I didn't have before. Sometimes, when the universe strips you bare, it's actually a gift.

 

You can probably think of examples like this from your own life. Situations that felt excruciatingly difficult at the time, but when you look back you realize that these were periods of immense personal growth that carried sweet, unnoticed blessings. The trick, I believe, is to try to see the beauty in difficult times while they are happening, instead of only realizing their importance in hindsight.

 

This is what I'm trying to do right now. In June and July my husband and I are taking a 2-month sabbatical to go live in the woods. We have exciting things planned for August - however for some reason obstacles keep getting in our way. Strange logistical issues keep popping up that are jeopardizing our ability to do what we want to do when we want to do it.

 

Instead of asking myself, "Why us?" "Why can't this situation just be easy and flow?" I'm trying to trust that the universe is supporting me, and that everything will work out with perfect timing. Things might not happen in the exact order and on the exact dates that I want them to, but they will happen in a way that is for my highest good - even if I can't see that right now.

 

Here is what I'd like you to do. Think of a situation that's really stressing you out or getting you down. Then try to find the hidden blessing. It might be something small - but it will be immensely meaningful.

 

How is the universe supporting you today? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

5 Tips for Taking a Work-Life Sabbatical

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on May 10, 2015 at 9:40 AM

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At the end of May I'm leaving my job at Harvard Medical School to spend two months in a cabin in the woods. As I've been announcing this decision to friends and family, our conversations inevitably circle around the question of why.

 

  • Why would I give up a perfectly good job at one of the top academic institutions in the world to go do nothing in a forest?
  • Why would I choose to sell most of my belongings (and put the rest in storage) to live on a piece of land that you can't even access by car?
  • Why would I willingly put my professional connections and career at risk by "disappearing" from the real world for awhile?
     

Then come the questions about how.
 

  • How am I going to afford to take 2 months off?
  • How am I going to accomplish regular tasks like getting my mail and/or groceries?
  • How is my husband going to manage to come along with me?
  • How am I going to explain this to my work colleagues?

 

These questions sound complex, but the answers are surprisingly simple.

 

Why am I doing this? Because I feel like it.

 

How am I doing it? By planning ahead and being brave enough to trust my intuition.

 

 

 

The Why

 

My extended answers are more nuanced, but I think the nuances are of interest. Let's start with why. My simple answer ("because I feel like it") is surprisingly accurate. I once read a blog by Janice MacLeod-Lik (author of Paris Letters) who, when asked why her and her husband were moving from Paris to Calgary after she'd spent years building her dream of being an artist in Paris, replied: "I'm still not exactly sure except that we felt like it, which seems good enough for us and not good enough for whoever is asking."

 

I love Janice's response because, really, what ever happened to just doing things because we feel like it? Why do we always have to consider our career track and our retirement funds and our social status?

 

I recently read an article about a woman who gave up her $95,000/year salary in New York City to move to an island to scoop ice cream. Mostly because she felt like it. She said, "If you're constantly thinking you need a vacation, maybe what you really need is a new life." Touché.

 

"Because I feel like it," sounds like a flippant response, like I didn't give this decision much thought. Which I suppose is true on some level. I didn't think a lot about this decision. But I felt it with all my heart.

 

I'm not leaving my job because it's too stressful or because I'm incapable of keeping up with the Harvard rat race. I'm leaving because the deepest part within me - the part that feels instead of over-analyzing - is telling me that I need to unplug for awhile and spend some time in nature. I don't know if I will emerge from this work-life sabbatical with any enlightened wisdom or a new sense of meaning about my life. All I know is that this is what I need to do. Because I feel like it.

 

The How

 

Now let's move on to the how. We're such a financially-focused culture that in many cases, people don't really care about why I'm doing this. They want to know how I'm going to afford it. I've often thought the same thing when I read blogs by self-help types who suddenly pick up and move to California for the winter or decide to spend a month in Australia. So I'm going to be honest and get into the actual details of how I'm affording this adventure.

 

The first piece is that the universe has been preparing me to make this decision for awhile. Not by giving me a 6-figure income and making my life a piece of financial cake. Instead, for the past 2 years, the universe has been stripping me bare. I was forced to sell my house, my car, and a good chunk of my belongings. Other responsibilities, like my cat, were also taken away. This has been a grueling time emotionally, but it has given me the freedom and space to make different choices about how I want to live.

 

Selling my house, and deciding to rent instead of buying a new place, allowed me to pay off all of my debt. Having no car means that I don't make monthly car payments (or gas payments, or insurance payments). Removing my debt allowed me to save some money - even though my postdoctoral salary barely covers the cost of living in Boston. Some of my financial decisions have also been conscious ones. I don't have children (by choice). I don't buy a lot of fancy clothes or other material things.

 

Fewer responsibilities + more money in the bank = more freedom. So, over the past several months I made a conscious choice to save up enough money to buy myself 2 months off.

 

Again, I don't want to sound nonchalant, as if this was the easiest decision I've ever made. Nor do I want to suggest that this is something that everyone should do. Rather I want to share that these types of decisions are often easier to implement than we think. And when we start making decisions that come from our Soul, the universe inevitably supports us (even if the "support" doesn't always feel like support at the time).

 

What it comes down to is that I need a mental and physical break. And I'm being brave enough to take it.

 

My Tips

 

Here's what I recommend if you're contemplating doing something similar:

 

  1. Simplify. If there are a lot of logistical factors keeping you from taking a leap, do your best to remove them. Obviously you can't sell your kids or abandon your spouse. But perhaps you can start selling a few things on Craigslist. Or consider downsizing to one vehicle in your household. Or eat out less often. The money that you save will give you freedom to make more choices.
     
  2. Get Real. Take a good hard look at your finances (and your Soul), and figure out: 1) What it is that you want to do, and 2) How much time you can realistically take off to do it. Maybe you would like to spend 3 years saving up for a 1 year sabbatical. Or maybe you can only manage to escape for 1 week. The key here is to stop thinking in abstract terms like, "Oh I really want to go to Bali" or "I'd love to take a cruise around the world." Get into the nitty gritty and find out how much these things will actually cost, and what it would take for you to achieve them. Set a timeline. Make goals. Stop daydreaming about "someday" and start making conscious choices that will make your dreams a reality.
     
  3. Find Role Models. When you make the decision to escape from the daily grind, there will be naysayers. Your family might worry about you. Your boss might get upset. Your friends might think you've lost it. Be prepared to speak with people who will make you doubt yourself. Then, in your darkest moments, find role models who are living the type of life that you imagine. That's why I enjoyed reading Paris Letters and Noelle Hancock's article.
     
  4. Trust Yourself. You will want to ask people for advice. And sometimes this is ok. But in the end, you need to spend some quality time with you. What do you want your life to look like? How do you want to feel? No one else can answer these questions for you. If your heart is telling you to spend 2 months in the woods, then that's what you need to do.
     
  5. Lose the Illusion. We often mistakenly believe that a vacation, or an extended sabbatical, is going to magically erase all of our problems. In reality, when we follow our Soul's calling, we are often guided into deep, murky, and uncomfortable waters. Sometimes we end up with zero insights. Often all of our crap rises to the surface, because we don't have the hassles of daily life to distract us from ourselves. I fully expect to come face to face with some of my demons in the woods. As Clarissa Pinkola Estés describes in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves, I expect to learn lessons from the wise, wild archetype Baba Yaga. I've given up the illusion that my time away will be a walk in the park.

 

There is, of course, one final question after "why" and "how." The question of "What's next?" What am I going to do after my 2 month sabbatical? For that you'll have to stay tuned.

 

In the end, I'm trying to be brave, I'm trying to follow my heart, and I'm trying to serve as an example to others who might want to follow a similar path. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. That is the wonder of life. After all, if we don't challenge ourselves, how will we grow?

 

How are you challenging yourself today? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

When The Universe Strips You Bare

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 26, 2015 at 8:00 PM

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In the last 2 years I lost my house, 2 cars, my mother-in-law, and my cat - all due to events that were beyond my control. I moved 600 miles away from my friends and family to start a new job in an unfamiliar city. And every time I start to feel like I'm figuring things out, life seems to throw me another curve ball.

 

Part of me is tired. I'm tired of losing the things that I love. I'm tired of not having a sense of home. I'm tired of self-growth and personal development and continually making decisions that scare me but are for my highest good.

 

I feel like the universe is stripping me bare.

 

Right now I'm in the process of moving again. I'm selling most of my furniture, giving away books and clothing, and liquidating a good chunk of my possessions. The question keeps arising, "Who am I without these things?" Who are my husband and I without our cat of 12 years? Who are we without our house? Without our parents?

 

I'm amazed at the attachment that I have to even the simplest of things. The knick knack on my shelf. The ratty t-shirt that I'm reluctant to throw in the trash. The special candle that I light when I'm trying to make big decisions. Who am I without these things? Do these things represent "home?"

 

My True Self knows the answer to this question. Home cannot be found in a physical place or in another person. My true home is within me. Within my soul. Inside of the deepest part of me there is always a space that is centered and grounded, regardless of where I'm living or what I'm doing or who I'm with. I know that this is true. But it doesn't make life any easier. At least not right now.

 

 

 

Right now, I want my cat to jump onto my desk and rub her head on my shoulder. I want to stop picturing her final moments, right before we had to unexpectedly euthanize her. I want my mother-in-law to appear in my kitchen to make me some amazing goodies instead of my husband living with the image of her passing in his arms. I want my cute little house to still be mine, before our lousy tenants created $10,000 worth of damage and we had to sell it. I want to drive around in my 1997 Toyota Tercel instead of having to sell it because it was old and wouldn't have made the 600 mile drive to the city. I want my husband to be able to pick me up in his Mazda instead of it getting totaled for no reason. I want to get all of our furniture back instead of selling it on Craigslist.

 

I was attached to these things. And in this moment, I want them back. I feel raw and open. Stripped of much of what mattered to me.

 

The day after my cat died, I found myself crumpled on the floor in a pool of tears, gasping for air and aching at the suffering that is life. One of the main tenets of Buddhism is that life is suffering. This is the mystery and the wound that we all carry. We're here, on this earth, doing our best. But inevitably we suffer. The most enlightened and self-actualized masters are able to bear witness to this suffering, hold it, and continue to live with immense compassion for all beings.

 

I aspire to this.

 

But sometimes the suffering just feels so heavy, so unbearable. And let's face it - my problems are first world problems. People before and after me have suffered atrocities beyond what I can imagine. And yet we keep going.

 

This is where I start to feel a glimmer of hope. When I realize, in my darkest times, the common humanity that connects us all. We all suffer. We all experience loss and devastation and grief. But we pick ourselves up and we keep trying. Even when trying is something as simple as brushing our teeth when we barely have enough motivation to get out of bed.

 

When we turn our suffering into compassion for all beings who also suffer, we experience a miracle.

 

So here is what I would like my suffering to do for you. Today, when you're on Facebook feeling jealous about someone who looks like they have it all together, or feeling pissed off at someone who's driving too slowly during your morning commute - remember that we all suffer. The person in front of you might be a different race or practice customs that you don't agree with or understand - but I can guarantee you that they have suffered. And that "perfect person" on Facebook is wearing a mask.

 

Today, give someone a hug. Smile at a stranger. Pay for someone's coffee in line behind you. Because when the universe strips us bare, kindness is what brings us back.

 

What random act of kindness have you performed lately (or would you like to perform today)? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

Honor Yourself, Scars and All

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 12, 2015 at 10:15 AM

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This week I'm wrapping up a project that I've been working on for the past 2 years. It's a research study of a yoga intervention in a school, and while this might sound like a dream job to some, it was filled with ups and downs for me. It was a beast of a project to manage, with many moving parts that didn't always fall into place easily.

 

As the main parts of the project are coming to an end, I've noticed that instead of celebrating this huge achievement, my mind has been reaching toward what's next. Instead of giving myself a pat on the back, my hands are reaching forward, trying to grasp onto the next project, the next goal, the next stressor, the next line item for my CV.

 

This is maddening for a few reasons. First of all, my current project isn't completely finished. There's still a lot of data analysis and manuscript writing to do, and I need to remain present with this project to see it through to the very end. The real kicker, however, is that I'm amazed at how addicted I am to achievement. I'm a junkie that doesn't know how to live without climbing the ladder of productivity - and I don't even pause to congratulate myself for a job well done.

 

Well, that ends now.

 

Today I'm honoring myself for grabbing a difficult project by the reins and rocking it. I'm proud of myself for doing things that scared me, like being assertive and managing a large team of people and pushing through day after day even though sometimes I wanted to quit. I'm amazed at how resilient I was in the face of a variety of difficulties. And while I wasn't solving world hunger or creating world peace, in my little corner of the world I was making a difference. Because of my project, a group of 7th graders were exposed to yoga during their gym class, and they learned skills that they can use throughout the rest of their lives to manage stress.

 

The project wasn't always easy, and I didn't execute every element perfectly, but I did a damn good job. And before my mind tries to trap me into focusing on what's next, I want to focus on what's now. And what's now is beautiful.

 

I encourage you to do the same. Where in your life are you not giving yourself enough credit? In many ways, the fact that you got out of bed this morning, given all that I'm sure you're going through, is a miracle. Honor that. The fact that you're reading this blog post means that you are at least somewhat interested in personal development and self-growth. Honor that. The fact that you are a glorious human being living on this planet at this time is a miracle. Take the time to soak that in.

 

Yes, you have faults. Sure, you might feel broken. We all do. And we are all doing the best we can, in our little corners of the world, to make the world a better place. It starts with you. It starts by choosing to love and honor yourself even with your scars and faults and debt and moods and cellulite. It starts by taking the time to cherish the light that exists within you - and that exists within all of us.

 

 

 

So, in this moment, I honor myself. And I honor you.

 

What can you honor about yourself today? Share with me in the comments below!

 

 

Check Your Expectations

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 29, 2015 at 11:45 AM

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Are you the type of person who always expects the worst? When good things happen, do you wait for the other shoe to drop, thinking to yourself, "I don't deserve this. This won't last. I'd better not get too happy."

 

Me too.

 

But lately I've been presented with several opportunities to check my expectations, and it's made me realize that I often make things out to be worse in my mind than they end up being in real life. Here are a couple of examples:

 

My husband and I booked an extended stay at a remote cabin that doesn't have internet access. I plan to use my time there to recharge, but my husband runs his own business and needs the internet to do his job. So I started looking into mobile internet options, like a hub that connects to the cellular network to give us wireless internet for our laptops. I realized that I needed to call my cellular company to discuss a few of the details. And I was dreading making the call. Anyone who has ever called a cellular company knows how it goes. It takes forever to speak to a real person, who usually ends up hanging up on you because they don't know how to help.

 

So I put it off.

 

I kept writing "call cell company" in my day-planner, and then making up excuses to not do it. Finally, one day, I bit the bullet and called. To my surprise, a real person picked up. She was extremely helpful, answered all of my complicated questions, and gave me her direct line so that I can call her back when I'm ready to purchase the equipment.

 

Here's another example. In a few months I'm going to import my cat from the U.S. to Canada, and then possibly export her to the European Union. There are all sorts of forms, fees, and tasks involved in this process. Again, I had a lot of complex questions and I needed to speak with someone at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. And again, I procrastinated. I made up all sorts of stories about how there was no way I would get through to a real person who could help me. I wasted time scouring the internet trying to find the answers to my questions instead of just picking up the phone.

 

And guess what? When I called, I got a real person who put me in touch with another real person who was extremely helpful and gave me the direct email address of a veterinarian who answered all of my questions.

 

Final example. I'm a Canadian, currently living and working in the U.S., which means that I have to file American taxes. Taxes are painful in general, but trying to file taxes in a country that you're unfamiliar with is even worse. I paid an accountant to help me with the process, however after I'd mailed my forms to the IRS I realized that the accountant had asked me to fill out the wrong forms. When I emailed him about it, he was terse and didn't give a very good explanation as to how we should proceed. Instead, he asked me to come in to pick up the revised paperwork.

 

Before dropping by his office, all sorts of stories were running through my head about how incompetent he was, how this was a waste of my time, and how he was probably going to mess up again the second time around. Instead, when I arrived, he explained exactly what had happened and took me through the revised forms until I was confident that they were filled out properly. I was in and out in 15 minutes.

 

All of these situations happened within a 1-week time-span. At the end of the week, I was in awe at how my expectations had driven me into such a downward spiral of negativity. In my mind, I had decided that the universe was an unfriendly, annoying place where everything was a struggle. Instead, the universe opened her arms and did her best to show me that life doesn't always have to be hard. Things can be easy. I don't need to fight and struggle and push my way through everything.

 

Often, our expectations jade us into believing that everything is going to go wrong. That we don't deserve happiness. That the world is a difficult and dangerous place.

 

I encourage you to change this mindset. A Course in Miracles teaches that every time we shift our perspective from fear to love, we experience a miracle. If I'd approached this week from the perspective of love, I would have had a vastly different experience. Same circumstances. Different approach.

 

 

 

The next few months are going to involve a lot of change and uncertainty for me, which is why I'm thanking Cheryl Richardson and Marie Forleo for these two mantras: "Everything is figure-outable" (via Marie) and "Things are always working out for me" (via Cheryl).

 

How might you shift your perspective today? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

What Do You Want?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 15, 2015 at 1:20 PM

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My husband and I are facing career changes in the near future. The lease on our apartment is up on May 31st and we're trying to come to a joint decision about what's next for us. We're not only trying to decide where to work, but also where to live, and, most importantly, how we want to live. We don't have kids, we don't own property, and we have very few possessions, so theoretically we could live anywhere in the world.

 

So this weekend we put on some music, poured some wine, and brainstormed. Equipped with a huge piece of paper and a couple of sharpies, we thought it would be easy to immediately go about deciding our next steps.

 

We were wrong.

 

Soon after beginning this exercise, we realized that we needed to pull back - way back - to get a bird's eye view of why we were feeling certain ways about certain options. It occurred to us that instead of immediately getting down to the nitty gritty of, "Should I take X job" or "Should we live in X city," we needed to ask a much broader question:

 

"What do I want?"

 

In other words, what do I want in life? What do I want our shared path to look like together? What do I value as a person, and what do we value as a couple?

 

 

 

We set aside the huge piece of paper and set about writing our answers down individually. Personally, I re-visited many of the things that I value in life, but haven't been honoring lately - things like self-care, flexibility in my schedule, and autonomy in my work. By looking at our career options through the lens of what we value, we were able to see which options fit best with how we envision the gradual unfolding of our lives.

 

Our desire for rejuvenation and self-care led us to book an extended vacation at a remote cabin in Northern Ontario in June and July. As for what's coming after that, the future is still unclear. What I do know is that in order to fully practice what I preach, I need to honor myself and my decisions, regardless of what others think of my choices. I need to stand in my power and be strong in my convictions, fully present and aware of the importance of honoring my soul.

 

I'm sure there will be more career-related announcements from me over the next few months. Until then, I encourage you to take a step back from the day to day tasks of your life and ask:

 

What do I want? (Go deep here - beyond your desire for a new car or the latest iPhone. What do you REALLY want?)

 

What do I value?

 

Is the current day-to-day of my life honoring what I want and what I value?

 

Brainstorm ways that you might start moving your life from its current form into a form that more fully resonates with your soul's call. Then take one small step to begin shifting your life in that direction. I'll do the same, and together we can serve as examples of what's possible when we listen to our True Selves. 

 

 

 

Expect the Incredible

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 1, 2015 at 11:00 AM

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I'm a control freak. I like to know when things are going to happen and how they're going to happen - and I want to be in charge of the whole show (especially when it comes to my career). Years ago I created a vision board of all of the things that I was determined to make happen. I'd just quit my corporate job, and I was hell-bent on proving to the world (and to myself) that giving up my good salary hadn't been in vain.

 

I was going to make it, dammit, and no one could stop me!

 

My vision board included items such as:

 

  • Score a publishing contract with Hay House
  • Get on Oprah
  • Lead workshops at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
  • Live in a house on a lake

 

I had a very clear idea of how it was all going to play out. I was going to make a website, therefore declaring to the world that I was ready to offer my services. Then the universe would bestow everything that I wanted upon me. And why not? I was a personable yoga teacher with a PhD in Psychology, I had years of public speaking experience and writing skills, I had a personal story about getting off of antidepressants that was vulnerable and accessible, and, above all else, I was a good person. Why wouldn't the universe want to support me?

 

So, the day after I left my corporate job in May 2010, I went to a Hay House I Can Do It conference in Toronto. I saw this as my chance to put myself in front of self-help icons like Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay, who would, of course, immediately beg me to write a book for them. I'd created a package that included my bio and book ideas, which I handed out to every Hay House person that I came into contact with, including the CEO Reid Tracy. And then...

 

Nothing happened.

 

Well, that isn't entirely accurate. Something did happen - it just wasn't exactly what I thought would happen. Instead of Louise Hay offering me a book deal on the spot, Hay House launched their self-publishing platform (Balboa Press) the very same month that I quit my corporate job. At first I was reluctant to self-publish my book. After all, isn't self-publishing for losers who can't get a book deal?

 

But I had to face the fact that my phone wasn't ringing off the hook with agents who wanted to represent me or publishing companies that wanted to work with me, so I decided to self-publish my book. It didn't end up being a New York Times bestseller, but I do know, based on emails from readers, that it has helped many people get off of antidepressants and live a more balanced life.

 

In order to birth my book into the world and serve others the way I was meant to serve, I had to put my ego in the backseat and get my work out there. I didn't have 10,000 followers on Facebook (or whatever sized platform book publishers like you to have) - but what I did have was a very loyal and engaged audience who knew that I was doing everything in my power to help them create a life they love - whether it brings me fame or not.

 

Fast forward 5 years. I was recently contacted by a book publisher that's interested in me writing a book for them. They are a small publisher - not Hay House. And there's no 6-figure advance or guarantee that my book proposal will even be accepted. But its a start.

 

Here's another example. In 2010 my vision board was splattered with pictures of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, because I desperately wanted to lead a retreat there. I'd heard it was a mecca of wellness and relaxation, where all of the big-wig self-help people gave workshops. I envisioned my photo and bio in their catalog, with people from all over the country flocking to my programs.

 

At the time I was volunteering for a professor who was affiliated with Kripalu, so I had a few connections there. I put together a proposal for my retreat and figured I was a shoo-in. A few weeks later I excitedly opened an email from Kripalu, only to find that my workshop had been rejected. I moped and felt sorry for myself, but continued to deliver my tiny workshops in my tiny town, where I was lucky if I could get 10 people to show up.

 

Fast forward 5 years. I now work full-time for Harvard Medical School and Kripalu, where I do research on yoga for youth. Over the last 2 years I've given several lectures at Kripalu - and my photo appears on their website and in some of their print materials. The difference between what was on my vision board and what I'm actually doing is subtle - but important. I'm not delivering personal workshops and retreats at Kripalu. Instead, I'm giving research lectures where I share the findings of my studies on yoga in school settings.

 

I'm telling you these stories to show that I manifested several things on my vision board - but in different ways than my control-freak-ego wanted them to manifest.

 

What about my desire to be on Oprah and live in a house on a lake? Well, I haven't been on Oprah yet, but I've been plugging away, doing small media interviews and TV appearances for years, whether 4 or 400 people were watching/listening. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal called, asking if she could interview me for one of her articles. And I don't own a house on a lake, but I do live in an 800-square foot apartment that overlooks a beautiful pond.

 

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Kripalu Yoga in the Schools Symposium, where I delivered two lectures. My seat in the main hall was assigned with a name tag that looked like this:

 

 

 

I took a photo of the name tag and posted the following on Facebook:

 

5 years ago, if someone had told me that I'd eventually have my name, Harvard Medical School, and Kripalu on my name-tag, I wouldn't have thought it was possible. My logical brain wouldn't have been able to put together the non-linear path that brought me here. Yet here I am. My point? Your life has enormous potential beyond what you can see right now. Expect the incredible.

 

In other words, you might have a very linear, point A to point B idea of what you think your life is supposed to look like. You might even have a 5 year plan. You might force and push and try too hard, desperately attempting to mold your life into the vision that exists in your mind. Whenever you get caught in this cycle, remind yourself that, while things might not turn out how you think they should, they will always turn out how they're meant to.

 

I've still never published a book with a "real" publishing company. I don't have 10,000 followers on my Facebook page. I've never led a retreat at Kripalu. And I don't own a mansion on a lake.

 

But I do have a life that sort of resembles these things. Why? Because I took the time to envision them and I had the courage to make choices that would bring me closer to my dreams.

 

Even if you're in a dark or low place right now, try to expect the incredible. Life can turn on a dime. And, even though things might not look exactly how you'd hoped, your soul will sing at the fact that you loved yourself enough to expect greatness.

 

How might you expect greatness in your life today?

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Time Poverty

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 15, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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I bet that, most days, you feel like you're in a hurry. You rush from task to task with barely enough time to catch your breath before another "to do" ends up on your plate. You eat your meals in quick gulps - usually in front of a computer or in the car - if you eat at all. At the end of the day, you fall into bed exhausted, but unable to sleep, your mind racing through everything that you need to get done tomorrow.

 

Sound familiar?

 

I think many of us are addicted to this lifestyle. We don't know what to do with our down time (or perhaps we don't even know what down time is). For most of us, "down time" involves laying on the couch watching reality TV, or scrolling through our never-ending Facebook feed. And even though we consider this to be "relaxing," there's always a little voice in the back of our head saying, "Stop procrastinating! You have so much to do. Get off your butt so that you can take care of X, Y, and Z!" And so we never get a chance to truly relax.

 

My question is:

 

Why are we living like this?

 

What is it that fuels us to keep pushing, pushing, pushing until eventually something breaks?

 

Who (or what) is telling us that we need to be so busy all the time?

 

Why are we all trying so hard?

 

Part of the answer, in my opinion, is that we're being lied to. Our cultural paradigm is lying to us, and we, in turn, are lying to ourselves.

 

What is the lie? That we aren't enough. We aren't rich enough, successful enough, skinny enough, cool enough.

 

In essence, we aren't good enough.

 

We buy into this lie and try to make ourselves good enough by having a bigger house, nicer car, cooler clothes, and higher paying job. In order to keep up with this lack mentality, we fill our days with task after task after task - all aimed at proving to ourselves, our friends, our families, and the world at large that we are, in fact, good enough.

 

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. You are enough. Period.

 

Your Soul, or True Self, doesn't care how much money you have in the bank or what kind of car you drive. Your Soul cares that you are authentic. Your Soul wants you to devote time to discovering your Truth so that you can live out your full purpose on this earth.

 

When you embark on this path, others might think you're being foolish. They might tell you that you're making irrational decisions. Don't listen. As long as your decisions aren't hurting anyone else, and are serving your Soul, make them.

 

Most of all, let go of the sense of time poverty that is pervading our society. Many of us feel like there are never enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that we need to accomplish. This simply isn't true. Time is perceptual and is based on what we value. True, there are only 24 hours in each day. But the way that you prioritize those 24 hours is up to you.

 

 

 

When you're stuck in the land of "I'm not enough," you'll often choose to spend your time chasing the unattainable carrot of an overflowing bank account or a perfect relationship. If, on the other hand, you begin accepting that you are already enough, you can slowly start getting off of the hamster wheel of wants and needs that aren't even truly your own.

 

This will feel difficult at first. So start slow. Here's an example. Over the past few months I noticed a mantra that was continually repeating in my head: "I don't have time." I don't have time to hang out with that person that I want to connect with. I don't have time to skype with my friends. I don't have time to curl my hair or put on makeup or go for a walk. Most of the things that I felt I didn't have enough time for were things that involved my self-care.

 

So, in an effort to get myself out of a time poverty mentally, I decided to reverse this mantra. Every time I found myself saying that I didn't have enough time for something, I would replace this thought with "I have plenty of time." And, being the rational scientist that I am, I decided to test whether I in fact did have enough time.

 

Case in point: New England winters can be harsh. My skin always gets dry and itchy unless I put oil or cream all over my body after I shower. Over the years I've gotten into the habit of making time every morning for this daily ritual. The only place where I don't put cream is on my feet. For some bizarre reason, I tell myself that I don't have enough time to put cream on my feet. So my toes and heels get dry and rough. My toenails start to crack. It's not pretty.

 

Recently, when I noticed myself saying that I didn't have enough time to put cream on my feet, I decided to test whether this was true. So I took out my cell phone and timed how long it takes me to put cream on my feet. And (drum roll please) it takes a whopping 43 seconds.

 

Why on earth have I been living with ugly feet all winter, just to save myself 43 seconds every morning? The fact that I feel that I don't have 43 seconds to spare is absolutely ridiculous.

 

This is a small example, but an example nonetheless of the extreme sense of time poverty that many of us are experiencing. And I for one am tired of it. So I've started taking 43 seconds every morning to put cream on my feet. And now they feel great. I encourage you to begin letting go of your sense of time poverty, too.

 

How many seconds can you spare to give yourself the care that you deserve?

 

 

Single? Five Tips to Soulfully Manifest a Mate

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 1, 2015 at 12:20 AM

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I've never been a fan of Valentine's Day. When I was single, it felt like I was being accosted by images of happy couples waltzing into the sunset. Now that I'm married, V day seems like a commercialized excuse to show my partner the loving thoughts that I should be expressing every day anyway.

 

So let me start by making it clear that I don't think anyone should feel pressure to find a partner. In fact, research suggests that, contrary to popular belief, single people are quite happy. However, as someone who spent several years studying the science of romantic relationships, I decided it might be time to share my take on attracting a mate.

 

 

 

Get Clear on What You Want

 

If there's one thing that the universe loves, it's clarity of intention. The trick here is to make sure that your intentions are coming from your Truth, not from what others expect of you. For example, you might think that you want to marry a wealthy doctor or someone who is of a certain ethnicity. But if you look closely, this might be what your parents want for you, not what you want for yourself.

 

Take some time to create a list of what you really desire in a partner. Then pay attention to which of these characteristics are flexible, and which are non-negotiable.

 

For me, I have very little interest in how much money my partner makes. But one of my non-negotiables is passion. I don't necessarily mean passion in the bedroom - I mean a passion for and interest in life. A desire to live one's true purpose and to have authentic conversations that last until the wee hours of the morning. In other words, I want my mate to be awake. Awake to the potential of life - regardless of whether he is a millionaire or living paycheck to paycheck.

 

A word of caution, however, with regard to this exercise. Keep in mind that a relationship is always a complex interaction between two personalities. Research suggests that as we get to know our partners, we begin to incorporate their self-concept into our self-concept. And in many cases our partners begin to match our ideals over time - even if the person wasn't ideal in the first place. Some might call this settling. Whatever you want to call it - it happens. So make your ideal list, but remember that it's possible for potential partners to start matching some of your ideals over time.

 

Clean Up Your Act

 

Author Gabby Bernstein teaches that before we can bring what we want into our lives, "we need to clean up our side of the street." In other words, it's very difficult to be in an authentic relationship with someone when you haven't spent time digging through your own shadows.

 

For example, in my early 20s I was a powder keg of wants and needs, and I was trying to fill them in all the wrong places. I was sleeping with men to try to fill a void within that no one could fill except for me. Externally I had a handful of men orbiting around my center, and it looked like I was plucking them from my sky for pleasure whenever I felt like it. But what was actually happening on the inside is that I was terrified of being alone - and convinced that I was unlovable. So any time that one man seemed disinterested, I would move on to someone else. The worst part of the situation was that I ended up heartbroken, because I hurt the person that I actually wanted to be with (who no longer wanted to be with me because of my behavior). So, with my heart in my hands, I made a promise to myself that I was going to clean up my act. I would no longer use sex as a proxy for love and as an activity to fill my loneliness.

 

Then I spent 3 months feeling more lonely than I'd ever felt in my life. I stayed away from opportunities to re-engage in my destructive behavior. I kept seeing my therapist. I cried. A lot. And while 3 months of single-hood and celibacy might not seem like a long time, for a relationship addict like me it felt like an eternity.

 

I didn't solve all of my problems in those 3 months. But I think I sent a sign to the universe that I was ready to change. I was ready to enter into a healthy relationship and I would not rely on the new relationship to satisfy my insecurities.

 

And that's when I met my future husband.

 

Get Innovative

 

My husband and I met online almost 12 years ago, long before online dating was remotely cool or accepted. However, after spending 3 months doing a lot of soul searching and personal work, I felt like I might be ready to meet someone. So I created a profile on LavaLife and waited to see what would happen. At the time I was embarrassed to admit that I was trying to meet partners online. But the ways that I'd met men in the past weren't working, so I knew that I needed to do something different.

 

Sometimes we need to break out of our routines and comfort zones in order to usher in a potential mate. For example, if you're used to meeting partners in bars, maybe you should try joining a sports team to see who you'll meet there. Or if you are still among those who think online dating is for losers, perhaps you need to give it a chance.

 

Come Clean

 

Many of us are afraid to be vulnerable with potential mates. We're nervous that if we show our scars and our demons, we will scare the person away. But sharing our authenticity is how we develop closeness, trust, and intimacy with others. And, in my opinion, anyone who is scared of your wants, needs, or demons shouldn't be with you anyway.

 

In this blog, Karen Salmansohn talks about how she wanted a baby when she was in her 40s and single. She didn't give up on what she wanted, and eventually started sharing her desire for a family with potential partners (on their second date!). Now she has a son and a partner - because she made her needs known up front.

 

Similarly, within the first few weeks of dating my husband, I told him that I was on antidepressants, seeing a therapist, and still struggling with a broken heart. To my great surprise, he accepted me as I was in that moment. It would be two years before I eventually got off the medication and stopped seeing a therapist, but he stuck with me.

 

Dating can be full of many needless games. Don't be afraid to show people who you are or tell them how you feel. Throw the games aside and be authentic. Anyone who can't handle your authenticity is a waste of your time.

 

Don't Expect Your Partner To Complete You

 

My husband doesn't complete me. In fact, I think it would be cruel for either of us to expect all of our needs to be met solely from each other. And, as I'm sure anyone who has been married for more than a few years will tell you, monogamy can be a bitch. Seriously. Being in a committed relationship, day after day, is some of the hardest work I've done in my life.

 

After the initial passion dies down and you begin being part of someone's every day, you bump up against the many ways that you can't fulfill each others' every need. At first this stings a little. You want to be everything for your partner. But the sooner you realize that this isn't possible, the happier you'll be.

 

Here's an example. Yoga and meditation are a huge part of my life. I do both practices almost every day. And I do research on yoga for a living. But guess what? My husband has done yoga a total of 7 times (and most of these were within the first year or so of us dating, when he was still trying to impress me). For him, soccer is his yoga. He plays soccer, reads soccer news every morning, and reads books about his favorite players. I, on the other hand, find soccer incredibly boring. In the same way that my husband isn't at all interested in my 20 minute diatribe about my chakras, I have very little interest in talking to him about the latest soccer statistics. And so we find other ways to get these needs met.

 

Remember that your partner doesn't have to be the only person on this planet who you love. If you end up getting (and staying) married, you will love your partner in small and big ways. You will love them in ways that feel easy and in ways that hurt so badly you can barely breathe. But you can also share deep, lasting love with friends and family. And the cool part is that the love you have for these other people doesn't involve the every day. You don't get annoyed at the way these people put the toilet paper on the wall "upside down" (what is right side up for this, anyway?). You will love these  people in a special way that isn't tainted by such minor details. And that's a beautiful thing.

 

Final Thoughts

 

If you're single, start by taking the pressure off yourself to find someone. Get to know yourself - your truths and your demons - and eventually your mate will come along. And, as Skylar Liberty Rose states in this beautifully written blog, when you find him, you'll know why the others before him had to leave.

 

What are your thoughts on soulfully manifesting a mate? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

On Truth and Meaning

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 17, 2015 at 11:30 AM

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Two words have been coming up often in my thoughts, blogs, journals, and meditations: Truth and Meaning. At first, these seem like simple words. The sentence, "I want to live  a meaningful life that comes from my Truth" rolls off of my lips (and my heart) so easily. This is what I feel within my core.

 

But when I step back and try to unpack what I actually mean by Truth and Meaning, things become more difficult. Truth and Meaning are big words. Nebulous words. Words that we often throw around without feeling into what we're actually saying.

 

What does it mean to live from my Truth?

 

What does it mean for my life to be Meaningful?

 

Philosophers have spent hundreds (and thousands) of years trying to dissect these concepts, and I in no way think that I will be able to solve these questions in one blog post. I do, however, want to dig a bit deeper into what I mean (and perhaps what you mean) when we say these words.

 

On Truth

 

There are many people who have tried to unpack the concept of truth. After his enlightenment, the first piece of wisdom that the Buddha is believed to have shared are the four noble truths, the first of which is that "all existence is suffering." The rest of the truths go on to tell us where suffering comes from, and how to transcend suffering.

 

Philosophers try to answer the question "What is truth" with a variety of methods and inquiries, things like "Proposition P is true if P is the case, and P is the case if P is true. Together with all other propositions which meet the same criterion, P can then claim to inhabit the realm of Truth. But is P the case?"

 

I'll stop here before our brains explode

 

 

 

Suffice it to say that when I speak of Truth, I'm talking less about universal truths and more about my unique, personal Truth. My personal Truth is connected to universal truth, but it is also my Soul's unique way of embodying Truth on this planet. I still don't know what this means logically (with my mind) but I know what it feels like when I touch on it (with my heart). There's a surge of energy and a release that I get when I am living and speaking from my Truth. Whether I'm giving a workshop or teaching a yoga class or connecting with someone one-on-one, I feel my Truth when it's there.

 

I don't hear a special, magical voice speaking to me from another realm, as many self-help-types do. Instead, I feel something within me. It doesn't speak, but if it could, it would be saying something like "Yes, this is it! You are connected. You are love. You have so much love and light to share. Don't be afraid."

 

I used to be completely shut off from this part of myself. Over the years I've been developing a closer relationship with my Truth, or my True Self, but my default is often still to consult with my logical, analytical mind. To try to solve a problem rationally instead of from an airy-fairy fluffy place somewhere within me that I call my Truth. Which brings me to our next topic: Meaning.

 

On Meaning

 

My airy fairy fluffy Truth-filled place wants me to create a meaningful life. Ok great. But what does this mean? Yes, I am asking what meaning means. But stay with me.

 

Again, philosophers have been trying to unpack this concept for ages. A recent New York Times article on "The Problem With Meaning" suggests that the word meaning "is flabby and vacuous, the product of a culture that has grown inarticulate about inner life." The author goes on to say that "Because meaningfulness is built solely on an emotion, it is contentless and irreducible" and "Because [meaning is] based solely on sentiment, it is useless."

 

I think that statements like these come from our society's general devaluing of emotions and feelings. We like to focus on objective, "hard science," not vague concepts like how we feel. To many of us, Truth is what we can see. What we can prove scientifically. Truth is reduced to situations in which you can reject your null hypothesis with a less than 5% chance of error. Meaning is thought to be useless because it is based on touchy feely things like emotions and sentiments.

 

As a researcher, my academic "parents" raised me to love the scientific method. The most consistent message that I've received in my 10+ years of university education is to trust good science. I've been thoroughly trained in how to design solid research studies and do complex statistical analyses to test hypotheses. And, while I still appreciate the value of good science, I think that its dogma has caused many scientists to be so cynical and skeptical that we are actually biasing ourselves.

 

To me, a crucial aspect of doing good science is keeping an open mind. If those who came before us had kept their minds closed, we would still think the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. Science eventually helped establish what was "false" about these concepts. But at first they were just theories. It took a certain level of open-mindedness to even consider testing them.

 

In my opinion, open-mindedness leads to innovation. Cynicism and skepticism, including a hard-nosed grasping to trying to prove everything objectively, can lead to bias.

 

In the same way that an atheist or agnostic completely throws out the idea of God, we often throw out the idea that there is more to this universe than what we can see and/or prove scientifically.

 

I think that the website I Fucking Love Science has become increasingly popular largely because of our obsession with a belief that the scientific method can prove or disprove everything (and IFLScience posts pretty cool stuff!). And guess what? I fucking love science. I really do. I wouldn't have devoted so much of my life to science if I didn't. But, as someone who is intimately familiar with the shadow side of the scientific method, I think our culture could use a dose of valuing things beyond science. Appreciating the fact that maybe, just maybe, there are questions that science can't answer.

 

As an example, check out this article in Scientific American, written by the publisher of Skeptic Magazine, who's job it is to de-bunk airy fairy ideas. The author experienced a mysterious event that shook his skepticism to the core - and that science can't explain. He states that:

 

"...if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious."

 

I couldn't agree more.

 

How does all of this relate to Meaning and Truth? Well, my declaration that "I want to live a meaningful life that comes from my Truth" flies in the face of what we value scientifically. This statement is subjective, personal, and very difficult to quantify. Does science know what's in my heart? Can I use science to tell me what it means to live a meaningful life? As a scientist who does research on yoga and positive psychology I am, in a sense, trying to answer this question. Similarly, organizations like the Mind & Life Institute have made steps toward bringing subjective experience back into science, by, for example, valuing first-, second-, and third-person accounts of phenomena. But we still have a long way to go.

 

For now I'm content to sit in the open-minded perspective that my personal Truth and Meaning are not "contentless," "irreducible," or "useless." Instead, my Truth and my Meaning burn deeply within me, as real as my fingers typing these words. Sure, this is my subjective experience. But I think that when I live and act from my own felt sense of Truth and Meaning, I make the world a better place. And, after all, shouldn't that be one of the aims of science, too?

 

 

Leading An Unconventional Life: An Open Letter

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 4, 2015 at 10:45 AM

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This is an open letter to my friends, family, and anyone else who cares for me. Most of all, this is an open letter to my small self, and, since we are all connected in some way, I am also writing to your small self. In other words, our egos. The part of us that's scared to dream big and take risks.

 

I need to write this letter not as an apology, but as a deeply held conviction. A knowing. A sensing deep within my belly that it's not only me who needs to express these words. You do, too. A knowing that by sharing my Truth with the world, I give you permission to do the same.

 

Here is what I need to say. I ask that you not only read these words. Feel them and know them as my Soul communicating with your Soul.

 

I am not going to live a conventional life.

 

This might not seem like a big deal. But for me, personally, it is. Since finishing my doctorate in 2008, I've felt a pull to live a different kind of life. I've spent the past 7 years (and I imagine I will spend the rest of my life) trying to define what this means. On the outside, it looks like I keep breaking up with society's expectations of me. Instead of going straight into an academic job after graduate school, I took a corporate job doing IT research. Then I quit that job to go out on my own as an entrepreneur. Then I took an academic job in a city far away, with a contract that doesn't give me much of an income or guarantee me a secure future.

 

 

 

To conventional folks, this pattern looks somewhat chaotic. I've caused my family to worry, my friends to miss me, and my mind to doubt my heart.

 

But on the inside...

 

My decisions make absolute sense because my heart knows the way. My heart doesn't care how much money I make or whether the words "Vice President" are in my job title. My heart only cares that I listen to my Soul, follow my Truth, and shine in this world as the Authentic Me. This means that, in all likelihood, I won't follow a conventional path.

 

In other words, my dear friends, family, and others who care for me, leading an unconventional life means that:

 

  • I might not work at a 9 to 5 job
  • I might be in debt
  • I might not have an RRSP, 401K or other type(s) of retirement savings
  • I might not have children
  • I might not own a house
  • I might not own a car
  • I might not be a perfect employee, wife, daughter, friend, lover
  • I might not live close to "home"
  • I might not follow traditional rules of employment, marriage, and friendship
  • I might offend you
  • I might not make what appears to be the "right" or "rational" choice
  • I might seem confusing or emotional or intense or self-absorbed
  • I might ignore your advice and/or wishes for me
  • I might scare you
  • I might write poetry instead of whitepapers, dance instead of obey, and scream in the face of all that is untrue
  • I might not fit into the mold that you have set for me
  • I might inspire you to grow in ways that make you uncomfortable
  • I might ask you to love me even though you receive little, if any, conventional rewards for this love
  • I might ask you to believe in me when there seems to be no logical reason to do so
  • I might not wear the coolest clothes or have the fanciest gadgets
  • I might be poor (on the outside)
  • I might be beautiful, ugly, erotic, frigid, light, dark, loving, and fierce all at the same time
  • I might not look how you want me to look or dress how you want me to dress
  • I might disappoint you
  • I might take risks that make you uncomfortable




  •  
  •  
  •  

I will take risks that make me uncomfortable.

 

I know that those of you who love Me and know Me, Soul to Soul, will accept these Truths without question. And, to be frank, the rest of you do not belong in my life and will eventually fade away. This doesn't mean that I'm "better" than you, or somehow spiritually superior. It means that we have learned what we needed to learn from each other, and now we can move on.

 

I am living an unconventional life. On purpose. I need to admit this to myself on a deep level in order to do what I'm meant to do in this world.

 

If you care for me, here is what I ask in return: Please don't worry about me, tell me that I'm being foolish or romantic, or try to talk me out of my decisions. Trust me. Reach deep inside of yourself, to the True part of you that Knows the True part of me, and you will see that I don't make decisions lightly. I make decisions from a place of Soul, not from a place of societal standards. I'm not going to join a cult or jump off a bridge or do anything dangerous or harmful. I am committed to operating from a place of Love, embodying Love on this planet, and shining my Light so that others aren't afraid to do the same.

 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is not only a letter to my friends, family, and others who care about me. This is a letter to my small self (and your small self). With this post I am publicly declaring that, as much as possible, I intend to live my life based on my True Self. My Soul. The part of me that might not fit in externally, but that has a deeper Home inside of me. A place where it always belongs and where every decision is the right decision because it brought me Here. Now. And it brought you here to read these words and feel them deep within your Truth.

 

It doesn't matter how our lives look on the outside. What matters is inside. What matters is Truth, Authenticity, and Love. And so, with this letter I release all that is untrue, inauthentic, and fearful. I trust that my life, whether conventional or not, will serve as an inspiration to others. I trust that you and I are doing a divine dance in this moment to propel each other forward in accessing our Souls. I release all else. I allow the façade to fade away.

 

I reveal my Truth (and yours).

Coming To Terms With Uncertainty

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on December 21, 2014 at 11:05 AM

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I don't know where I'm going to be working one year from now. And it bothers me. It bothers me that I can't be certain about my future. That the months ahead look foggy and obscure. That I'm in my 30s and I still can't speak with any certainty about which direction my career is going to take.

 

Aren't I supposed to have my profession figured out by now?

 

Shouldn't I be living in a quaint little house with my husband and cat, surrounded by close friends and family, with a stable income and a solid routine that help me sleep peacefully at night?

 

Oh wait - I had that life. And I gave it up 2 years ago to pursue something different.

 

That "something different" involved taking a temporary job at Harvard, moving into a tiny apartment that costs way more than it's worth, and giving up most of what made me feel safe.

 

Now, 2 years later, I'm staring uncertainty in the face again, and I'm not sure which direction to take. My work contract is up at the end of 2015, and while that might seem far away, in the world of the ivory tower it can take up to one year to secure a new position. And the competition is fierce. Each job opening receives up to 400 applications - and having Harvard on your resume guarantees nothing.

 

So I have a few options:
 

  • Continue to work in academia, either by starting another postdoctoral fellowship or becoming a professor (if any universities are willing to give me that option).
     
  • Continue in my current position at Harvard, which would involve switching to a new area of research, and is dependent on receiving funding that is uncertain at the moment.
     
  • Go back to being an entrepreneur, leading workshops, teaching yoga, and writing books, without any secure source of income, which means I would have to move back to Canada because I can't continue living in the U.S. without being employed here full-time.
     
  • Perhaps a completely different career option, something that I haven't even thought of yet.

 

To make matters worse, I'm having trouble listening to what my Soul wants. This is nothing new. I've always had trouble accessing my Soul, or True Self, and I've spent the better part of my adult life trying to develop a better relationship with this part of me that is always certain. That always knows. That isn't affected by social expectations or fears.

 

My True Self and I have gotten closer over the years, but sometimes I still have trouble accessing Her. I sit in meditation and ask myself what to do. But nothing comes. I journal like a madwoman, hoping that somehow my hand will be "taken over" by the voice of my Soul (a process that I've read about in countless self-help books). But nothing. I go for long walks, I do yoga, I repeat positive affirmations, I ask for signs, I look for signs, I get mad at the lack of signs. Still, nothing.

 

I'll be honest here. During these times, I have trouble painting on a happy face and acting like a zen master who can just glide through the uncertainty of life with ease. Instead, I look more like a stock broker on Wall Street, pointing and screaming and trying to force an outcome to happen right away. I get pissed off at the universe for not letting my life feel the way people on Oprah describe their lives - full of awesome synchronicities (and successful product launches, to boot).

 

But, when I step back and look at my life, I do see that it has been full of some pretty amazing events. Events that are woven together in an intricate web that does have a feeling of magic to it. I also realize that I'm complaining about what can only be described as first-world problems. "Oh no, I don't know what to do about my career. Boo hoo!"

 

But I live in the first world. And these are my problems. So here it is:

 

I want to be of service to the world. And I want to feel passionate while doing it. This sounds so simple. But it has proven to be rather complicated to execute.

 

I think there are times in our lives when we're meant to sit, stuck in the muck, and fester. We need to feel the ache of uncertainty deep in our psyche so that, ultimately, we learn how to surrender. Surrender to the fact that as much as we might try to plan and control and force an outcome, things don't happen until they are ready to happen.

 

 

Photo Credit: Malcolm Locker; Lightsmiths Photography

 

So here I am, toiling in the muck, waiting. For what? I don't know. A sign, perhaps. A road map. A knowing. Heck, I'd take a small inkling of a knowing. Or maybe I'm just waiting to surrender to what is. To stop fighting against uncertainty and simply allow it to be here, with me. A companion in the same way that knowing is a companion that eventually passes. This is the ebb and flow of life. Sometimes it sucks and other times it hurts, but if nothing else, it always just IS.

 

Are you feeling stuck in the muck? I'd love to hear how you're coping in the comments below!

 

The Perfect Answer To "What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?"

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on December 7, 2014 at 10:50 AM

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Over the past few years I've noticed that I have a very low tolerance for when some aspect of my life feels shitty. It's like I was born with a "no regrets" gene that refuses to tolerate a life that is anything short of extraordinary.

 

On the one hand, this is wonderful. I'm constantly challenging myself to do bigger and better things. I refuse to make decisions based on what the status quo dictates. I'm leading an interesting life that affords many opportunities to experience the world, help others, and continue to develop into a better person.

 

On the other hand, my tendency toward self- and life-improvement can be exhausting. I get an aching feeling in my stomach the moment that any aspect of my existence feels out of sync. I find it unbearable to just "suck it up" and "push through" a situation that is not in alignment with my Truth. I get physically ill when I try to pretend to be someone that I'm not.

 

Part of me wants to take an easier route. I wish I could spend 8 hours a day at I job that I hate but feel ok about it because I'm feeding my family. I wish I could squander my hopes and dreams for the sake of a simple life. I wish I could turn down the volume on a voice inside, the voice of my True Self, a voice that often urges me to make decisions that do not feel safe and familiar. Things like:
 

  • Giving up a fully-funded postdoctoral research position after spending 10 years getting my PhD.
  • Going off antidepressants when doctors told me I would probably have to take the medication for the rest of my life.
  • Quitting my well-paid corporate job to go out on my own as an entrepreneur.
  • Selling my house, leaving my family and friends, and moving 600 miles away to start a low-paying contract job with no guarantee of future employment.
     

I recently asked myself what exactly is fueling these decisions. Am I crazy? Self-destructive? Stubbornly trying to prove an obscure point? Am I applying my skills to a bunch of aimless projects on a road leading nowhere? Or am I following my Truth, a Truth that is non-linear and that doesn't make sense when compared to our limited societal expectations?

 

In other words, what is it that I want from my life? Or, put more simply, what do I want to be when I grow up?

 

 

 

The answer that has been coming through most often these days is one word: authentic.

 

I want to be authentic when I grow up. I want my words, thoughts, beliefs, and actions to be consistent with each other, regardless of whether I'm having a conversation with my boss, my husband, or a client. I don't want to be one person at work and a different person with my family and friends. I don't want to censor my blog posts because I'm afraid of what my boss or my in-laws might think. I want to be firm in my convictions and unflinching in my love.

 

In other words, when I grow up I want to be ME.

 

I don't want to be a pale version of me, wasting away doing things that I hate. I don't want to be a hollow shell, waiting to be filled with the opinions of others who think they know what's best for me. I don't want to pass through this life like a ghost, never fully experiencing the raw beauty and pain that comes from following your dreams to the point of exhaustion.

 

From what I can tell, the best way to be the authentic ME is to find time for stillness, listen to my Truth, and follow my heart regardless of how scared I feel. No matter how many naysayers want to slow me down or tell me I'm being "romantic" or foolish. No matter how many people tell me I'm not getting paid enough, or that I should take a break from my career to have kids, or that I should look for a cushy corporate job. Because they don't know. Only my heart knows.

 

No matter where my journey takes me, whether I'm making a million dollars or scrounging for quarters to do laundry, it doesn't matter. Why? Because I'm already rich. Rich in the sense of meaning that comes from doing everything in my power to live my life on purpose. Rich in the struggle and tears and blood and love that come from birthing a life that is not only beyond my wildest dreams, but that is also in service to others.

 

So the next time you find yourself pondering what you want to be when you grow up, consider this simple answer: authentic. And see what comes next. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

 

 

Why Are We So Busy?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 16, 2014 at 10:45 AM

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I recently read an article by Omid Safi about The Disease of Being Busy. In the article, Omid describes how our culture has become obsessed with being busy, to the point that we even over-schedule our children. Omid asks poignant questions like:

 

"How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?"

 

This article brought up another, perhaps deeper, question for me. Why are we so busy? In other words, what is the root cause of this unmanageable level of activity that many of us feel compelled to maintain in our lives?

 

 

 

Our jobs require us to push harder, do more, "knock it out of the park." As a consequence we end up with little time for family and friends. Our health and well-being suffer. We feel unhappy. And we do the same thing in our personal lives - trying to fill every spare moment with activity. On the nights that we don't work late, we spend most of our time driving our kids to 15 different extra-curricular activities, with barely enough time to eat dinner.

 

Part of my job involves studying yoga and meditation in schools. One of my colleagues recently told me a story about a parent who was upset that a yoga teacher had taught her child how to eat mindfully (i.e. how to eat slowly and carefully, really noticing and tasting your food). Why was the parent upset? Because her child was eating her after-school snack too slowly, which didn't leave enough time to get her to her piano lessons.

 

Why are we doing this to ourselves and our children?

 

Is it because society has brainwashed us into feeling like we need to work hard so that we can keep up with the Jones'? Are we keeping ourselves busy to distract ourselves from the fact that we are unhappy? Is it about money? The economy? A nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic that was held by the people who founded the United States?

 

I live in Boston, which, aside from New York City, is one of the most type-A infused places that I have ever visited. People here are always in such a hurry. Walking on the sidewalk is like driving on a highway. If I want to pass someone I have to check my blind spot to make sure that no one plows into me. My husband's old car was manual transmission. When we were stopped at a red light, he wouldn't even have time to put his car into first gear before people started honking at him.

 

The worst part of it is that I know that I fall prey to the disease of being busy just as much as anyone else. I often feel like I'm in a hurry - even when I don't need to be. I get very impatient when standing in line. I get annoyed when someone is walking too slowly in front of me. I feel like I have a never-ending To Do list, both personally and professionally, that I can never quite get a handle on.

 

But why? Why do I feel this way?

 

It's not like my job involves life or death scenarios. It's not like I have to arrive to a meeting in time so that I can perform heart surgery. And most of my time outside of work is my own. I don't have children. I don't play sports. On most evenings I'm free to do as I please.

 

Then why do I feel guilty about having spare time? Why do I feel like I need to fill every minute of my day with activities?

 

I don't have the answers to these questions. But what I do know is this. The times in my life when I've given myself permission to be less busy are the times when I have come up with my best ideas. Creativity doesn't come from having a full schedule. Creativity comes from giving yourself the mental and physical space to step back and relax. Your brain needs time to decompress in order to be innovative and think outside the box.

 

As Omid said in his article:

 

"We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human."

 

I urge you to have the courage to be less busy. When someone asks, "How are you?" avoid using the word "busy" in your response. Instead, like someone recently mentioned on my Facebook page, say that your life is "rich and full." Or, be brave enough to say that you're creating space for your next big idea.

 

I hope that someone eventually figures out why we're so obsessed with busy-ness. In the meantime, perhaps together we can brainstorm some  answers. Why do you think we keep ourselves so busy? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

Want to be Successful? Start by Being Authentic.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 2, 2014 at 2:35 PM

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We all have aspects of our personality that we try to hide. In this video blog I share why embracing these qualities and being authentic are key to personal and professional success:

 

 

 

 

Growing Up On SSRIs

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 18, 2014 at 9:10 AM

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Many of you know that I took antidepressants for several years. What started as a relatively normal 20-minute doctor's appointment at the student health center of my university ended with a trial pack of Paxil and a 6-year battle between me and my medication. I wrote all about my experiences in my book, The Antidepressant Antidote, however there is one important aspect of my journey that didn't make it into my story.

 

In some ways I'm surprised that this crucial piece of the puzzle didn't occur to me while I was sharing many deeply personal aspects of my experience with antidepressants. I suppose I was so focused on helping others reevaluate their relationship with their medication that I failed to notice or write about the profound implications of taking these powerful medications during such formative years of my life.

 

I took antidepressants from age 20 to 26, a period of time that, for most people, represents an important developmental window. It's a time when we move from being teenagers into adulthood. We typically leave home for the first time. We develop new friendships, are exposed to new events and opportunities (both positive and negative), and we start to build a sense of who we are as adults. In other words, we come of age.

 

 

 

This issue recently came to life for me when I stumbled upon an excellent book by Katherine Sharpe, called "Coming of Age on Zoloft: How Antidepressants Cheered Us Up, Let Us Down, and Changed Who We Are." In the book, Katherine describes a generation of youth, like myself, who basically grew up on antidepressants.

 

People like me, who are currently in their 30s, were among the first youth to be prescribed SSRI antidepressant medications when these drugs started to hit the market in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Reading Katherine's book was like reviewing my own history over and over again, as Katherine interviewed over 40 people who were also prescribed antidepressants in their teens and twenties.

 

Katherine's personal story, and the stories of many of the people she interviewed, are eerily similar to mine. Many of the stories go something like this: Feelings of unexplained sadness and/or anxiety led to a visit with some sort of professional at some point in the 1990s. Often, after a very short medical appointment, SSRIs were prescribed. Sometimes the effects of the medication were beneficial, such as improved mood and lowered anxiety. However these benefits often came with side effects (most of which were never fully explained to patients before they started the medication), and a general dissatisfaction with the drugs.

 

Now, to be sure, this isn't representative of everyone's experience with antidepressants. I want to make it very clear that I am not anti-medication, and I know that these drugs have helped many people.

 

Personally, however, I really struggled with taking SSRIs, and I know that I'm not alone in this. In fact, I don't think the medication should have been prescribed to me in the first place. My anxiety and sadness were never severe. I was never suicidal, I always maintained a job, got good grades, and had an active social life. In many ways I think I was simply experiencing the angst, alienation, and isolation that often comes along with growing up. Every time I went to a doctor to express my concerns, however, they would switch me to a new drug in the hope that I would experience fewer side effects. By the time my 6-year saga was over, I'd tried Paxil, Celexa, and Zoloft. And I still felt pretty miserable.

 

Looking back at this period in my life, I can't help but wonder what effect these powerful drugs had on my developing identity (and physiology). How might my life have been different if I hadn't been on the medication during such a crucial developmental window?

 

Perhaps my life would have been better or worse - there's no way to know for sure. What I do know is that during this time I acted in ways that were often strange, especially when I was trying to get off of the medication. I was more impulsive and I took bigger risks, often because weaning off of the drugs caused a number of temporary withdrawal symptoms, including an extreme drop in my already low self-esteem.

 

These days I'm asking myself:

 

What would I have done differently in my twenties without SSRIs?

 

What would my life be like now, at age 35, if I hadn't taken SSRIs in my twenties?

 

How did SSRIs shape my current personality, my development, my psyche?

 

I don't have answers to these questions. And to be honest, after a year of promoting my book I got a bit burnt out on the whole antidepressant topic. It's a deep issue that pushes many buttons for a lot of people. I rarely write blogs on this topic because I typically receive more than a few items of hate mail accusing me of being anti-medication and hurting, rather than helping, people who are struggling with mental illness. Please know that this is not my intention. Rather, my hope is that by asking tough questions, I will bring light to what I believe is a critical issue. We are prescribing powerful medications to our youth, yet we know very little about what effects these drugs might have over the long-term.

 

I think that by telling our personal stories, people like Katherine and I are opening the door for a shared dialogue with others who might be asking themselves similar questions. We should never be afraid to confront the tough questions. Otherwise, how will we move forward?

 

 

Where Are Your Blind Spots?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 5, 2014 at 9:35 AM

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It's amazing how life lessons can come from the most mundane tasks. Case in point: Last week I had an experience in a cafeteria that caused a quantum shift in my perspective. 

 

I spent 5 days at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, where I attended the Symposium on Yoga Research. Kripalu is a beautiful yoga retreat center located in Western Massachusetts, and one of the great things about Kripalu is their food. They serve all sorts of healthy, tasty goodness, and I always look forward to visiting their cafeteria when I'm there.

 

On this particular visit, I decided I was going to do a 5-day detox. The Kripalu cafeteria has a special section called "The Buddha Bar" that serves very basic food - no gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine, or additives of any kind. For my detox, I decided that I was going to eat all of my meals from the Buddha Bar, and I was really looking forward to having an opportunity to clear out my system.

 

One meal that is a staple in many Ayurvedic detox programs is kitchari. Kitchari can be made in many different ways, but it typically involves combining rice with mung dahl beans and some spices. It's a very healing stew that is easy to digest and perfect for detoxes. Kripalu typically serves kitchari at the Buddha bar in the mornings, and I was planning on eating kitchari for breakfast every day of my detox.

 

But there was a problem.

 

Every morning I would arrive at the Buddha Bar and there wouldn't be any kitchari. On the first day, I just figured they had run out and would make a new batch the next day. But on day 2, still no kitchari. By day 3 I'd started a detailed monologue in my head that went something like this:

 

"Of course they ran out of kitchari for the 5 days that I'm here. All I want is a little bit of kitchari, is that too much to ask? If I have to eat steamed vegetables and plain rice one more day for breakfast I might go crazy. This isn't fair. Why don't things ever work out for me?"

 

Now keep in mind that I hadn't consumed gluten, dairy, sugar, chocolate, caffeine, or alcohol in close to a week, so my thoughts about food were getting pretty distorted. Nonetheless, I was experiencing a whole host of aggravation about such a small thing. It was just stew, for god sake! But the lack of it was driving me bonkers.

 

At breakfast on day 5, I gave up. I surrendered to my lack of kitchari, ate my steamed vegetables and rice in silence, and put my dishes away. Before leaving the cafeteria, I decided to fill up my water bottle, which meant that I had to pass the Buddha Bar on my way to the water fountain. As I walked by, I noticed a large pot just slightly behind the Buddha Bar. Something compelled me to walk over to check it out, and guess what is was.

 

Kitchari.

 

A huge, steaming cauldron of kitchari.

 

I stood staring in disbelief. Had this pot been here the entire 5 days? I turned and asked a staff member. She said yes, for the last few months Kripalu has been offering kitchari at every single meal. Instead of putting it directly at the Buddha Bar where it used to be, they decided to put it in this huge warming pot across from the Buddha Bar so that it would stay fresh.

 

I couldn't help but laugh.

 

I'd spent 5 days getting myself all wound up about the lack of kitchari, and it had been there the entire time. Not just at breakfast, but at every single meal. It was literally right in front of me. I just needed to open my eyes and look.

 

I learned a couple of things from this experience:

 

Keep a Close Eye on Your Patterns. And Don't be Afraid to Take a Different Perspective

 

I've been going to Kripalu for a few years now, and I was so used to the kitchari being in a specific spot that I was completely closed to the idea that it could be someplace different. If I had literally just turned around and taken a closer look at my surroundings, I would have noticed that it had been there all along.

 

This is such an important lesson about being careful to not get stuck in our patterns, perspectives, and routines. Sometimes we get so trapped in our expectations that we don't allow space for new opportunities to arise. In yogic philosophy these patterns are called samskaras, which refer to patterns in our thinking that are so well-traveled that they are almost like scars. Samskaras are like the grooves on a record. The needle of the record player constantly follows the grooves, unless we shake things up and move the head of the needle.

 

Don't Be Afraid To Ask for What You Want. And Expect To Be Taken Care Of

 

My whole kitchari mess could have been easily resolved at the beginning of my detox if I had just asked a staff member about why there wasn't any kitchari at the Buddha Bar. Instead, I kept my head down and turned the situation into a diatribe that was all about me and my bad luck. A different approach would have been to ask for help and trust that I was already being taken care of. I didn't need to force the kitchari to appear - it was already there. All I had to do was ask.

 

Notice Your Blind Spots

 

I think that many times in life, we get so stuck in our patterns that we fail to see what's right in front of us. We develop psychological blind spots that prevent us from enjoying what is being presented to us in this moment.

 

 

 

There are love stories that are full of this pattern. Someone is your close friend for years while you're yearning for love and dating people in all the wrong places. Then all of a sudden it occurs to you that you are in love with the person who is right in front of you. Sometimes this story has a happy ending, in that the person realizes that they love you, too. Other times, however, you're too late and the love of your life has moved on. Noticing our blind spots helps us avoid these tragic endings.

 

My kitchari experience caused me to ask myself several questions:

 

What opportunity am I not noticing that's right in front of me?

 

Where am I getting upset when I could be focusing on the gifts that I have in this moment?

 

What am I taking for granted?

 

In what ways am I trying to force an outcome, as opposed to surrendering to what is?

 

What are my blind spots?

 

Where am I afraid to ask for help?

 

Where am I not trusting that I'll be taken care of?

 

I encourage you to ponder these questions in relation to your life. Even better, take out a journal and write your answers down. As for me, I found a kitchari recipe and plan to make a big pot of it soon. I'm also opening up to seeing what's right in front of me, and trusting that everything will be ok.

 

What about you?

 

 

Surrender To What Is

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 20, 2014 at 4:00 PM

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The are parts of my job that I love. And there are parts of my job that I dislike. For a long time I resisted the disliked parts. I poured so much energy into complaining, ruminating, and resisting that I sometimes lost sight of the passion and purpose behind what I do for a living.

 

Then in August I went on vacation - a vacation that allowed for the perfect amount of mental space to give me some much-needed perspective.

 

What I realized while on vacation is that I could either waste my time resisting what is, or simply surrender to it. At first, surrendering felt like giving up. It felt like I was giving in to the parts of my job that I don't like, instead of fighting for what makes me happy. But it occurred to me that if I took even half of the energy that I was spending on resisting, and put that energy into things that make me happy, miracles would result.

 

It was a simple shift in perspective, but it made a huge difference.

 

 

 

Now, instead of spending my time on thoughts like, "Why do I have to work on X when I'd so much rather be working on X." I simply accept that in this moment, at this particular time, I am working on X. And, like all things, eventually X will pass.

 

Sometimes when things are difficult, we mistakenly believe that the hard times will last forever. But they never do. Everything passes and changes, because this is the nature of life. Nothing stays the same. When I say that all things pass, I don't mean that they pass exactly when we want them to. Sometimes our difficulties last months - or years - but eventually they shift.

 

And guess what? Even if our difficulties never leave us, we always have a choice about how we perceive them. We can choose to waste our energy on complaining, or we can choose a new perspective. As Gabby Bernstein often says, every time we shift our perspective from fear to love, we experience a miracle.

 

So my question to you is this. Where can you shift your perspective? Maybe you can't change some aspect of your job right now, but can you find love in the lessons that you're learning and the growth that you're experiencing? If there is absolutely nothing lovable about your job, find simple pleasures in other areas of your life. Spend some time in nature or buy yourself some fancy chocolate or hand cream.

 

At the moment, even the future of my employment is uncertain. My contract is up at the end of 2015, and my lab might not have funding to keep me on board. So I have a choice. I can spend my time worrying and ruminating about what the future holds, or I can surrender. By surrendering to what is, I believe I'm opening up space for amazing new opportunities. And while worry still sneaks its way into my consciousness sometimes, it is being increasingly replaced by surrender.

 

I'm committed to trusting that as long as I follow my heart, things will work out.

 

This might sound trite. A little cheesy, even. But it's true. My heart has asked me to do some rather ridiculous things in the past, but every time I've followed it, it has led me to new experiences that have enriched my life in beautiful ways.

 

My advice to you is this. In this moment, surrender to what is. Know that what is meant to be is already happening - even if it feels difficult. Experience a miracle simply by shifting your perspective. And know that like all things, this too shall pass.

How to Enjoy Living With Less

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 3, 2014 at 10:05 AM

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When my husband and I decided to sell our house and move into an 800-square-foot apartment, I was primarily worried about one thing: murdering him. Don't get me wrong, we have a great relationship, but the idea of living in such close quarters was somewhat terrifying.

 

In our house, I had my own office and a separate yoga space, and he used the basement as his art studio. We had a walk-in closet, 2 bathrooms, a jacuzzi tub, a living room, dining room, back yard, and front porch. Our apartment, on the other hand, is comprised of two tiny bedrooms, closets the size of shoeboxes, and a bathroom that only one person can fit into at a time.

 

The proposition of scaling down brought up a lot of questions for me.

 

How will I get private time and space for myself?

 

How will I deal with the piles of art materials that my husband leaves all over the place?

 

Where will I do yoga?

 

Where will we put the kitty litter?

 

And most importantly:

 

What if I really need to use the bathroom (and it's occupied)?

 

In the end, we had no choice but to relocate. We were moving because I'd been offered a job at Harvard - and you don't say no to Harvard.

 

Our move involved a very interesting process of letting go and realizing how much unnecessary junk (both physical and emotional) that we had accumulated over the 6 years that we owned our house.

 

 

 

The shift happened in stages. First, we asked our future landlord for a floor plan of the apartment so that we could measure and figure out what furniture we could keep, and what would have to go. We ended up being able to keep:

  • One couch (out of 3)
  • One bed (out of 2)
  • One lamp (out of many)
  • 2 bookshelves (out of 4)
  • One desk (out of 3)
  • One TV (out of 2)

We had to let go of:

  • The first piece of "adult" furniture I'd ever bought (a couch)
  • The futon that I slept on while in grad school
  • Most of the shelves from a bedroom unit that my in-laws had bought in the 80s
  • Many, many articles of clothing
  • A gorgeous (and expensive) dining room table
  • Tons of shelving space that my husband had used for his art
  • And much, much more

At first this letting go felt difficult. It was like watching pieces of my past disappear before my eyes - and it was scary. I worried about not having access to certain books or photo albums or tank tops. I looked fondly at my old couch and thought of how many movies I'd watched on it with friends. I thought of all the sleepless nights I'd had on that futon while worrying about my PhD thesis.

 

With each piece of clothing that I threw into my growing pile of trash bags, I felt like I was a snake shedding its skin.

 

But then it occurred to me that my husband and I were holding on to so many useless artifacts partly because we were afraid. Afraid of what the future held. Afraid of who we were without these possessions.

 

Who would we be without the banalities of suburbia to distract us?

 

Would our relationship survive being compressed into 800 square feet in a city where we barely knew anyone?

 

Now, a year and a half later, I can tell you that our relationship has not only survived - it has grown in ways that I never would have imagined. The past 18 months have been one of the hardest times that we've been through as a couple - but not because of our smaller space. In fact, our tiny abode has been one of the most liberating aspects of the experience.

 

The best part is having less stuff. And not having room for more stuff. Gone are the days of aimless browsing through Homesense to buy useless knickknacks. An added bonus is that we no longer have grass to cut, eavestroughs to clean, or a driveway to shovel. Plus, a freak accident caused us to write off our car, which means we no longer have to worry about finding parking on busy city streets, or paying for gas or insurance.

 

The hardest part is having so much room for our emotional stuff. Our less active social life means that we spend a lot of time together. Back home, we rarely had alone time. We worked during the day, taught yoga/played soccer in the evenings, and hung out with friends and family on the weekends. Now we hang out often. And by often I mean every. single. day. This is both easy and difficult. It's easy because we are compatible and we enjoy our time together. It's hard because there's no place to hide. If one of us feels like crap, the other one knows it. And sometimes we catch each others moods the way you would catch a cold.

 

Ironically, having less physical space has opened up our emotional space. And we've become closer as a result.

 

These days when I have a rare opportunity to walk through stores like Target or Wal-Mart, I feel puzzled (and almost nauseous). As I gaze at aisle upon aisle of merchandise, I can't help but wonder:

  • Where did all of this junk come from?
  • Why are we so obsessed with buying it?
  • Who made this stuff, and under what type of working conditions?
  • What is the environmental impact of all of this purchasing?
  • Do we really need 4 TVs, 5 air fresheners, 12 picture frames, and 4 area rugs per person?

In a sense, I've become allergic to buying. I was never much of a shopper to begin with, but having less physical space has forced me to take a serious look not only at my buying behavior, but at my emotional relationship with buying. My physical and emotional space has become leaner, cleaner, and more open. And while I still don't enjoy sharing a tiny bathroom, the benefits of having less physical space have made it worth it.

 

People all over the world are starting to clean up their acts and trim down their assets (check out the Tiny House movement to learn more). I encourage you to give it at try, too. You don't have to sell your house and move into a smaller space. Perhaps you could simply get rid of a few books or donate some clothes to charity. I guarantee that your emotional life will benefit as a result.

 

What are your thoughts on living lean? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Stop Being a Time-Slave

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 17, 2014 at 9:25 AM

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I bet the words "I'm so busy" and "I don't have time" cross your mind and lips quite often. We wear these phrases like badges of honor, as if our busy-ness gives us status as worthy human beings. Each day has 24 hours, and many of us try to fill every single minute with several "important" things on our To Do list, like buying knickknacks for our houses and cutting the grass. 

 

What we fail to realize, however, is that instead of honoring our time, we've become slaves to it.

 

 

 

Here's a question. When you leave this earth, are you going to think about how happy it made you to wait in a 2-hour lineup so that you could save 50% on garbage from an outlet store? No. What you are most likely going to wish for is more of your most precious resource: time.

 

I recently returned from a vacation in which one of my main goals was to stop being such a time-slave. Usually when I go on vacation I jam-pack my schedule in the same way that I jam-pack my regular life. I create endless To Do's and try to cram in as many tourist attractions as possible, so that when it's time to go back to work I actually need a vacation from my vacation.

 

But my most recent vacation was different.

 

I rented an apartment on Martha's Vineyard for a week-long getaway with my husband, and planned only one thing: a mid-week night out for a fancy dinner. Otherwise, our schedules were completely open. At first I found this very difficult. Before opening my eyes in the morning, my mind would be desperately trying to plan events for the day. It went something like this:

 

"It's only 8:30am, that's way too early to go to the beach. So maybe we'll eat some breakfast and then drive around for a bit to see what we can discover. But then I'm not sure where we'll be at lunch time so maybe I should pack a lunch for us. I wonder what time we'll be back from the beach. If we're back at a decent time then maybe I could make fish for dinner. I'd love to visit that one little beach town, but I'm not sure if we'll get a chance. Maybe in between lunch and dinner...but then we might not make it back in time for me to cook the fish..."

 

You get the idea. My To Do's had me in a death grip. I'm so used to treating my life like a series of tasks that I had a very hard time letting this pattern go. But eventually, after a couple of days of doing nothing but laying on the beach, my To Do mindset started to disappear.

 

And that's when miracles started to happen.

 

As I gently released my tendency to fill up every minute of my time, my days started to get filled for me in amazing ways that I never would have imagined. Here are a few examples:
 

  • As my husband and I were lazily browsing through a store (something that I rarely do in my regular life), I noticed a flyer for a free writing workshop that just happened to be taking place the next day in the tiny town where I was renting an apartment. The workshop was awesome, and gave me some ideas for a future book.
     
  • At a farmer's market that we stumbled upon, I found out about a herbal apothecary class that was happening at a beautiful arboretum later in the week. At the workshop I got to make my own tea, honey salves, and lavender body mist.
     
  • While stargazing one evening, we noticed that the moon seemed very large and that there were a lot of shooting stars. It ends up that there was a super moon and a meteor shower that week.
     
  • During an aimless country drive, we came across a beautiful field of wildflowers where you could to pick your own bouquet for $10.
     
  • When we first arrived at our apartment (while I was still in planning mode), I decided that I wanted to schedule a massage. Unfortunately the masseuse was completely booked. I was frustrated, but eventually I let it go. A couple of days later she called to let me know that someone had cancelled during a time slot that worked perfectly for me.
     

My point here is that by releasing my need to plan everything, I entered into a beautiful flow in which the universe took care of my plans and provided more amazing opportunities than I would have come up with on my own. Eventually I lost track of what time it was and what day it was. I just existed in the moment.

 

I think that many of us try too hard to force our lives to happen instead of trusting that everything will unfold with perfect timing. We just need to surrender to time instead of trying to hold on to it so tightly.

 

Two additional vacation experiences really hit this point home for me. First, I read a sweet little book by Janice MacLeod called The Paris Letters. In the book, Janice tells her personal story of leaving her life as a time-slave in California and opening up to wonderful opportunities in Paris. Janice did everything that you aren't supposed to do at age 34. She left her high-paying job, sold everything she owned, got down to one suitcase and then went traveling around Europe. She refused to believe that her time should be sucked up by 12-hour workdays - and the results were miraculous.

 

I also watched a documentary on Netflix about Laura Dekker. The film, called Maidentrip, chronicles Laura's attempt to be the youngest person to sail around the world alone. At age 14, Laura left her school, parents, and friends to set out on her dream. At some points during her 2-year journey she spent up to a month or more at sea - completely alone. Time stopped mattering. She had no one telling her where to go or what to do. Her courage confirmed a deep knowing that I've always held within, namely that we all have immense potential. We just have to be brave enough to use it.

 

Here's another question. How would you like to spend your most precious resource, your time? Do you want to spend it as a slave to your To Do list, or even worse, as a slave to other people's notions about how you should be living?

 

I deeply believe that there must be another way. A better way. A way to use our 24 hours in a manner that feels fulfilling and purposeful. And while I don't have all of the answers figured out, I know that it doesn't have to involve something as drastic as quitting your job or sailing around the world. It might involve simple choices like cutting your To Do list in half, or doing one small thing each day that makes you feel whole.

 

What small step could you take to stop being such a time-slave? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

How A Stranger Saved My Life

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 3, 2014 at 2:40 PM

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A stranger saved my life last week. I was walking through a park with my husband, when a woman wouldn't let us go any further down the path. She told us that a few kids had knocked down a bee hive further down the trail, and the bees were angry, aggressive, and stinging people. Her husband was on the other side of the path, calling city maintenance and preventing people from entering the park on the other side.

 

To most people this wouldn't be a huge deal, however I'm severely allergic to bees. In that moment I was so grateful for this couple who cared enough to take time out of their evening to keep people from getting hurt. Acts of kindness like this are sometimes rare in big cities, where people are often busy and self-absorbed. My evening could have been drastically different if that couple hadn't been there.

 

The experience made me wonder, why aren't we kind more often?

 

 

 

There are many times throughout my day when I could be more kind. But I'm often in a rush, self-absorbed, and focusing on my own needs. "I need to get home by 8pm," "I need my lunch right now," "I need this lineup to move faster." If I'd come across a nest of angry bees (and wasn't allergic to them), I doubt I would have taken time out of my schedule to call the city and keep people from walking down the path.

 

This bothers me. I want to be a person who generously gives their time to help others.

 

Some meditation masters consider a particular form of meditation, metta or lovingkindness meditation, to be the highest form of spiritual practice. In metta meditation, you focus on giving love to yourself, to your loved ones, to your enemies, and eventually to all beings everywhere. The practice typically involves repeating variations of the following words to yourself:

 

May I be safe.

May I be peaceful.

May I be healthy.

May I live with ease.

 

You can also practice by saying these words while thinking of someone else - an enemy or friend - and all beings everywhere. The Dalai Lama is a huge advocate of this form of meditation, and research suggests that it may have several beneficial effects.

 

If I had to wager a bet, however, I'd guess that this form of meditation is not particularly popular among North Americans. Our society teaches us to be so individualistic that we don't often think it's necessary to focus on the well-being of others. But what if we were raised differently? What if compassion was seen as an essential skill that was taught to us not only by our parents, but also by our education system?

 

Some organizations, such as the Mind & Life Institute's initiative on secular ethics, are trying to start a dialogue about the importance of teaching compassion to our children. Similarly, from an evolutionary perspective, some scientists have argued that because humans are social beings, we developed traits such as altruism to help ourselves survive.

 

Personally, I would like to bring more lovingkindness into my life. Even something as simple as making eye contact with people on the street and saying "good morning" would be a nice start. You never know what effects your kindness might have. Perhaps your greeting reflects just enough love to bring someone off the brink of suicide. The couple who helped me in the park probably didn't think they were going to save someone's life that night. But they very well might have.

 

Remember that every act of kindness, no matter how small, can have monumental effects.

 

Whose life might you save today?

 

Experiencing Self-Help Burnout? Read This.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 20, 2014 at 9:35 AM

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You should probably stop reading this blog before you even start.

 

Why?

 

Because I don't have answers for you. Regardless of how much you want me to tell you exactly what to do, I can't. There's a chance that I might inspire you, or give you an idea, or point you in a certain direction, but in the end the only person who can tell you what to do is you.

 

Over the past few years I've realized that I have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with consuming self-help material. I want someone to give me answers. So I scour the internet, read inspirational e-newsletters, watch video blogs, and devour self-help books, all with the hope that someone will answer these questions for me:

 

How am I supposed to live my life?

 

What should I do with my career?

 

What is my purpose?

 

How might I best serve the world?

 

I end up with a ton of techniques, mantras, green juice recipes, yoga postures, meditation practices, vision boards, and journal entries - but no answers. Then I end up stressed out that I don't have time to watch all of the video blogs that I want to watch, or try all of the techniques that I've read so much about - and still I have no answers.

 

Why can't I find answers?

 

Because life isn't about arriving at the answer. It's about pursuing the question.

 

It's about making choices in each moment that feel right for you - not because someone on Oprah told you to do so - but because you can't help but follow the longing within your heart. And if you don't have any particular longing at the moment, no self-help book is going to give it to you. You just need to wait for further instruction from within. The time will come when you know how to act and what to do. Be patient.

 

You probably don't like this advice. Trust me, I understand.

 

I've spent years listening to business coaches, self-help gurus, angel channelers, and therapists tell me that I have to listen to the voice within. For a long time I thought this was a load of crap. I'd get angry about the fact that I was paying people hundreds of dollars per hour to tell me to listen to myself. I felt so lost that I'd given up on the idea that I had any wisdom inside of me. I would plead with them, "What would you do in my situation?" And they would reply with something like, "What do you think I would do?" To which I would want to scream, "Just tell me what to do goddammit!!!"

 

 

 

Over time, however, I've realized that there is a voice inside of me that knows what to do. But it doesn't speak all the time. And it doesn't always speak when I want it to. Because sometimes I'm supposed to feel lost. This is the nature of being human. My inner voice nudges and speaks in its own time - a special, divine timeline that doesn't always fit within my plans and structures. I don't get my answers when I want them. I get them when I'm meant to receive them.

 

As I've been getting closer and closer to the end of my current contract at work, I've been getting more and more uncomfortable with not knowing what to do next. I want someone to tell me what to do. I want the answer to be obvious. But it's not. I became so obsessed with trying to find the answer that it started to consume me. It's all I thought about, dreamed about, and spoke about. I made flow charts, plans, pro and con lists. Until finally I reached a point where I realized I needed to let go.

 

I need to surrender my obsession with finding the answer, and trust that my life is about journeying through the question.

 

The problem is that most of the time I find this approach so uncomfortable that I can hardly bear it. I like structure and plans and easy decisions. I don't like the unknown.

 

But for now I've decided to put away my self-help books, affirmations, malas, and journal. I've unsubscribed from a ton of e-newsletters. Instead of trying a new technique every morning when I meditate, now I simply focus on my breath. My home yoga practice has become an exercise in listening to my body and doing what feels right for me, instead of practicing a certain series of postures because I heard they were good for me or because I want to master something difficult. My husband and I are taking a break from discussing what's next for us because we're both tired of thinking about it.

 

I'm doing my best to create space for the next phase of my life to reveal itself. Is it easy? Hell no. But I know that I'm not going to find my answers in any book or blog (and neither are you). Trust that your inner voice will speak when it's meant to. As Shel Silverstein wrote:

 

There is a voice inside of you

That whispers all day long,

"I feel this is right for me,

I know that this is wrong."

No teacher, preacher, parent, friend

Or wise man can decide

What's right for you--just listen to

The voice that speaks inside.

 

 

Embracing The Unknown

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 5, 2014 at 10:05 AM

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When I was 16 years old I came up with a plan. I decided, after watching a black and white video of Pavlov and his dogs, that I wanted to be a psychology professor when I grew up. I pictured myself in a large, bookcase-lined office, spending most of my days philosophizing and contemplating, ultimately coming up with a grand theory of human behavior and/or the universe.

 

I worked hard during my undergraduate and graduate degrees to get good grades and build my CV. When my peers went home for the summer to wait tables or be lifeguards, I stayed on campus and spent my hours working as a research assistant. I pushed myself to win every scholarship that I could so that one day I'd have chance to run my own research lab. In 2008 I graduated with my PhD in psychology.

 

And then I threw my whole plan down the toilet.

 

I'd been offered a fully-funded postdoctoral research position at a prestigious university. However I'd also been offered a full-time job in the corporate world doing IT research. In the end, I chose the corporate job and became a 9 to 5'er for a couple of years.

 

In 2010 I quit my corporate job to become an entrepreneur, essentially throwing my financial security down the toilet. On my own and with some savings in the bank, I wrote a book and developed a health and wellness business. Over time my audience grew, and people started looking to me for advice on anything and everything related to creating a life you love.

 

In 2013 I was offered a postdoctoral research position at Harvard Medical School to study the effects of yoga on adolescent well-being. Despite some hesitation about returning to academia, I accepted the position and moved 600 miles away from everything that made me feel safe and comfortable.

 

Why am I sharing my career history? Because I think it's important for people to know that even though I write and teach about creating a life you love, I don't have a magic formula figured out. I'm living what I'm teaching. Practicing what I'm preaching. As Gandhi said, I'm trying to "Be the change."

 

But it's not always easy. There's a pattern to my life that I think is important to acknowledge. Notice that over the past 6 years, I've been continually jumping into the unknown. And sometimes it sucks. To be honest, I'm often scared shitless. I keep starting over and over again at ground zero, learning new skills, testing the waters, and seeing how each new path feels for me. Sometimes I'm overjoyed. Other times I cry harder than I've ever cried before. Sometimes I feel comfortable and free. Other times I feel homesick and lonely and want to crawl out of my skin.

 

Sometimes I wish I'd chosen a different path. A safer and more comfortable path. But I'm so deeply committed to being the change that I want to see in the world that I keep going. I keep trying. I've realized that if my life can serve as an example to even one person that settling is unnecessary, that dreams can be followed, and that change is possible, then it's all worth it.

 

I recently met someone at a conference who said to me, "You've done it all! You've worked in academia and the corporate world, and you've been an entrepreneur. You have so much wisdom to share!" Her comment made me realize that now that I've done "everything," I feel like I can do anything. I've left jobs, given up opportunities, accepted opportunities, and everything in between - to the point that now I almost feel like I'm experiencing choice overload. The world is my oyster, and I'm not sure what to do next.

 

 

 

My contract at Harvard Medical School ends in December 2015, and while this might sound like it's far away, in the world of academia this is a tight timeline. I'm writing grants to try to extend my position, but there's no guarantee that my grants will get funded. In many ways I'm facing another abyss that's probably going to force me to leap somewhere.

 

But where?

 

Since moving to Boston, my husband and I sold our house and got rid of both of our cars. We rent an apartment and we don't have children. My husband has Canadian and European Union citizenship and runs his own business, so in theory we could live almost anywhere in the world.

 

This unknown makes me uncomfortable. I want to know where I'm going to be and what I'm going to be doing in January 2016. But can any of us really plan our lives so far in advance? Even if I had a "safe" job, I could be laid off tomorrow.

 

So I'm trying to embrace the unknown, even when it hurts and sucks and feels unbearable. I'm trying to lead by example even when I feel weak and scared. I'm doing this so that you can see that it's ok to take risks. It's ok to fail. And it's ok to start again.

 

As is often said, "Leap, and the net will appear."

 

Here's to leaping together.

 

 

Stop Denying Yourself Pleasure

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 22, 2014 at 8:55 AM

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In the 1960s and 1970s psychologist Walter Mischel conducted a series of studies that came to be known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiments. In the studies, children were given the choice between two options: 1) They could have an immediate reward (a marshmallow, cookie, etc.) or 2) They would be given two rewards (often another marshmallow) if they waited until the experimenter returned to the room (after an absence of around 15 minutes).

 

During the experimenter's absence, the child would be left sitting face-to-face with their temptation (the marshmallow). Some children would eat the marshmallow as soon as the experimenter left, while other children were able to wait until the experimenter returned so that they could enjoy two rewards.

 

 

 

The ability of children to wait to eat the marshmallow became known as "delayed gratification," and studies conducted in the decades since these original experiments have shown that children who are able to delay gratification tend to have better life outcomes, as measured by factors such as SAT scores, education level and even body mass index 30 years later.

 

Scientists have replicated the delayed gratification studies using all kinds of populations and all types of rewards, and the general result seems to be the same. People who are able to hold off on their impulse for immediate gratification generally tend to do better in other areas of their lives.

 

I think that this finding stems partly from the fact that North Americans live in a very structured society, where following your impulses on a whim doesn't really jive with how we want people to behave. Consider the modern-day school system, for example. From a very young age you are taught to sit still, listen to the teacher, and obey a bell like it's a god. If you question these ideas or behave in a way that's out of the box, you are typically reprimanded - or worse, diagnosed with a disorder like ADHD. And while I agree that it's important that we aren't all running around like wild animals, indulging in our every whim, I think as a society we've taken the whole delay of gratification thing a little too far.

 

When I first learned about the marshmallow experiments as an undergraduate student in Psychology, I immediately wondered what my 6-year old self would have done. Would I have indulged in the marshmallow right away, or would I have waited for an even better reward? I know exactly what my adult self would do. I would probably not only wait 15 minutes for the better reward - I would take the two marshmallows, put them in my pocket, and wait for an even better third reward. Of course, there is no third reward, so the marshmallows would get hard and stale, leaving me without anything to enjoy.

 

What I'm getting at here is that throughout my adulthood, I've become a sort of delayed gratification Olympian. I delay gratification so much that I sometimes deny myself pleasure - a habit that I'd like to give up.

 

On the one hand, my ability to delay gratification has brought me some success. For example, I was able to resist the impulse to party every night during college so that I could spend 10 years getting my PhD. As an entrepreneur, I was able to deny my urges to ditch work so that I could be productive.

 

The problem is that over the years I started to see my ability to delay gratification as a sort of badge of honor, to the point that I feel like I don't deserve pleasure unless I've denied it from myself first. So when my husband asks if I'd like to go for ice cream on a Wednesday night, my mind immediately starts to tally up whether I "deserve" the ice cream. Have I worked hard enough this week? Did I budget my money well last weekend so that I can afford treats during the week? Do I really have time for ice cream, or should I be doing something more productive?

 

I realize that this line of thinking sounds ridiculous, but it seems to be deeply ingrained in my psyche. I've even noticed that my favorite part of any pleasurable experience is often not the pleasurable experience itself. It's the part right before the experience - where I know that I've worked hard enough and denied myself enough to "deserve" the pleasure that's about to come. It's kind of like the difference between enjoying a Friday afternoon versus a Sunday morning. On Friday afternoons I typically feel great because I know that I've put in a solid week of work (where I denied myself pleasure) and that I have fun events coming up for the weekend. On the other hand, when I'm lounging around and taking things slowly on a Sunday morning, I often feel guilty for enjoying myself.

 

In the past, the one thing that often released me from the grip of delayed gratification was alcohol. As is the case with most people, alcohol lowered my inhibitions, released my guilt over experiencing pleasure, and often led me to go after exactly what I wanted without inhibition. But this isn't exactly a healthy way to enjoy pleasure!

 

These days my goal is to give myself permission to experience pleasure - no strings attached (and without alcohol as an aid). As long as I'm not hurting anyone or doing anything ethically reprehensible or illegal, then I think this is ok. But it's a constant process of dealing with the voice in my head that tells me I need to delay gratification by putting the marshmallows in my pocket for so long that they become inedible.

 

How do you experience pleasure? Do you go for immediate gratification, or do you control your impulses? Do you have a healthy relationship with pleasure, or do you feel guilty when you do things that make you feel good? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

Confessions of a Meat-Eating Yogini

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 1, 2014 at 6:40 PM

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In the world of yoga and meditation, there's one area where I always tread lightly. It comes up at parties and potlucks, restaurants and get-togethers. Sometimes I try to avoid it, but one way or another, it always makes itself known. When it's time to order food or partake in a buffet, my dirty little secret comes out.

 

I eat meat.

 

This might not seem like a big deal to you, but when many of your friends and colleagues are vegetarian or vegan, the topic of meat eating can push a lot of people's buttons. But I think the time has come for us meat-eating yogis and yoginis to speak up.

 

 

 

Here's my story. I'm what I like to call a "minimal meat eater." I eat meat a few times per month, usually on weekends. And when I do partake, I do my very best to ensure that the animal that I'm eating was ethically cared for. In other words, I want my chickens, cows, and pigs to have been fed healthy food and given a chance to live in a sustainable environment (i.e. free range / grass fed).  

 

There are many reasons why people choose not to partake in meat, and I can't begin to cover all of them here. I'm also not a politician, dietician, or animal rights activist, so my purpose isn't to push my practices on anyone else. The reason I'm sharing my meat eating tendencies is to shed light on the fact that, in my opinion, you don't need to be vegetarian to be a yogi. And, in an effort to practice yogic principles such as compassion and acceptance, I think we can all do a better job of being more accepting of the various viewpoints on this topic.

 

My decision to be a minimal meat eater is based on a few things:

 

  • Personally, I think my body needs meat. An Ayurvedic doctor once asked if I was vegetarian. I said no, and he said thank god. He went on to explain that my doshic constitution (which was highly vata deranged at the time) needed meat to feel grounded. Many years later (now that I mostly have my vata derangement under control), I don't crave meat as often. But when I do, I listen to my body and give it what I feel it needs. Nowadays, I mostly crave meat when I'm feeling ungrounded, and after my monthly cycle is complete. My point here is to listen to your body and trust what it needs. 
     
  • I realized that my body feels best when I eat meat between 2 to 4 times per month. This realization came from experimenting with a few different meat-eating models (including vegetarianism and veganism), and being honest about what works best for me (regardless of what other people think). Your body is your body - don't let other people pressure you about how you should feed it!
     
  • Chicken and pork don't do anything for me. There's no ethical message behind this one. The simple fact is that I find chicken boring, and pork makes me feel gross! So when I do eat meat, it's usually beef. And I like it.
     
  • I believe that all beings deserve to be treated ethically, and we need to be more aware of where our food is coming from. Think about buying meat at the grocery store. Many times, you don't know where the meat came from, or how the animals were treated during their lives. In an effort to support the ethical treatment of animals, I do everything that I can to buy my meat from local farms. And before my fork and knife hit the plate, I say a silent thank-you to the animal for providing me with nourishment.
     
  • North Americans don't need to eat meat as often as we do. It's important to keep in mind that meat is an industry. So, in the same way that commercials try to convince you to buy a particular car or wear certain clothes, we are also being pressured to consume food that plays a role in our economy (i.e. agriculture and farming). However, research suggests that reducing our red meat consumption and increasing our intake of other sources of protein can lead to a longer life.

 

When I tell people that I'm a minimal meat eater, they usually pose a couple of questions, such as:

 

 

What about protein?

 

The number one question that people ask relates to where I get my protein. There are lots of other sources of protein out there besides meat! Think lentils, tempeh, fish, beans, nuts, and even kale. Check out this awesome infographic by Kris Carr about sources of plant-based protein.

 

One important nutrient that's hard to get when you don't eat a lot of meat is vitamin B12. My solution here is to supplement, and get my blood tested regularly to make sure my B12 levels are adequate. I currently take 1,000 mcg of B12 per day (in a tablet that dissolves under my tongue) and that seems to work just fine for me.

 

Where do you buy local meat when you live in a city?

 

Back when I lived in a smaller town, I was able to drive directly to a farm to pick up my meat myself. When I moved to Boston, I researched a few farms that are within 1 to 2 hours of the city, and realized that it would be challenging to drive out there regularly. However many of these farms sell their meat at farmer's markets in the city, so that's where I'm getting my meat these days. Trust me when I say that your view on eating meat changes radically when you actually have to visit the farm where the animals live. Once you've seen a "bad" farm, you will do everything in your power to find farmers who treat their livestock with compassion.

 

A note on price. Local, sustainably and ethically raised meat is usually more expensive than the meat that you find in the grocery store. However, I gladly pay $9 for a pound of ground beef when I know that the cow was treated well, and that I'm putting something wholesome into my body. Plus, think of it this way - when you only eat meat once or twice per week as opposed to every day, the higher cost of ethically raised meat balances itself out.

 

What if you live with a partner who eats meat?

 

My husband loves meat. He's Eastern European, and basically grew up on ham and sauerkraut. However, I do most of the cooking in our household, and most of what I cook is vegetarian. This took him a bit of getting used to at first. However now that he's experienced the benefits of eating meat a little less regularly, he doesn't seem to miss it. Plus, if he wants to add meat to anything that I'm cooking, he'll just fry up a chicken breast or some sausage on the side and add it to his portion. Easy!

 

Isn't being a minimal meat eater just a cop-out?

 

Some hardcore vegetarians or vegans might think that I'm purposely sitting on the meat-eating fence, hanging out in the middle of the pro- and anti-meat debate so that I won't have to take a stand on either side. This is similar to when people try to argue that you can't be bisexual - you are either gay or straight. Personally, I think that meat eating, like sexuality, exists on a continuum. Your preferences and choices around meat can be fluid and flexible, shifting over time based on your body and your needs.

 

I don't feel like I'm copping out. Instead, I believe that I'm choosing what's right for me at this time. Who knows, perhaps someday I'll feel the call to become completely vegan. But until that day, I'm definitely not going to say no to a perfectly grilled steak on the BBQ (especially when paired with a glass of red wine!).

 

What about you? Are you vegetarian, vegan, a minimal meat eater, or something else? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

 

How to Adore Yourself

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on May 18, 2014 at 9:00 AM

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For most of my childhood and early adulthood, I didn't like myself very much. I had an inner dialogue that constantly listed what I believed were my faults: too short, not smart, too skinny, no talents, socially awkward, no friends, ugly, boring, uncool...the list goes on.

 

After a few rounds of antidepressants, many years of therapy, and a lot of personal development, I thought I'd gotten better at self-love. But a recent experience showed me that while I've become more accepting of myself, I might not be completely on-board the self-love bandwagon.

 

Case in point:

 

I recently posted the photo below on Facebook. This is my husband and my cat. My husband eats way faster than I do, so after he's finished, there's usually a 5-10 minute period that involves him watching me eat. I've gotten used to this over the years. But lately our cat has developed a habit of jumping on my husband's lap after he's done eating. And then she stares at me too:

 

 

 

 A friend of mine responded with this insightful comment:

 

Looks like a case of adoration. A bad case at that. I'd judge it incurable. You can see it in their eyes. Based on experience, I'd say that you're not likely to convince them to stop this daily doting without wrecking the relationships. My advice is to somehow learn to live with this routine display of uncritical affection. True the cat doesn't look quite convinced, but in cat-ese this is about as good as it gets.

 

And my husband responded to the picture by saying that he looks forward to this moment every day.

 

I laughed - and almost shrugged off their responses - until I realized that they were right. My husband adores me. I see it in his eyes when I do something stupid that makes him laugh. I feel it in his touch when he holds my hand while we fall asleep. He's proven it by standing by me during difficult times in my life. Here's an excerpt from my book that describes such a moment at the very beginning of our relationship:

 

I’m sitting on the couch with my new boyfriend. We’ve spent a wonderful Saturday together and we’re about to watch a movie. He grabs his bowl of popcorn and flashes me his winning smile, dimples and all – a smile that I subsequently came to adore.


“I know we’ve only known each other for a few weeks,” he says, “but I just want to say how lucky I feel. You’re smart, you’re good looking, and you’re funny. It’s almost like you’re too good to be true.”


I turn my head and stare out the window so that he can’t see the pained expression on my face. Little did he know that I’d been on antidepressants for 4 years, and I was planning on making my third attempt to go off them in the next few weeks. In my mind, I’d convinced myself that there was something seriously wrong with me. Why couldn’t I manage to get off these drugs? He was right – I was too good to be true.


I turned to face him and was caught off guard again by his smile – so genuine and full of hope for our new relationship. In that moment, something in me shifted. Maybe the glass of wine that I’d had was going to my head, or maybe, just maybe, I’d finally decided to trust someone with what I was going through.


“Well, I’m definitely not perfect,” I said as I played with a thread that had come loose on the couch. And then it all came spilling out. I told him the story of how I ended up on antidepressants, and I mentioned that I was planning on trying to go off them.


He listened intently, and as I was talking I envisioned the reaction that I expected from him. He would go running for the hills and never look back. I mean really, we were in our 20s, in the prime of our lives, and I appeared to have the emotional baggage of a 40 year old man going through a midlife crisis.


When I finished talking, he paused for a moment – a moment in which I figured he was scaling my apartment to find the fastest escape route. Instead, he put his hand on mine and said very matter of factly:


“Ok, we’ll do this together. When do we start?”

 

Still, after all these years, I have trouble believing that someone could adore me. And the issue isn't just with my husband. When friends compliment me on my clothes or my hair or a job well done, I reply with statements like: "Oh this old thing? I got in on sale," or "Yeah, I just got my hair done to cover the greys," or "Well, I messed up on this one part of the job, but at least it's finished."

 

Why do we have so much trouble accepting adoration?

 

Because no matter how much outer adoration we get from other people, we will never be able to accept it until we start adoring ourselves. And here's the kicker: our self-adoration can't be based on anything external. It has to come from within.

 

Wondering how to hop on the self-love bandwagon? Me too. Here are a few tips that I'm trying out:

 

  1. Stop relying on external sources to validate your self-worth. I've done pretty well for myself scholastically. I have my PhD, I've won lots of scholarships, and now I do research at one of the top academic institutions in the world. But guess what? I still doubt my intelligence. I have an inner voice that tells me I'm not smart, I just work hard. You see, no outer accolade is going to convince me of my brain power. Instead, I need to accept that I am intelligent in my own unique and wonderful way. Notice if you're relying too much on other people, accomplishments, or possessions to validate your worth. Learn to see your inner light.
     
  2. Stop Trying So Hard. I wrote a blog about not trying so hard that received 14,000 likes on Facebook. Why? Because deep down inside, we're all sick of trying so hard in pretty much every area of our lives. It's time to let go of the paddles and allow ourselves to float downstream. We don't have to try to be anything other than what we truly are, which is perfect, whole, and worthy of love simply by virtue of being a living, breathing, sentient being on this planet. Here's a great quote that illustrates this point:

    "Maybe the journey isn't so much about becoming anything. Maybe it's about un-becoming everything that isn't really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place."
     
  3. Know the Difference Between Self-Criticism and Self-Improvement. Self-help and personal development are huge these days. And while I'm all for personal development, I think it's possible to get into self-help overload. We all have areas that we need to improve, but in order to experience true personal transformation, we need to start from a foundation of self-love. Once you have self-love in place, you can honestly look at where you need to improve - not with an overly critical eye - but with a perspective that's focused on making yourself a better person so that the world can be a better place.
     
  4. Create A "Self-Love 100." A few years ago I hired Gabrielle Bernstein as a personal coach. One of the first tasks that Gabby asked me to do was create a list of 100 things that I loved about myself. In honor of the fact that this is the 100th blog that I've written (WOW!), I am going to challenge you to do the same thing. You can do it all in one sitting, or take 5 minutes per day over the next 2 weeks. Focus on big things, little things, and everything in-between. You can include the fact that you like your big toe, that you make a great cup of coffee, or that you're a good dog-belly-scratcher. When you get to 100, print your list and put it where you can see it. Then, when you feel self-loathing creep in, close your eyes, stick out your index finger, and play pin the tail on the self-love with your list. Wherever your finger lands, soak it up and know that you're amazing. 

 

Even if you don't partake in my "Self-Love 100" challenge, I'd love for you to share one thing that you adore about yourself. Post your comment below, or on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bethany-Butzer-PhD-Mental-Health-Wellness-Advisor/117943314924607

 

In the meantime, I'm going to keep working on accepting the fact that it's perfectly ok for other people to adore me, because I adore myself.

 

 

 

5 Steps To Release What No Longer Serves You

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on May 4, 2014 at 9:30 AM

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We all carry emotional baggage. Usually this baggage sits below our awareness and guides our behavior without us realizing it. It's like there's a little demon calling the shots in our subconscious, while up here in the real world we fumble and falter and fall into the same patterns over and over without being able to figure out why.

 

Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski put it this way:

 

Although a system may cease to exist in the legal sense or

as a structure of power, its values (or anti-values), its

philosophy, its teachings remain in us. They rule our

thinking, our conduct, our attitude to others. The

situation is a demonic paradox: we have toppled the system

but we still carry its genes.

 

I think that Kapuscinski was writing about revolutions, but the statement applies to personal development as well. In other words, you might leave a relationship or a job or an uncomfortable conversation - but that doesn't mean the situation is over. There might be unresolved aspects of these situations still lingering in your psyche and guiding your current behavior. For example, perhaps you break up with a partner, and the relationship ends on reasonably good terms. A few months later you find yourself in a new relationship, and for some reason the same issues that plagued your previous relationship are rearing their ugly heads - even though your new partner is way cooler/smarter/emotionally stable (etc.) than your previous lover.

 

Or, perhaps you finally got up the courage to leave a soul-sucking job in order to follow your heart's true purpose. However, after a few months at your dream job, you notice that you're just as stressed, depressed, and angry as you were when you were pulling all-nighters for your crappy boss - even though your new job is way more fun/flexible/purposeful than your previous 20-plus years in the corporate world.

 

How is this possible?

 

It's a common psychological fallacy to see others as being more responsible for our negative behavior than we are. And, as Gabby Bernstein often says, we need to start by cleaning up our side of the street. Nothing around us is going to change until we have the courage to go deep inside, explore the demons that lie within, and eventually let them go.

 

 

 

Both of the examples above are based on my own personal experience, and while I don't have this paradox completely figured out, I thought I'd share a few methods I've used to explore (and perhaps tear down) some of the deeply entrenched internal systems that no longer serve me.

 

  1. Be Mindful. One of the reasons that our internal demons can wreak havoc on our external reality is that we're not aware of the little buggers. In other words, many of us are asleep (and I don't mean asleep in the traditional sense). We walk around all day with our eyes wide open, but we're asleep to our own Truth, as well as the untruths that are guiding a lot of our actions. An excellent way to wake up to what no longer serves us is to practice mindfulness meditation. Many people think of meditation as a stress management tool, and while taking some time each day for stillness is definitely relaxing, one of the key purposes of meditation is to help wake us up in this lifetime. Part of this waking up process involves becoming more aware, or mindful, of our thoughts, speech, and actions.
     
  2. Be Honest. An important part of the waking up process involves getting really honest with yourself about how you feel. Many of us have been taught to suppress our feelings so that we can get through the day-to-day grind of our lives. Breaking old patterns means that we need to be supremely honest with ourselves about how a particular relationship, job, or situation made us feel in the past, and how these circumstances might still be affecting us. The key here is to also be honest about the role that you played in any negative patterns that arose.
     
  3. Forgive Yourself. Once you've gotten honest, you can take any remedial actions that might be necessary (such as apologizing), and then it's time to let yourself off the hook. Self-forgiveness doesn't mean that you aren't taking responsibility for your actions, it means that you're acknowledging the fact that you're human, that you've done all you can to remedy the situation, and that you are now ready to let it go.
     
  4. Release Negative Energy (Daily). As you become more well-versed in the steps above, you might become more aware of negative emotions and patterns, more honest about your part in the situations that caused the emotions/patterns, and get better at forgiving yourself, but you might still feel a sense of negative energy. The reason for this is that many of us are like emotional sponges. We take on emotions from other people, places, and situations, often without realizing it. To rectify this situation, I like to engage in a daily "negative energy releasing" practice. For you, this might mean taking up mind-body techniques like yoga or tai chi, or energetic therapies like reiki, or it might involve playing a sport or going for a good run, or it might be something as simple as putting on your headphones and dancing to a great song.
     
  5. Create a Personal Development Routine. The four tips that I've outlined above have become crucial to my personal development process, and over the years I've created a routine that incorporates these themes into a daily system that works for me. Right now, my routine looks something like this: 
    • I meditate for 30 minutes every morning, after which I take 2-3 minutes to say (out loud) many of the things that I'm grateful for at that moment.
    • Throughout my workday, I try to bring this sense of mindfulness, self-awareness, and gratitude with me by paying close attention to my thoughts, speech, and behavior. I always do my very best to eat lunch away from my desk, either with a colleague, or going for a brief walk, or dancing as outlined in point #4.
    • After work I do my best to stay away from my computer for as long as I can, by connecting with my husband over dinner, and, if it's nice outside, spending some time in nature. Before bed I do 20-30 minutes of yoga, with a particular focus on releasing any negative energy that I might have picked up that day.
    • It's important for you to know, however, that my days don't always look like this! Sometimes life happens and that's ok. But I try to follow these practices as best I can - even if I can only fit in 5 minutes of meditation in the morning and 3 minutes of breathing exercises before I fall asleep.

 

So here's my challenge for you. I'd like you to create your own personal development routine to help you recognize and let go of what's no longer serving you. Keep in mind that it's important to be realistic. Don't plan to do a 2 hour yoga practice every morning if you know it will be impossible for you to wake up at 5am. Your routine might look very different from mine, and that's completely fine - as long as it includes tasks that help you become more aware of your patterns/behaviors, and let those patterns go, then you're on the right track. (Check out this article on 13 things mindful people do differently every day for ideas).

 

I'd love to hold you accountable to your new routine! Post your ideas below, or on my Facebook page, or send me an email that outlines your plan. We can implement our self-growth (and fall off the wagon!) together.

 

Until then, have fun getting to know your demons

 

What If You Don't Want To Do What You're Meant To Do?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 13, 2014 at 10:35 AM

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While writing my last blog, I started to contemplate why so many of us hold on to the mistaken idea that our job/career should be the area of our lives in which we live out our passion and do what we love. This led me to a deeper and perhaps more provocative question about the intersection between living a purposeful life and a happy one.

 

Personally, I've always believed that purpose and happiness should go hand-in-hand. If you feel like you're living a purposeful and meaningful life, you should be happy, right?

 

Maybe not.

 

Scientists have recently shown that happiness and meaning don't always co-exist, and there are interesting differences between the two. For example, meaningfulness often involves experiencing a certain level of stress and challenge - which can make you feel less happy. When I decided to quit my corporate job to start my own wellness business, I was stressed to the max! I worried about paying my mortgage, I worried about what other people thought of my decision, and I was afraid that I wouldn't be successful. During the 2 1/2 years that I was an entrepreneur, my life felt very meaningful - but I wasn't always happy.

 

 

 

The same is true in my current role as a researcher at Harvard Medical School. I'm very passionate about the work that I do, and studying the beneficial effects of providing yoga in schools feels extremely meaningful. But I'm not always happy. There's a lot of day-to-day grind behind the positive work that I'm doing. For example, I spend most of my days sitting at a desk writing papers and grant applications to try to fund my research. And Harvard is an extremely competitive environment where I'm constantly surrounded by people who are doing cutting-edge research - which causes me to make a lot of social comparisons that don't always leave me feeling very confident.

 

I once heard someone say: "Be careful what you're good at. You could end up doing it for the rest of your life." This quote has always stuck with me because it gets to the heart of a question that has plagued me for many years: Is what I'm good at what I'm supposed to be doing? I know that I'm good at doing research. I wouldn't be at Harvard if I wasn't. But doing research also pushes all of my buttons in a way that can make me unhappy. For example:

 

  • Sitting at a desk all day in a windowless office can feel soul-sucking.
     
  • Constantly putting myself out there in the form of papers and grant applications, only to have these contributions rejected or unfunded (which is the norm!) can beat down my morale and make me feel insecure.
     
  • The scientific method is very logical and analytical. I've trained this side of my brain to death and feel like I can come up with study designs, hypotheses, and theories in my sleep. The problem is that I don't often get a chance to exercise the more right-brained aspects of my personality - things like creative writing, art, and being in the flow.
     
  • Academia can be so competitive that long hours, overwork, and taking on too much are not only the norm - they are encouraged. I feel like I'm in a constant battle to leave work at a decent hour, eat healthy, get enough sleep, and not overfill my plate.

 

But look at the potential of the work that I'm doing. If my research is able to contribute to a growing body of evidence showing that providing yoga in schools can help students reduce stress, improve mood, enhance grades, etc., then I could be changing the lives of generations of children. This could have a tremendous impact on the entire world by producing thousands - perhaps millions - of human beings who are in touch with their True Self and are able to cope with the demands of daily life in a way that makes them not only productive members of society, but change agents for good on earth.

 

Meaningful, right?

 

But does this meaning always bring happiness? No.

 

This got me thinking about public figures that I admire. People who started revolutions and brought change to the world. People like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela and Che Guevara. There's no doubt that these people lived meaningful lives. But were they happy all the time? Was Gandhi happy when he was on a hunger strike? Was Mandela happy when he was in jail for 27 years? Was Che Guevara happy when he was living in the jungle and bumping up against the injustices of his society?

 

My thoughts raised the question that is the title of this blog. What if you don't want to do what you're meant to do?

 

What if I'm meant to do research, but instead of doing research all day, I'd rather live in a cabin in the woods where I write poetry connect with nature?

 

How can we best distinguish between what we want to do and what we're meant to do? And is there a way to have both?

 

I don't know the answer, but I'd love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts below!

 

You Are Not Your Job

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 30, 2014 at 1:35 PM

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One of my favorite things is to inspire people to create a life they love. But lately I've been wondering exactly what this means. What are the components of a life well-lived? What will it take for us to say with conviction that we love our lives? Is it just a self-help pipe dream to aspire to live an exceptional life?

 

In pondering these questions, I noticed a big mistake that many of us make when we embark on this path. The problem is that we tend to focus most of our attention on creating a career we love, without stopping to think about all of the other things that might bring us fulfillment, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with our jobs.

 

My career as an author, speaker, researcher and yoga teacher is a direct result of me taking the time to figure out what I love to do, and how to make money doing it. I do a lot of checking in with myself to figure out if my current job (whatever that might be) is of the highest service to me and to the world. In fact, I'd argue that I'm borderline obsessed with this topic. It's something that I think about every day - without fail. I thought about it while I was in grad school. I thought about it when I worked for an IT research company. I thought about it when I was an entrepreneur. And now I think about it in my current role as a researcher at Harvard Medical School.

 

I seem to constantly be asking myself:

 

"Is this what I'm supposed to be doing with my life?"

"What feels right and/or wrong about this job?"

"Should I be following a different path?"

 

I ask the Universe for signs, symbols, and messages to direct me. I ask to be given the perfect people, places, and opportunities to place me on the exact right path at the exact right time. I pray for guidance. I meditate. I read a shitload of career-oriented self-help books. I do personal development questionnaires. I journal. I join mastermind groups. I hire top-notch career coaches. I take in what seems like an endless onslaught of inspirational newsletters and videos.

 

When I stepped back for a moment and asked myself why I devote so much of my time to this topic, the answer surprised me. I realized that I've fallen into the trap of thinking that if I can find a job that makes me happy, then I'll be happy 100% of the time. But my erroneous thinking doesn't stop there. 

 

I've also realized that I use my career as an indication of my self-worth.

 

Ouch.

 

In other words, I realized that while my motivation is driven to some extent by my desire to help others and be of service, there's a bit of a hidden agenda behind what I'm doing - a shadow side if you will - that motivates my desire to succeed. Deep down inside, I feel like I'm not worthy if I'm not doing a job in which I'm extremely successful.

 

 

 

Put differently, I've made the mistake of thinking that I am my job. I've spent so much time trying to create a job I love, that I've sometimes forgotten about creating a life I love.

 

Don't get me wrong - it's not like I'm working 80-hour weeks and neglecting all of the other aspects of my life. It's more insidious than that. Instead, it's that many of the things that I do outside of my job - things like yoga, meditation, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, reading inspirational books - are largely geared toward helping me be successful at my career. I take care of myself so that my brain can function at its highest capacity so that I can be top notch at what I do.

 

There isn't necessarily anything wrong with this approach (at least not on the surface). But when I dig deeper, I see that I'm not looking after myself out of an internal knowing that I am already worthy regardless of my career - I'm looking after myself so that I can excel at my career. Almost everything that I do is related in one way or another to my desire to succeed at my job.

 

Lately I've been watching a series of videos about Vedanta, an ancient Indian system of philosophy. One of the Vedantic teachings that really struck a chord with me is this idea: I am not what I experience. And whatever I am not, I am free from. In other words, I am not my job. If for some reason my PhD was magically erased from my history, or Harvard suddenly disappeared from my resume, my True Self would still exist. I would still be amazing and worthy and good enough.

 

I've come to realize that one of my purposes in this life is to find a balance between the ambitious, achievement-oriented aspect of my personality and the deep and true part of me that knows that my internal happiness can never come from my external success. In all likelihood, there will always be aspects of my job that I dislike - not matter what I'm doing.

 

Most importantly, I can't rely on my job to make me happy. I need to develop a deep, experiential knowledge of the fact that my True Nature is happiness. I'm not going to find this bliss in any self-help book or e-newsletter or fad of the week. Instead of seeking it from the outside, I need to go within.

 

I'm going to try to expand my view from creating a job I love to creating a life I love. And I think one of the first steps is to find the love that already exists inside.

 

Care to join me?

 

 

Yoga for Kids: Ancient Practice Helps Students Deal with Modern Stress

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 16, 2014 at 1:00 PM

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I've always been obsessed with achievement - especially when it comes to school. My achievement junkie status even brought me all the way to the ivory tower of Harvard. Getting here, however, has involved more than a few upsets, breakdowns, and dark nights of the soul.

As a perfectionistic child, I quickly became obsessed with getting good grades. I didn't have many friends, I had few hobbies, and I couldn't play sports to save my life. I started to feel like good grades were the only way for me to gain attention and praise from the adults in my life. So I pushed myself to win every gold star, every scholarship, and every diploma under the sun. I went straight from kindergarten to PhD - without a single break in-between.

And I completely burned myself out.

Many years of soul searching, countless hours in therapists' chairs, and several rounds of antidepressants later, I finally discovered a resource that helped me curb my achievement addiction and bring my stress down to a manageable level: Yoga.

Unfortunately, I didn't start doing yoga until I was in my early twenties, which means that I spent most of my childhood and early adulthood without any knowledge of how to manage my stress. The good news is that for today's youth, this situation is starting to change.

Yoga is being increasingly taught in school settings as a technique to help students regulate their emotions and manage their stress and mood. One of the cool things about my job at Harvard Medical School is that I spend most of my time studying the effects of these programs on child and adolescent well-being. Over the past year my team has managed to find over 30 programs that are currently offering yoga at over 800 schools across North America. The sheer number of yoga-in-schools programs is pretty overwhelming, and new programs seem to pop up every week. A few examples include Yoga Ed, Yoga 4 Classrooms, Kripalu Yoga in Schools, Bent on Learning, The Holistic Life Foundation, Y.O.G.A. for Youth, and the Newark Yoga Movement.

 


Photo Credit: Grounded Yoga

 

While the individual curricula of each of these programs might differ slightly, what they all have in common is a desire to combine the four basic elements of yoga (physical postures, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and meditation) with a variety of techniques and topics such as games, art, philosophy, psychology, health, and pro-social behavior in order to help students develop skills that will benefit them not only at school, but in life as well.

One of the problems with our current education system is that it is highly focused on enhancing students' academic achievement. Like me, many students leave high school with the subject matter knowledge that's necessary for them to get into college, but they lack basic skills to help them deal with difficulties that are bound to arise in their lives. As a result, we end up with a workforce that suffers from a variety of psychological and physical problems. We have extremely successful architects, engineers, and stockbrokers who are also profoundly stressed and/or depressed.

This was the path that I followed for most of my childhood and early adulthood. On the outside I was excelling - but inside I was screaming. I was anxious, depressed, and obsessed with maintaining an external façade of academic success. One of the reasons I'm researching yoga in schools is to help future generations avoid going through what I went through.


Recent research suggests that the cumulative prevalence of psychiatric illness by age 21 exceeds 80% in the United States, and that the majority of adult psychiatric conditions have child-adolescent onsets. The good news is that studies are starting to show that school-based yoga programs can have a positive effect on student health and well-being, and researchers have come up with a few ideas about how.

Three Ways That Yoga Helps Students Succeed

 

  1. Developing Mind-Body Awareness. By training students how to pay attention to the relationship between their mind and body, school-based yoga programs help kids notice the impact of stress on their well-being. For example, a student might start to notice that their stomach gets tight when they're worried about a test, or that they tend to gravitate toward unhealthy food when they're feeling down. This awareness (also known as mindfulness) may lead to changes in behavior by, for example, choosing to do 5 minutes of breathing exercises to relax a tight stomach or opting for an apple instead of chips. Preliminary studies of yoga for youth and young adults are starting to support these ideas.
     
  2. Improving Self-Regulation. At a very broad level, self-regulation refers to our ability to manage our stress, emotions, and behaviors. Psychological and neuroscientific research is starting to show that yoga and meditation may help youth manage their stress and mood and behave more positively. The basic idea is that yoga helps calm the fight or flight response, and induce the relaxation response, thus helping kids calm themselves down and be less reactive in difficult situations. So instead of lashing out in anger on the playground, a student might take a deep breath and walk away. 
     
  3. Enhancing Social-Emotional Skills. According to the Collaboration for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social-emotional learning involves developing 5 core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Research strongly suggests that school-based programs that enhance these competencies help students succeed not only academically, but personally as well. Early evidence is also beginning to show that yoga and meditation might help students be more self-aware, manage their emotions, enhance their relationships, and make better decisions.    

One important thing to keep in mind is that the research in this area is very preliminary, and much work remains to be done. For example, we're still not sure what frequency, or "dose" of yoga is most effective for kids. We're also not sure how long the positive effects of yoga may last, because few (if any) studies have included long-term follow-up. There's also the issue of some parents feeling uncomfortable with yoga being offered in schools, as they believe that this violates the separation of church and state.

Personally, I think that as more high quality research begins to emerge, yoga programs will start appearing more regularly in our schools. As part of this effort, I'm running a study at a Boston-area school in collaboration with Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa and the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living, where we're examining the effects of a 32-class yoga program (offered during physical education class) on 7th graders' well-being. We're also going to follow-up with these students one year after the program, so our study should help answer some of the questions above.

 

In the end, I think that radical change is needed in the way that we define success for students. Grades are important, but we need to broaden our definition to not only include academic achievement, but also personal well-being. I'm confident that learning yoga and meditation from an early age will provide benefits not only in childhood, but in adulthood as well. After all, if these tools can work for an achievement-addict like me, I have immense hope for others!

 

This blog was originally published as a guest contribution to Momstrology.com, a website for mindful and mystical mamas created by Tali and Ophira Edut (the AstroTwins).

 

Can We Stop Talking About The Weather Now?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 2, 2014 at 3:35 PM

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I've always had a pet peeve when it comes to talking about the weather. But I never put much thought into why. Countless times I've found myself in an elevator, or waiting for a conference call, or standing in line unsure about what to say. So, what best to discuss?

 

I hope this storm doesn't bring too much snow!

 

Did you guys get as much rain there as we did here?

 

How about that ice?

 

Every time I start discussing the weather, I get a tightness in my chest. Something inside of me knows that there must be better things to talk about than snow squalls and fog. 

 

 

 

And then it hit me. I think the reason we discuss the weather so often is because we think it's the only thing we have in common. It's very rare for us to know anything about our co-workers or neighbors, so we can't ask things like "How did your wife's surgery go?" or "Did your son get into Yale?"

 

We're so disconnected from each other that the only thing left to discuss is the lowest common denominator, which usually involves something about sleet, rain, or hail. Plus, we very rarely talk about the weather when it's actually nice outside. Instead of focusing on the positive, we choose to commiserate over the negative.

 

To make matters worse, weather stations have become just as bad at fear mongering as their news reporter counterparts. They make every storm sound like an impending apocalypse, where only the strong will survive. In fact, I think our weather broadcasters are crying wolf so often that when a real storm comes, many of us aren't adequately prepared.

 

What does talking about the weather have to do with your personal well-being (which is what I usually blog about)? One factor that scientists have consistently shown is crucial to human health is social connection. We are inherently social beings, mostly because our ancestors needed to work together in order to survive. When we lack a sense of connection, we suffer both mentally and physically.

 

Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you had a really meaningful conversation with someone? I mean a true heart-to-heart that left you feeling connected to the other person. The topic doesn't matter - you might have been discussing philosophy, work, or love. The conversation might have sadened you, angered you, or made you excited. What matters is that the conversation not only made you feel alive - it also gave you a sense of social cohesion and meaning.

 

Most of the time, talking about the weather does not make us feel connected to each other (unless you're a meteorologist who is very passionate about your work!). Instead, we use the weather as a crutch because we are unable (or unwilling) to truly connect with others. And I'm just as much to blame for this as anyone else. I tend to go about my workdays with my head down, plowing through my tasks, to the point that I get irritated when someone tries to make conversation with me. I know very little about my neighbors - even though I live in a small apartment building where I share walls with at least two other people. In fact, I don't even know the name of the man who lives directly across from me!

 

I'm not suggesting that we walk around pouring our hearts out to perfect strangers - in some workplaces this type of connection probably isn't even appropriate. However, I think we can all make a bit more of an effort to connect with the people we see on a regular basis.

 

One of the interesting things about maintaining a website where I reveal many of my biggest flaws (and other dirty laundry) is that I often walk into professional situations where people have googled me and already know all about not only my professional history and accomplishments but also my struggles with things like anxiety, depression, and antidepressants. Sometimes I've thought about toning down my blog so that I don't reveal so much - but then I wouldn't be practicing what I preach. One of my goals is to serve as an example of a life in which I can be completely authentic - both at home and at work. And, for the most part, I've found that my co-workers find this authenticity refreshing. I'm not pretending to be a perfect employee. I am who I am and that's that.

 

So here's my challenge to you. The next time you feel an urge to start talking about the weather, see if you can find something (anything!) a little more meaningful to discuss instead. Bonus points if your chosen topic makes you a little vulnerable (thus helping you develop a closer connection to the other person).

 

I'd love to hear about your experience with this challenge! Post comments below or on my Facebook page (http://https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bethany-Butzer-PhD-Mental-Health-Wellness-Advisor/117943314924607).

 

Personally, I'm going to do my best not to say the word "snow" again until next winter. How about you?

 

What To Do When You Can't Shake a Bad Mood

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 16, 2014 at 4:55 PM

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How do you react when you notice a bad mood coming on? Maybe someone agitates you at work, or you get jealous about a friend's post on Facebook, or you just feel sad for no reason. There are a few different ways that we can respond to our moods. We might try to suppress our feelings with drugs, alcohol, or food. We might curl up on the couch and procrastinate. We might lash out in anger at someone who doesn't deserve it.

 

Personally, I tend to try to talk myself out of my moods. It goes something like this:

 

[Enter bad mood]
 

"Ugh…anxiety again? Why am I feeling this way? Why can't I get myself to stop feeling this way? Am I stressed about work? Or do I have too many personal commitments? Maybe I need to take something off my plate. Or maybe I just need to stop being so high-strung."
 

[Mood morphs from anxiety to frustration]
 

 "I'm so annoyed with myself. I'm tired of these feelings. I've spent years working on my personal development - shouldn't I be done with these moods by now?"
 

[Enter logical problem-solving]
 

"Ok, I can handle this. Maybe I should do some yoga. Or meditate. Or say some positive affirmations. I don't think I have enough time to do a full yoga practice so maybe I'll do 5 minutes of breathing exercises. With affirmations. But which affirmation should I use? How about 'I am safe.' Yeah, 'I am safe' sounds good."
 

[Begin breathing with affirmation]
 

"Breathe in: I am safe. Breathe out: I am safe. Breathe in: I am safe. Breathe out: I am…how am I ever going to get all this work done? I'm going to have to put something on the back-burner because it's not humanly possible to finish all of this by next week. Why can't I just live in a cabin in the woods and write all day like Thoreau? That would be perfect. Then I would never be stressed. Oh crap - I'm not paying attention to my breath. Breathe in: I am safe. Breathe out: I am safe. Breathe in: I am…"
 

[Timer beeps]
 

"What? It's been 5 minutes already? I didn't even meditate properly. I think I said my affirmation 4 times. And I don't feel any better."
 

[Mood morphs into feeling bad about myself]
 

"Why can't I just be a normal person who doesn't get so stressed out about everything? I'm driving everyone around me nuts, including myself. And I can't even meditate for 5 minutes. I'm hopeless."

 

 

 

Does this line of thinking sound familiar?

 

When we get upset, many of us start by trying to figure out why we're feeling the way we're feeling. Then we try to use reason and logic to talk ourselves out of our feelings. We tell ourselves that everything is ok, or we urge ourselves to suck it up, or we might even tell ourselves to shut up. Notice that all of these solutions are verbal. They all involve trying to get the feeling out of the way so that we can move on with life.

 

I tend to be a very verbal person. I love writing, and I love talking, so my first instinct is to try to talk myself out of my moods. But I've noticed that this seldom works. I usually just end up talking myself into a rabbit's hole that gets me even more upset. The scientist in me figures that there must be some logical reason why I'm feeling how I'm feeling, and if I can just get to the root cause then I can use tried and true methods (like meditation) to fix it.

 

Over the years, however, I've learned that my True Self doesn't speak to me in words. It speaks to me in feelings. So the voice that's trying to talk me out of my feelings is the voice of my false self, or ego. My ego is scared of feelings. My ego wants to barrel through life and accomplish as much as possible so that I can feel good about myself. My True Self, on the other hand, knows that I'm already worthy no matter how I feel or how much I accomplish.

 

My feelings are my True Self's way of speaking to me. If I try to get rid of these feelings by letting my ego talk me out of them, then I'm not listening to my True Self.

 

But wait, you might be wondering, if I feel like crap all the time, does this mean my True Self is inherently crappy?

 

No.

 

It means that there are probably some aspects of your life that need to change in order for you to feel better, and your True Self is trying to notify you of these things. It might be that something external needs to change, like you need to get out of a dysfunctional relationship or leave your job. Or it might be that something internal needs to change, like you need to stop being so hard on yourself or practice some self-compassion.

 

Either way, the solution isn't to talk ourselves out of our feelings. The solution is to simply allow our feelings to be exactly as they are. This is a practice that's common in most forms of mindfulness meditation, which focus on helping us bring our attention to the present moment and to simply observe it without judgement. I find this practice extraordinarily difficult - but extremely healing. Here's what the conversation above might look like from this new perspective:

 

[Enter bad mood]
 

"Ah, anxiety, there you are again. Hello."
 

[I bring my attention to my breath. Anxiety continues to move through my perception. Instead of engaging in a conversation with my thoughts, I watch them pass by like credits on a movie screen]
 

Thoughts pass through:
 

"Why am I feeling this way?"
 

"Why can't I get myself to stop feeling this way?"
 

"Am I stressed about work?"
 

Etc.
 

Etc.
 

[Every time thoughts appear, I bring my attention back to my breath without judgement. And feelings continue to pass through]
 

"Ah, frustration, you're here too. Ok."
 

[I place one hand on my heart and continue to breathe, accepting all thoughts and feelings as they arise in this moment, without judgement]

 

You'll notice that this situation looks fairly similar to my original mental conversation - all of the annoying feelings and thoughts are still there - but the experience of these feelings and thoughts is quite different. After 5 minutes of situation #2, I might not actually feel any better. However, because I'm simply observing my feelings without judging them, I don't get caught up in the self-bashing that comes along with not feeling better. Instead, I'm just allowing my mood to run its natural course, knowing that eventually it will dissipate and change into something new.

 

Two sayings are particularly relevant here: "This too shall pass," and "Change is the only constant." In other words, all of your feelings and moods are continually morphing and changing - and passing through. The more you try to wrap an iron fist around them or try to logically reason with them, the longer it will take for them to pass. As Gabrielle Bernstein often says, "You have to feel it to heal it."

 

This is one of the main practices that I struggle with every single day. Most of my mental conversations look like the first situation that I presented above. However, sometimes I'm able to practice a little self-compassion by simply allowing my moods to be. And I'm getting better and better at listening to what my feelings (aka my True Self) are trying to tell me. And then, every once in awhile, I have the courage to act on these messages - even when my actions make no logical sense (e.g. quitting my corporate job or moving miles away from my friends and family).

 

So the next time you sense a bad mood coming on, see if you can give yourself permission to feel, instead of trying to fix it. Treat your feelings like they are visitors who have an important message to share. Listen to the message, then act on it. I bet you'll experience miraculous change as a result.

 

Do What You're Meant To Do

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 2, 2014 at 1:15 PM

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When I was 13 years old, I went through what some might call a renaissance period. At the time, most of my friends were on the cusp between childhood and adolescence, and their biggest concern was deciding whether to play with their barbies or their mother's makeup. I, on the other hand, spent hours and hours in my bedroom doing one thing. Rain or shine, I felt compelled to do this one activity almost every day. And, as is always the case, the universe conspired to give me the perfect gift to pursue this one thing with passion: My great grandmother's typewriter.

It was a beast of a machine. Black, with perfectly round keys and a bell that rang every time you reached the end of a line. It didn't have an eraser, and I have no clue how I supplied it with ink. In my eyes it was ancient - and perfect. I spent hours at that typewriter doing exactly what I'm doing right now.

Writing.

I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. I wrote fictional stories - usually about teenaged girls going on a variety of adventures. I wrote poems. I wrote non-fiction books about cats. I dated and signed each piece. I even took a stack of blank paper and cut it so that it would be the size of a paperback novel. I drew a cover page, typed my story, and then on the back of my "novel" I wrote a synopsis that included a quote from the "New York Times" about how awesome my book was.

The lovely thing is that I have an old accordion folder that contains all of my stories. It's musty and dusty, and it's a treasure trove that holds many truths about what I'm meant to do in the world. Here are a few photos of my stories:




 

 

 


After my early adolescent "renaissance," I shifted from short stories to poetry. In high school, I scribbled hundreds of poems into notebooks. In 10th grade, I even got a poem published in a national literary magazine (and my friend spilled coffee on it):
 



When I got to college, my writing became less creative and more practical. I wrote essays and exams. In grad school, I wrote theses and dissertations. When my schooling was finally complete, I wrote white papers for an IT research company. Then I quit my job and wrote a book. Now I'm back in the ivory tower and guess what I'm doing?

Writing.

Now I write grant applications and research papers about the benefits of yoga for youth. And I write blogs like this one.

It's funny because I've often struggled with questions about what to do with my life, and how to be of service in the world. Based on my history, I think the answer is pretty obvious.

I'm meant to write.

Recently, while meditating, this message entered my consciousness loud and clear. I was sitting with my legs crossed as I do every morning, bringing my attention to my breath, when I received an almost visceral sensation that my purpose is to write. I was "told" that I need to accept this fact, own it, and do it.

I still have questions about exactly what I'm supposed to write and how this writing can be of the highest service to the world, but I'm trying to trust that those answers will come with perfect timing. Right now, the writing that I do for my job is of service because it helps my lab raise money to do studies on the benefits of implementing yoga in schools. The writing that I do in my spare time, like this blog, helps readers around the world discover their True Self. And while my blogs are definitely meant to serve readers like you, they serve me as well, because when tied together my blogs chronicle my personal journey of self-discovery.

What Are You Meant to Do?

One of the main questions that comes up when I lead workshops about creating a life you love is that many people can't figure out what they're meant to do. My advice is always the same. Look back into your childhood - before society had its claws firmly embedded in you - and notice what you loved to do. What did you win awards for? In which subjects did you score your highest grades? What did you do during your free time? What did you feel compelled to do, just for fun, or for other reasons?

The answer might be obvious. For example, it might be that you always won art awards or poster contests. Or you might have loved playing the guitar. Or you might have been really into technology.

Sometimes, however, if a passion doesn't immediately jump out at you, you'll need to do a bit more digging. Think about an overarching factor that ties together the various things that you liked to do as a child. For example, maybe you enjoyed leading youth groups, selling lemonade, and rounding up your friends to play capture the flag. One thing that all of these activities have in common is a sense of leadership. Or perhaps you enjoyed volunteer work, cleaning up your local park, and informing your neighbourhood about local events. Taken together, these three activities share a common theme of service and community building.

When I look back at my childhood, I realize that my desire to write seems to have started even before I knew how to write. My mom has a notebook that I filled out every school year from kindergarten until the 6th grade. The notebook asked a few questions, like who my best friends were and which subjects I enjoyed the most. It also asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Every year, starting in kindergarten, I wrote "author."

My family members also tell me that by the age of 4, I already had an insatiable curiosity that caused me to ask baffling questions about the meaning of life, why there were stars, and where people go when they die.

The problem is that starting in around 6th grade, as I began absorbing the cultural idea that no one could possibly make a decent living as an author, I started to write "veterinarian" in my mom's notebook. I still wrote stories in my spare time, but I began to see writing as a hobby, not as something that I could reasonably expect to be when I grew up.

However I now see that both my insatiable curiosity and my writing have always been with me, and have led me to my current profession, where I make a living doing research. What is research? It's a process of asking questions, looking for answers, and then writing about those answers.

My advice to you is this. Pay attention to your life and notice how your passions might have been with you all along. Perhaps you grew up with a strong desire to make things beautiful. You might not be a full-time interior designer right now, but I bet you constantly receive compliments about your ability to create beautiful spaces in your home. Perhaps your love for technology didn't lead you to a degree in computer engineering, but you might spend all of your spare time scouring the internet for articles about nanotechnology. Your love of service and community building might not have led you to become Mother Theresa, but you might be the best mommy and baby reading group organizer in your city.

Simply pay attention. You don't need to quit your job or put pressure on yourself to make millions of dollars doing what you love. Just notice what you like doing. Appreciate how it is already part of your life, even in tiny ways. Trust that you will be guided to use your gifts in the exact right way at the exact right time - even if the timing isn't happening fast enough for you.

Personally, I'm taking this advice to heart by trying to trust that I will always be shown what to write exactly when it needs to be written. Like a glass waiting to be filled, the water will arrive when it's meant to. And, just like my great grandmother's typewriter showed up for me right when I needed it, I will always be given the exact people, places, and opportunities to use my gifts to be of service to humanity, and to bring me closer to my True Self. Because that is, after all, the ultimate goal. 

 

Welcome To My Dark Side

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 19, 2014 at 11:05 AM

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Like most people, I have a dark side. Well, maybe it's not quite a dark side. It's more like a grey side. It's a little gremlin that sits at the edge of my consciousness, always threatening to take over. Up until I was around 26 years old, this gremlin ruled the majority of my life.

 

I was chronically anxious. I was borderline depressed. I couldn't get my head on straight when it came to my relationships with men. My extreme lack of self-worth caused me to either date people who weren't right for me or hurt the people I loved the most (usually a combination of both).

 

 

 

When I was 20, a therapist diagnosed me with Dysthymia, a mild form of depression. To be diagnosed with Dysthymia, a person must have had a depressed mood on most days for at least 2 years or more, along with at least two of the following symptoms:

 

- Poor appetite or overeating

- Insomnia or hypersomnia

- Low energy or fatigue

- Low self-esteem

- Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions

- Feelings of hopelessness

 

I think I had #4 and #6. My therapist agreed, and I ended up taking antidepressants for 6 years. As many of you know, I eventually got off the medication, wrote a book about my experience, and have since dedicated much of my time to educating others about alternative treatments for anxiety and depression.

 

But that doesn't mean my gremlin went away.

 

I went off antidepressants when I was 26. Eight years later, I still devote a huge amount of my time and energy to keeping myself off the medication. This involves a variety of "treatments" like yoga, meditation, eating healthy, being in nature, and spending as much time as possible doing things I enjoy. My gremlin, however, still likes to visit. These visits manifest themselves in a variety of ways, such as:

 

- Not feeling good enough. Ever. (No matter how much I achieve, how I look, or how many compliments I receive).

- Feeling down or blue for no apparent reason, without being able to shake it.

- Feeling stressed and anxious, especially when it comes to anything related to my job/career.

 

Most of the time, I'm able to handle these experiences by keeping  a steady routine that involves many of the "treatments" that I described above. Sometimes, however, I get tired. I don't want to have to work so hard to keep my gremlin at bay. I wish so badly that I was born with a more laid back personality that didn't experience the world so strongly. I wish my brain would turn itself off so that I didn't think so much.

 

I've often wondered whether I'm just doomed to be stressed. I've felt immense levels of stress at every job I've ever had, whether I was a waitress, a cashier, or a graduate student. A couple of years ago I worked part-time at a greenhouse, and even that stressed me out. In fact, one of the underlying factors behind many of my career decisions has been a desire to reduce my stress. After finishing my Ph.D., I gave up my childhood dream of becoming a professor, partly because I thought it would be too stressful. Then I left my corporate job because I thought it was too stressful. Then I gave up being an entrepreneur because I found that stressful. Now I do research at Harvard and guess what? It's stressful.

 

Then it occurred to me. My stress has nothing to do with the various jobs that I've held. It has everything to do with me. If I can be equally as stressed serving liver and onions as I am when I give a lecture to a group of top researchers, then the stress isn't coming from out there. It's coming from in here.

 

This realization was depressing at first. Am I doomed to be stressed no matter what I do?

 

After a lot of introspection, I believe that the answer is no.

 

But the solution isn't easy. If my issues are coming from within, then I need to do the inner work to feel a sense of peace in my outer work. It means that I have to be ok with the fact that I might never walk into an office skipping with joy, and I might need to spend the rest of my life meditating on how to find happiness at work. It means that I need to pay attention to how the aspects of my personality that bug me also bear many gifts. For example, my high strung, achievement-oriented persona has helped me excel in almost every professional role I've ever held. My overactive brain helps me absorb so much information that I never tire of learning, so much so that I can spend hours and hours (and hours!) having philosophical conversations that make me feel alive. And my sensitivity to the suffering that exists in the world drives my desire to be of service.     

 

I also need to remind myself of the fact that the world is a paradox, where good and bad co-exist at the exact same time. This means that good things happen to bad people. And bad things happen to good people. It means that no matter how much yoga or meditation I do, no matter how many life altering hippie retreats I attend, no matter how many green smoothies I drink, and no matter how many positive affirmations I repeat, I might never reach a state where I'm 100% happy all the time. And that's ok. If I focus too much on reaching a 100% happy destination, then I lose focus of everything I'm learning along the way.

 

I'm not going to end this blog with a positive statement about how these solutions have helped me banish my gremlin for good. Nope. He's still here. Some days I wake up and I feel grey. Other days are fantastic. And that's life. My gremlin keeps me on my toes and forces me to continue to try to become the best possible version of myself.

 

What does your gremlin do for you? 

 

Think Following Your Passion is a Waste of Time? Think Again.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 5, 2014 at 11:55 AM

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Ever feel like your gifts and talents are frivolous? Or that you need a "real job" to pay the bills? Do you treat your passions as if they're side projects - only to be enjoyed on the weekend or when you have enough time (which is never)? Me too.

 

 

 

One of my goals, however, is to help myself and others shift this mindset.

 

But lately I've been wondering why I'm so obsessed with helping people spend more time doing what they love. Why aren't I interested in more "noble" causes, like ending world hunger or saving the rain forests? This line of questioning led me to a thought experiment where I asked myself,

 

What would the world look like if everyone was fully executing their unique gifts?

 

What would society be like if everyone woke up in the morning excited to do what they love for most of the day?

 

Then it hit me. My mission is just as noble as any other. Why? Because the answers to these questions provide solutions to many of the problems that currently plague the world.

 

The challenge is that many of us either don't know what our passions are, or we ignore our passions because we don't think anyone would ever pay us to act on them, or we believe that using our gifts is a waste of time. The truth, however, is that doing what you love not only benefits you personally, but also has an immensely positive impact on the people around you (and even on society as a whole).

 

Personal Benefits

 

I will be honest by saying that I haven't done any systematic research on this, but I have a hunch that people who do what they love are not only happier, but also healthier. I recently read a blog about a 110 year old woman who prioritized her passions and is still going strong. Other examples cited in the blog include a 122 year old woman who ate two pounds of chocolate per week, and the last surviving World War I veteran who swam in the ocean every day until he turned 100. Last week I watched a documentary about Bill Cunningham, a photojournalist for the New York Times who, at over 80 years of age, still rides his bike around New York City to snap photos of fashion on the street.

 

What do these people have in common? They all seem to have spent a large amount of time throughout their lives doing what they love. At age 80, or 90, or even 122, they weren't obsessed with eating a vegan diet or practicing yoga every day. They were determined to do what made them happy. Period.

 

In contrast, let's picture what many people in North America (and many other places around the world) do every day. They commute to soul-sucking jobs that leave them with little energy to follow their passions. They're so exhausted that, during their "free" time, they watch hours of reality television, eat junk food, and put on weight. If they haven't had a heart attack by age 60, they will eventually suffer from a number of physical and mental health problems, like depression, obesity, diabetes, and even cancer. In Japan, there's actually a medical term (Karōshi) for people who die from overwork.

 

There is something seriously wrong with this picture.

 

Imagine if, on the other hand, all of these people spent as many hours as possible doing what they love. Maybe their marriages wouldn't be failing. Maybe they would be less depressed. Maybe they would be physically healthier. Maybe they would spend more time with their children - and bring up happier, healthier children - because they themselves were happy. Imagine the impact that this physical and mental health would have not only on the person themself, but also on their family, friends, and perhaps the entire world.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that the desire that humans have to express themselves, whether through art, music, writing, or any other type of passion, is an inherent human need that is as strong and important of a drive as our need for food or even sex. I couldn't agree more.

 

Societal Benefits

 

I've always loved the movie It's a Wonderful Life, because it shares a great example of how one person's life, when lived with kindness and love, can positively impact a web of people. The main character in the movie, George Bailey, feels as though his acts of kindness are relatively mundane and unnoticed. However, when an angel gives him a chance to see what his town would look like if he'd never been born, he sees that his small acts of love actually made the entire town a better place. In other words, doing what you love can actually benefit the world.

 

Imagine a world where we were all contributing to society in a way that felt good for us. People who liked working in office jobs worked in office jobs. People who liked to paint painted. People who enjoyed repairing shoes fixed shoes. Imagine if the school system was designed in a way that gave ample time for children to figure out what their passions are. Basic skills would be taught, like the ability to count and read, but there would also be entire classes from kindergarden all the way to 12th grade that encouraged youth to discover and develop their gifts. The emphasis wouldn't be on following a safe path that would guarantee a high income. Instead, all gifts and paths would be welcome.

 

This type of system might result in a situation where, from a relatively early age, office workers would be confident that they wanted to pursue an administrative career, doctors would know they wanted to be doctors, and artists would not only know that they wanted to pursue art - they would actually be encouraged to do so.

 

Imagine the advances we would make as a society if everyone was perfectly aligned with their passions. There would not only be technological innovation, but amazing cultural progress. Perhaps the next Mona Lisa would be painted. Maybe there would be thousands of Mother Theresa's and Nelson Mandela's and other enlightened masters walking the earth. Maybe there would be no world hunger or rain forest devastation because we would have the benefit of learning from (or being) these types of masters. How could society not benefit from this?

 

The Solution

 

The question is, how do we move from our current situation, where so many people are stifling their gifts, to a place where we are all living on purpose?

 

I'll be honest with you - I don't have the answer. But I think that my life's purpose is to work on it.

 

At a fundamental level, I believe that the way that society is structured needs to change. This could take many, many years, and might not even happen in my lifetime. But as Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, maintains, society cannot continue in it's current state. We are not only going to burn ourselves out, but we are also going to deplete the earth of its natural resources and end up turning on each other even more than we already are.

 

We need to seriously question the beliefs that currently guide the way that many humans live their lives. Why is the school system set up to promote academic achievement at the expense of physical and mental health? Why do we have to put in exactly 8 hours of work per day? Why do we need RRSPs and an SUV to be happy? Why is the economy set up in a way that promotes greed, corruption, and poverty?

 

A relatively logical answer to these questions might be, "We have to work 8 hours per day so that we can afford our homes, feed ourselves and our children, and retire with enough money to live. In fact, this whole blog is naive and overly idealistic. If everyone spent all day doing what they love, nothing would ever get done. Besides, it's inherent human nature to want more than the person next to you. Eventually, humans will pollute any idealistic society with hatred and greed - it's inevitable."

 

This argument is fine as far as current thinking goes. But I believe that in order to make radical change, we need to break free from current thinking. We need ideas that are way outside of the box.

 

Philosophers have come up with various ideas about ideal societal structures for centuries. Karl Marx pulled together theories that led to the formalization of communism. Giovanni Gentile called himself "the philosopher of fascism." Charles Fourier developed a cooperation-based societal structure that led to the formation of several communes throughout the United States.

 

So far, none of these ideas have fully worked. There seem to be inherent problems with all types of societal systems, whether they be communist, democratic, fascist, or something in between. And while I don't believe that any of us need to become communist, or fascist, or move to a hippie commune, I do feel that we need to invest time and energy into formulating a societal structure that works. What is this structure? Honestly, I don't know. But I would love to figure it out.

 

The Future

 

Humans are amazing creatures. We are beautiful, intelligent, innovative beings, and I know that we can solve the dilemmas that currently face us. In my opinion, part of the solution involves us doing more of what we love. And I guess that's why I'm so passionate about waking as many people up to their passions as possible. Excuse this grandiose comparison, but in the same way that Gandhi wanted to free the people of India from British rule, I want to free humanity from the societal belief systems that are currently holding us hostage (and making us miserable).

 

As Martha Beck says,

 

"The biggest mistake you can make is to accept your beliefs without challenging them, without applying the scientific method to see if they are, in fact, true. Many of us assume that we have to do things a certain way: ignore passion in favor of safer bets, act stoic amid inner turmoil, run on an upward trajectory of success and money acquisition at any emotional cost. But these are not rules. These are just theories that haven’t been tested."

 

Are you ready to test your beliefs?

 

Feel Like You Have To Do Everything Yourself? Expect Help Instead.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on December 18, 2013 at 9:00 PM

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In this video blog I share an important message for all of the control freaks out there (myself included!). Stop feeling like you have to take care of everything on your own - and expect help instead. Watch to learn more:

 

Six Lessons from the Biggest Transition of My Life

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on December 9, 2013 at 12:55 AM

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I've never been a fan of change. I tend to crave security and comfort, and I like to know what's coming next. So, when I received a job offer that involved moving hundreds of miles away from everything that made me feel safe and secure, I was scared. I was scared to move to a big city. Scared to dive back into a competitive work environment. Scared to sell my car, my house, and move into an apartment the size of a shoebox. Scared that I wouldn't make friends - and scared that I wouldn't be able to make ends meet financially.

 

At the same time, I was excited. Excited about the opportunity to do research on a topic that I'm passionate about (yoga). Excited to live in a city that holds space for culture and innovation. Excited to start fresh. Excited to travel and explore.

 

So, on December 7th, 2012, me, my husband, and our neurotic cat (along with most of our worldly possessions) hopped into a U-Haul and drove over 900Km to our new home in Boston. Here's a photo of us before we left:

 

 

 

One year later, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on some of the lessons I've learned over the past 12 months.

  1. Everything is Figure-Outable. This is one of Marie Forleo's favourite pieces of advice, and it definitely got me through many challenges over the past year. Living and working in another country (especially a country like the U.S., which tends to be very strict about immigration policies) can create a lot of red tape. Before I moved, I had to figure out many things, such as how to navigate the rental market in Boston (which can be a nightmare!), how to get my cat across the border, and how to get a visa. Once I arrived in the US, simple things like applying for a credit card or a new drivers license suddenly took weeks (or months). Trying to find my way through the work visa process, the American health system, and renew my passport took even longer. Even getting a validation sticker to allow my husband to park his car on our street took 7 months! During these situations, I would often get nervous and aggravated. I would wait in one line and sign one form, only to be told to get into a different line across town and sign a pile of new forms. However, now that I've emerged on the other side of much of this "administrivia," I've realized that a lot of my anxiety and aggravation were in vain. In the end, I was able to figure everything out, without any dire consequences. It just took a bit of patience. My Advice: Don't let your fears about not being able to figure things out keep you from following your heart.
     
  2. Self-Care Keeps You Sane. Moving to a big city has definitely been a jolt to my system. I'm very sensitive, meaning that things like loud noises, bright lights, and crowds can be very energetically draining. When I first moved here I felt like my senses were being assaulted. I couldn't handle things like being squeezed into the subway like a sardine, or the fact that my apartment overlooks a freeway that serves as a major artery to several hospitals (gifting me with the lovely sound of traffic  and ambulance sirens at all hours). This is when the importance of my yoga and meditation practice really hit home for me. I quickly realized that I felt seriously depleted if I didn't meditate every morning and do yoga every evening. These practices became a sacred time that allowed my body and mind to refuel from the hustle and bustle of the city. Sometimes I only have 10-15 minutes to practice - but whatever time I have, I take it. My Advice: Take a look at your life and notice the times of day when you feel particularly drained. See if you can implement a bit of self-care to recharge.
     
  3. We Don't Need So Much Stuff. Moving from a house to a tiny apartment meant that I had to get rid of a lot of clutter. I went from a walk-in closet the size of an entire bedroom to a tiny hole in the wall where I'm supposed to fit all of my clothes. I went from tons of storage space to almost none. Before we moved, I was scared that not only would my husband and I not have enough room for all of our possessions, but that we would kill each other from living in such close quarters. In the end, I was absolutely amazed at the amount of junk I'd been hoarding over the 7 years that I lived in my house, simply because I had the space for it. I was also amazed that two small bedrooms and 800 square feet felt like more than enough space for my little family. In a way, I actually feel like I have more space now because I got rid of so many things that I no longer needed. Plus, it only takes me an hour to clean my entire home! My Advice: Take a look at your life and notice where you might be holding on to things that no longer serve you. Make space.
     
  4. True Friends and Family Stay With You No Matter Where You Go. I have some really amazing friends and family back home. These are people with whom I've shared innumerable good times (and a few tears). One of the hardest things about moving was leaving these people behind and starting new in city where I barely knew a soul. At first I was afraid that my friends would forget about me, and that I'd be incapable of forging new bonds. But the past 12 months have taught me that the love that I share with my friends and family goes far beyond the limits of space and time. Our souls are connected in a way that allows us to jump right back into things every time we meet, even if it's been months since we last saw each other. Plus, I've managed to make several great new friendships here. My Advice: Don't let your fear of loneliness keep you from following your dreams. And, if your family or friends happen to disagree with your decision to make big changes, don't sweat it. This is your life, not theirs. As Wayne Dyer often says, "What other people think of you is none of your business."  
     
  5. There Is No Destination. Many people (myself included) fall into the trap of "I'll be happy when." You might think you'll be happy when you finally land the right job, or the right partner, or reach your ideal body weight. But the truth is that none of these external things will sustain your happiness over the long-term. The reason for this is that happiness is a choice. And true happiness comes from within. This might sound like woo-woo hogwash, but you don't have to look very far to realize that it's true. There are more than a handful of unhappy millionaires in the world - and an equal number of happy people who live in extreme poverty. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who was held in a concentration camp during World War 2, is a shining example of this principle. Frankl maintained that, even though his captors had taken everything away from him (including his wife, family, possessions, and freedom), the one thing that they couldn't take was his ability to choose how he felt in any given moment. He's often quoted as saying that his captors "can make me do anything, but they cannot make me hate them." In other words, his final remaining freedom was his choice to find happiness and meaning in his circumstances, no matter how dire. My Advice: If concentration camp survivors, and other people who have experienced horrendous tragedy, can choose happiness, you can, too. In the end, there is no destination. Instead, life is about the journey. It's been said that we don't only listen to the last note of a symphony - the power of the last note is experienced by listening to the entire composition.
     
  6. Tough Times = Growth. Every difficult aspect of my journey has actually been a blessing in disguise. Every insecurity, every sense of frustration, and every moment of sadness has taught me more about myself than I ever learned during the more comfortable periods of my life. My Advice: Ask yourself, "What are my current circumstances trying to teach me?" Then learn from the experience.

When friends and family ask me, "How are things in Boston?" My standard answer is that living here is both the easiest and the hardest thing I've ever done. It's easy because it feels like I'm serving the world in the way that I'm meant to serve, and my husband and I are happy here. It's hard because it's been a huge adjustment, and it's pushed me to grow outside of my comfort zone. But, in the end, that's what living an inspired life is all about. You push yourself, you grow, and you inspire others to do the same. You become the change you want to see in the world.

 

Tell me, has my journey over the past year inspired you? I'd love to hear from you on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bethany-Butzer-PhD-Mental-Health-Wellness-Advisor/117943314924607) or in the comments below!

What's Your Plan B?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 24, 2013 at 5:45 PM

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Around a year ago I moved to Boston to take a job as a research fellow at Harvard Medical School, where I study the effects of yoga on youth. My initial contract (and work visa) were for one year, so I told my family and friends that if, for whatever reason, the job didn't work out, I'd move back to Canada in 12 months. My contract is currently being renegotiated, and I have every reason to believe that it will get extended. Still, people keep asking me:

 

"What's next?"

 

My typical response involves staring at them like a deer in headlights, not knowing exactly what to say. Then I start to babble on about how my contract is probably going to get extended. For some reason this isn't a satisfactory answer for many people. So they reply,

 

"Ok, but then what are you going to do? Are you going to try to get a faculty position at Harvard? Are you going to write a new book? Are you going to teach yoga? Are you going to keep living in Boston?"

 

or

 

"What if your contract doesn't get extended? What's your Plan B?"

 

 

 

At this point I usually get even more flustered. I talk about various options that I might pursue in either of these two cases - but my answers always leave me feeling uncomfortable.

 

So, I decided to sit with these questions for a little while to try to figure out why they generate so much discomfort for me, and I came up with a couple of reasons that I think are closely linked to our human obsession with time.  

 

Being in the Moment

 

One of the main goals of the styles of yoga and meditation that I practice are to help bring my mind into the present moment. Like a form of mental exercise, I use yoga and meditation to train my mind to stop being so obsessed with the past and future, and to simply be in the now - regardless of whether right now is easy or difficult. So, when people ask me questions like "What's next" and "What's your Plan B," it takes me out of my present moment awareness. These questions remind me of how, as humans, we have a lot of trouble feeling satisfied. We're always wondering how to get better, faster, stronger - so much so that we often forget to notice all of the things that we have to be grateful for right now.

 

To be honest, part of me wants to scream,

 

"Isn't Harvard enough? Why do I already have to be thinking about what's next?"

 

Don't get me wrong - I do think that having plans and goals is important - but it's equally as important to be careful that we don't fall into the trap of being plan-obsessed (a trap that's had me in a headlock for most of my life). I've worked really hard to break myself out of this future-focused mentality - but when people ask me questions about what's next I snap right back into my old patterns.

 

Similarly, when people ask about my "Plan B," a large current of fear runs through my body. At first I barrage myself with scary thoughts like,

 

"Oh my god - I don't have a Plan B! If my contract doesn't get renewed I'm going to end up penniless and deported with no place to live. Why haven't I thought of a Plan B?"

 

But then, if I give myself the time to listen, the voice of my True Self starts to come through. It soothes my fear with thoughts like,

 

"Your next step will appear for you at the exact right time. Stop trying to control everything. Just keep doing your heart's work, and pay attention to the signs around you. You'll know exactly what to do when you need to do it."

 

My false self hates these types of wishy-washy thoughts. My false self wants to plan and control and have everything figured out. My false self is terrified. But my True Self knows the way. I just need to listen.

 

As an example, when I quit my corporate job over 3 years ago I didn't have a Plan B (or a business plan, or a golden parachute - or any type of parachute!). But my intuition was begging me to focus on what I loved. I knew I loved to write, so that's what I did. I wrote voraciously for 3 months and published my book. From there, doors started to open for me, and somehow, one way or another, I was always able to pay my bills and stay afloat. During this time I also started volunteering for the Harvard professor who is now my supervisor. If I'd let my fear over not having a Plan B keep me from quitting my job back then, I wouldn't be where I am now.

 

So, to everyone who is interested in my next steps, I'm sorry, but I don't have any answers for you. I know that your questions are coming from a place of love, interest, and curiosity about my life, so I'm sorry if my lack of answers is unsatisfying. I promise that you will find out the answers when I do - as they unfold in their own perfect timing. I've decided to live my life in a way that involves following my heart, which means that I don't always have everything figured out ahead of time. But then again, do any of us?

 

Why Your Stress Might Be a Blessing in Disguise

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 12, 2013 at 7:25 PM

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On October 30th, 2013 I woke up and started getting ready for work, but something didn't feel right. I felt utterly exhausted and very emotional. Tears kept welling up in my eyes for no reason, and all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and sleep all day. So, I did something that I rarely do. I called in sick.

 

Those who know me well know that this is very uncharacteristic of me. Left unchecked, I can be a workaholic. I could literally have pneumonia and I'd still decide to work from home if I had a big project due. My husband, who was in Canada at the time, was worried. He texted me to ask if I needed to talk. I texted back to say no, and proceeded to do some yoga. During my practice, I said a little prayer to the Universe. It went something like, "I don't know why I feel this way today, but I'm giving myself permission to feel. I surrender this day and ask that it turn out for my highest good." Afterwards I did some reading, ate lunch, and was about to take a nap when my husband called. I thought he was checking up on me, until he asked if I was sitting down.

 

I said yes, and he replied, "My mom passed away in my arms 30 minutes ago."

 

I was shocked. His mom had been battling cancer for over 2 years, but her passing was unexpected. My husband had been helping her walk to her car when she suddenly collapsed. She let out four breaths, and then she was gone.

 

When I heard the news, my mind started racing. I was in Boston - over 500 miles away from my husband and his family - and I didn't have a passport. My passport was held up in Canada - I'd been trying to renew it for months but the government kept rejecting my photos. I called the Canadian Embassy in Boston and pleaded my case. They told me that I'd be able to get into Canada with my birth certificate and driver's license, but that I wouldn't be able to get back into the US without a passport.

 

I called the Passport Canada office and they told me that they had (finally!) accepted my photos a few days ago, and that my passport was on it's way to Boston via Fedex - but that they weren't sure when it would arrive. I called Fedex, and they told me that they had already made 3 delivery attempts when I wasn't home, and that after this, they usually send the package back to the shipper.

 

Feeling defeated, I hung up, sat at my desk, and cried. This seemed like the icing on the cake of an already stressful couple of months. I was completely helpless. Many thoughts were whirling through my mind. Things like:

 

"I'm a terrible wife. I've been so focused on work lately while my husband has been dealing with so much with his family. And now I can't even be there to support him during his time of need."

 

"I'm a terrible daughter-in-law. The last time I saw my mother-in-law was in August, and I didn't get a chance to properly say good-bye."

 

At this point, I truly surrendered. Something inside of me shifted, and I accepted that, no matter how hard I try, there are some things in life over which I have no control. I spent the next few hours staring out my window, hoping that by some act of grace, a Fedex truck would arrive.

 

Believe it or not, at around 5:30pm, a Fedex truck pulled up outside. I ran downstairs to meet the driver who said, "Wow, you're really lucky. We don't usually make 4 delivery attempts, and we hardly ever deliver after 5pm, but for some reason this package was on my truck so I thought I'd try one last time to get it to you." I wanted to hug him. I started to cry (which made him leave in a hurry!) and thanked him profusely. Within 15 minutes I'd booked a flight to Canada for the next day, where I was able to spend several days with my husband and his family.

 

What does all of this have to do with stress being a blessing in disguise?

 

 

 

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about how, when I moved to Boston, I'd decided to rent out my house back in Canada. I ended up having horrible tenants who stopped paying their rent, which was extremely stressful for my husband and I. We finally had the tenants evicted, at which point we discovered that they had done over $5000 worth of damage to our house. The backyard no longer had grass (the lawn was entirely covered in 6-foot high weeds), there was graffiti in the garage, our hardwood floors were clawed and chewed from the tenants' dog, the carpets were ruined, and they had stolen our tools, fixtures, and furniture. We were furious and spent many sleepless nights either arguing over the situation or filling out legal paperwork. Ever since August we've been trying to pay our rent in Boston and our mortgage back home - which is no easy feat considering the extremely high cost of living in Boston. To top it all off, we had to spend 5 weeks apart while my husband completely renovated our house and prepared to sell it.

 

At the end of my previous blog I wrote, "I'm sure that after all of this is over, I'll have a great story for you that shows exactly why I needed to sell my house, and how it all worked out with perfect timing."

 

Well, this blog is that story. Why? Because guess what else my husband was doing while he was away for 5 weeks? Spending every day with his mom. He made her breakfast every morning and kissed her on the cheek every night before bed. He helped her wash her hair. He took her to doctor's appointments. They sat on her back porch overlooking lake Ontario and had long talks about life. He had a chance to ask her many questions that he'd always wanted to ask. When she got confused or scared, he comforted her.

 

Then, as she let out her final breaths, he whispered in her ear that we all loved her. He kissed her on the cheek one last time, and then he let her go.

 

If it wasn't for us going through the stress of having horrible tenants, my husband would have been in Boston when his mother passed away. He wouldn't have had a chance to spend very much time with her, and he would probably have regrets about it. And he wouldn't have been there to help his mom pass in a way that was comfortable and perfect for her.

 

Also, if I hadn't had so much stress at work, I wouldn't have called in sick that day, which means I wouldn't have been home to receive my passport. It would have gotten shipped back to Canada and who knows when I would have received it.

 

I know it's often said that hindsight is 20/20. In other words, some people might perceive this series of events as entirely coincidental. But, as I've said many times, I don't believe in coincidences. I truly believe that by listening to my intuition and giving in to what my body and mind needed on that day, I was able to be present and available for a very important event in my family's lives.

 

So, the next time you feel like you can't cope with all of the stress in your life, try to trust that everything is unfolding exactly as it's meant to. If nothing else, stress helps you grow. It helps you become stronger. And I can guarantee you that someday, perhaps soon, or maybe many years from now, you will look back and see exactly why you needed to go through what you're going through right now. After all, you never know what miracles are waiting for you down the line.

 

Surrender to this moment and know that you are being guided along your perfect path. As musician David Gray says, "Who knows what's waiting in the wings of time."

 

What might be waiting for you?

 

Make Room for Your Genius

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 27, 2013 at 10:15 AM

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I've been very busy lately. I launched a large yoga research project at a local school, I'm trying to sell my house, and I'm dealing with a host of personal and professional obstacles. And while there's nothing wrong with being busy, I've noticed a pattern that's been coming up for me - a pattern that I think many of us fall prey to.

 

Tell me, does your life look something like this?

 

Wake up with just enough time to get to work. Skip lunch because you have a meeting or phone call or appointment. Rush home from work so that you can make it to ____________ (fill in the blank with something like "the gym" or "my night course" or "my son's soccer game" or "hockey practice"). Get home with just enough time to flip through an hour of reality TV before you drag yourself to bed (or pass out on the couch).

 

If your life follows this pattern, don't worry, you're not alone. As a culture, many of us have been trained to fill our lives with busy-ness. But I would like to point out that, as Rich German often says, "Busy-ness is a form of denial." In other words, we often keep ourselves super busy because we are denying the work that really needs to be done. For example, maybe you need to spend time on some serious self-reflection so that you can figure out what it is that you actually want to be doing with your life. Or maybe you need to spend more time with your spouse. Or less time in front of the TV.

 

One of the most common issues that people raise when I talk to them about following their passion is that they don't know what their passion is. They say that they don't have any talents or hobbies, or that no one would pay them to do what they love to do. My question is, how on earth are you supposed to know what your passion is when you don't make any time to explore it? Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

 

"Insist on yourself. Never imitate. For your own talent you can present every moment with all the force of a lifetime's cultivation, but of the adopted stolen talents of anybody else you have only a frigid brief extempore half-expression."

 

In this TED talk, author Elizabeth Gilbert describes how some ancient philosophers believed that creativity comes from a divine spirit within each of us. The Greeks called this spirit a daemon, while the Romans called it a genius. In other words, instead of forcing ourselves to create by keeping ourselves busy with classes, books, and TV, we need to make space for creativity to move through us. You need to create an environment in which your muse (or daemon, or genius) feels comfortable enough to enter and inspire.

 

I'd like you to take a moment to think about what this optimal, muse-attracting environment looks like for you. When do you feel most inspired? Is it when you're playing an instrument? Or writing? Or spending time with your family? Now compare this environment to the way that you're currently living your life. Do you make room for your inspiration? Or do you pack your calendar so full that you don't have have time for anything else? Perhaps your genius is sitting patiently, just on the edge of your consciousness, hoping to eventually be let in.

 

Make room for her.

 

When I ponder these questions in relation to my own life, I notice a few things. First, I feel most inspired when I'm in nature. I do my best to spend as much time as I can outdoors, but sometimes I treat this time as something to check off my To Do list. I'm happy to give myself time outside, but then I feel like I need to fill that time with something. I can't just go for a walk - I need to be walking to a specific spot to read a book or have a picnic or write a blog. I can't just lay back and stare at the clouds, because that means I'm not accomplishing anything.

 

The same pattern often happens when I make time for meditation or yoga. I meditate and/or do yoga almost every day, but sometimes these practices have become so routine that I go through them without really being present. My mind is often elsewhere, thinking about all the work I need to do. There's no space for my genius to enter when my mind is preoccupied with the trivialities of day to day life.

 

I think that the most insidious form of busy-ness occurs when we overbook our calendars because we're denying a core truth - usually because we're afraid of what that truth is trying to tell us. For example, you might be keeping yourself busy with work and friends to avoid the fact that you aren't happy in your relationship. Or you might be signing up for too many extracurricular activities because when you spend time at home alone, you realize that you really need to quit your job or deal with some of your personal issues - but you're too scared.

 

What's the answer to this predicament?

 

Make room for your genius.

 

 

 

Spend time alone. No agenda. No To Do list. Nothing set in stone. Grab a journal and a snack, hop in your car, and drive without knowing where you're going. Spend an entire day in a state of flow - where you do whatever comes up for you in that moment. Spend an hour looking at the stars. Go on a solo camping trip or vacation. Turn off your phone. No TV. No internet. Go an entire 24 hours without speaking.

 

Some of these things might sound scary. As someone who's done everything on this list, I can assure that sometimes they are. At first, your mind will be racing, "Give me something to do! Give me something to do!" But if you give yourself some time to sit with the discomfort of doing nothing, eventually your thoughts will calm down and you will make room for your muse. Most of my best ideas, blogs, personal transformations, and life altering decisions have come from engaging in these types of activities.

 

So I ask, What do you need to do to make room for your genius?

 

Is Your Commute Compromising Your Soul?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 6, 2013 at 4:10 PM

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Selling my car and moving to a big city means that I now ride the bus and subway a lot. Early in the morning, still half asleep, I greet my fellow commuters in the noise and bustle of public transit. For most people, this would be an everyday occurrence that wouldn't incite much thought or contemplation. But for me, the morning commute is much different.

 

As I gaze around at people's long, pale faces, bags under their eyes, heads buried in their iPhones, three emotions wash over me. First sadness, then anger, then love.

 

 

 

Let's start with emotion #1. I feel sad because not one of my fellow commuters looks happy. Every single person seems to be dreading wherever it is that they're going. They want more sleep, more time with their friends and family, and less time on the train. They use their phones to distract themselves from the fact that they are dissatisfied with their lives. Sure, they're comfortable. They make enough money to get by and have what some would call a "good life" - but they're miserable. What they really want to be doing on Monday morning is practicing with their band or working on a novel or hugging their kids.

 

This is the part where I get angry. Why?
 

Because I believe that it's a serious injustice to humanity that so many of us are living this way.

 

Some people get riled up about world hunger or saving the environment or child poverty. For whatever reason, I was put on this earth to get riled up about the morning commute and everything that it stands for. My question is, why do the majority of us live like this? Why do we spend time every day at jobs we hate, when our souls are begging us to do otherwise?

 

Many people say it's a money thing. If you don't work, you can't live. And while I agree that it can be financially difficult to follow an alternative route (trust me, I've done it - and I'm still doing it!), is it really better to have money but be miserable? What if we tried to live more simply? Instead of constantly accumulating stuff, we could live with less and feel like we have more. Smaller house. Fewer cars. Less brand names. More love. Greater passion. Heightened satisfaction.

 

I wonder what the world would look like if, instead of worshiping the 9 to 5, all of us actually did what our souls are asking us to do. Or, if we don't know what our souls are asking us to do, we spent time figuring out the answer. Is it possible that humanity might be even further along than we are now? Maybe we would have cured cancer by now because the first year med student who started school with a passion to help others wouldn't have dropped out based on feeling too much pressure to perform academically. Maybe the American population wouldn't be suffering from astronomical rates of mental illness, obesity, and a host of other issues, because people would feel free.

 

I think that as a species, we've made amazing progress and innovation. But I also believe that we've been focusing way too heavily on our scientific and technological evolution. We need to start paying less attention to the evolution of our gadgets and more attention to the evolution of our souls. So many of us walk around in a haze, just trying to get through the day-to-day details of our lives, that we never stop to ask, "Why am I doing this?" "Do I enjoy what I'm doing?" "Does this work bring out my highest good?" "Does this work help me serve both myself and the world?"

 

I've been reading a biography about Ralph Waldo Emerson that I find absolutely fascinating. Emerson lived during the 1800s, before TVs, computers, and iPhones had a chance to take up so much of everyone's time. So, what did Emerson do during his free time? He read. And he read voraciously. He studied Plato, Kant, Hume, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Goethe, Marcus Aurelius, Herschel, and more. He read philosophy, poetry, science, religion, and everything in between. And he ended up starting a movement that some consider America's "Intellectual Declaration of Independence." Importantly, Emerson started out, as many young men do, by following in the footsteps of his father, who was a minister. Emerson went to Harvard Divinity School and was quite successful as a preacher. But he eventually left the church - much to the disappointment of his family - because his soul was urging him to do something else.

 

What if Emerson hadn't had the courage to leave his comfortable life? What if Gandhi had decided to continue practicing as a small-scale lawyer? What if Leonardo da Vinci had never finished the Mona Lisa? What if Nelson Mandela had stopped sharing his message because he was afraid of going to prison? What if Rosa Parks had moved to the back of the bus?

 

My point here is that living a life that's true to yourself takes courage. It requires a constant checking in with your soul. And, it often requires leaving a life that feels comfortable for a life that feels scary. This is how true change happens in the world - by us changing ourselves first. Thomas Carlyle said,

 

"To reform a world, to reform a nation, no wise man will undertake. All but foolish men know, that the only solid, though a far slower reformation, is what each begins and perfects in himself."

 

How many more Gandhis, Mandelas, and Parks' would we have if more of us were paying attention to what we were put on this earth to do? Your purpose might not be something as grandiose as curing cancer or leading a revolution - but maybe your decision to stay home to raise your family means that your son or daughter gets the love, attention, and self-confidence they need to one day go on to lead a revolution themselves.

 

This brings me to the third feeling that I often experience during my morning commute: love. After I'm done feeling sad and angry, love simply starts to pour through me. I look tenderly at the college student who's stressing out about taking an exam to get a degree that her parents are pressuring her into - instead of traveling around Europe which is what she really wants to be doing. I want to hug the middle aged man who is glued to his phone to catch the latest stock market numbers. I smile at the working mother who is trying to get her son to preschool on time so that she can make it to work by 8am to deliver a major presentation. At this point, part of me wants to break out into some sort of a flashmob dance or lecture where I inspire people to spend this day doing something that makes their soul sing. Screw exams, stocks, and presentations. Life is too short. And I can guarantee that if, in that moment, our train was about to collide with another, none of these people would be thinking about school, Wall Street, or work. Musician David Gray put it perfectly:

 

For all that we struggle

For all we pretend
It don't come down to nothing

Except love in the end
And ours is a road

That is strewn with goodbyes

But as it unfolds

As it all unwinds

Remember your soul is the one thing

You can't compromise.

 

So my question to you is this: Where are you compromising your soul? What is the gift that you have that is dying to be shared with the world? Don't downplay your gifts. They are needed - no matter how mundane they might seem to you right now.

 

As for me, I'm on a journey that involves listening to my soul, and doing what it asks, no matter how scary or difficult. I invite you to do the same.

 

A Tool To Get Through Tough Times

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 2, 2013 at 7:25 PM

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September has been a very tough month for me. Watch this video blog to learn about one of the main tools that I'm using to cope. (My apologies for the loud wind in the background!).

 

 

How to Cope With Unwanted Change

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 8, 2013 at 6:30 PM

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It's often said that the only constant in life is change. And while change is very common, it's not always easy. I've experienced a lot of change over the past year. I changed jobs, moved to a new country, and gave up almost everything that made me feel safe and secure - except for three things: my husband, my cat, and my house. When figuring out what to do with all of our possessions before we moved, my husband and I decided to keep our house as an investment property. We rented it out and enjoyed the idea of someone paying our mortgage for us.

 

That is, until our tenant stopped paying her rent.

 

What ensued has been nothing short of a nightmare full of angry phone calls, sleepless nights, and legal paperwork. Last week our tenant broke her lease and left us with a vacant house in desperate need of some TLC. And, after much consideration, we've decided to sell the house - a change that I'm not completely comfortable with.

 

Throughout this process I realized that I've been using my house as a security blanket. Why? Because it's the final thing tying me to my old life. I owned that house for 7 years, and I always figured that if things didn't work out for me in Boston, I would move back there. I got married while living there. I got my PhD while living there. I found out my parents were splitting up while living there. I went through my stepfather's death while living there. I started jobs, ended jobs, started my own business, stepped back from my business. In that house I hosted parties, had friends over for BBQs, smiled, laughed, cried, and everything in between. Now, the walls are dirty, the floors are wrecked, there's graffiti in the garage, and the backyard is a pile of weeds. (Time for some renos!)

 

Part of me is crying, "No, no, no - you can't give this up! This is your home. You belong here."

 

Another part of me is arguing, "Let it go. It's just a physical possession. You have a new life, a new place to be."

 

But who am I without my old life?

 

 

 

Here's another example. I've had my belly button pierced since I was in my early 20s. Back then, I felt rebellious and cool. When I met my husband, however, he told me that he wasn't really into piercings or tattoos. So, as a compromise, I made my piercing smaller, but I always kept it. Well, yesterday my piercing somehow made its way out of my belly button and fell into the toilet at work. For a brief moment I panicked and actually considered reaching into the toilet to get it. Thankfully, my rational brain took over and I flushed it away. This morning I looked at my belly in the shower and I felt so strange. It feels like part of me is gone, but I'm not sure whether it's a part of me that I'm going to replace. Interestingly, today I also came across an article by one of my friends in which she explains how she feels her piercings were getting in the way of her prana/energy flow. A sign, perhaps?

 

Still, part of me feels like a snake that's being forced to shed it's skin before it's ready. Perhaps you feel the same way. Maybe your lover left you, or you got laid off. Whatever change you're going through, here are some tools that are helping me cope:

 

  1. Surrender & Trust. When my mind gets bogged down in all of the details around selling my house, I try to make a conscious effort to stop, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and surrender. I need to trust that this situation is working out for my highest good, even if I can't figure out exactly how. Sometimes, when we're stuck in our old ways, the universe forces our hand. In other words, it makes decisions for us that we might not have had the courage to make ourselves.
     
  2. Open to possibilities. I know this is horribly cliche, but I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. And when I look at it rationally, selling my house opens up a lot of possibilities for me. I'll be able to pay off my student loans and enjoy some financial comfort. I won't have to worry about maintaining my property. It means there is nothing physical tying me to my old city - which means I can choose to live anywhere. There might even be possibilities opening up for me that I'm not aware of yet. The point is to stay open to whatever is coming.
     
  3. Affirm. Another tool that's been helping with my stress is affirmations. Two that I've been using quite a bit are: "Everything is always working out for me" (by Cheryl Richardson) and "All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this situation, only good will come, and I am safe" (by Louise Hay). Saying these words tends to shift my energy from panicked to relaxed.

 

I'm sure that after all of this is over, I'll have a great story for you that shows exactly why I needed to sell my house, and how it all worked out with perfect timing. Until then, I'm doing my best to be the nonjudgemental witness of my experience. I'm using my discomfort as a tool that's teaching me more about myself.

 

What about you? Are you going through a change that's uncomfortable? What tools are you using to cope? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Stop Buying Into This Lie

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 25, 2013 at 10:40 AM

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Many people today are buying into a very big lie. A lie that I would like to call, "The way of the rational." Over the past few hundred years, humanity has made astounding innovations and progress, largely due to what has come to be known as the scientific method. The scientific method is very, very rational. It goes something like this: You come up with an idea, test that idea using rigorous standards, and begin accepting that idea as it gets proven over and over through multiple studies. The scientific method relies on statements like, "Don't believe it unless you see it." The logical, rational brain is given supreme power, and if you dare mention anything that's considered "out there" or "woo woo" you will be laughed out of your lab (and perhaps out of a tenure-track position).

 

For the vast majority of my adult life, I've been living by these rational standards. I was trained as a research scientist, and I was taught to trust my logical mind above all else. I think that many people, regardless of whether you have a PhD or not, have been raised with similar values. This obsession with rational thought has brought us many luxuries, scientific breakthroughs, and innovations, however I also believe that it has caused us to stray too far from our True Self. In other words, we are worshiping our brains and ignoring our hearts.

 

 

 

Cheryl Richardson put it perfectly:   

 

"For too long I bought into a lie. You might be doing it, too. We've been taught to believe that ignoring [the wise voice within] will insure our safety, bring certainty, and allow us to maintain a comfortable, easy place in life. But ignoring your inner voice doesn't bring these things. It brings inertia, despair, and apathy - the kind of slow, soul murder that eats away at desire."

 

Have you been buying into this lie? I sure did. When I finished school, I chose a logical job that brought me everything I was supposed to want: a great paycheck, 9 to 5 stability, a house, a car, and a short commute. Within a few months, however, I started to feel what Cheryl describes so beautifully: inertia, despair, and apathy. Talk about soul murder! Don't get me wrong - I learned a lot of skills from that job that I still apply in my work today - but ignoring my inner voice by staying at that company for almost 2 years really took a toll on my mental health and well-being.

 

Listening to my inner voice, on the other hand, caused me to do some pretty irrational things. I quit my job and lived off of my savings for 6 months. I self-published a book and started a health and wellness business that combined the 4 things that I love to do: Writing, Speaking, Research, and Yoga. Within a couple of weeks of leaving my job, my inertia, despair, and apathy were gone. The process wasn't easy, but it was worth it. 

 

The "way of the rational" is so pervasive in our culture that many times we don't even realize that this lie has us in a headlock. How many times have you thought to yourself, "I would love to do X. But there's no way I would make enough money to live. Besides, what would my friends and family think?" Feeling defeated, you order a triple espresso to get you through the day, and then head back to your cubicle to surf Facebook and get jealous about other people's lives.

 

The good news is that many of us are starting to wake up. There's a movement happening, and if you're reading this blog, you're part of it. (Welcome!). What is this movement, you ask? We are a group of people who have had enough of the lie. Even if your life doesn't look perfect right now, you are working on it. How? By reading newsletters like this. By starting to listen to your True Self. By starting to pay attention to that part of you that knows you deserve better.

 

This is one of the main reasons why I do what I do. I refuse to believe that any of us deserves to live a substandard life. I refuse to believe that my rational brain has all of the answers. Because when I follow my heart, miracles happen. Doors open for me that used to be walls. Even when life gets hard, I've started to be able to tap into the calming energy of my True Self, which can get me through anything. My goal is to be a catalyst to help you to do the same.

 

So, I'd like to leave you with a question:

 

What lies are you currently buying into?

 

Are you telling yourself that you have no talents? That no one would ever pay you to do what you love? That you're too old to follow your passion? That the world is a cruel place? That you'll never lose that last 10 pounds? That you're too ugly to find your soulmate? That your brain has all the answers, not your heart?

 

The first step to listening to your True Self is to clearly identify the lies that are coming from your false self. Then, take action, no matter how small, toward what feels True. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

 

"Don't be too timid or squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better." 

 

Feel Ugly? Watch This.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 7, 2013 at 7:40 PM

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In this video blog I bare it all - no makeup, unwashed hair, in the middle of a field - to share why you need to stop worrying so much about what you look like. Watch below:

 

 

 

 

 

5 Tips to Be Busy and Healthy at the Same Time

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 20, 2013 at 1:50 PM

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Last week was a tough one for me. I was preparing to go on vacation - which was a good thing - but I had so much to do before I left that I felt completely overwhelmed. My brain was racing a million miles per minute, and my To Do list kept growing exponentially. Toward the end of the week, I forced myself to stop and take a moment to evaluate my thoughts and behavior. I realized that I'd allowed many of my old habits to sneak in: rumination, insecurity, obsession with my dayplanner, skipping yoga, worrying about being imperfect, and a general sense of unease that was permeating my entire being.

 

 

 

 

Luckily, this self-awareness allowed me to quickly implement several personal development tools that I've been working with for years. I've summarized these tools into 5 tips to help you be busy and healthy at the same time:

  1. Learn how to say no. This skill is huge. If you say yes to every task that comes across your desk, you will not only feel overwhelmed, but the quality of all of your work will  suffer. You will also have to kiss much of your social life and hobbies goodbye. A good way to learn how to say no is to begin by prioritizing. What tasks absolutely need to get done? What tasks are you saying yes to even though a little voice in the pit of your stomach is knotting up and saying no? What tasks do you enjoy the most? The key is to find a balance between these three questions and not be afraid to say no that the things that aren't serving you.
     
  2. Plan ahead. People will often say that they can't eat healthy or exercise or meditate because they don't have time. In response to this issue, Gabby Bernstein often says, "Well, do you have time to feel like crap?" In other words, we spend a lot of time doing unhealthy things that make us feel crappy. With a little bit of advance planning, I guarantee that you can fit self-care into even the busiest schedule. As an example, Thursdays are very busy days for me. I work from 8:30am-5pm, and then I have an evening poetry class from 5:30-7:30pm. By the time I get home, it's usually around 8-9pm. My secret weapon on days like this is to plan ahead. On Wednesday evenings, I prepare my breakfast, lunch, and dinner for Thursday. This keeps me from giving in to the urge to stop at fast food joints for meals. I wake up at 6:30am on Thursdays to make sure I have time to meditate before starting my day, and when I get home, I do a quick (15-20 minute) yoga practice and make sure I don't do anything work-related before bed.
     
  3. Slow down. Have you ever noticed that when you're really busy, things often cascade into negativity? For example, you might drop a pile of important papers down the stairs, then a half hour later you stub your toe and drop your cell phone into the toilet. Then your computer freezes and you lose a bunch of your work. These events often happen because we're feeling flustered and moving too fast. The key here is to slow down. Pay attention to what you're doing. Move slowly and purposefully. When I find myself rushing, I'll often say something to myself like, "I have plenty of time to get where I'm going." Author Stephen Cope recently provided me with a great example of the power of going slowly. Stephen and I were having lunch, and we'd both ordered tea. As we poured our tea, we quickly realized that the little silver tea pots that the restaurant had provided were leaking everywhere. I started to feel flustered, because I was spilling tea everywhere and making a big mess in front of an author that I really admire. I wanted to get the situation over with as soon as possible, so I poured my tea as quickly as I could - which resulted in water all over my side of the table. When I looked up, Stephen was still pouring his tea - excruciatingly slowly - and he wasn't spilling a drop. As soon as he recognized that the tea was spilling when he poured quickly, he decided to slow down. His patience resulted in less mess (and some embarrassment on my part!).
     
  4. Keep things in perspective. As I stood waiting for the bus last week, a woman in a wheelchair started making conversation with me. I've seen her around my neighborhood a few times, and she's always very pleasant. I immediately thought, "This woman has no legs, and she's one of the most pleasant people I've ever met. What the hell do I have to be stressed about?" I then felt the stress draining from my body. Remember, stress is largely about perception. You can't choose what happens to you, but you always have a choice about how you react to what happens to you. Choose peace.
     
  5. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. When life gets busy, sometimes we just need to let go of our standards. I had high hopes of getting a ton of things done before I left for vacation. Did I check everything off of my To Do list? No. Will the world end? No. We often set impossible standards for ourselves, and then hold ourselves to those standards like we're holding someone hostage. The reality is that in many cases, the rest of the world won't even notice that you didn't check everything off of your list, because they're too obsessed with their list. So let go. By implementing these 5 steps in my life last week, I was able to leave work on Friday at 5pm feeling mentally and physically healthy, stress-free, and excited for my vacation. The next time you start feeling overwhelmed, try implementing 1 or 2 of these tips and let me know how it goes.

 

Now I'm going to give myself permission to write a shorter blog than usual so that I can enjoy my time off! Bon Voyage :-)

 

What Are You Hiding?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 10, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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There's a pond across the street from my apartment. It's like a little oasis in the middle of the city, with a tree-lined path that wraps its way around the entire perimeter. Even though the pond is small, the path around it spans two zip codes. One half of the loop is in a fairly prestigious neighbourhood, with lots of million-dollar houses and fancy cars. The other half of the path is in a less prestigious area, where, if you travel a few miles, you'll come across low-income housing and streets that you wouldn't want to walk on at night.

 

I walk around the pond a lot - it only takes around 15 minutes - and it's a great way to get my nature fix. I've noticed that the side of the pond that's located in the prestigious zip code is always well-kept. The lawn is manicured, the flower beds are mulched, the path is paved, and benches provide a lovely view of the water. The other side of the pond, while still picturesque, is not as well-maintained. The grass is a little longer, there aren't any flower beds, the path is gravel, and there are no benches.

 

I've also noticed that when people from the fancy zip code go for a walk, they don't actually walk around the entire pond. They stay on their side - even in the middle of the day. Instead of completing the entire loop, they walk back and forth in a line on one side.

 

(Here's a lovely photo that I took of the pond):

 

 

 

I recently realized that this pond provides a perfect analogy for our inner lives. Most of us have aspects of ourselves that we take good care of. We feed these parts of ourselves in the same way that a gardner might fertilize her flower beds. However, most of us also have parts of ourselves that we neglect. These are the weeds of our psyche, knotting around each other in the jungle of our unconscious.

 

I think that in order to maintain optimal mental and physical health, we need to walk around the entire pond. In other words, we need to pay attention to the parts of ourselves that we would rather neglect (or forget). For example, something might have happened in your childhood that you are refusing to work through because it's too painful to bring up. Or you might be extremely narcissistic, but completely oblivious to how your behaviour affects others because you're too afraid to acknowledge your faults.

 

Philosophers and psychologists have used various terms to describe the parts of our personalities that we ignore (or actively suppress). My favourite term is the shadow. That is, we all have a shadow side that lives just beneath the surface of our conscious awareness. Left untended, our shadow can wreak havoc on our personal and professional lives. For example, your childhood trauma might be replaying itself in your romantic relationships, or your self-obsession might be getting in the way of you making good friends.

 

Personally, I found that it wasn't until I started to acknowledge - and embrace - my shadow side that I really started to heal.

 

I used to wear a lot of masks. I wanted everyone around me to think that I was perfect - the perfect student, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect daughter. I would put on whatever mask I needed to wear to make the people around me happy. I didn't want anyone to know that I struggled with anxiety and depression. I didn't want anyone to know that I was extremely insecure. And I sure as hell didn't want anyone to know that I popped antidepressants every day to feel sane.

 

At the time, I saw my shadow side as a monster, lurking beneath my well-kept facade, waiting to come forward to destroy the image I'd worked so hard to maintain. However, after years of therapy, I realized that my shadow was the key to my transformation. I needed to make friends with my shadow, to acknowledge it, to invite it to dinner and have a long conversation over a glass of wine. Only then would I begin to heal myself, and therefore be able to help heal the world.

 

The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas asserts,

 

"If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, it will destroy you."

 

By bringing forth my shadow, I've been able to save myself and others, too.

 

What does this look like from a practical standpoint? As an example, in the past, I was terrified about feeling sad or anxious. I thought that these emotions meant that I was going crazy, and that I needed to be on medication. Now, I try to give myself permission to actually experience my anxiety and sadness, instead of pushing these feelings out of the way. I try to have compassion for myself and realize that it's ok to feel how I feel. I'll have a good cry, or let myself worry for a little while, and eventually the feeling just passes through. When I try to suppress these feelings, on the other hand, they tend to pop back up with a vengeance far stronger than if I had just allowed myself to feel them in the first place.

 

By acknowledging my shadow, I developed the courage to write a book about my experience with antidepressants. This book has helped many people deal with their own anxiety and depression, and get off medication that has held them hostage for years.

 

I encourage you to take a moment to think about what aspects of your personality scare you. What parts of your being are you suppressing? What aren't you admitting to yourself? What aren't you allowing yourself to feel? As Gabby Bernstein often says, "You have to feel it to heal it."

 

Are you afraid of failing? Of not being good enough? Of being fat? Skinny? Whatever it is, invite this part of your personality to the table for a glass of wine. Dim the lights and get comfortable. Then, start asking questions. Ask your shadow,

 

"What can I learn from you?"

"What are you trying to teach me?"

"How can you help me heal?"

 

Listen to what your shadow has to say. Your shadow is a deep, wise part of yourself that has been neglected for a very long time. She has battle wounds, scars, and a vast knowledge of the most intimate aspects of your personality. Let her in. Pay attention.

 

And don't be afraid to walk around the entire pond.

 

Everyone Has Their Shit

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 25, 2013 at 6:20 PM

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Here’s a secret about me. Left unchecked, I can be pretty selfish. I tend to get caught up in my own little world of busy-ness – and I very rarely allow anything to get in my way. On the one hand, this had led to a great deal of personal and professional success. On the other hand, it means that sometimes I put my needs ahead of others’, even when people need me.

 

 

Lately I’ve been working on this aspect of my personality by reminding myself that everyone has their shit.

 

 

In other words, the elderly woman who is taking forever in the grocery line in front of me might have arthritis, which is keeping her from quickly counting her change. The man who cuts me off on the highway might have just received a fatal diagnosis. The woman who butts in front of me to get on the subway might have just gotten a divorce.

 

 

When I get angry at these types of people, it’s often because of an underlying assumption that my life is more important than theirs. I need to get my groceries quickly so that I can get home to make dinner on time. I need to get where I’m going because people are expecting me. I need to get to work quickly because I have a lot to do.

 

 

A couple of months ago I attended a lecture at the research hospital near my office. As I was trying to find my cell phone in my bag, a man walked by me. We made eye contact, and I smiled at him, because he reminded me of my father-in-law. He looked kind of angry, and I hoped that he was ok.

 

 

On my way out of the hospital, this same man was walking a few feet ahead of me. He crossed the street, and then collapsed on the other side of the road. In the millisecond between when he fell and when I noticed his fall, I did something very strange.

 

 

I looked away.

 

 

When I looked back one second later, a nurse was helping him. When I got to his side of the street, I noticed that he was conscious, but he had blood on the side of his head from the fall.

 

 

I was glad that he was getting help. But my initial reaction to his fall bothered me. Why did I look away? Was it because I was in a rush to get home so that I could get my work done? Was it because I don't have first aid skills so I wasn't sure how to help him? Was it because I have trouble acknowledging the pain and suffering of others? What would I have done if I'd witnessed him collapse on an empty street, where I was the only person available to help?

 

 

I don't know.

 

 

Here's what I do know. Everyone around me has a life that they believe is as important – if not more important – than mine. By invoking a bit of kindness and patience, I can do my part to make life better for everyone.

 

 

 

 

Here’s an example. A woman in my apartment building is currently struggling with MS. She walks with a cane, and in the 6 months that I’ve lived here I’ve noticed that her health has been getting worse. In the early spring she fell on some ice and broke her wrist. She lives alone so she has trouble carrying things up the two flights of stairs to her apartment. But she is the sweetest, kindest lady. She’s always smiling and she always says hi to me.

 

 

When I see her, I often have mixed feelings. I hold the door open for her, and every once in awhile we'll have a quick chat. The selfish part of me wants the chat to be as quick as possible. Because, as I noted above, I often mistakenly think that my life is more important than everyone else's.

 

 

My husband, on the other hand, always makes a point to talk with her for awhile. He carries her groceries and parcels upstairs for her. The other day he knocked on her door to give her his cell phone number. He told her to call him anytime she arrives with groceries so that he can go downstairs to help her.

 

 

I had tears in my eyes when he told me he had done this.

 

 

His act of kindness was generous, simple, and selfless. I, on the other hand, would probably never have given our neighbour my cell number, because I wouldn't want to be "bothered" while I'm working. So, in an effort to be more generous, I knocked on her door and gave her some strawberries that I had picked earlier that day. The selfish, lack-based aspect of my personality wouldn't have given her those berries. It would have convinced me that I didn't have enough for myself (even though I'd picked 15 pounds of them!). But the look on her face when I handed the berries to her completely dissolved my sense of lack.

 

 

These small, simple acts of kindness can make a huge difference in people's lives.

 

 

Sometimes, people's shit is obvious. When a person collapses in front of you or walks with a cane, it's easy to see that they need help. Other times, people keep their shit hidden. In my opinion, the hidden shit is the hardest to deal with.

 

 

When someone butts in front of me in the subway, my gut reaction isn't to consider what else is going on in their lives. In that moment, I'm pissed, and I don't care what they might be going through. To be honest, my gut reaction is usually that the person is a jerk.

 

 

This is why lately I've been trying to see the bigger picture. I've been trying to acknowledge that we all have out shit. Even the people who look like they have it all together are usually suffering over something.

 

 

This week, I encourage you to show a little compassion. Do something nice for your neighbour. Pay for the person behind you at the drive thru. Smile at someone who looks like they're in a bad mood. Can you imagine what the world would be like if every single person on earth engaged in one act of compassion per day?

 

How to Have More Fun

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 4, 2013 at 7:35 PM

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In this video blog I share a few tips to bring more fun into your life. If you feel like you're taking life too seriously, watch this. And check out my amazing hula hooping skills!

 

 

 

 

Career vs. Calling. Is there a Difference?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on May 19, 2013 at 10:45 AM

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There's much talk these days about finding your calling. Many people in the self-help world (myself included) sell books, products, and advice on how to do what you're meant to do with your life. Many of us have a sense that we are meant to be doing something important - but we can't seem to figure out exactly what.

 

This can lead to feelings of failure. A sense that if you haven't found your calling by age 25, you're done. It's like the dharma gods are going to come down from the sky to tell you that your life has been a complete waste. "Look at the gifts we've given you!" They'll say. "Why aren't you using them?"

 

 

 

In an effort to avoid feeling like a failure, many of us try to force our calling to be our career. You might go back to school to get a Fine Arts degree, in order to somehow legitimize your creative gifts. You tell yourself that the degree will help you turn your calling into a career.

 

But what if I told you that calling does not always have to equal career?

 

In other words, maybe you aren't meant to make millions with your gifts. Maybe you're meant to work part-time at McDonalds so that you can live out your true calling, which is to be of service to others by volunteering at a soup kitchen or coaching your daughter's hockey team. Marianne Williamson put it perfectly:

 

"Jobs come and go, but a calling is something you were given the moment you were born. You can lose a job, but you can't lose your calling."

 

Let's face it. We live in a consumerist society. This money-mindset often causes us to look into the financial implications of absolutely everything - especially the financial implications of how we spend our time. We've been taught to believe that we should all be striving for a situation in which we make money doing what we love. If your passion doesn't lead to a hefty paycheck, it's viewed as a waste of time. This unfortunate situation causes many people to forgo their passion for a more "practical" path, which ultimately leads to regret.

 

People often look at my career and say, "Wow, you are a perfect example of someone who is living their calling! You love yoga, you love science, and you're getting paid to study the science of yoga." While this is all very true, there are other things that I like to do. I love being in nature. I love riding my bike. I love music. I love poetry. I love movies. I love spending time with friends. I love writing blogs. I love talking about deep topics. I love helping people.

 

My career involves some of these things, but not all of them. From Monday to Friday, I spend most of my time at a computer, not outside. I don't get to write blogs or poetry or ride my bike as often as I would like. Sometimes I feel trapped in my office. I know that the work that I'm doing is important, but is it my calling?

 

I'm still not sure.

 

Perhaps my calling is to travel along this path of uncertainty, so that I can show others that it's ok to do the same. A vedic astrologer recently told me that I'm a trailblazer - that my life is meant to be intense and uncertain, and that the intensity is probably never going to let up. She said that I need to learn to live with being somewhat uncomfortable, because my discomfort inspires other people to avoid using comfort as a crutch.

 

Maybe I'm meant to continue bucking against the 9 to 5 grind, and living with the uncertainty that comes with a non-9-to-5-lifestyle, so that I can learn that my career doesn't have to be my calling. Maybe my calling is to learn how to relax more, love more, and live more, so that I can inspire others to do the same.

 

I encourage you to spend a bit of time contemplating your calling. A word of warning though. At first, try to completely release the idea that your calling has to bring you an income. Ask yourself a few questions, such as:

 

  • What do you love to do?
  • If you could do 1 thing for the rest of your life, but never get paid for it, what would you do?
  • When do you get into a state of "flow?" (Flow involves a number of things, such as losing track of time and being completely enraptured by an activity)
  • What do people often ask for your help with?
  • When you're in a bad mood, what types of healthy activities make you feel better?
  • What lights you up?
  • What could you talk about for hours and hours?
  • What types of facts and information do you love learning about, even if no one pays you for it?
  • What gives you happy butterflies in your stomach?

 

When answering these questions, the conversation in your mind often goes something like this:

 

"What do I love to do? Hmmmm..."

"Well, I love traveling the world, sitting on patios in foreign places, and drinking sangria."

"But wait, no one is ever going to pay me to do that. Who gets paid to travel and drink?"

 

Please, whatever you do, avoid the "But wait" part of this mental exercise. Because guess what? Lots of people get paid to travel the world and drink! Food critics, actors, and restaurant bloggers are just a few examples. Open your mind to alternative ways of living your calling - and remember that money doesn't have to factor into it. You can have a great career doing something that doesn't light you up inside, but that pays the bills, so that you have the financial freedom to pursue your calling on the side.

 

What do you think? Does career = calling? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this dilemma.

 

As for me, I'm still treading the muddy waters of passion, paycheck, and purpose. Hopefully as I learn from my path, you will, too.

 

Mind Over Medicine: Q&A With Dr. Lissa Rankin

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on May 6, 2013 at 7:35 PM

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There are a lot of things I like about Lissa Rankin. Not only is she honest and vulnerable in her mission to help others heal their bodies, but she is also extremely knowledgeable and backs up her opinions with solid research. As an M.D., she spent years working in a broken health care system. Now she's devoted her life to empowering people to take charge of their health.

 

Lissa's new book, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself hits bookshelves tomorrow, and I couldn't be more excited. Lissa's work has inspired me for over 2 years, and I'm honored to be a regular blogger for her wellness community Owning Pink. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of her book, and I think it's truly groundbreaking.

 

 

 

Read the Q&A below to learn more about Lissa's new book!

 

You’ve become quite the advocate for mind-body medicine. Was there a major turning point that left you questioning the conventional approach to medicine?

 

When I was working with sick patients from the inner city of Chicago, it made sense that they weren’t healthy. They ate poorly, smoked, drank, and never exercised. But then I took a job at an integrative medicine practice in posh Marin County, where my patients religiously followed organic, vegan diets, worked out with personal trainers, got 8 hours of sleep every night, took their vitamins, and spent a fortune on the best health care money can buy - and they were still sick. It got me wondering, what if there’s more to health than what they taught me in medical school?
 

Around that time, I became fascinated with case studies in the medical literature of spontaneous remissions from seemingly “incurable” illnesses - stage 4 cancers that disappeared, an HIV positive patient who became HIV negative, people whose heart disease vanished. I got curious whether there was any scientific validity to what some New Age gurus teach - that you can heal yourself.  I wondered whether we might have control over whether we’re blessed with spontaneous remission from illness - or whether we stay sick. (Spoiler alert - you can influence the outcome!) Mind Over Medicine is a compilation of the mind-blowing data I compiled from the scientific literature regarding these inquiries.
 

What do you mean when you say “you can heal yourself?”
 

The medical establishment has been proving that the body can heal itself for over 50 years. We call it “the placebo effect,” and we’ve been trying to outsmart it for decades.  We know that in clinical trials, patients being treated with sugar pills, saline injections, and even fake surgeries get better anywhere from 18-80% of the time!
 

The placebo effect is a thorn in the side of modern medicine. It’s an inconvenient truth that gets in the way of proving that new treatments are more effective than letting nature take its course.
 

But the placebo effect is nothing to be avoided. It’s something to embrace, because it provides concrete evidence that the body is equipped with innate self-repair mechanisms that have the power to cure.  When you cut yourself, your body knows how to mend the cut. When your bone breaks, the bone knows how to stitch itself back together again. We all make cancer cells every day - and the body disposes of them. Infectious invaders, foreign bodies, broken proteins - the body can handle it, assuming those self-repair mechanisms are functioning properly.
 

So that’s what I mean when I say “you can heal yourself,” that the body has natural self-repair mechanisms that can be flipped on or off based on thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that originate in the mind.
 

What do you mean when you say you can flip your self-repair mechanisms on or off? If the body knows how to repair itself, why would we ever want to turn them off?
 

This was one of the most shocking things I discovered. The nervous system has two modes of operation - the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is dominant during what Walter Cannon at Harvard termed “the stress response,” also known as “fight-or-flight.” The parasympathetic nervous system is in charge during what Herbert Benson at Harvard called “the relaxation response,” which is the opposite of the stress response.
 

Only when the relaxation response is in effect do the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms function properly! It makes sense. When your body is preparing to fight or flee, it needn’t worry about preventive maintenance.  Why bother eating up cancer cells or repairing broken proteins when you’re about to get eaten by a cave bear?
 

The stress response exists to protect you. It’s meant to get you out of harm’s way when your life is in danger. But these days, the average person has 50 stress responses per day. It’s no wonder chronic illnesses are at epidemic levels. Every time you have a stressful thought, belief, or feeling, your brain spits out harmful, disease-inducing stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine that shut off your body’s self-repair mechanisms. On the other hand, every time you have positive thoughts, beliefs, or feelings, you release healing hormones like oxytocin, nitric oxide, dopamine, and endorphins that shift you to the relaxation response, where your body can get to work repairing what’s broken.
 

How healthy are your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings?
 

So should we just ditch modern medicine? If the body knows how to repair itself, why bother going to the doctor?
 

To say that you can heal yourself is sort of a misnomer because the scientific evidence concludes that the role of the healer is essential.  When a doctor, nurse, or alternative health care provider tends and nurtures you, believes in your capacity to heal yourself, and promises you that you won’t have to navigate your healing journey alone, your relaxation responses are activated, and self-repair becomes more likely.
 

But even so, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take advantage of the miracles of modern medicine.  Yes - there are documented cases of people who have experienced spontaneous remissions from cancer, coronary artery disease, stroke, even a gunshot wound to the head left untreated. But I don’t recommend tempting fate.  By all means, get treatment for your cancer. Go to the ER when you’re having a heart attack or stroke. Call 911 if you’re injured in a car accident.
 

My husband cut two fingers off his hand with a table saw. No amount of mind-body medicine would have reattached those fingers, so God bless Dr. Jones, the microsurgeon who reattached all those bones, nerves, arteries and muscles! Medical care, especially emergency medical care, saves lives, and we should take advantage of it.
 

What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t depend on it exclusively. It’s important to get to the root cause of why you might be sick or injured in the first place. What predisposed that cancer to grow? Why were you susceptible to that infection, when there were probably many others who were exposed to it but didn’t contract an illness? What in your life might be causing that chronic pain?
 

When you can identify - and rectify - issues in your life that make you susceptible to illness, you’re more likely to experience full, lasting cure.
 

So are you suggesting that if someone is still sick, in spite of medical treatment, it’s his or her fault?
 

There’s no place for blame, shame, or guilt on anyone’s healing journey. Those kinds of pointless emotions only trigger stress responses that make it harder to heal.
 

No, I’m not suggesting that illness is anyone’s fault. What I am saying is that your body is your business, and you can take active measures to influence whether you get - and stay - optimally well.  Too many patients just hand their bodies over to doctors the way they hand their cars over to mechanics. But unlike cars, our bodies do know how to heal themselves, at least a percentage of the time, and we can make changes in our lives to reduce stress responses and increase relaxation responses, thereby making our bodies ripe for miracles.
 

That’s the real ticket. It’s all about changing the ratio of stress responses and relaxation responses in the body. You can do this by either reducing stress responses or increasing relaxation responses - or ideally both!
 

So how do you reduce stress responses? How do you increase relaxation responses?
 

In Mind Over Medicine, I teach the 6 Steps To Healing Yourself, which teaches you exactly how to diagnose the root causes of your illness and write The Prescription for yourself. But in short, you have to tap into the part of you I call your “Inner Pilot Light”, the part that knows what’s true for you and can act as your inner doctor. (To get more in touch with your Inner Pilot Light, sign up for the Daily Flame here. Your Inner Pilot Light will help you assess what in your life is triggering your stress responses. Is it your toxic marriage? Your soul-sucking job? Your two hour commute? Your nagging mother-in-law? Your chaotic living environment? Your anxiety or depression? Your pessimistic way of viewing the world?
 

Once you’ve identified what is triggering your stress responses, it’s time to think about how you might increase relaxation responses in your body. Which scientifically-proven techniques for activating relaxation responses will work for you? Meditation? Creative expression? Playing with animals? Laughter? Yoga? Massage? Engaging in work you love? Getting a hug? Being with friends? Sex? Seeing an alternative medicine practitioner?  Exercise?
 

Once you’re clear on how you can reduce stress responses and increase relaxation responses, it’s time for the fun part - writing The Prescription for yourself. But this isn’t like any prescription you’ve likely ever gotten from a doctor. Perhaps part of your overall Prescription will include drugs or surgery, but The Prescription you’ll write for yourself is a series of action steps you’ll be taking to reduce stress responses and increase relaxation responses.
 

Then comes the brave part - putting your personal treatment plan into action! When you do, you make your body ripe for miracles. Anything - including spontaneous remission - is possible.

 

You’re on a mission to heal our broken health care system. How do you plan to do that?
 

If everyone involved in the health care system - patients and health care providers alike - expanded how they view health in the way I teach in Mind Over Medicine, our entire health care system would start to shift. I believe our health care system is badly broken because we’ve lost respect for the body’s ability to heal itself. As health care providers, we’ve gotten arrogant about our power to control disease, and we’ve forgotten the healing power of love. Somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that a patient who heals himself is threatening. Even if we know, as physicians, that the body has natural self-repair mechanisms, we cling to believing that we’ve achieved a level of mastery over nature. Spontaneous remissions prove that, sometimes, we just haven’t. This is a narcissistic wound for physicians, but it’s something we simply must get over if we want to heal health care.
 

But the responsibility for healing health care lies not just with doctors, but with patients. If, instead of mindlessly handing our bodies over to doctors, we viewed illness as an opportunity to bring our lives back into alignment with our truth, illness would become a compass leading directly to our true north. As a patient, you must trust that you have within you natural self repair mechanisms that are under the control of your mind.
 

It’s going to require a quantum shift on the part of both patients and health care providers in order to rescue our broken health care system. But I believe it’s possible. It’s going to take a grass roots effort. It requires healing the doctor-patient relationships and reclaiming the heart of medicine. I know it seems hopeless to think that health care can reclaim its heart, but just like I believe there are no incurable illnesses, I also believe there are no incurable systems.
 

In the documentary I Am, filmmaker Tom Shadyac shared that when animals decide to switch watering holes, it all starts with a shift of consciousness. They drink out of one watering hole until 51% of the animals decide to drink from a new watering hole, and then the rest of the animals all jump.
 

I think we’re getting close to that 51%.
 

You can help! Join the revolution to Heal Health Care Now. And buy Mind Over Medicine here, not just for yourself, but for your family, your doctor, and anyone else who might help heal care. Be the love you wish to see in health care, and miracles really are possible.
 

Coincidence or Not? You Decide.

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 21, 2013 at 9:30 AM

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Have you ever experienced an eerie coincidence? Maybe your friend called you right when you were thinking about her, or you just happened to be in the right place at the right time for something amazing to happen. Over the past few years, I've noticed an increasing number of these types of situations popping up in my life. It's like I'm experiencing some sort of Moore's Law in which my chance encounters and opportunities (and those of the people closest to me) are increasing at an exponential rate. Here's what I've decided:

 

I don't believe in coincidences.

 

I think everything that happens to us - and I mean everything - happens for some sort of a reason. The reason might be relatively mundane - maybe you run into an old friend to remind you of the importance of that person in your life. But there is a reason nonetheless.

 

There's another reason I don't believe in coincidences, and it involves what I believe is a crucial interaction between taking action and letting go of the outcome. The idea that "We are all energy" is often thrown around in the self-help world. At first, I thought this was hogwash. My scientifically trained mind cried, "Show me the proof!" I felt that I needed to see little beams of energy floating through the air in order to believe that this statement was true.

 

But then I started noticing other instances where we don't need to "see it to believe it." For example, we don't see the wind, but we know it's there. We don't see the waves of energy that allow us to use wireless internet connections or cell phones, but we know this energy is there. Unlike some reptiles, we can't see infrared light, but it is there. I've started to realize that even though I can't see the energy that connects us, I can feel it, and I know it's there. This has led me to wonder:

 

What if humans really are an interconnected web of energy, with all of our actions, no matter how mundane, affecting and interacting with each other?

 

After experiencing an increasing number of "coincidences," I started to realize that these situations were being caused by two things: the energy (or intention) that I was putting out in the world, combined with me taking action toward my intentions and letting go of the outcome of my actions. If I wanted to express this in a formula, it would look something like this:

 

"Coincidence" = (Intention + Action) - Attachment

 

Or, to be more accurate:

 

Manifestation = (Intention + Action) - Attachment

 

In other words, we can't just sit back and expect awesome things to come our way. We need to set an intention, and take action toward that intention - but then we need to release our attachment to the outcome of our actions. We need to trust that things are working out with perfect timing.

 

Let me provide a few examples from my life.

 

Vision Boards & Magnolia Trees

 

I've never been a big fan of vision boards, but in January 2011 I made one anyway. I put the vision board on my desk and looked at it every day for 1 year. After 1 year, nothing from my board had manifested, so I put it in my closet and forgot about it.

 

There were several things on that vision board that now play a huge part in my life. My board included a photo of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, as well as a picture of a house on a lake. At around the same time, my neighbors cut down a magnolia tree in their front yard (an act that appalled me!), so I told my husband that someday we were going to have a magnolia tree in front of our house (I have a huge obsession with flowering trees in general).

 

Well guess what? I now work for Kripalu, and my current apartment looks out over a beautiful lake. There also just happens to be a gorgeous magnolia tree right in front of my window. Here is my view right now:

 

 

 

Here is another photo of the magnolia tree:

 

 

 

How did all of this come to be?

 

I followed the formula above. Specifically, by creating a vision board I put my energy/intention into becoming involved with Kripalu, and I took action on this intention by reaching out to a Harvard professor who was involved in yoga research with Kripalu. However, I released attachment to this outcome by, 1) Eventually tossing my vision board into the closet, 2) Not getting discouraged when opportunities to work for Harvard/Kripalu didn't come up right away, and 3) Volunteering my (unpaid) time to help Harvard/Kripalu with their research for over 2 years. (I think the Universe threw in a little bonus gift by giving me a fantastic view in return

 

Finding Love

 

Almost a decade ago - back when online dating wasn't nearly as accepted as it is now - I decided to join an online dating website. I was recovering from a year of on and off relationships, and my heart was on the mend, but I was committed to finding a healthy relationship. However, after a couple of dates, I decided to take down my profile and allow love to find me.

 

A few days before taking down my profile, I starting messaging with a guy. He lived in Toronto (a 2-hour drive from where I lived), but it just so happened that he was going to be in my city on a Friday night because his friend was DJ'ing at a club in town. I told him that my best friend from high school worked at that club, and that I might stop by to see her (and thus see him there), but I actually had no intention of ever meeting up with him.

 

At around 10pm that night, I received a phone call from my friend. She just happened to know the DJ at the club, who just happened to introduce her to a guy who said he'd been chatting with me on the internet. She told me that I should come down and meet this guy, because he seemed really nice, and in her words, "He has really straight teeth and dimples." So, I got out of my PJs and took a cab to the club.

 

Mr. Straight Teeth and Dimples eventually became my husband.

 

Over the years I've often asked myself, what are the odds that my best friend from high school would know my husband's best friend from high school? (Especially considering the fact that my best friend and I grew up 3 hours away from my husband and his best friend). What are the odds that my husband's best friend would introduce my best friend to him that night? What are the odds that I would start chatting with my husband, out of all of the people on that dating site?

 

To me, there is no way that this series of events was a coincidence. The combination of my energy (setting an intention to find love) and action (joining an online dating site) with my lack of attachment to the outcome (deciding to remove my profile) led to this wonderful day:

 

 

 

What is Intuition?

 

I encourage you to start paying attention to not only the energy that you are putting out into the world, but also the energy that you receive in return. I like to refer to this energy as your intuition. When you get a gut feeling, this is your True Self communicating with you. Your True Self doesn't communicate in words, it communicates in energy and feelings - like a knot in your stomach or a lump in your throat.

 

The more you pay attention to your intuition, and combine this energy with courageous action, the more your life will start to look like a series of amazing "coincidences." My husband has been experiencing this quite a bit lately. He's an artist at heart, and our recent move to Boston has rekindled his creative juices. This energy and intention, combined with regular disciplined action in terms of working on his art, has resulted in awesome "coincidences," like running into a gallery owner who wants to show his work.

 

By paying close attention to his gut feelings, my husband has also started to develop an almost eerie level of intuition. Back in February, he casually told me that he had a feeling something was seriously wrong with his dad (who has been struggling with an illness for a few months, but hadn't had any serious setbacks up to that point). Twenty minutes later, his sister called to let him know that his dad was on his way to the hospital via ambulance. As another example, the night that two of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings hijacked a car, my husband (who had no idea about the hijackings because he was asleep at the time) had several dreams about people hijacking his car.

 

Coincidence?

 

I'll let you decide whether everything I've described in this blog is a coincidence or not. Personally, I think all of these events provide perfect examples of the miracles that can happen when you combine energy/intention with action and non-attachment.

 

The more we quiet our minds and listen to our intuition, the better able we are to tap into an underlying current of energy that connects us to all of humanity.

 

Stop and pay attention. Then take action and release. I guarantee you'll see miraculous results.

 

What do you think? Coincidence or not? I'd love to hear your thoughts (and your experiences with "coincidences" in your own life!). Post your comments below!

 

Six Steps to Forgive Someone Who Hurt You

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 7, 2013 at 9:35 AM

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If you're a living, breathing human being, chances are you've been hurt at some point in your life. Maybe someone broke your heart, crushed your dreams, or led you down the wrong path. Even worse, you might have experienced a brutal tragedy like rape, war or abuse. Regardless of what hurt you, a single fact remains:

 

If you carry resentment in your heart, you are continuing the cycle.

 

When I was 7 years old, my parents separated. I remember coming home from school to find my mom crying in the kitchen. My aunt told me that my dad wasn't coming home. Ever. At first, I saw my dad on the odd weekend. But soon his presence faded into the background, and before I knew it, we hadn't spoken in almost 20 years.

 

My mom remarried, but my stepfather brought demons from his past into our relationship. He'd been shot in the face at the age of 22, a wound that left him completely blind. At times he was downright mean to me, calling me names and criticizing everything I did - from the way I walked to the way I closed the kitchen cupboards.

 

The hurt and betrayal that I felt toward male authority figures provided the perfect backdrop for my teen angst, which morphed into several years of early adulthood drama. I carried my hurt around like a badge of honor - often using it to excuse my behavior. As a teen, I yelled at my mom and stepfather, was brought home (drunk) by the police, and ran away from home. As a young adult, my desperation for male approval led me into a string of dysfunctional relationships. By carrying hurt in my heart I ended up breaking other people's hearts, too.

 

By age 20, my self-esteem was in the tank. And in a last ditch attempt to bury my feelings, I ended up on antidepressants.

 

I found comfort in my hurt. It gave me a label. A reason for my erratic behavior.

 

"Look at everything I've been through!" My badge of hurt and hatred screamed.

 

I was one of those girls. You know, the ones with "daddy issues."

 

I spent 6 years in therapy, telling my daddy stories over and over again. I popped Paxil every day, hoping the issues would disappear.

 

But they didn't.

 

After a lot of self-reflection and personal work, I realized that what was done was done. I couldn't change the past. But I could change my future. My years spent in therapy, coupled with my work with mentors like Gabrielle Bernstein, made me realize that nothing was going to change until I forgave the men in my life. This was a long and difficult process - a process that I'm still going through today. It didn't happen overnight, but even the tiniest shift toward forgiveness has brought miraculous results.

 

Here are a few things that helped me forgive:

  1. Find inspiration in others' forgiveness. Ironically, my stepfather provided me with the perfect example of the power of forgiveness. After being shot, my stepdad forgave the man who left him permanently blind. He literally hugged his shooter and told him he forgave him. This taught me from a very young age that forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person - it's a gift that you give yourself because it sets you free from things like resentment and anger. I realized that if other people could find it in their hearts to forgive such horrendous things, then surely I could find forgiveness in my heart, too.
     
  2. Try to see all sides of the story. Often we think that by having compassion for someone, we are excusing their behavior. This isn't true. Compassion provides us with a lens that helps us understand - not excuse - people's actions. Over time I started to have compassion for my father and stepfather. Both men had had less than ideal childhoods themselves. They were doing the best they could with what they had. This doesn't mean that what they did was right - but it helped soften my heart toward them and facilitate the forgiveness process.
     
  3. Get help. If you've been through something difficult, it's crucial that you process and experience your emotions, instead of pushing them down. Start seeing a therapist. If you don't like your therapist, try a new one. I've been to all sorts of counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and everything in between. Each person helped me in a unique way, and led me to where I am today.
     
  4. Cut the cord. Feelings of resentment and hurt often cause us to create negative energetic ties (or cords) with others. Gabby Bernstein offers a fantastic cord cutting meditation that can help you release these negative energetic attachments.
     
  5. Let go of blame. At one point or another, we all need to take responsibility for our own behavior. As J.K. Rowling once said:

    "There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”
     
  6. Push past the fear. My stepfather passed away over 5 years ago. Two weeks before he died, I had a chance to visit him to talk about some lingering issues between us. But I was too scared. After he died, I felt an immense amount of guilt about not sharing my feelings with him. I promised myself that I would never make the same mistake again. So, when my biological father contacted me a few years later to say that he wanted to pay me a visit, I agreed - even though I was scared. We've now visited a few times, and my forgiveness has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. In fact, last week I met up with my dad and my half sister for coffee - this is the first photo ever taken of the 3 of us together:
     

 

 

The moral of my story is that forgiveness can create miracles. It might not happen overnight, but when you commit to forgiving others, you free up a ton of energy that you can put to better use. I realize that this process might be extremely difficult - especially if you've been through an unthinkable tragedy. But it is possible to forgive the unthinkable. Just take it one step at a time.

 

Remember that forgiveness is a process - not a finite event. Let go of your badge, label, and story. The past doesn't define you, and the future is waiting with open arms.

 

 

Do You Hate Mondays?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 24, 2013 at 9:30 AM

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It's Sunday morning. My alarm is off. The sun is peeking through the blinds, but instead of getting up, I roll over into my husband's arms and fall back asleep. I don't get out of bed until I feel like it. Later, I put on some great music, make french toast, and enjoy a lovely brunch. The rest of the day unfolds without a to do list or any feelings of obligation to anyone.

 

Why can't every day be like this?

 

At first, my logical mind jumps in with the status quo answer:

 

If every day was like Sunday, you would be broke, hungry, and homeless. You wouldn't have a job, and you wouldn't be able to afford your rent. Plus, you'd be terribly bored. Do you really want to sleep in and eat french toast every day?

 

Sometimes I think I would.

 

Lately I've been contemplating the idea of time, and the 5-day workweek that holds many of us hostage. Who came up with the idea of a 5-day workweek anyway? Does it have something to do with the biblical notion that it took God 6 days to create the universe, and only the 7th day was reserved for rest?

 

 

 

I recently started watching Downton Abbey (which I was skeptical about at first, but have since grown to enjoy). The stars of the show (members of an aristocratic British family) view having a job as something below them. Even doctors and lawyers are considered middle class because they have to work. In one episode, the matriarch of the family is speaking with a lawyer, who says that he enjoys going to the country on the weekend. She looks puzzled and asks, "What is a weekend?"

 

She might have been responding facetiously, but still, her answer made me think. Why do we make a distinction between the workweek and the weekend? And would it be possible to live a life where the two become one?

 

Jump out of your conditioning and really think about this for a moment. The 5-day workweek is a completely human creation. There is absolutely no logical reason why we have to work for 5 days and only get 2 days off. But many of us fall into this pattern - even when we don't have to.

 

I'll use myself as an example. For the past 3 years of my professional life I've been flying solo - first as an entrepreneur, and now as a postdoctoral research fellow. I have no fixed schedule in either of these roles. As an entrepreneur, I could work whatever hours I wanted, whenever I wanted, from home. As a postdoc, my supervisor has told me on multiple occasions that he doesn't care where I work or when I work, as long as the work gets done. I have absolute freedom with regard to my schedule.

 

But guess what? I still tend to subscribe to the 9 to 5.

 

Monday to Friday, I wake up at 6:30am (even though I could sleep until noon if I wanted). I make a healthy breakfast, meditate, and head to work. I'm usually at my desk by 9am, I take a 1-hour lunch break, and I leave at around 5pm.

 

Lately I've been asking myself, why?

 

Why do I only make french toast on Sundays?

 

Why do I only give myself permission to take my time on the weekend?

 

Why have I (and so many others) enshrined the 9 to 5 grind?

 

I don't really have an answer.

 

Perhaps it's because humans love routine. We're habitual creatures, and old habits die hard. I'm sure it's also healthy to get up at the same time every day, eat well, and get plenty of rest by going to bed at the same time every night. Maybe it's true that we would be bored without this routine. Maybe working hard during the week helps us appreciate the weekend.

 

I don't know.

 

What I do know is that weekends feel awesome. And I want every day to feel awesome.

 

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my work. But I also enjoy getting away from the computer and taking in everything else that life has to offer. I don't think humans are meant to sit at desks for 8 hours a day in artificial light. I don't think cubicles are designed to promote happiness.

 

So what is the solution?

 

The 9 to 5 is a perfect fit for some people, and that's great. For the rest of us, I think we need to be courageous enough to buck the system. I already did this once, when I left my cubicle in 2010. But I've realized that I'm going to continually need to do this, to prove to myself and others that it is possible to do what you love, make money, and not have to subscribe to a 5-day workweek.

 

Let's be honest. The minute I say, "Screw the 9 to 5!" many of you experience a jolt of fear straight through your heart. This fear is about money. You most likely think, "Without the 9 to 5, I won't be able to afford my house or send my kids to college."

 

I encourage you to bust out of this traditional line of thinking. There are examples of people all over the world who don't subscribe to a typical workweek, but who live very comfortably. Or who live very modestly, but are insanely happy.

 

Why do you feel as though this life is only reserved for a chosen few?

 

Why not you, too?

 

Seriously question your beliefs about what it means to live a happy, comfortable life. Don't force yourself into a box - or a cubicle - just because the robots around you are doing so. The world wants and needs your gifts. Have the courage to put these gifts out there.

 

As for me, I'm setting an intention to experience more Sundays. I know that this is going to be uncomfortable at first. I'm going to feel like I should be producing and achieving instead of relaxing. But I'll just close my eyes, take a bite of my french toast, and allow myself to ease into the day - and break out of my routine.

 

What about you?

 

The #1 Misconception About Your Life's Purpose

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 10, 2013 at 5:20 PM

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It's been a long time since I've recorded a video blog! Today I thought I'd share a huge misconception that I think many people have when it comes to following their dharma or life's purpose. This misconception can get in the way of doing what you're truly meant to do. 

 

Press "play" below to learn more!

 

 

 

 

Logic vs. Intuition: How to Make a Major Life Decision

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 24, 2013 at 10:50 AM

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Some of you might think I'm new age. Out there. Woo woo. Spewing self-help jargon from behind a computer screen. To be honest, I've often struggled with this image of myself. On the one hand, I think I am a hippie at heart. I've become deeply embedded in the self-help movement catalyzed by people like Louise Hay. I've looked into a mirror and said affirmations to myself. I've participated in story-telling rituals at women's retreats. I've anointed myself with clay and danced around under the full moon.

 

Crazy, right?

 

On the other hand, I'm trained as a research scientist. I spent 10 years in university, toiling under the doctrine of "Don't believe it unless you can see it." The scientific method became my bible. I've run countless studies on human behavior. I love data analysis. I've written scientific papers and given lectures to faculty at some of the top academic institutions in the world.

 

Normal, right?

 

As my life and career have progressed, I've realized that these two sides of my being have often been in conflict. I'm very logical and analytical. I like - ok LOVE - to think. I could talk all day and night about philosophical topics. I'm pretty sure that if I didn't have any other responsibilities in life, I would spend most of my time reading, learning, and thinking. This intellectual prowess has taken me pretty far. I have a PhD and I work at Harvard Medical School.

 

But I've also learned that logic can only take you so far.

 

As a society, we place a huge emphasis on only believing what we can see. The scientific method has infused modern culture - and in some cases I think the pendulum has swung too far toward requiring hard evidence for absolutely everything.

 

How many times in your life have you encountered a situation, a coincidence, a feeling, or a solution that you just couldn't explain? It wasn't logical, it made no sense - and yet it was perfect.

 

I've noticed that my default is to try to explain things to myself very logically. When making major decisions, I've often made pro and con lists, talked the situation over with countless friends and family members, and tried to come to the best conclusion based on all of the available evidence. However, many times the evidence often contradicted what my gut was telling me to do.

 

For example, when I was trying to decide whether to quit my 9 to 5 job, all of the evidence said "Don't quit!" My mortgage, my bills, and my lifestyle were providing hard proof that there was no way I would be able to afford to leave. But my gut was urging me to release my cubicle. I followed my gut  - and not only did I survive the transition - I thrived. I released several stress-related health problems, kicked my wellness and happiness up to a new level, and was presented with opportunities that never would have come my way if I'd continued in the 9 to 5 grind.

 

Similarly, when deciding whether or not to accept a new job in Boston, my logical self was telling me that I had a great life and shouldn't mess with it. I had a house, a car, and a wonderful group of friends. I lived in a small, safe suburb, I was making decent money, and the next step would simply be to settle down and have a child. My decision to move to a new country, 600 miles away from friends and family, for a less than stellar paycheck, was not logical. But I knew that it was what I was supposed to do.

 

I came to an a-ha moment in a recent blog when I realized that my True Self doesn't speak to me in language. It speaks to me in feelings.

 

Research actually shows that our intuition often comes to us at a physical level before we register anything on a conscious level. This is where the term "gut feeling" comes from. An article on the Science of Intuition in Oprah Magazine describes a study in which people were asked to play a game with 4 decks of cards. Two of the decks were rigged to have higher value cards, while the other two were stacked with losers. The study showed that after seeing only 10 cards, participants started to show a stress response (sweaty palms) to the bad decks. However they didn't verbally report suspecting the decks were rigged until they had pulled 50 cards, and could only explain exactly how the decks were stacked after 80 cards.

 

For years I've been reading self-help books where the author says that he/she "heard a voice" urging him/her to do something. They often describe this voice as the "soft, still voice within." I've even described it this way myself.

 

But I realized recently that I don't hear a voice. I feel a calling. The voice that talks in my head is the voice of logic. This voice is useful in some instances, like when I'm designing a research study or writing an academic paper. This voice is completely useless, however, when it comes to making major decisions and following my truth.

 

 

 

My logical voice will say things like:

 

"You should really get this work done."

 

"You shouldn't act that way."

 

"You should do X because it'll make [insert name here] happy."

 

Notice all of the shoulds?

 

My True self, on the other hand, comes to me in feelings. It's like a wave of calmness that rushes over me when I know deep down inside that I've made the best decision for me - regardless of what other people think.

 

The problem is that I often have trouble accessing this deep and true part of my being. I get so caught up in my logical mind that I block my intuition. So, how do I get back on track? Here are a few methods that tend to work for me:

 

  • Get into nature. Even if it's just a 5-minute walk, it helps!
  • Spend time with friends who support and nurture my dreams.
  • Meditate (every morning!)
  • Yoga
  • Eating a mostly gluten-free, dairy-free, whole food diet. My physical body is a sacred vessel - and the better care I take of this vessel, the more mentally stable I feel when making important decisions.
  • Move/dance/play. The logical mind can be so conservative and boring. Put a great song on your iPod and bust a move!
  • Breathe. Pranayama is an amazing tool for grounding yourself in times of stress.
  • Read inspirational books.
  • Find stillness. It's much easier for me to feel my intuition when I slow down.

 

I think that one of the challenges the universe is offering me right now is for me to learn how to balance the logical, analytical side of my personality with my intuition. Many authors who write about feminine wisdom speak to the fact that instead of trying to prove that one way of thinking is better than another, we need to embrace the totality of life - with all of its seeming contradictions and opposites. For me, this means accepting the fact that I can be both logical and intuitive. I can practice good science and be open to the idea that there is an unseen force (my True Self) guiding me every step of the way.

 

This week I'd like you to pay attention to how your True Self speaks to you. Do you hear a voice? Or experience a gut feeling? Or something else? Start paying attention to this "voice." Do what it "says" even if it seems illogical.

 

Stop worshiping your logical mind. Start nurturing your intuition.

 

Personally, I've found that my least logical decisions often bring me the most amazing results.

 

You Deserve To Be Happy

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 10, 2013 at 11:20 AM

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Lately I've been feeling extremely blessed. I moved to an amazing city, I have a great job, and I've been traveling to sunny beaches and yoga retreat centers. But something didn't seem right. There was a feeling inside of me - a sort of guilt - that kept popping up every time I thought about the gifts I'm being given at this time.

 

I realized the feeling had a voice. A barely audible, gnawing, anxious voice left over from somewhere long past. Every time I experienced a moment of beauty - through a gorgeous sunrise, a lovely walk on the beach, or a deeply restorative yoga class - the voice would whisper things like:

 

"You don't deserve this."

 

"This isn't going to last."

 

"Why should you get to experience such an awesome life when the rest of the world is suffering?"

 

"Enjoy this while you can, because soon things will go back to being ordinary."

 

My first instinct was to try to reason with this voice. I started getting into mental arguments by replying:

 

"I do deserve this. Look at how hard I've worked. Look at everything I've been though. If anyone deserves this, it's me."

 

But this line of reasoning left me unsatisfied. It felt superficial and full of ego.

 

I decided to meditate on my dilemma. I sat in the sand on a beautiful beach in San Diego, where I was attending an amazing conference - for free - and took some time to go within. I asked myself questions like:

 

Why do I feel like I don't deserve to be on this beach?

 

Why do I feel like all of this awesomeness is going to disappear into a puff of smoke?

 

At first, my analytical voice replied: "You do deserve this, Bethany. You've worked your butt off and now it's finally paying off."

 

Then, once my mind and body became very still, I felt the voice of my True Self. (I say "felt" here because I've realized that the "advice" from my True Self comes as feelings, nudges and intuition - not as language. Language is of the mind - the True Self is of the heart.)

 

In that beautiful moment, my True Self "shot" a feeling through my entire body that resonated loud and clear:

 

"You are already worthy."

 

In other words, no matter how hard I've worked, no matter what I've been through (or haven't been through), I deserve to be happy.

 

Why?

 

Because I'm human.

 

Because I'm already worth it.

 

 

 

Years ago, when my husband and I first started dating, he said to me:

 

"I feel so lucky. I've found someone who's smart, good looking, and funny, among other things. It's almost like you're too good to be true."

 

At the time, his words crushed me, because I felt like he was right. The picture that I'd painted for him of myself was too good to be true. Because up until this point, I hadn't told him about the years that I'd spent struggling with anxiety, depression, and an addiction to antidepressant medication.

 

This was a pivotal point in our relationship, because I decided right then and there, on what was probably our third date, to admit all of my deepest faults and fears. I told him that my heart was still mending from years spent in messy relationships. I admitted that I'd been on antidepressants for 5 years. I told him that I was planning to try to go off the medication soon, which would involve a whole host of withdrawal effects that he would have to witness.

 

I told him that if he wanted out, this was his chance.

 

But he didn't leave. He took my hand, looked at me very matter-of-factly, and said: "Ok, where do we start?"

 

A few weeks later, I was browsing through a store and came across a card that said:

 

"Nothing is too good to be true."

 

That was the first card I ever gave to my future husband. And its words still ring true for me today.

 

Nothing that I've been experiencing lately has been too good to be true. I deserve an amazing job, a loving relationship, and a fantastic place to live. I deserve every abundance, every blessing, every awesome experience that life has to offer.

 

So do you.

 

If you're stuck in a lackluster job, relationship, or living situation, get out. Open yourself up to the idea that you deserve better, because you do. Regardless of what you've done (or haven't done) in the past, regardless of how hard you've worked. None of this matters. What matters is being willing to take courageous steps toward living the amazing life that's waiting for you, patiently, just around the corner.

 

When we take these courageous steps, doors start to open. Opportunities appear. Life starts giving us what we know we deserve. This quote by W.A. Murray from Stephen Cope's new book The Great Work of Your Life sums it up perfectly:

 

"Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's concepts: 'Whatever you can do, Begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.'"

 

Follow your magic. You deserve it.

 

Stop Taking Life So Seriously

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 20, 2013 at 11:10 AM

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I tend to err on the side of serious. I think I came out of the womb with a serious look on my face, impatient about when I would get onto the next step of my life. My baby brain was probably already wondering, "Can't we just get to the walking and talking part already? I have important things to do!"

 

For much of my life, I've treated my journey as a series of goals, mostly related to academic success. Valedictorian? Check. Scholarships? Check. PhD? Check. Harvard? Check.

 

Despite the fact that I always managed to keep an active social life, I took my goals very seriously.

 

I wouldn't let anything stand in my way.

 

When bad things happened, I put my head down and continued to plow through my work. I suppressed my feelings. I went on antidepressants so that I wouldn't have to process my emotions.

 

I was so, so serious.

 

Sometimes I still am.

 

Having recently moved from a quiet suburb to a busy city, I've noticed that many people around me are serious, too. A short trip on the subway reveals countless commuters, heads down or eyes staring blankly out the window, brows furrowed, no doubt in deep thought about very serious issues like:

 

  • "Should I cook chicken or beef tonight? I'm so sick of chicken, but the kids won't eat beef. Wait - I don't think we have any chicken left in the freezer! What am I going to do? What a disaster."
  • "I don't know how I'm going to finish this report on time. My boss is being totally unreasonable. Doesn't she have a life?"
  • "I wish he would just call me. Or should I call him? It's been 3 days since our date. He probably thinks I'm a total nutcase. I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life."


It's often said that the people around us serve as mirrors to reflect our own behavior back to us, so that we can become more aware of the things we need to work on. My recent experience with "seriousness in the city" has inspired me to take on the following mantra:

 

"Stop taking life so seriously."

 

Last week as I was meditating I asked for guidance with implementing this mantra in my own life. You see, starting a new job at one of the top academic institutions in the world has given me the urge to put my seriousness into full swing. After my meditation I was walking to the subway, head down, deep in thought about a very serious matter - the all-important question of when the cheques that I ordered were going to arrive from the bank. As I stepped onto the subway, the driver smiled at me and said:

 

"Hello, very serious person!"

 

I couldn't help but laugh. I'd been busted. And the guidance that I'd asked for had arrived. For the rest of the day, every time I felt myself slipping back into serious, I would remember the subway driver's comment, and I'd smile.

 

My new job has given me a perfect opportunity to approach my goals in a new way. Instead of focusing on achieving academic success to prove (to myself and others) that I'm a worthy human being, I can choose to accept the fact that I'm already worthy. I can focus on the difference that my work is going to make in the world - regardless of whether I achieve personal success or not. Maybe none of my projects will work out or get published - but perhaps these studies will serve as stepping stones for future work that will eventually revolutionize patient care.

 

I encourage you to adopt my new mantra. Every time you find yourself worrying about something that's actually completely trivial - stop. Because here's the truth: When you're on your deathbed, you won't care whether you cooked chicken or beef. You won't be thinking about your boss, or about the ex-lover who never called you back. You'll be thinking about the people you love and the relationships you had. You'll be thinking about the moments of beauty you missed because you were taking life too seriously.

 

 

 

There are people all around the world who are experiencing things that are far more serious than your everyday problems. These people are facing things like starvation, genocide, a disease, a diagnosis, or a death sentence. These people are allowed to take things seriously (if they choose).

 

You aren't.

 

Be grateful for every breathtakingly gorgeous moment that life offers. Notice simple things like a ray of sunlight or the twinkle in your child's eyes. The next time you're out and about, smile at someone who looks very serious. Resist the urge to honk your horn.

 

Relax into the moment. Release serious. Embrace joy.

 

Your life will thank you for it.

 

May Cause Miracles: Q&A With Gabby Bernstein

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 2, 2013 at 11:55 AM

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As many of you know, author and speaker Gabrielle Bernstein is one of my greatest mentors. Last year I worked with Gabby one-on-one as part of her 6-month private coaching program, and the results literally changed my life. I've made huge shifts over the past year, and manifested remarkable events (including my dream job!).

 

Gabby is a true gift to this world, which is why I'm so excited about her new book May Cause Miracles: A 40-Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness. I had the pleasure of reading several chapters of the book while Gabby was writing it, and I'm positive that this book has the potential to create massive miracles for people all over the world.

 

In today's blog, Gabby shares what inspired her to write May Cause Miracles, as well as how the book can help you keep your New Year's resolutions. If you're looking for an easy, step-by-step plan to help you develop a miracle mindset, I highly recommend Gabby's book. Keep reading to learn more!

 

Author Q&A

 

What inspired you to write May Cause Miracles?

 

I write my books based on what my readers need and want. I was hearing the call from my readers that they wanted a real-deal spiritual plan for dissolving all boundaries and fear. In effect, they wanted to be told exactly how to do it. It was time for me to offer a step-by-step guidebook to help readers release their negativity, achieve more happiness, and experience a greater connection to the universe. It was time.

 

May Cause Miracles spawned from my own spiritual practice. I begin each day with prayer and meditation. Throughout the day I use affirmations and positive intentions to move through blocks, and each evening I close the day with self-reflection and an inventory of my growth throughout the day. These three steps are offered in each day of this 40-day course.

 

I believe that simple, consistent shifts in our thinking and actions can lead to the miraculous in all aspects of our daily lives, including our relationships, finances, bodies, and self-image. In my new book, May Cause Miracles, I offer an exciting plan for releasing fear and allowing gratitude, forgiveness, and love to flow through us without fail. All of which, ultimately, will lead to breathtaking lives of abundance, acceptance,  appreciation, and happiness. With May Cause Miracles, readers can expect incredible transformation in 40 powerful days, simply by adding up subtle shifts to create miraculous change.

 

 

 

What can people expect from this 40-day guidebook?

 

The payoff for sticking to the principles of A Course in Miracles, which is my guiding text, is that the more you choose forgiveness, gratitude and love, the more miracles you experience. If you’re wondering what I mean by “miracle,” it’s simple: a miracle is a shift in perspective from fear to love. A miracle can be the moment you choose to forgive your ex-lover and let go of decades of resentment, or the moment you recognize that losing your job was not a tragedy but an opportunity to follow your true calling. Simply put, each moment you choose love over fear is a miracle. And the more miracles you add up, the less likely you are to perceive life through dark-colored lenses. When you choose to perceive love over fear, life begins to flow. You feel peaceful and you see love in all situations. Your hang-ups subside and your life feels guided.

 

My dedication to living this way has changed every area of my life. I’ve let go of addictions to romance, drugs, work, food—you name it. I’ve learned to choose forgiveness whenever resentment creeps into my mind. Fear of financial insecurity has lifted and my internal abundance, my zest for living a love-guided life, is reflected in external abundance. Today I see obstacles as opportunities and know that the universe has my back. Most important, I feel a sense of certainty that there is a power greater than myself supporting my every move.

 

Tell us about the 40-day program. Why was it important to give people a plan?

 

Like any effective practice, true transformation occurs with daily repetition. Begin with a 40-day commitment and start experiencing positive results immediately. Why 40 days? Metaphysicians and yogis place much emphasis on the repetition of a 40-day practice. Mythical examples range from Moses’s 40 days and 40 nights spent on Mount Sinai to the story of the Buddha reaching enlightenment on the full moon in May after meditating and fasting under the Bodhi tree for 40 days.The number has scientific significance, too: research has shown that after repeating a new pattern for 40 days, you can change the neural pathways in your brain to create long-lasting change. So let’s take a cue from the mystics and the scientists and commit to this 40-day fear cleanse. It’s the simple, consistent shifts that count when you’re making change—so I’ve outlined this journey to be fun and achievable. I will guide you to keep it uncomplicated and stay on track. And one day at a time you’ll become a miracle worker.  

 

By choosing to follow this plan for the next 40 days, you’ll begin to reprogram your thoughts from fear back to love. If you dig the results, stick to the path and commit to a life as a miracle worker.

 

 

How can this book help people make their resolutions stick?

 

The daily repetition of this course will help you make change stick. Creating positive permanent change is simple: it comes from willingness and the repetition of new ideas. That’s what May Cause Miracles offers, along with structure and guidance.

 

Most readers come to this kind of work with different types of blocks. How does this book serve everyone?

 

The really cool thing about May Cause Miracles is that readers can apply the plan to every corner of their lives. The book is divided into six chapters, one for each week. The weekly chapters contain exercises for each day of the week to transform your thoughts back to love. Each week focuses on a different area of your life:

 

●      Week One. This week guides you to identify how fear has tripped you up and blocked your life’s flow. I’ll lay the groundwork and guide you to embrace the key principles: witnessing your fear, willingness to change, shifts in perception, gratitude, forgiveness and miracles.

 

●      Week Two. This week is all about the importance of self-love. You’ll be guided to strengthen your relationship with yourself, and you’ll become willing to release old patterns of self-attack. Self-love is super crucial to the miracle worker practice.

 

●      Week Three.I’ll guide you to focus on how fear has blocked your financial abundance. This week’s exercises activate gratitude for your current workplace, help you address your financial fears and guide you to shift your limiting belief system around money and work. This week is applicable to any type of work, whether you’re a freelancer, a stay-at-home mom, a philanthropist, a banker, a salesperson, and so on. Just apply the principles to whatever work you do.

 

●      Week Four. Romance is in the air! I’ll help you get honest about how fear has held you back from romantic bliss. This week incorporates many of the Course’s rockin’ teachings for releasing fear in romance. These powerful tools will lead you to experience immediate internal shifts around romance, whether you’re single or attached.

 

●      Week Five.I’ll give you practical exercises that shift your patterns of self-sabotage when it comes to food and your body. I will guide you to identify the root cause of your food and body issues and begin to shine light on any darkness in this area of your life. You’ll quickly come to realize that ingesting loving thoughts greatly enhances how you ingest your food and perceive your body.

 

●      Week Six. You’ll learn to embrace the practice of being a miracle worker in the world.This week helps you shift your focus off yourself and on to your power to create energetic change in the world around you. Service is a key principle in A Course in Miracles and is strongly emphasized this week. You’ll come to realize that serving the world is like serving yourself a big, heaping plate of love. When you focus your thoughts and energy lovingly onto others your heart opens and your true purpose shines bright.

 

There's a meditation album that accompanies this book. Can you talk a bit about the importance of meditation and how it will help us create radical change?

 

Each week of the book is loaded with guided meditations. To accompany the written meditations in the book I created a meditation album with incredible original music. The 11-track album offers readers a deeper opportunity to heighten their spirit and center into a space of peace. In addition to calming your mind and relaxing your body, meditation offers people an opportunity to work through old fears and to cut cords with negative attachments. Most of my greatest emotional healing has occurred on the meditation pillow, and it is my mission to help others find that same miracle.

 

For free guided meditations and to check out the May Cause Miracles album, click here.

 

Who or what inspires you most?

 

The people who inspire me most are those who are willing to see the world from a loving perspective. People who perceive obstacles as opportunities and problems as spiritual assignments. People who choose love.

 

Why do you do what you do?

 

I’ve worked very hard to transform my fearful delusions into loving beliefs and I am committed to maintaining this way of being. How dare I have the tools for finding serenity and not share them with the world? I believe it is my duty to share these gifts I’ve learned.

 

How did you get started on your Spirit Junkie journey?

 

I got started on my Spirit Junkie journey when I was a kid. My mom taught me how to meditate and brought me to ashrams and spiritual circles. Then I turned my back on spirituality for several years. When I was 25, I hit a big bottom and had no other choice but to turn back to my spiritual roots for help. I did just that. Since 2005, I have been on a steadfast journey inward as a self-proclaimed Spirit Junkie. And I’ve never looked back.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK:

 

From the popular and exciting author of Spirit Junkie and Add More ~Ing to Your Life comes this practical and fun 40-day guidebook of subtle shifts for radical change and unlimited happiness.

 

Are you ready to work miracles? Gabrielle Bernstein believes that simple, consistent shifts in our thinking and actions can lead to the miraculous in all aspects of our daily lives, including our relationships, finances, bodies, and self-image. In this inspiring guide, Gabrielle offers an exciting plan for releasing fear and allowing gratitude, forgiveness, and love to flow through us without fail. All of which, ultimately, will lead to breathtaking lives of abundance, acceptance, appreciation, and happiness. With May Cause Miracles, readers can expect incredible transformation in 40 powerful days—simply by adding up subtle shifts to create miraculous change.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 

Featured on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday as a next-generation thought leader, Gabrielle Bernstein is making her mark. Expanding the lexicon for the next wave of spiritual seekers, Gabrielle is a #1 best-selling author of the books Add More ~ing to Your Life: A Hip Guide to Happiness and Spirit Junkie: A Radical Road to Self-Love and Miracles. In January 2013 she launches her new book, May Cause Miracles (published by Random House). Gabrielle is also the founder of the social networking site HerFuture.com, for women to inspire, empower and connect with each other.

 

Gabrielle has been on the speaking circuit since 2004. She has presented lectures at Google, TEDxWomen, The WIE Symposium, Kripalu, the Massachusetts and Philadelphia Conferences for Women, L’Oreal, Avon/mark.Cosmetics, Agape Spiritual Center, Nobel Women, Integral Yoga, universities nationwide, The Step Up Women’s Network, the Junior Leagues, and many other venues.

 

YouTube chose Gabrielle as one of its 16 YouTube Next Video Bloggers, Mashable named her as one of 11 Must-Follow Twitter Accounts for Inspiration, and she’s featured on the Forbes List of 20 Best Branded Women. Gabrielle has a weekly radio show every Wednesday on Hay House Radio and is a featured curator for OpenSky. She has been featured in media outlets such as the New York Times Sunday Styles, ELLE, Oprah Radio, Marie Claire, Health, SELF, Women’s Health, Glamour UK, the Sunday Times (UK), US Weekly, People, CNN, Fox & Friends, PBS, the Wall Street Journal, Sirius Satellite Radio, and many more. She’s been featured on the covers of Experience Life and Self-Made magazines, as well. For Gabrielle’s full press kit, click here. Gabrielle is a regular contributor for Metro, The Huffington Post, NaturalHealth, Beliefnet, TheDailyLove, Positively Positive, Intent, CrazySexyLife, and Feminist.com, among others. She can also be seen riding around NYC on her unicycle when the mood strikes.

Change The World By Changing Yourself First

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on December 14, 2012 at 11:05 AM

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We spend a lot of time focusing on other people's faults. "I wish she wasn't so negative," "I wish he wouldn't eat meat," "I wish my boss would get off my back." Sometimes we try to force these people to change. We'll inundate them with positive affirmations, or animal cruelty brochures, or employee productivity data, when the truth is that no matter how hard you try, you cannot change other people.

 

Instead, I encourage you to follow Gandhi's advice in my all-time favorite quote:

 

 

 

In other words, the best we can do is serve as an example, a beacon of light, to clear the path for others. If you want your best friend to be more positive, allow your positivity to permeate your friendship. If you want to encourage others to eat a vegan diet, do so yourself, and then when people ask why you have such clear skin, you can explain. If you want your boss to give you a break, infuse a sense of calm into your work by taking 3-minute breathing breaks throughout the day.

 

As Gabrielle Bernstein often says, instead of focusing on other people's issues, we need to start by cleaning up our side of the street.

 

Your outer world is a reflection of your inner condition. Nothing around you is going to change until you take steps to change yourself.

 

As many of you know, I recently moved to Boston to start a yoga research fellowship at Harvard Medical School. (As an aside, I moved into my new apartment last week and I'm loving it!). Part of the reason I took this job is so that I can be the change I want to see in the world. I want to see people following their hearts, even when it feels scary. I want people to have the courage to leave behind a soul-sucking job to create a life they love.

 

To make this vision a reality, I could shove self-help information down people's throats until I'm blue in the face - but it won't make a difference. People won't change until they're truly ready. Instead, the best I can do is serve as an example, to do it myself, so that I inspire others to do the same. By showing that I was able to quit a corporate job, manifest my dream job, and not end up homeless, I will hopefully serve as a shining example of what's possible.

 

The same is true of my journey to get off antidepressants. I can push my book on people until my arms fall off, but it won't make a difference unless the person is ready to put in the hard work, courage and determination that are necessary to take their self-care into their own hands. Instead, I can enjoy the sense of surprise on people's faces when I tell them that I took antidepressants for 6 years. When they say, "But you seem so well-adjusted. You've accomplished so much! How did you do it?" I can explain and serve as an example of what's possible.

 

I could sing the praises of yoga and meditation until my voice is hoarse - or I can commit to a disciplined practice so that when people ask me, "How did you stay so grounded and centered during this transition" I can answer, "I meditated every day. I did yoga as often as I could. I ate nutritious food. I got lots of sleep. I set healthy boundaries with my employers. I made time for myself."

 

Instead of forcing "my way" on others, I can show people "a way" and then they can choose for themselves.

 

Over the holiday season many of us spend time with family. Sometimes these interactions are great. Other times the people we love the most are also the people we can tolerate the least. When you find yourself wishing that your sister would do this or your father would do that, take a step back and think of a few ways you could serve as an example of this type of behavior.

 

Everyone is on their own journey, changing at their own pace. Give people the space they need to learn their own lessons.

 

Be the change.

 

How To Let Go

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on December 3, 2012 at 3:40 PM

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In this video blog I share 3 tips to help you let go of anything you need to release from your life:

 

 

 

Watch the Burn, Bury & Throw ritual here. Get Gabby Bernstein's Cord Cutting Meditation here.

 

 

The Curse of Comfortable: Are You Using Comfort As A Crutch?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 7, 2012 at 12:15 AM

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In my last blog I mentioned that choosing comfortable over self-growth always leads to regret. I've been thinking about this concept a lot lately, so I've decide to expand on it in today's blog.

 

My thoughts? Many people today are using comfort as a crutch.

 

I've come to believe that there are two kinds of comfort: authentic and inauthentic. Authentic comfort comes from a true place. Maybe you're laying on the beach with your family, or enjoying a good meal with great friends. You feel comfortable. Happy. At ease. You're living in your truth.

 

Then there's inauthentic comfort. You might be staying at a cushy job for the money, or stuck in a less than optimal relationship because you're afraid to be alone. On the surface, everything looks great. But deep down inside you feel trapped. Stressed. Fake. You're not living in your truth.

 

I think that as a society, our use of inauthentic comfort is reaching epidemic proportions.

 

 

 

On paper our lives look fantastic. We have nice cars, beautiful homes, white picket fences and big screen TVs. But underneath we're miserable.

 

I've experienced both types of comfort in my life. When I worked in the corporate world, I had everything that a person my age is supposed to want: an 8-minute commute, a husband, a car and a house. I liked the people I worked with. I made good money. For all intents and purposes my job was a great job. But I was inauthentically comfortable. Even though my job looked great on paper, it was eating away at my soul. I knew I wasn't doing what I was meant to do in the world.

 

So I quit.

 

In the 2 1/2 years since I left my cubicle, I've experienced all sorts of discomfort. There's been financial stress. Worries about what people would think of me. Late nights. Tears. But throughout the entire process I've also experienced an overarching sense of authentic comfort. Sure, sometimes things felt tough. But I was living in my truth, which was far better than any house, car or paycheck.

 

From living in this place of truth, I managed to manifest a job that combines my love for research with my passion for yoga. It didn't happen overnight, but it happened.

 

When describing her work in the world, Oprah once mentioned her favorite prayer: "Use me, God. Use me until you use me up." I've started to say a similar prayer. Because the truth of the matter is that I believe I was put on this earth for a reason. One of these reasons, I think, is for me to use my skills and training to help yoga become acknowledged by the scientific and medical community as an effective treatment modality. This is a life purpose that is requiring me to make many sacrifices, such as leaving friends and family. So, whenever I get stressed about my impending move, I silently say: "Use me up, Universe."

 

By saying these words, I'm affirming my belief in my purpose. If this is what I'm truly meant to do, then all of the pieces will fall into place to get me there. I'm trusting that there is a plan far bigger than mine, and I'm surrendering my personal plan to this greater purpose. As always, this isn't about believing in a particular creed, religion, or dogma. It's about trusting that everything will fall into place to help me do what I'm meant to do.

 

Interestingly enough, a couple of weeks ago I was offered a full-time research coordinator position for a project that is going to help thousands of psychiatric patients at hospitals across Ontario, Canada. I helped write the grant for the project, and I'm very proud of what the study is going to accomplish. If I took the job, I would be making better money than my upcoming position at Harvard. I would have a 3-minute commute. I could keep my house, my car. I wouldn't have to move 600 miles away.

 

On paper, this sounds very comfortable.

 

So I checked in with myself. On the one hand, there was a voice inside that was screaming, "Take the job, take the job! Then you won't have to go through all of the stress of moving to Boston. You can stay where you are. You'll be comfortable." But as I sat in stillness, my true voice, my authentic voice, came through: "I know you're scared. This is a big transition, and it's ok to be nervous. If you take the job close to home, you will be comfortable, but you won't be happy. You contributed enough to that project by writing the grant. Now you can release it and go do what you're really meant to do in the world."

 

If I'd accepted that job offer, I would have spent years being inauthentically comfortable. Moving to Boston is causing me discomfort, but my experience of leaving the corporate world taught me that this discomfort will give way, eventually, to authentic comfort.

 

I want you to be brutally honest with yourself. Reach deep down inside and assess whether you are authentically or inauthentically comfortable in the following areas:

 

Job

Relationship

Family

Living Situation

Finances

Social Life/Friends

Personal Development

 

Remember, authentic comfort feels good, truthful and pure. Inauthentic comfort feels fake.

 

Where are you using comfort as a crutch?

 

Are You Scared Of Stress?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 25, 2012 at 1:30 PM

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I took a lot of things into consideration when deciding whether or not to pick up my life and move 600 miles away.  I thought about my friends, my family, my house. I considered the "brain drain" phenomenon, access to quality health care, and the pride and gratitude that I feel for being Canadian. I listed pros and cons.

 

The decision felt scary. It was (and is) scary.

 

After some deep introspection, I realized that while I was scared to uproot my life, there was one fear that was far surpassing any of my other worries.

 

I was scared of stress.

 

I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to handle the stress of making such a big change. I was scared that the decisions, details and drama would be too much to take. Most of all, I was worried that this transition would bring up all of my old demons: the control freak, the worrywart, the person who needed antidepressants to get through the pressure of being a grad student.

 

 

 

To be honest, I'm still afraid of these things.

 

But here's what I've learned:

 

I am an immensely resilient human being. Life has thrown me many challenges, but as my husband likes to remind me, I "kill it" every time. I've climbed mountains, molehills, and everything in between. I've been brought to my knees with grief, fear, and sadness. I've made myself sick from worry. I've fallen. Hard.

 

But I always get up. I always keep going. I always try to show up in the world as the best possible version of myself.

 

Because the truth of the matter is that no matter what happens today, the sun will always come up tomorrow. I am unfathomably blessed. I am healthy, strong, and whole. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and the support of people who love me.

 

So do you.

 

Unlike my childhood and early adulthood, I now have an arsenal of tools to help me kick stress to the curb. I've replaced antidepressants with yoga, meditation, healthy food, time in nature, self-care.

 

The trick is that I need to be willing to use my tools.

 

This isn't about a quick fix - about popping a pill every day. This is about embracing a radical shift in lifestyle. Instead of seeing my well-being as a fringe benefit that I'll get to when I have time, I now know that the only way for me to do what I'm meant to do in this world is to place my mental, physical and spiritual health at the top of my priority list. 

 

If you're facing a scary life decision, check in and ask yourself, "Am I scared because this isn't the right move for me, or am I scared of the stress that might come along with making such a big change?" An even deeper question might be, "Am I scared of success?"

 

Only you know the answers. But I will tell you this. Choosing comfortable over self-growth always leads to regret. Growth, by definition, is scary. You're entering new territory. Pushing your boundaries. Exiting your comfort zone. During these times, know two things:   

 

Stress is normal.

You can cope.

 

So take the leap. Make the change. Screw stress.

 

Stop taking life so seriously. Remember, there's nothing to fear but fear itself.  

 

My Favorite Stress-Reducing Yoga Pose

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 10, 2012 at 6:25 PM

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In this video blog I share the #1 yoga posture that I use to lower my stress after a long day. What's your favorite pose? Post your comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

Here's What I Do When Life Gets Tough...

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 25, 2012 at 10:45 AM

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A few weeks ago I made a major announcement about some big changes that are happening in my life. And while I'm beyond excited about the opportunity to move to Boston and research a topic I love, lately I've been feeling the inevitable stress that comes along with following your heart. I'm experiencing a roller coaster of emotions. One second I'm high from the supreme awesomeness of what lies before me, then in the next moment I'm filled with worry and self-doubt. 

 

Will I be able to pull this off?

What if I'm not good enough for Harvard?

Where am I going to live?

Who am I going to hang out with?

What am I going to do with my house, car, furniture?

 

 

 

As my to-do list grows, so does my stress. I've felt tired, scared, and overwhelmed. Being on the verge of tears has become a common occurrence. However I've also realized that I'm being given an amazing chance to practice what I preach. I'm constantly telling people to "feel the fear and do it anyway." To push through their limiting beliefs. To create a life they love.

 

Right now, the universe is providing me with a perfect opportunity to show you how. I'm going to have to walk my talk. Use my tools. Serve as an example that we all have the potential to create extraordinary lives.

 

It might not be easy. This transition is pushing every single stress button that I have. There will be doubts, tears, sleepless nights. But there will also be joy, love and the amazing feeling that comes from a life fully lived.

 

Here's what I'm doing right now to get through this period of change:   

 

1. Permission To Feel.

 

When I start feeling anxious or weepy, my ego often kicks in with thoughts like, "Look at you, bawling your eyes out. What a wimp. You don't really have it all together. You can't handle this. You thought you got rid of your anxiety issues years ago, but you were wrong!"

 

In these moments, I do my very best to remind myself that it is perfectly normal for me to be feeling a range of emotions right now. Just because I get sad or nervous or frustrated, that doesn't mean I'm crazy. I'm about to uproot almost everything in my life that feels safe, stable, comfortable and secure. Who wouldn't shed a few tears in this type of situation? As a matter of fact, it would probably be a bigger sign of insanity if I wasn't crying.

 

So, as much as I can, I'm letting myself off the hook. I'm trusting that my feelings are a valid expression of my current circumstances. 

 

2. I'll Figure It Out.

 

Author and business coach Marie Forleo often says, "Everything is figure-outable." In this wickedly inspiring video, Danielle LaPorte assures us that, "You'll figure it out."

 

Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by my to-do list, I remind myself that at every juncture in my life, I have always figured things out. Sometimes I made mistakes, but I learned from them. No matter what happens, I know that I am a resilient, capable human being who will, above all else, figure it out. 

 

3. Using My Tools.

 

During this time, I'm relying on yoga, meditation and self-care like never before. I'm eating healthy food. Getting extra sleep. Having bubble baths. Doing whatever it takes to calm myself down and help me feel grounded and safe.

 

Contrary to what you might think, this isn't easy for me. Like many people, when I get stressed, my first impulse is to continue running around like a chicken with my head cut off. This is quickly followed by a desire to plop down on the couch and eat a bag of nachos with a side of Ben & Jerry's.

 

When I get stressed, I don't want to meditate. I don't want to do yoga. I don't want to take care of myself. What I've realized over many years of making my health and well-being my #1 priority is that the times that I least want to use my tools are the times when I most need them. So, I force myself away from my computer and toward my yoga mat. I close my eyes for 30 seconds and focus on my breath. I go into Child's Pose for 2 minutes to calm down.

 

The beauty of these tools is that you don't need a fancy studio, relaxing music or mala beads to practice. You can take your practice anywhere. I do calming breathwork in my car. During conversations. When I'm fighting with my husband. Choose the tools that work best for you, and commit to using them daily, no matter where you are.  

 

4. Surrender & Trust.

 

I'll be the first to admit that I like to be in control. I like to have a plan. I make lists, spreadsheets and itemized itineraries. Post-its are my best friend. I want to know exactly how everything is going to work out. Right now, at this moment in my life, I can't.

 

I have no idea where I'm going to be living in 3 months. I don't know who's going to rent my house from me. I'm not sure whether I'm going to enjoy my new job. I have no clue what it's like to live in a big city.

 

When I first got the news about Harvard, I started planning in the trusted and true way that I always do, with lists, schedules and timelines. I soon realized, however, that there are many aspects of this journey that I can't plan. I don't know when my visa is going to get approved. So I don't know when I'll be able to rent an apartment in Boston or rent out my house here.

 

In other words, bye bye timeline!

 

The best I can do right now is surrender and trust that the universe has my back. Instead of viewing this change as scary, I'm doing my best to perceive it as an amazing adventure. I'm continuously affirming to myself that I will be guided and supported at every step. That I will navigate this change with grace and ease. Know that whatever you're facing in your life, you will get through it, too.

 

5. Come Into The Moment.

 

This is by far the #1 thing that is keeping me sane right now. Whenever my mind gets caught up in the tiny details of everything that I need to get done over the next few months, I try to remind myself to take a breath and come into the now.

 

As Terri Cole says, "Fear is a feeling, not a fact." In other words, all of the fears that rumble around in my head are not real. They are future-focused fabrications of my over-analytical mind. What's the point of getting freaked out about something that doesn't even exist? (And that may never exist?). It's a waste of energy.

 

The only thing that I know for sure is what's happening to me in any given moment. I don't know what's going to happen 2 minutes from now or 10 years from now. All I have is this point in time, this breath, this thought.

 

When your thoughts get carried away, come into the now.

 

The Bottom Line

 

When life gets tough, know that you have the tools, resources and resiliency to get through it. Look at everything you've been through already - and you're still standing.

 

Over the next few months, I'm going to be as transparent as possible about my journey so that we can both learn from my experience. Hopefully I'll get through it in one piece, and manage to inspire you at the same time.

 

What do you do when life gets tough? Did you find my tips helpful? Share your thoughts with me below or post your comments on my Facebook Page!

 

MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT + How To Manifest Your Dream Job

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 6, 2012 at 10:10 AM

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I'm writing a special edition of my blog today because I have some major news. I'm absolutely thrilled to announce that I have accepted a position as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School and Kripalu's Institute for Extraordinary Living!

 

I'm over the moon, because this is truly my dream job. I'm going to be managing a project called Yoga In The Schools, where I'll be studying the effects of implementing yoga in high school (and elementary school) phys-ed classes. In a nutshell, the project is a perfect combination of my love for research and my passion for wellness. 

 

Here I am right before my interview at Harvard (I was so nervous!):

 

 

 

The most amazing aspect of this opportunity is that it didn't happen by accident. I manifested this job using several techniques that I outline below.

 

But first, what does all of this mean for the rest of my business and my relationship with you? In all likelihood you won't notice many changes. Over the next few months my husband and I will be preparing to move to Boston, and I will most likely be starting at Harvard in January. In the meantime, and throughout my time in Boston, you will continue to receive my blog posts. I'm also hoping to give talks and teach yoga in the Boston area if those types of opportunities arise. I will continue to update my website, Facebook and Twitter regularly. So you can rely on me to keep providing you with loads of content to create a life you love!

 

I'm embarking on the next phase of my journey, and I'm taking you with me. Together, we're going to learn what it means to break through fear and follow our hearts. Keep reading to find out what I've already learned so far.

 

How To Manifest Your Dream Job

 

When I quit my corporate job I was determined to get paid to do what I love. I wasn't exactly sure what I loved or how I was going to get paid to do it, but what I did know is that I couldn't spend one more minute trapped in a cubicle. Deep down inside, I felt that I was on this earth to help people - but my vision was blurry. What did I have to offer? Who could I help? Would anyone want what I had to give?

 

I spent my first few post-corporate months getting very clear about what I loved to do. After some intense brainstorming sessions, I narrowed it down to four things: Writing, Speaking, Research and Yoga. I wasn't sure if people would pay me to do these things. But I was willing to try.

 

Now, over 2 years later, I've manifested a job that combines all four of my passions. Here's how I did it:

 

1. Clarity.

 

One of the first things I did after leaving the corporate world was get clear about what I loved to do. I didn't worry about creating a 4-year business plan, complete with pricing and sales goals. I simply got very honest with myself about what I wanted to be doing with my time - regardless of whether other people would think that these things were a socially acceptable "job." Eventually I started focusing on how much to charge for my services, but at first I gave myself the freedom to choose how I wanted to design my workdays.

 

2. Tenacity.

 

I've been turned down on many occasions over the past 2 years. There have been people who didn't want to work with me, who thought what I was doing was crazy, who flat out rejected my ideas. I've been asked to remove PowerPoint slides about my book (The Antidepressant Antidote) from my presentations because companies were afraid of the topic. I've had people leave nasty comments for me on Facebook. I've failed. Hard.

 

Throughout all of this, I put my head down and kept going. It wasn't easy. Sometimes I wondered if the naysayers were right. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe I had nothing of value to offer. But then my True Self would encourage me to take the next step. Even when I wasn't completely sure what I was doing or how it was all going to turn out, I kept listening to my gut instead of listening to everyone else.

 

Tama Kieves, author of This Time I Dance and Inspired & Unstoppable, put it this way:

 

"Like many inspired souls, I’ve often felt lonely in my consistent desire for true expression. I’d envy those who could kick back in “normal” lives, enjoy a few burgers at a backyard barbecue and some nice, conventional success. They’d fix a garage door, buy a house at the lake, or take a cruise to Alaska, and that would be enough. They didn’t wrestle with some unnameable gravitational pull, a colony of inner voices, or the secret claustrophobia of their own trapped potential. They didn’t need to change the world, chant some mantra, become a brand, or win a Pulitzer or a Grammy. In other words, they could just turn on the news. They didn’t need to be the news."

 

Following your heart can feel lonely, but it's worth it.

 

3. Patience.

 

Right before I quit my corporate job, I came across an article in Yoga Journal Magazine about research that was being done at Harvard Medical School. The article profiled a professor named Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa, who was studying the effects of yoga on well-being. Reading the article gave me goosebumps and caused a light bulb to go off in my head. I knew in that moment that this was what I was supposed to be doing.

 

At around the same time, I became aware of a postdoctoral research position at Harvard Medical School that was being offered by one of Dr. Khalsa's colleagues who studied the neuroscience of yoga. I applied, but was rejected because I didn't have a strong enough background in brain imaging.

 

I was disappointed, but I kept going. I sent an email to Dr. Khalsa asking if I could help with his research from afar (for free). He agreed, and for the past 2 years I've been helping his team publish an article about yoga as an intervention for performance anxiety in adolescent musicians. We bumped up against several obstacles when trying to publish the article, but I'm happy to say that it has now been accepted for publication in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.

 

Two months ago when Dr. Khalsa advertised a position for a postdoctoral research fellow in his lab, I jumped at the opportunity. And I beat out 26 other applicants to get it.

 

My point? Throughout this entire process I have had to be patient and trust in divine timing. I'm very achievement-oriented and I usually want things done yesterday. But the universe doesn't work that way.

 

As Reid Tracy, President and CEO of Hay House publishing, said at a conference that I attended: "It takes 10 years to create an overnight success." In other words, all of the people who you see on TV and Facebook who look like they "made it" overnight, usually put at least 10 years (or 10,000 hours according to the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell) into their passion. They were going after what they wanted, but they were also patient and trusted in the process.

 

4. Guts (aka Balls).

 

One of my dear friends once said to me, "Bethany, you are so brave to be doing what you're doing. You have major balls!" I laughed at the time, but have since realized that one of the main things that helped me manifest this opportunity at Harvard has been my willingness to feel the fear and do it anyway. It took balls for me to:

  • Quit my job.
  • Put my products and services out there (which involves marketing and sharing my truth & vulnerability).
  • Contact a Harvard professor (who had no idea who I was) to ask if I could work with him.
  • Work for that professor for free for 2 years in the hope that eventually a paid opportunity would come up.

It's also going to take balls for me to move to Boston. The cost of living is astronomical. My husband and I will have to trade in our house for a 2 bedroom apartment. Two cars for no car. Small city for big city. We're leaving our friends and family behind.

 

To be honest, I'm absolutely terrified. 

 

But I'm going. Why? Because I'm trusting my gut, which is telling me that this job is the direction I'm supposed to take. Maybe the job will last 1 year. Maybe I'll end up moving to Boston permanently. Who knows. What I've learned throughout this process is that I don't have to have it all figured out. I just have to be willing to try.

 

5. Help.

 

I didn't do this alone. I've hired business coaches who were invaluable in helping me clarify my vision and break through obstacles (thanks Rich German and Gabrielle Bernstein!). I've read countless books, taken online courses, attended teleseminars and conferences, and talked to supportive friends.

 

No person is an island. It's much easier to face a difficult journey when you have support!

 

The Bottom Line

 

If you're unsatisfied with your current line of work, do something about it. You might not be able to leave your job right away, but you could start saving up money to leave when you're ready. Or you might take a night course to beef up your skills. Whatever it is, have the courage to do it. With a little clarity, tenacity, patience, guts and help, there's no way you can lose.

 

If you'd like more tips on this topic, plus some personal instruction from me, check out my online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.

 

What do you think of my big announcement?  Share your thoughts with me below or post your comments on my Facebook Page.

 

If you live in the Boston area, I'd love to hear from you! Where are the good spots to live, shop, do yoga, ride my bike? 

 

Until next time, keep following your heart and I will, too.

 

How To Make Wellness Your Lifestyle

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 16, 2012 at 3:05 PM

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Sticking with healthy habits can be hard. You might start out with intentions of becoming a green-juice-drinking, exercising, raw vegan yogi, only to turn into a Ben & Jerry's eating, sloth-like couch potato a few days later. If this sounds familiar, take heart. You're not alone.

 

There's a huge trend toward wellness right now, which is fantastic - but it can also cause a lot of guilt. We're bombarded with self-help gurus, fitness mavens and Zen masters who seem to live in a constant state of awesomeness, while we sheepishly hide our cheetos in a secret cupboard and desperately try to make it look like we have it all together. My message to you today is this: stop trying so hard

 

The world wants your vulnerability. Your authenticity. The honest and truthful aspects of your personality that make you unique - including your faults.

 

Think about it. Which of your friends do you like the best? Do you enjoy spending time with the Stepford Wives who try too hard to be perfect? Or would you rather hang out with your best friend from high school who readily admits all of her imperfections (and shares her cheetos too). I'd hazard a bet that the people who are nearest and dearest to your heart are the friends and family who show you their dark side. Their shadow. The rusty corners and chipping paint of their innermost self.

 

Why? Because vulnerability breeds trust and intimacy. Research shows that when people disclose information that makes them feel vulnerable, and they are supported in return, they feel closer and more intimate with the person who they self-disclosed to.

 

There are several ways to start leading a healthier lifestyle - and it all starts with letting yourself be vulnerable.

 

Tips To Make Wellness A Habit

 

1. Give Yourself A Break

 

Wellness isn't something you need to fake. Do your best to implement some new habits, but don't be afraid to let people know when you fall off the wagon. You can even set up a buddy system where you partner up with a friend who you can turn to for support when needed.

 

2. Start Small

 

Old habits die hard. If you're used to eating ice cream every night before bed, quitting cold turkey probably isn't the best option. Start with a healthy habit that seems manageable and work up from there. You might commit to eating 1 healthy meal per day or taking a brisk walk in the evenings after work.

 

When I first started practicing yoga, I found meditation excruciatingly difficult. So I started by meditating for 5 minutes per day. Now, many years later, I meditate for an hour per day. If I'd started out trying to meditate for an hour I never would have stuck with it!

 

3. Trust Yourself

 

No matter how many self-help books or diet fads you consume, you will not make significant, stable changes in your life until you're ready. If you're trying to force or push yourself too hard, your changes won't last. This has happened to me several times. For years I've been surrounded by raw foodies, vegetarians, gluten-f ree advocates and smoothie addicts, and I often felt guilty about my love for a juicy steak, chocolate and wine. (Learn all about my unhealthy habits in my video Confessions of a Yogini).

 

Eventually I decided to simply trust that when I was ready to change, I would. When people tried to gracefully (or not so gracefully) shove their ideas down my throat, I listened, took their points into consideration, and let it simmer for awhile. Within a year of taking this approach, I was eating raw smoothies every morning for breakfast and I had reduced my intake of meat, chocolate, wine and gluten. And while I don't think I'll ever give up meat, wine or chocolate entirely (what a horrible world that would be!), I've started to listen to my body and trust when I've had enough.

 

 

 

4. Pay Attention

 

Along these lines, start paying attention to what your body is telling you. Your body is an immensely intelligent machine and it never lies. Do you feel bloated and tired after you eat? Maybe you need to cut down on your gluten intake. Are you hungover most mornings? Stop drinking so much. Are your shoulders tight? Is your stomach constantly in knots? Try yoga.

 

As you start picking up on cues from your body, the healthy habits that are best suited to you will come naturally. Act on them. 

 

5. Change Your Outlook

 

On my way to teach a yoga class over a year ago, I ran into the owner of the yoga studio as she was sipping on a homemade smoothie out of a mason jar. She told me what was in the smoothie (which sounded delicious), to which I longingly replied, "Man, I wish I had time to make something like that for myself in the morning." She very matter-of-factly responded, "It's just about shifting your lifestyle."

 

I didn't quite get what she meant at the time, but now I do. Making wellness a lifestyle involves an important - and often difficult - reorganization of our priorities. We often perceive acts of self-care - things like getting a massage, taking a bubble bath, or going for a walk in nature - as luxuries that we would do if only we had the time or the m oney.

 

Here's the hard truth: you need to make the time and not be afraid to spend the m oney.

 

Your life is not going to change until you take action steps to make it happen. I thought I didn't have time to make myself a smoothie every morning or meditate every day - but I did. It didn't happen overnight, but little by little I started to let go of the parts of my life that weren't serving me so that I could make room for my health and well-being to become my #1 priority.

 

For example: I quit my corporate job. I started planning my meals in advance so that I could make healthier choices. I joined a Community Shared Agriculture Program to increase my fruit and veggie intake (and help the environment). I stopped working in the evenings.

 

When I was on antidepressants, I went into debt paying for naturopaths, supplements, therapy and yoga. I still see my naturopath regularly even when I feel low on funds. Why? Because the positive results are worth more than any amount of m oney in the world.

 

Was this an easy transition? No! Sometimes my workaholic self still tries to guilt me into working for longer. And I don't always eat well and take care of myself. But the beauty of it is that I feel so good from making wellness my lifestyle that most of the time I find it hard to go back to my old ways.

 

The Bottom Line

 

In the end, you are responsible for your life. Transitioning into a healthier lifestyle might not happen overnight, but it is possible.

 

What healthy habit would you like to bring into your life?  Post your comments below or on my Facebook Page!

 

Meditate Less, Play More

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 31, 2012 at 11:55 AM

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Are you meditating too much? Learn how to balance work, relaxation and play in my latest video blog:

 

 

 

Three Tips To Attract Abundance

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 19, 2012 at 4:45 PM

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Last week I went on a spontaneous Thursday night road trip with my husband. We packed towels, water and sunscreen, and drove to a nearby lake to escape from the heat of the day. We were met with a scene of beauty. The beach was almost empty, the water was lapping gently against the shore, and the sun was beginning its decent into the horizon.

 

After laying on the beach for awhile we decided to go for a swim. The lake was calm, cool and wonderfully refreshing. As we dried off I was struck by the abundance surrounding us and awed by the fact that mother nature provides so much beauty for free. The trees, the breeze, the birds, the sights, the smells and sounds of a beautiful summer evening. And none of it cost us a penny.

 

 

 

I was reminded of a lovely poem by Hafiz:

 

Even after all this time

the sun never says to the earth, "You owe Me."

Look what happens with a love like that,

It lights up the Whole Sky.

 

What I realized in that moment is that I am infinitely abundant. Society has tried to convince me that I'm only as abundant as the dollar amount in my bank account - but this is utterly false. Think about it. What is money? It's a piece of paper to which we arbitrarily assign value. In fact, most of the money in your bank account isn't even there. It gets loaned out to other people almost as soon as you deposit it.

 

Stop letting your monthly bank statement dictate your sense of worth.

 

No matter how much money you have in the bank right now, you are abundant - just take a look around you.

 

Billy Corgan, lead singer of The Smashing Pumpkins, put it this way: "Everything I want is free." In other words, all of the things that you want to bring into your life - happiness, joy, peace, beauty, love - none of it costs a cent. The reason you want that new pair of shoes or a nicer car is because of the way you think these objects will make you feel. The good news is that you can evoke these feelings anytime - without having to break the bank.

 

Why? Because happiness is a choice you make. You can't always choose what happens to you. But you always have a choice about how you react to what happens to you. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who was imprisoned in a concentration camp during World War II put it perfectly:

 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

 

My point? No matter what's going on for you right now, you can choose to feel abundant. The best part is that this feeling will actually attract more abundance into your life. Like attracts like.

 

Here are a few tips to help you tap into your inner abundance:

  1. Shift Perspective. Instead of focusing on your dwindling finances, pay attention to what you already have. We live in a society of over-consumption. Everything on TV and in the media leads us to believe that we need more, more, more. But I bet you already have more than enough. The fact that you're reading this right now means you have access to the internet and a computer - which is far more than many people have. The next time you buy a coffee, say a silent prayer of thanks for the fact that you have enough change to enjoy your favorite latte. Notice the abundance all around you. Nature is full of examples - there are an abundance of leaves on each tree, an abundance of water in each lake, an abundance of warmth from one ray of sunlight. You don't need a porsche to feel rich.
     
  2. Give Back. One of the best things you can do when you feel a sense of lack is to spend time helping someone who is worse off than you. You could volunteer at a homeless shelter, or donate to your favorite charity. If you're really low on funds, you might simply send a loving email to someone you care about. Sites like Facebook provide us with a lot of opportunities to see what our friends are up to - and get jealous about it. Instead of feeling envious about your best friend's pictures from her Hawaiian vacation, take a deep breath, wish your friend all of the goodness and abundance that you want for yourself, and then "like" her photo album.
     
  3. Be Grateful. Every morning I take 2-5 minutes to sit in stillness with my hands on my heart and say, out loud, what I'm grateful for. I do this when I'm sick, tired, and grumpy. I do it when I'm busy and feel like I don't have enough time. I do it when I feel like I don't have anything to be grateful for - because I can always find something. Starting my morning from a place of gratitude really sets the tone for the rest of the day. Usually, my gratitude list goes something like this:

"Universe, thank-you for the beauty that exists in my life. Thank-you for my health and well-being, for my senses that allow me to see the sky, feel the rain, smell the flowers. Thank-you for the amazing relationships that surround me. Thank-you for providing me with all of the financial abundance that I need. (I say this even when I feel broke). Thank-you for continuing to guide me on a path that is of the highest service to me and to the world. (I say this even when I feel lost). Thank-you for the roof over my head and the fantastic food that I get to enjoy every day. Thank-you for this blessed, blessed life."

 

Here's what I want you to do. Write your gratitude list in the comments section below. Or better yet, post your list on my Facebook page. I want to hear from you! What are you grateful for right now? Know that by putting this gratitude out into the universe, you will attract even more positivity into your life.

 

To quote again from Viktor Frankl:

 

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

 

What do you choose? Abundance or lack?

 

Fifty Shades of Satisfaction + Five Tips for a Smokin' Sex Life

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 6, 2012 at 9:55 AM

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I never thought I'd write a blog about sex, but I'm noticing an interesting trend happening in the lives of many women right now. Between the movie Magic Mike and the book Fifty Shades of Grey, it seems as though women are becoming more open about their interest in sex. I think this is a good thing. Why? Because, as Dr. Lissa Rankin often says, having a rockin' sex life is an important part of our overall health - both mental and physical.

 

I've always been a huge proponent of women being open about their sexual needs and desires - and I've gotten into many conversations about sex (with both men and women) that would make almost anyone blush. I'm also a sex researcher and I've spent many years studying what makes couples tick.

 

So I figure that, after 2 years of blogging and 8 years of researching, it's about time I wrote about this taboo topic.

 

First, I'm happy to see these types of movies and books becoming popular - even if they are relatively cheesy. I think many women still feel awkward about sex. The word "vagina" makes many of us cringe, and for some women, the mere idea of having sex with the lights on is terrifying. Some women are so ashamed of their bodies, needs, and desires (or lack thereof) that they turn sex into another task to check off their "to do" list. During the grand act, many women lay still, stay quiet, and hope it'll all be over with in time to watch Dancing With The Stars.

 

In fact, studies show that approximately 75% of all women never reach orgasm from intercourse alone (without the help of hands, toys, mouth, etc.), and 10-15% of women never reach orgasm under any circumstances. I want to make something very clear - I don't think this is the woman's fault or her partner's fault. It's no one's fault. But there are things both partners can do (whether you're in a heterosexual or homosexual relationship) to optimize your health by spicing up your sex life.

 

Tips For Sizzling Sex

  1. Masturbate. Yep, I said it. Ladies, how can you expect your partner to know how to pleasure you if you don't know how to pleasure yourself? Womens' vaginas, while beautiful, are also complex. The clitoris is a bit of an enigma, especially compared to the penis, which doesn't need much of an instruction manual. Many women approach their bodies with a mix of fear and distaste - and most aren't even familiar with the basics of their own anatomy. Develop a relationship with yourself "down there." You need to learn what makes you tick - and then you need to ask for it from your partner.
     
  2. Switch It Up. If you're involved in a long-term relationship, your sex life might be getting stale (or be completely non-existent). You might know your partner so well that you could name every mole, scar and freckle on his/her body. Your partner's needs might be so familiar to you that you can make him/her climax in 25 seconds. That's great - but sometimes you need to spice things up a bit. Studies consistently show that couples who do new/exciting things together report higher levels of relationship satisfaction. Maybe you could role play that you're strangers, or book a getaway, or download a sexy movie. At the very least, you could try something other than missionary.
     
  3. Get Comfortable. Do you know what's really sexy in a woman? Confidence. To me, the sexiest women are those who don't have a perfect body, skin, face, or hair - but who are confident in who they are. These women can rock a bathing suit even if they're 50 pounds overweight or their breasts are saggy or they just gave birth a month ago. These women exude an energy that is infectious and absolutely beautiful. Trust that your partner loves you - regardless of your shape or size. Instead of timidly turning out the lights and laying still while your partner does his/her thing, light some candles, throw on some lingerie and wake up the neighbors. I guarantee your partner will find you sexier than ever.
     
  4. Be Open. One of the main things I've learned in the years I've spent studying romantic relationships is that communication is king. You can't expect your partner to know what you want sexually. You have to tell - or better yet show - him/her. Maybe you don't like it when your partner goes down on you, or perhaps you're interested in trying out a threesome. These types of discussions are uncomfortable for many people, but absolutely necessary. How can you expect to get your needs met if your partner doesn't know what those needs are? (If you don't even know what your needs are, refer to tip #1 above).
     
  5. Let Go. Dr. Guy Grenier, psychologist and sex researcher, often says: "Sometimes you're in the mood for a nice, three course dinner. And other times you just want a Big Mac." His point? Not all of your sexual encounters have to be beautiful, romantic, drawn out scenes from The Notebook, complete with 3 hours of foreplay. Sometimes you might just want a quickie in an elevator - which can be equally as sexy. Let go of the need to have perfect sex all the time. Sometimes things just aren't going to go as swimmingly as you'd like.  For more tips on how to create a foundation for good sex, check out Dr. Grenier's book The 10 Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married.

The Bottom Line

 

In the end, I'm not sure why Magic Mike and Fifty Shades of Grey are suddenly popular. Maybe women are "coming out" about feeling sexually repressed in their relationships. Or perhaps women are becoming more comfortable opening up about their sexual needs. Either way, I'm glad to see more women speaking openly with each other about sex.

 

One of my friends recently said she heard the word "penis" 7 times while waiting in line for Magic Mike. Now those are the types of conversations I like to see women having.

 

 

 

I Almost Died (And Learned A Lot): Five Tips To Create A Life Worth Living

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 29, 2012 at 9:40 AM

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Let me tell you about the time I almost died. It was a lovely summer day in August 2003. I was meeting with friends on a patio, enjoying the slowed down pace of the summer season. As I lifted my hand to fix my hair I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my palm. I'd been stung by a bee.

 

For most people, this wouldn't be a huge deal. But for me it was different. I'm deathly allergic to bees and I try to avoid the little creatures like the plague.

 

As luck would have it (thank-you universe!) I was two blocks away from a hospital. So I walked (ok, ran) to the emergency room, blasting past the person at the door who wanted to ask me if I had any symptoms of a respiratory disorder before I went in.

 

With tears in my eyes I quickly explained my situation to the nurse. She asked me to calm down and take a seat. We looked at my hand, and could see red bumps forming along the veins of my arm as the venom started to make its way through my system.

 

The Waiting Game

 

The nurse led me to a private room, hooked me up to a bunch of monitors and asked me to wait.

 

"Wait for what?" I asked.

 

"We have to wait to see what happens." She replied.

 

I was flabbergasted. Weren't they going to give me some medicine? Where was the handsome ER-esque doctor who was supposed to appear in these types of situations?

 

The nurse smiled and left me alone, with the beeping heart monitor to keep me company. No magazines. No books. No cell phone. Nothing.

 

I was terrified.

 

At the same time, I was being given an amazing opportunity.

 

Why? Because I was asked to hold tight, wait, and see if I would die.

 

Most people die unexpectedly. I, on the other hand, was being given a rare chance to contemplate my life.

 

So that's what I did.

 

I'd just turned 24 a few days earlier. I was a stressed out grad student who was obsessed with achieving academically. I'd been taking antidepressants for 4 years. A series of bad decisions had turned my romantic life into an absolute mess. I'd just moved to a new city and still hadn't developed any friendships that felt truly close. My family lived 3 hours away and the nurse had told my friends to go home. I was alone.

 

Bottom line? I wasn't very happy with my life so far.

 

It's not like my life had been horrendous up to that point. Far from it. But in that moment I realized that if I died, I wouldn't be leaving this earth in peace.

 

The Turning Point

 

After awhile my throat and ears started to tingle. Then they went numb. I knew what this meant - the next step was anaphylactic shock - my throat would close up and I wouldn't be able to breathe.

 

I was too scared to cry.

 

Luckily the monitors must have alerted someone, because two nurses and a doctor came rushing into the room. They gave me intravenous benadryl and then told me to wait. Again.

 

The benadryl worked, and a few hours later I was discharged. The nurse asked me if I wanted to call anyone to give me a ride home, but there was no one to call. So, with my hand swollen up to the size of a baseball glove, I took the bus.

 

I gained a new perspective on the bus that day. Surrounded by a sea of stressed out students, annoyed parents and zombie-like commuters I realized that I didn't want to be like any of them.

 

Since that lovely summer day almost 9 years ago I've changed my life in miraculous ways. I started making my health and well-being my #1 priority. I got off antidepressants. I got into a healthy relationship. I left my soul-sucking cubicle. I have close friends who I adore. I've found ways to manage my stress. Most importantly, I've become fiercely committed to creating a life I love.

 

How To Create A Life Worth Living

  1. Make a success list. Before you get down on yourself about how your life isn't where you want it to be, make a list of how far you've come. Include everything, no matter how small. Maybe you had perfect attendance in high school, or maybe you're proud of yourself for managing to get out of bed every morning. Write it down.
     
  2. Make a bucket list. We all have things we want to do before we die. Maybe you want to go to Africa, or end world hunger, or learn how to ride a bike. Picture yourself on your deathbed, uttering the words, "I wish I'd..." Then fill in the blanks.
     
  3. Take stock. Now it's time to get honest with yourself about where your life is falling short. Why haven't you done what's on your bucket list? Why are you choosing to settle when you know you deserve better? Don't judge yourself. These apparent shortcomings are going to fuel your fire and get you inspired.
     
  4. Pretend that this is it. Let's imagine that a very reliable psychic predicted that you are going to die tomorrow. What would you do differently today? Is there something you haven't told someone because you're "waiting for the right time?" Is there someone you need to forgive?
     
  5. Stop making excuses. Here's a fundamental truth: You deserve an exceptional life. It doesn't matter what you've done in the past. It doesn't matter how low or unworthy you feel right now. The simple fact that you are human makes you worthy. Life is too short for excuses. Stop settling. Start today by taking one courageous step forward.

 

"One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure its worth watching." - Positively Positive

 

When my life flashed before my eyes 9 years ago, it was painful to watch. Now, almost a decade later, I could die tomorrow knowing that I've taken every step I could to make my life as amazing as possible. Today, right now, commit to striking as many items off your bucket list as you can.

 

Then, when your time comes, your life will be worth watching.

Would You Rather Be Comfortable Or Free?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 15, 2012 at 9:55 AM

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My cat taught me an important lesson this week. In the summer I spend a lot of time in my back yard, which means I'm constantly going in and out of my patio door. Chloe is an indoor cat, but she likes to lay inside the door and watch what I'm doing. As I go in and out of the house, I'm always having to step over her as she eagerly sniffs the air and gazes longingly outside.

 

But she never moves.

 

I can leave the door wide open and she doesn't budge. Her little face seems to ache with the desire to chase the birds, to run around in the grass, to be free. But it's like there's an invisible force field standing between her and the life of her dreams. A life where she gets to follow her intuition and live in a way that's natural and instinctual to her.

 

Instead of bolting out the door into the yard, she yawns, rolls over, and continues to lay on the floor. Why?

 

Because she's comfortable. She's scared of the unknown. It's easier for her to be overweight and lethargic than to take a risk.

 

She's like many of us.

 

When it comes to following our heart, we're often bound by invisible shackles - formless force fields that live largely in our heads. We're afraid of what others will think. We're terrified of the unknown. It's much easier to stay within our comfort zone. In fact, we've become so comfortable with our stress and suffering that it's actually become a way of life.

 

I recently watched a documentary showing that stress is linked in a very interesting way to our position on the societal hierarchy. The movie highlighted the research of Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky, which suggests that the lower a baboon is on its social hierarchy, the more stressed it is (based on hormones like cortisol). This finding was replicated in humans by a large scale study of civil servant workers in the UK. The Whitehall study found that people who were in lower status positions experienced a larger number of stress-related health problems and even died sooner than their high status counterparts.

 

How does all of this relate to my cat?

 

I believe that many of us feel like we're low on some sort of hierarchy, when in reality, we've created the hierarchy with our own minds. We see ourselves as not being smart or driven enough to pursue our passions, so we stay where we are. In a sense, my cat (and the rest of us) experience a form of learned helplessness, where we don't do anything to change our situation because we feel like there's nothing we can do about it. We suffer through chronic stress because we feel like we don't have control.

 

But we do.

 

Personally, I refuse to believe that being trapped in a cubicle for 8 hours a day is the best that any of us is going to get out of life.

 

Then why do we stay in jobs we hate?

 

A lot of it has to do with money and with the things that we believe we need to have in order to fit in and climb the imaginary hierarchy. We need a big house, two cars, a cottage, a pool and a white picket fence to prove that we've "made it."

 

What if, instead of relying on these external indicators to prove our worth, we started to define success differently? What if we started to value self-care over ambition?

 

As an example, it takes me between 2.5 and 3 hours to get ready every morning - not because I'm putting on make-up or taking forever in the shower - but because I take the time to make myself a healthy breakfast and meditate for an hour before I get to work. Sometimes my workaholic personality kicks in and I start to feel guilty that I'm not at my desk by 8:30am. But who made up the rule that I have to be working by 8:30am to be successful? Who said I have to be chained to my computer all day to be considered a valuable member of society?

 

Not me.

 

Growing up, my family didn't have a car, a huge house, or a white picket fence. At one point, a motorcycle was our only form of transportation and my mom didn't even have her drivers license. But we survived. Nowadays many of us can't imagine how our lives would work without a two-car household. But it can. It's all about shifting our perspective from the external things that we think we need to make us happy, to accessing the happiness that already exists within us.

 

Here's how I've decided to define success for myself:

 

I'm living a happy and free life, where I love what I'm doing every day. I have plenty of time for self-care, which I see as a sacred practice. I have more than enough time to cook healthy meals, enjoy all of my relationships and spend time in nature. My life is full of travel, fun and adventure. I nurture my love of music, reading, writing and trying new things. I don't need to be ambitious to feel worthy. Work doesn't feel like work. I'm full of energy, vitality and love. I make a difference in the world.

 

Notice that there's no dollar amount in my description. Don't get me wrong, I'm completely unapologetic about the fact that I deserve to be paid well for the gifts that I bring to the world. But in the end I know that it's not the money that's going to make me happy. On my deathbed, I'm not going to care about how much money I made. I'm going to remember the experiences I had.

 

I'm fiercely committed to continuing to create this life for myself. Is it an unrealistic, woo-woo pipe dream? No.

 

Since breaking my cubicle shackles 2 years ago I've realized that when I follow my heart, the universe supports me. Sometimes I have my doubts, but those doubts are always replaced by guidance. Opportunities arise at the exact right times. The money always lands in my bank account when I need it. As I put love and passion out into the world, it comes back to me in beautiful ways.

 

Here's my vision for you:

 

When the patio door opens, bolt. Run headlong into the freedom that you deserve. Follow your instincts and trust that you will be supported. Don't stay where you are just because it's comfortable and safe.

 

Throw out the hierarchy, the self-limiting beliefs and the kitchen sink.

 

As Mary Oliver says, this is your one precious life. Would you rather spend it being comfortable or free?

 

 

 

Heal Your Sense Of Disconnect

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 11, 2012 at 1:40 PM

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I took some time out of my vacation to record a video blog just for you! In this blog I share an easy but powerful way for you to reconnect with your True Nature.

 

 

 

 

Do You Feel Lost?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on May 22, 2012 at 4:40 PM

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There are times when we feel like we're in the dark. Fumbling. Desperately trying to find our way. We might be stuck in a dead end job or grieving from a lousy relationship or suffering from health concerns. Everything looks bleak. We seem to constantly be on the verge of tears with no end in sight.

 

 

 

During these times, be grateful.

 

When we're at our lowest points, we do the most learning. This is when a tiny voice inside of you starts to get louder. The voice of your True Self. The voice that refuses to let you live a stagnant life. The voice that pushes you outside of your comfort zone and forces you to do what's best for you - regardless of what others think.

 

You might not be used to listening to this voice. But it's always there. And it always knows what's best for you. It starts out as a whisper, or an ulcer. A nagging feeling that things just aren't quite right. A knowing that you deserve better.

 

Listen to this voice. It might be asking you to do something scary - but it will never lead you in the wrong direction.

 

As you begin paying attention to your True Self, your life might start to look a bit strange. You might not follow the path that society has set out for you. You will not conform. Friends and family might get upset. But your inner guidance will continue to ask you to choose you.

 

Your life might begin to resemble a series of odd decisions (leaving a "great" job, partner, city, lifestyle) for the pursuit of the unknown. During these times, know that you are not alone.

 

You are not lost. You are finding yourself.

 

This process of coming home to your True Self can happen at any age or stage. It can creep up on you in the middle of the night. It might come knocking on your door on a random Tuesday evening. It might show up as a fatal diagnosis. Or it might speak to you on a day like any other day.

 

But this day is different.

 

This is the day that you wake up. This is the day that you take one step, no matter how small, toward your best life. This is the day that you stop listening to everyone else's opinions and start paying attention to your own inner guidance. This is the day that you say, "Enough." This is the day when you summon up the courage to make a change.

 

It will feel scary.

 

There will be times when you question your choices. There will be times when nothing makes sense. There will be times when your life feels like a mess. There will be times when you cry so hard your stomach hurts.

 

Don't give up.

 

The world needs people like you. People who are willing to question the status quo. People who are so hellbent on creating a life they love that they inspire others to do the same. Trust that you are learning the lessons that you need to learn so that you can play the part you are meant to play on this earth.

 

During your dark times, read these words to yourself (by Cheryl Richardson):

 

Sweetheart,

 

Don't worry, you'll be okay
Slowing down is good
Wisdom simmers and steeps and grows with time

 

Stop pushing yourself

 

You are enough just as you are
There is no need to perform

 

Relax
Let life unfold

 

You have what it takes to handle anything
Anything

 

Good things come from patience, not pushing
Let space and time reveal something miraculous

 

Trust life

 

Accept where you are
Right now
Stop the judgment and internal lectures

 

Just be here

 

Don't run or think or eat or scheme
Return to yourself in this moment
Where life is perfect and peaceful and safe.

 

.............

 

I started writing this blog as a message to you, but I now realize that I was writing a love letter to myself. I once said to my husband, "Sometimes I feel lost." To which he replied, "You're not lost. You're finding yourself." In my effort to share this powerful message with you, I ended up writing a love letter to all of us.

 

If you could write a love letter to yourself, what would it say? Take some time to give yourself the same love, care and acceptance that you would give to your own child.

 

Above all, keep listening to the voice of your True Self. It will always lead you to your highest good.

 

For more tips, check out my recent blog: You Are Exactly Where You're Supposed To Be.

 

Did my love letter hit home for you? Share your thoughts with me below!

 

 

Tips To Reduce Overwhelm

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on May 10, 2012 at 6:40 PM

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In this video blog I share what I've been doing lately to help me manage my busy schedule and cope with the feelings of overwhelm that can pop up when we have a lot on our plate.

 

 

 

 

The Next Phase of My Journey (Or, How I Intend To Become An Urban Legend)

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 20, 2012 at 2:00 PM

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Four weeks ago my coach asked me a simple question: "When do you feel the most inspired?" I thought about it for a moment and replied, "When I'm outside, in nature." This answer gave me a huge shift in perspective, and in a few short weeks it has changed the course of my business and, in some ways, my life.

 

What I realized is that even though I love being an author, speaker, researcher and yoga teacher, I spend most of my time inside, hunched over my computer. Sure, it's great that I'm not stuck in a cubicle anymore, but in many ways the past 2 years have closely resembled my corporate life. I get up, log in to my computer, check my email, work at my computer for most of the day, and call it quits sometime between 3pm-5pm.

 

I have a ton more flexibility than I used to, and I don't have to report to anyone - but I still spend most of my time indoors. I realized that if I truly want to help people create a life they love, I need to practice what I preach. If being in nature inspires me, then I need to spend more time in nature.

 

My coach left me with a homework assignment: look into some opportunities to work outdoors.

 

After our call, I said a little prayer to the universe. It went something like this: "Universe, if I'm meant to work outside, please allow these opportunities to flow into my life with ease. I trust that you will bring me whatever I need so that I can be of the highest service to the world."

 

Later that night, I went for a reiki appointment with a healer that I've been working with for years. We decided to set up an exchange where I would get three reiki sessions in return for helping her in some area of her life. As we were brainstorming how I could help her out, she said, "Well, I have a bunch of work that needs to be done at my farm. I hurt my shoulder and there are a few things that I can't do. Would you be willing to spend a day there helping me?"

 

In that moment I knew without a doubt that I am meant to be working outside. I've manifested many things in my life, but never has the universe provided an opportunity for me so quickly. I agreed and ended up spending an amazing day working at my friend's farm. By the end of the day, I had dirt under my fingernails, in my eyes, and up my nose. And I'd never felt better.

 

This quick manifestation motivated me to look into other opportunities to work outside. I decided to email my resume to a couple of garden centers in my city. After a week without a response, I showed up at one of the garden centers and dropped off my resume in person. They hadn't advertised that they were hiring, so I figured it was a lost cause.

 

But I thought too soon. That night, the manager called and asked for an interview.

 

To my delight, I got the job. I'm now working 20 hours per week in the annuals department at Heritage Country Gardens, a huge garden center nestled between two farmer's fields. I've worked two full days so far and I couldn't be happier. I spend the day surrounded by plants. Plus, I get to work my body instead of spending so much time working my mind. The decade that I spent in university trained me to be a thoroughbred thinker, which is great, but it also causes me to over-analyze and ruminate.

 

When I come home from the garden center, my body is tired, but my mind feels energized. I get to wear jeans, an old t-shirt and safety shoes to work. My "commute" involves a 20 minute drive through the country as the sun rises and the birds sing. I walk around with garden gloves and an exacto-knife in my back pocket. I don't have internet access or cell phone reception. My hands are starting to get calloused and I'm using muscles that I didn't know I had.

 

I make a fraction of what I get paid for my consulting work and my speaking gigs. But I feel more abundant than ever.

 

John Muir put it perfectly when he said:

 

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

 

Here are some pictures of my new part-time "office" (and one of my new co-workers):

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a stressed-out grad student, I used to make two jokes:

 

1. "I'm going to leave academia and work as an IT Research Analyst at a local firm."

2. "I'm going to leave academia and work in a greenhouse."

 

I obviously need to start paying better attention to my jokes, because both of these came true. In fact, I've wanted to work at a garden center since I was a teenager, but my logical mind would interrupt with thoughts like, "Ok, so you're going to spend 10 years and thousands of dollars on a university education so that you can work at a greenhouse? That's ridiculous."

 

What I now realize is that I often use jokes as a way to test what other people will think of what my intuition is asking me to do. My heart tells me to do something, but my analytical, left brain mind tries to squash it. So I make a joke to ease my inner tension.

 

Do you tend to tell these types of jokes to people? Maybe you joke that you want to spend all day fishing on your boat, or that you want to move to a cabin in the mountains. Maybe you should start paying better attention to your jokes, too.

 

What does all of this mean for the rest of my business? I'm still writing, consulting, speaking and teaching yoga. And I get to work outside. I'm walking my talk by following my heart even though I have no clue where it will lead. Maybe I'll only work at the garden center for a couple of months. Maybe I'll end up there for years. Maybe I'll own a greenhouse or a farm someday. Who knows.

 

What I do know is this:

 

When you follow your heart, you will never be led in the wrong direction. Start paying attention to what your heart is asking you to do. Throw out any concerns about what other people will think of your decisions. When you act from your intuition, you create inspiration. People who were naysayers will become converts, because they start to see the magic that you're creating in your own life. It might not be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

As Joseph Campbell says:

 

"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."

 

I know that as I do what inspires me, I will be better able to inspire you.

 

So how do I intend to become an urban legend?

 

There's a common story that you've probably encountered in your life. You and a few friends take a taxi home after a late night out. You have what you believe to be an entertaining and thought-provoking conversation with the cab driver (I'm sure that these conversations are usually full of drunken rubbish, but you feel smart at the time). You leave a nice tip, and as you're walking toward your apartment, your friend says, "That cab driver has his PhD you know." Your other friend replies, "He does not, that's just an urban legend." A brief argument ensues, but the conversation is quickly dropped as you start debating what to order on your pizza.

 

Well my friends, I have become that cab driver. Dr. Butzer is now Dr. Greenhouse. None of my co-workers or customers know that I have my PhD. My pay is definitely not commensurate with my education. And I couldn't care less.

 

This summer I have visions of myself helping customers haul vats of flowers to their cars. As I walk away, one customer says to the other, "She has her PhD you know." The other customer replies, "No she doesn't, that's just an urban legend."

 

I smile and walk back to my begonias.

 

You Are Exactly Where You're Supposed To Be

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 6, 2012 at 9:40 AM

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We spend a lot of time wanting to be somewhere else. Someplace in the future. Some magical land where we have the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect relationship, tons of money and not a care in the world. The trouble with this line of thinking is that it keeps us from appreciating the present moment.Trapped in this future-focused perspective, we fail to realize the important lessons that we're learning right now.

 

 


The fact of the matter is that each and every moment presents us with an opportunity to choose to see the perfection in our current circumstances. We might not be exactly where we want to be, but we are precisely where we're supposed to be.

 

It's been almost 2 years since I quit my corporate job to start my own wellness business. Sometimes I look back over this period of my life and wish that I was further along. I mean, really, shouldn't I have been on Oprah by now? Sometimes I get envious of my colleagues and peers who appear to be "making it" in the self-help world faster than I am. I gaze longingly at the success of Hay House authors and kick myself for not having 30,000 fans on Facebook.

 

Sometimes these feelings last for a day, other times they hang over me for weeks like a dark cloud of criticism. I'm usually able to bring myself out of this illusory haze by reminding myself of two things:

  1. How far I've come
  2. The perfection of my current circumstances (even when the present moment feels difficult)

With regard to point #1, I've somehow managed to be an entrepreneur for almost 2 years. One way or another, I've paid my bills, avoided homelessness and maintained a social life while also helping people around the world create a life they love. Every day I give thanks for the fact that I get to set my own schedule, work from home, and not report to anyone. What an amazing gift.

 

At the same time, the life of an entrepreneur isn't always easy. My husband also started his own business around a year ago, and there have been times when money has been extremely tight. I've sometimes questioned what the hell I'm doing with my life. I've cried, I've felt discouraged, and I've contemplated giving up.

 

In these moments, however, I can often catch a glimpse of the fact that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. It's all part of the journey. We need to cry, we need to get upset, we need to feel. When we push our emotions down and try to fake it, we appear inauthentic and we actually stifle our progress. There are such immense lessons to be learned during our most difficult times. As an example, if I hadn't taken antidepressants for 6 years, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today. Those 6 years were dark and difficult, but they led me to where I am now.

 

In the end, the things that I've accomplished as an entrepreneur aren't half as important as the way that this work makes me feel. This is key. We spend so much time focusing on "getting stuff" to make us feel better. But as Gabrielle Bernstein says:

 

"Many people approach manifestation from a place of “How can I get something to feel better?” Instead, the focus should be: “How can I feel better and therefore be an energetic match for attracting more greatness into my life?”

 

Stop focusing so much on what you want to get or what you want to do. Instead, start focusing on how you want to feel. Ask yourself: What can I start doing right now to bring more of this feeling into my life? Don't worry about how much money or status these activities will bring your way or what other people will think of you. Because I promise that when you're inspired, the money comes. When you feel how you want to feel, people bite their tongues and become inspired by you.

 

With this in mind, I'd like to leave you with a few questions:

  • What lessons are you learning in your life right now?
  • How are your current circumstances contributing to your highest good?
  • What are you grateful for today?

As Tama Kieves says: "Nothing in my life is lacking, except my appreciation."

 

Stop Trying So Hard

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 22, 2012 at 3:30 PM

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I've worked hard my entire life. Really, really hard. From a young age I bought into statements like: "Nothing in life comes easy," "You have to fight to make it in the world," and "If it was easy, everyone would do it." I pushed myself to win every award I could in high school. Then I pushed myself to become one of the first few people in my family to go to university. Then I worked my butt off to get 90s in all my classes. Like a blacksmith working hot metal, I spent countless hours trying to hammer my life into the shape I desired.

 

And guess what? I achieved a lot. But I still wasn't happy.

 

The protestant work ethic that has plagued North Americans for over 100 years has brought us many successes. We have cars, electricity, clean water. We can travel anywhere in the world and eat pineapple in the middle of December. But I think we're also more miserable than we've been at any other point in human history.

 

Many of us wholeheartedly believe that we are in control. We think that we need to force our lives to unfold on our schedule. We need to slave away at a job we despise so that we can keep up with the Jones'. We need a mortgage, two cars, two kids and a white picket fence so that we can prove to everyone around us that we've "made it."

 

But what if there was another way?

 

What if, instead of pushing so hard to make life happen, we decided to let go and allow life to happen to us? What if, instead of trying to always be in control, we surrendered control to something bigger than ourselves? What if, instead of working so hard to figure out the answers, we allowed ourselves to be guided to the solution in perfect timing?

 

This approach flies in the face of what modern society tells us to do. But the beautiful thing is that if we're willing to trust in the process, it works.

 

If you look back over your own life you will probably notice many times when trying less actually brought about the result you desired. Whether it was an unexpected job interview that popped up just when you decided to stop sending out resumes, or a chance encounter that led you to your soul mate just when you'd given up on dating - often when we let go of the reins, the universe is happy to show us the way.

 

When I was close to finishing my PhD, I became unsure about whether I wanted to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a professor. For some reason, my gut was telling me that I was meant to do something different. I applied to several non-academic jobs but never got an interview. One Friday, I made a last ditch attempt by applying for a position as an IT Research Analyst. I almost laughed as I pressed the "send" button to submit my resumé. Why on earth would anyone hire me to do IT research, when I'd spent 10 years studying psychology? So I let go of my attachment to the outcome, shut down my computer for the day and headed out to a pub with some friends.

 

Well, guess who just happened to be at the pub that night? The CEO of the IT company where I'd submitted my resumé. Oh and guess what else? The CEO just happened to be friends with one of my friends. I was introduced, and a few months later I was hired as an IT Research Analyst - a job that taught me so much not only about technology, but also about how to let go and follow my heart.

 

Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that you should simply give up and accept whatever life throws at you. I think it's important to have goals and work toward our dreams. The trick is that we need to strike a balance between effort and ease.

 

I use this example quite often when I teach yoga. When my students are holding a difficult posture, I encourage them to use their breath to find some sense of ease in the pose. This practice teaches them how to work hard and be relaxed at the same time. Their muscles are working, but their breath flows freely. Their bodies are pushing an edge, but their minds are at ease. I think we need to bring more of this balanced approach into our daily lives.

 

Personally, my workhorse mentality is still alive and well, and I often struggle to maintain my sense of balance. My default is to try to make things happen, as opposed to letting things be. Many times I feel like a fish trying to swim upstream against a strong current. I push and push and push and nothing seems to work. The good news is that I've become better at catching myself. During these times, I now have many tools that I can draw upon to help me switch gears, go with the current and be guided downstream. Whether it's through meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature, one day at a time I'm learning how to surrender my life to a power greater than myself and trust that I will always be guided in the right direction.

 

I don't care if you believe in God, Allah, Buddha, Spirit, angels, your cat, or nothing at all. This isn't about religion. This is about acknowledging the fact that there is so much in this universe that we still don't understand. One of the things that we're just starting to appreciate is that there is a force out there that's willing to guide us if we're open to it. I often like to think of this force as my True Self. When I take the time to get silent and listen to myself, the answers always appear. They might not appear exactly when I want them to, or in the exact form that I expect - but they always come.

 

This month, I encourage you to let go of the wheel and experiment with divine cruise control. Start by answering these questions:

 

"What area of my life feels like a struggle right now?"

"Where do I feel like I'm swimming upstream?"

"Where am I trying too hard to force a particular outcome?"

 

Once you've narrowed things down, let go. This release can take a variety of forms. It might be that you decide to take a week off from job hunting. Or you stop trying to force your family to conform to your standards. Or you ask your spouse to cook for you. Whatever it is - do it.

 

Many times, our insistence on forcing the outcome that we desire gets in the way of the outcome that would be most beneficial to us. When you let go, things often turn out exactly as they're meant to be.

 

So please, give yourself permission to release your iron grip. Trust that you are being supported.

 

Surrender control and allow yourself to be guided to the outcome that will be of the highest service both to you and to the world.

 

 

 

Why Don't Giraffes Get Ulcers?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on March 12, 2012 at 1:10 PM

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In this video blog I answer a very important question: Why don't giraffes get ulcers? Learn how the answer can help you experience more peace in your life.

 

 

 

 

What's Your Assignment?

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 24, 2012 at 11:50 AM

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Sometimes life is hard. We all experience suffering, loss and sadness. Every day around the world, bad things happen to good people. We try to maintain our belief in a fair and just universe, but this belief is often challenged when times get tough (or by simply turning on the 6 o'clock news). During these times we often ask why. "Why is this happening?" "Why me?"

 

I'd like to suggest a different approach. The next time you bump up against life's difficulties, instead of lamenting over "Why me," ask yourself the following question:

 

"What is my assignment?"

 

Life coach and author Gabrielle Bernstein teaches that everything that happens to us - even the bad things - serve as assignments to help us learn what we need to learn in this lifetime. If we don't learn our lesson the first time around, the assignment will appear again and again until we do.

 

You might have noticed a negative pattern that comes up repeatedly for you. For example, for years I held tightly to the belief that I needed to do everything myself. I was convinced that if I delegated tasks to others, the tasks wouldn't get done properly. This belief system caused me to overwork and burn out. And guess what happened almost every time I handed a task off to someone? They would inevitably mess it up. When this happened, I would replay the same old stories in my mind:

 

"Why can't people just be more organized?"

"Why can't anyone do anything right?"

"Why do people keep messing everything up?"

"Am I the only competent person on the planet?"

 

After years of experiencing this pattern over and over again, I realized two things. First, by continually re-affirming my negative beliefs about other people's abilities, I was actually creating a reality where those beliefs were confirmed. Second, by showing me the same pattern over and over again, the universe was trying to teach me something. My assignment was to learn how to trust other people and allow myself to be taken care of.

 

With a lot of practice, I've now come to a point where I find it much easier to delegate. And guess what? Most of the time these tasks are completed without issue. As an example, over the past few months I've been consulting on a very complex research project. The project involves bringing dating and married couples into a lab and asking them to complete a number of different tasks. I knew that if I tried to do the entire study myself, I would burn out. So I hired two Research Assistants to help out. Every time I got nervous about the Research Assistants making a mistake, I would affirm to myself, "I hire competent people who make a solid contribution to my study." In the end, the study went off without a hitch.

 

As another example of one of my assignments, a friend of mine recently posted one of my TV clips on Facebook. When I went to "like" his post, I noticed that someone had written a nasty comment about me below the clip. In a nutshell, the comment suggested that I shouldn't be helping other people heal their lives until I had fully healed myself. My first reaction to this post was anger, then self-doubt, then sadness. I wanted to defend myself by writing something nasty in return. Instead, I took a deep breath and asked, "What is my assignment?"

 

I realized that the universe was trying to teach me two things. First, I needed to develop a thicker skin to handle some of the negative feedback that inevitably comes as one's message begins to spread around the world. Second, I was receiving a very clear message to share my truth. Because the fact of the matter is that I don't have it all together - no one does. Instead of impeding my ability to help others, my vulnerability and my ongoing healing journey are my strengths.

 

Instead of replying to the negative comment, I created a video called Confessions Of A Yogini, where I exposed myself for who I really am: a meat-eating, wine-loving woman who is also on her own personal journey toward wellness. In just 2 weeks, the video received over 600 views. The response has been overwhelming and has caused me to begin to change how I relate to my audience. Since making an effort to become more authentic, my audience has grown substantially - I now have over 500 people who like my Facebook page, and there are new people joining my e-newsletter every day.

 

The moral? I could have read that nasty Facebook comment and stewed over it for days. I could have been impulsive and written something nasty in return. By shifting my attention to what the universe was trying to teach me, I actually created a beautiful situation that has helped my business immensely.

 

Sometimes the lessons that we need to learn can arise out of much more tragic circumstances. Personally, this happened for me when my stepfather passed away four years ago from a suspected oxycontin overdose. Before he died, I had an opportunity to pay him a visit to confront him about his addiction. But I was scared. So I put it off and told myself that I'd chat with him another time.

 

He died two weeks later.

 

I was absolutely devastated. I often asked myself, "Why me?" "Why him?" My step-dad had been an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous for over 25 years and had helped many people with their addictions. It seemed so meaningless for him to die alone on his bedroom floor. After his death, I could have gone down a long road of guilt, regret and depression. I did feel many of these things at first - and they still come up for me from time to time. However, by shifting my focus to "What is my assignment," I realized that the universe was teaching me to always tell people how I really feel - no matter how uncomfortable it makes me - because you never know when you might lose your chance.

 

This is a lesson that I continue to use in my life today, and it has greatly improved many of my relationships.

 

If you're going through something difficult right now, take a moment to close your eyes. Focus on your breathing for a couple of minutes, slowing down your inhalation and your exhalation. Then, when your mind feels fairly calm, ask yourself the following question: "Universe, what is my assignment?"

 

The answer might pop into your head right away, or it might take awhile. Every time you bump up against your issue, continue to ask, "What is my assignment?" You can also ask the question in different ways, such as "What am I supposed to be learning here?" or "How is this experience helping me grow?"

 

 

 

It might be that your difficulties are trying to teach you to stand up for yourself more often, or to start taking better care of yourself, or to stop taking things for granted. Whatever it is, rest assured that the answer will come. Until then, continue to see yourself as a student of life. Be open to learning and growing from everything that happens to you - both good and bad.

 

Tell me, what is your assignment? Please post comments below!

 

Heal Your Body, Help Your Mind: 5 Tips For Whole-Self Health

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 17, 2012 at 2:05 PM

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I've spent many years focusing on my mental wellness. I've been to therapists, used daily affirmations, and developed a consistent meditation practice. Only recently, however, have I come to truly appreciate the intimate link between my physical and mental health. Today I'd like to share 5 tips for healing your mind through your body.

 

1. Listen To What Your Body Is Trying To Tell You

 

When we experience a physical symptom, like a stomach ache or tight shoulders, we often assume that the symptom is purely physical. We think, "My stomach hurts because I ate tacos for lunch" or "My shoulders are tight because I've been spending too much time at the computer." In reality our symptoms are rarely just physical. Instead, our body is often a mirror of our mind. In other words, when your body hurts, the root cause is often psychological.

 

If you think about a time when you were experiencing a lot of vague health problems, you'll probably notice that some area of your life was also out of whack at that time, and you weren't feeling 100% well psychologically. When I felt stuck in my 9 to 5 corporate job, my body was giving me all kinds of signals to get out. I was experiencing chronic infections, pain and skin problems - but my doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. A few weeks after I quit my job, all of my symptoms disappeared. As Dr. Lissa Rankin says, when you're going through tough times, you either grow, or you grow a tumor.

 

Start paying attention to your body. The next time you experience a physical symptom, ask yourself, "What is my body trying to tell me?" Then take action on your answer.

 

2. Develop Healthy Habits

 

Many of us (myself included!) have developed poor eating habits. We eat in the car on the way to work. We eat in front of the TV. We order takeout 5 nights per week. Taken together, these unhealthy habits wreak havoc on our mental wellness. I guarantee that if you start to clean up your sub-optimal scarfing patterns, your brain will benefit. Here are a few ideas: 

 

  • Kick The Caffeine. Here's a common scenario. You feel chronically anxious, can't sleep, experience regular headaches (and irregular bowel movements) - and you can't figure out why. When encouraged to look closely at your diet, you realize that you tend to skip breakfast, opting for an extra extra super grande sugar-filled latte instead. Then you drink 4 more cups of coffee (and a can of coke or two) throughout the day. No wonder you feel high strung! Sugar and caffeine amp up anxiety. Try to gradually wean caffeine out of your diet, and opt for green or herbal tea instead. 
  • When You're Eating, Just Eat. This sounds simple, but very few of us actually do it. Instead, we eat in front of the computer or while on the phone. For our bodies (and brains) to absorb optimal nutrients from our food, it helps to be as relaxed as possible during our meals. The next time you eat, unplug. Sit at an actual table and take a minute or two to experience your food before you start wolfing it down. Notice how the food smells. Look at the textures and shapes on your plate. This gets your digestive juices flowing so that you can break your food down more easily and avoid bloating, gas and indigestion later. While eating, take the time to really chew and enjoy your food. Eating slowly and mindfully also prevents over-eating, because you're more likely to notice when you're full. 
  • Eat With The Seasons. Notice the foods that are available locally in your region at various points throughout the year. These are usually the foods that you should be eating at that time. Ayurveda (the sister science of yoga) recommends that we eat particular foods based on both our personality/constitution and the seasons. For example, if you tend to be a high-strung, anxious person, it often helps to eat warm, grounding foods like soups and stews, particularly in the winter. If you tend toward depression and lethargy, it helps to eat fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, particularly in the spring.
  • Eat Real Food. If your food comes in a box, chances are it includes over-processed ingredients that aren't good for you. Real food doesn't need a label because there are no added ingredients. For example, you never see an ingredients list on a head of lettuce or a bag of apples or a cut of beef. As much as possible, try to eat foods that can be found out in the real world, like fruits and vegetables. Also try to eat local and organic as much as you can - the nutrient content of these foods is much higher, plus you're lowering your carbon footprint by reducing the amount of steps it takes for your food to get from its source to your table. For a power-packed punch of nutrients, try juicing and/or making fruit and veggie smoothies. I started drinking green smoothies for breakfast a few months ago and I'm loving it! Check out Crazy Sexy Life Founder Kris Carr's fantastic green juice and green smoothie recipes here.  
  • Go Natural. Start looking at the ingredients in the products that you put on your face and body. Our skin is our largest organ, and we absorb much of what we put on it. A good rule of thumb is: if you can't eat it, why would you put it on your body? Who knows what half of the chemicals in our products are doing to both our mental and physical health. Try to opt for products that are as close to nature as possible.

 

3. Reduce Inflammation

 

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Julie Daniluk, a Registered Holistic Nutritionist from Toronto. Julie's new book, Meals That Heal Inflammation, has radically changed my eating patterns. In her book, Julie points out that many of today's most common diseases, such as arthritis, heart disease, and even cancer are linked to inflammation. Inflammation is "an immune response to injury, toxins, allergy or infection, and causes pain, redness, heat and swelling in the affected area." Seventy percent of our immune system cells are found in the lining of our digestive tract, which means that our immune response is highly affected by the foods we eat.

 

Julie recommends avoiding inflammatory foods such as white sugar and harmful fats and processed foods, and opting for anti-inflammatory foods such as natural sweeteners, healing fats, and vegetables instead. Julie also points out that many emotional issues such as anger, fear and anxiety not only cause an inflammatory response in our bodies but are also stored and expressed in our gut as well. In order to experience true healing, we need to not only deal with our emotional issues (through resources such as therapy) but also pay close attention to what we're putting into our bodies. When our body feels well, our mind will often follow suit.

 

Julie's book is an absolute wealth of information. She includes close to 200 pages of tables, tips and techniques covering which foods to eat vs. avoid, the links between various diseases and food choices, and a comprehensive five-step anti-inflammatory menu plan. If you'd like to experience improved digestion, clearer skin and a more even-keeled mood, I highly recommend Julie's book. I've personally tried close to 10 of Julie's recipes so far and they're fantastic! I've made my own almond butter, kale chips, healing soups and stews and even a healthy version of shepherd's pie.

 

Meals That Heal Inflammation has also inspired me to try going gluten- and dairy-free, and I've been amazed at the results. I picked up The Gluten-Free Vegan by Susan O'Brien for some extra recipe ideas and I've been happy to see that my heartburn has disappeared, I don't feel bloated after I eat, and my skin looks great. I've even tried going vegetarian for a week or two at a time. I'm not sure if I'll ever completely give up red meat, but I will say that during my meat breaks, my digestion does seem to move along more smoothly.

 

Start paying attention to how your body feels after you finish a meal. If something doesn't feel right, try taking a break from a particular food group and see if your symptoms improve. And be sure to pick up a copy of Julie's book for more tips!

 

4. Supplement

 

Even if you eat a ton of fresh, local organic foods, you might not be getting all of the nutrients that your body and mind need. This is because the quality of our soil is rapidly depleting. I highly encourage you to consult a naturopath who can recommend supplements for your unique situation. Two supplements that I take every day are probiotics (for a healthy gut/immune system) and fish oil (for a healthy mind, heart and nervous system). I also recently added a multi-B vitamin, calcium and vitamin C to the mix (on the recommendation of my naturopath).

 

In order to function at an optimal level our brains require many vitamins and nutrients. If you aren't getting all of these healthy requirements from your food, then your mental wellness can suffer. For more on optimal supplementation, check out Kris Carr's Supplementation Guide.

 

5. Get Out Of Your Mind

 

I'm a huge advocate for psychotherapy. I think that anyone who is suffering from any type of unresolved emotional issue should most definitely spend time with a therapist. However I also believe that talk therapy can only take us so far on our journey toward mental wellness. We often store emotional trauma in our bodies, not just our minds. This is why we often have a recurrent physical symptom that doesn't seem to have any physical basis. If you're only treating your issues from the neck up, you're missing out on immense healing that can occur through your body.

 

If you want to experience true wellness, you need to get out of your mind and into your body. Whether this happens through exercise, sports, dance, or yoga - it doesn't matter. What matters is that you stop spending so much time up in your head analyzing everything, and get into your body instead. Your brain takes all sorts of cues from your body. If you're constantly in fight or flight mode, with tons of cortisol shooting through your veins and a stomach that's balled up in knots, your mind will assume that you are anxious. The beautiful thing is that when we relax our body, we trick our mind into relaxing as well. It's like your mind takes a look at your body and says, "Well, my muscles seem to be pretty relaxed right now, so I can relax too."

 

It seems counter intuitive, but in order to experience psychological wellness, you need to go out of your mind.

 

The Bottom Line

 

Look, no one's perfect. I still eat foods that are bad for me, I don't do yoga every day, and not all of my skincare products are natural. I don't always eat local or organic, and I love chocolate. The point, however, is that every day I recommit to doing what's best for both my body and my mind. I might not always get it 100% right, but I'm trying. I encourage you to do the same.

 

Start small. Maybe you could try going dairy-free for a week or start taking a probiotic. You might start by simply paying more attention to what your body is trying to tell you. I'm not a nutritionist or a naturopath, so I can't advise you on exactly what you body and mind need. Start to see yourself as a mini science experiment - try a few things out - keep what works and drop the rest.

 

Most of all, realize that whole-self wellness involves not just the mind, but the body as well.

 

 

Confessions Of A Yogini

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 7, 2012 at 12:25 AM

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Are you tired of pretending to be someone you're not? Drop the façade and get unapologetic about who you really are. I'm creating a tribe of people who are brave enough to admit that we're not perfect. Join me by watching and sharing this video! In the video, I take off my mask and share some of my "dirt" with you by filming myself in action!
 

 

Please share your "dirt" in the comments section below!

 

Surprise! I Don't Have It All Together...

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 20, 2012 at 12:25 AM

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I've spent many years of my life wanting to be different. I wanted to be cooler, taller, prettier, "blonder." I was desperate for approval. I bought into everyone else's opinions and never listened to my own. In essence, I spent a lot of time being an inauthentic version of myself.

 

Now that I'm involved in the self-help world, I see this need for approval coming up in different ways - both in myself and in others in my field. We want to help people improve their lives, which means that we should have it all together, right?

 

Wrong.

 

I'm going to out myself right now by confessing that my life, my personality, my relationships are far from perfect. Sure, I have a ton to be grateful for. But I still struggle. I continue to seek approval by wanting people to like my products and services. I check (sometimes obsessively) the number of Facebook "likes" that I get on my status updates. I get down on myself when I make a mistake or when no one signs up for my programs.

 

But guess what? These faults and imperfections are what connect me to my truth. How could I possibly help others improve their lives if I don't go through struggles of my own?

 

So I've decided to make a list of my "dirt." Here goes:

  • I don't have it all together
  • I get stressed, sad, anxious
  • I get jealous, angry
  • I cry
  • I curse
  • I get annoyed in grocery store lineups
  • I speed
  • I've made mistakes
  • I eat nachos, salsa and chocolate every night before bed
  • I fight with my husband
  • I honk my horn at bad drivers
  • I struggle to maintain healthy habits
  • I have regrets
  • I get insecure
  • I love red wine (and red meat)
  • I can't touch my toes