2/10/2016

A Gentle Winter Detox

A Gentle Winter Detox

Now that 2016 is well underway, it’s a great time to consider a gentle winter detox. Winter is often a time of extra stress, overindulgence, and grief. It’s normal during these early months of the year to feel more sluggish and weighed down than usual. A great way to holistically clear our bodies and make room for the energy and vitality we crave is to hit the reset button and give our system a reboot.

The foundation for self-care is paying attention to what you put in your body. Since what we eat shapes the way we move, think, and feel, bringing a mindful curiosity to what you feed yourself is one of the most beneficial practices to develop. The winter season is all about setting intentions, slowing down, and spending time considering how you want to live in the coming months. Winter is very fertile ground for setting into motion any plans you have for taking better care of yourself this year.

A Gentle Winter Detox by Ashley Neese

An easy way to jumpstart your intentions is to take part in a gentle detox. This will help you clear any emotional or physical cobwebs and bring your system into alignment. My two favorite ways to detox this time of year are with Traditional Medicinals EveryDay Detox tea and a mono diet of healing kitchari.

Given the cooler temperatures in winter, it’s important to enjoy teas and meals that are warming to the body. It’s also key on a gentle detox to include herbs and foods that support the liver and are easy on the digestion. The idea with any detox is to give your body a chance to rest and repair. We spend so much time working and running around that we often forget one of the most important aspects of living well is to give our bodies a break from the everyday hustle and bustle.

A Gentle Winter Detox by Ashley Neese

EveryDay Detox Tea

During my gentle winter detox I am enjoying this tea three times per day, morning, afternoon and evening. EveryDay Detox tea encourages healthy liver function and has a very unique flavor from the Schisandra berries.*

Chicory root: The Traditional Medicinals herbalists blended dandelion and chicory roots—bitter and earthy and used to stimulate your liver’s natural detoxification processes.

Dandelion root: A potent herb that support the body’s natural detoxification processes in the digestive tract and liver.*

Schisandra berries: Wild-harvested in both China and Russia, the schisandra berry is calledwu wei zi, or “five flavor fruit,” the only fruit to boast all five tastes according to TCM theory—bitter, pungent, salty, sour, and sweet. Each taste corresponds to a different natural element, organ system and therapeutic action. In traditional terms, this superfruit is said to replenish the body’s vital energy (also known as ch’i or qi), and modern research supports its liver protective and adaptogen effects.

A Gentle Winter Detox by Ashley Neese

Winter Kitchari

Kitchari is the main cleansing meal in Ayurvedic medicine. It is a combination of split mung beans and basmati rice. Traditional kitchari is made from white basmati rice because it is easier to digest. This healing one pot meal gives taxed digestion a break.

Get the full kitchari recipe and suggestions for how to enjoy it here.

 

Gentle Winter Detox

The beauty of a gentle winter detox is that this is the season of hibernation and going within. Giving yourself a weekend to rest and enjoy the benefits of the detox tea and kitchari will make a huge difference in the weeks and months ahead. Remember, that however you decide to participate it’s important to take it slow, set a realistic plan for yourself and honor yourself for showing up and taking care of yourself. We’re accustomed to living in an extreme culture, especially around cleanses and detoxes. Give yourself permission to be gentle with yourself during your winter detox and your body will thank you.

If you have any questions please post them in the comments and let me know how your detoxes go. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

This post was sponsored by Traditional Medicinals.

2/4/2016

Inspiring Women // Celine MacKay

Inspiring Women by Ashley Neese

Today I am happy to introduce you to Celine MacKay, the founder and Editor in Chief of Pure Green Magazine. Celine has created a thriving community by sharing what it means to live with intention. She is passionate about sustainability, nature, learning, slow living and creating a life of meaning.

When I first came across Pure Green Magazine I was blown away by the beautiful design, attention to detail and the inspiring stories of the creative people they featured. Celine and her team have done an incredible job of tackling important topics in a way that feels accessible and contemporary.

I was thrilled when Celine agreed to be part of this series as she is a wonderful example of inspiring, integrated living. In our interview we dive into the importance of staying connected to nature, the necessity of releasing expectations as a Mother, and the magic of setting tiny goals in business.

Inspiring Women Celine Mackay by Ashley Neese

What does wellness mean to you?
Defining wellness in my mind is a difficult task, because the idea of it is ever-evolving. The biggest thing, in my opinion, is being able to stay connected to your body and deeper intuition, so that you know what you need, and when. But in a condensed, basic I way, I suppose that wellness to me is the ability to provide your body with what it needs in a nourishing and joyful way through balanced nutrition, whole foods, rest, exercise, and meditation. Above all though, the idea of wellness should be unique to each person, comprised of what resonates with you and not simply what you see others doing.

Connecting to nature is very important to you. How do you make time for it?
Lucky for me, I live in a region 2 hours north of Toronto that is comprised of many lakes and forests. I am constantly steeped in nature— I live in a home high on a hill among the trees, with 100 steps down to the lake in which we swim several times daily in the warmer months, and with a lovely view I can enjoy the rest of the year.

The forest is steps from my front door. I am surrounded by nature, and the way I make time for it is simply to notice it. I find that our days are so full and the speed so fast, that slowing down and simply noticing beauty, shafts of sunlight filtering through the trees, glittering blue water or the contrast of the sky against the trees, is an act of meditation and brings me back to myself very quickly. It’s an act of observation and gratitude that can be practiced anywhere even in the heart of the biggest cities—nature is always present in some form.

My most valued trait is my ability to feel wonder and awe, which honestly and truly fosters so much appreciation and gratitude for the world around me—I want my daughter Charlie to inherit this trait as well so I do all that I can to share it with her. Outside of this, I do make it a priority to walk every day, I find it a nice break to sitting at the computer, it’s vital to my health, and it’s a nice way of spending time outdoors with Charlie, my husband Jonathan, and our vizsla Rusty.

Inspiring Women Celine Mackay by Ashley Neese

When did you know you wanted to be a Mom?
It took me a while as I had insecurity about whether or not I was a “nurturing” enough person. My mother was incredibly nurturing and I had set pretty high expectations upon myself to live up to my perception of her as my mother, but once I realized that each of us has our own way of mothering I felt more willing to try.

We got pregnant quickly, but I lost that first baby at 13 weeks and the absolute, enduring pain I felt during that time is what taught me I was ready to be a mother—it ignited a desire in me the likes of which I had never felt. Interestingly, it took a lot longer, nearly 2 years, to get pregnant again, but the waiting did nothing but solidify that becoming a mother was what I wanted (and on a deeper level, that state of mind plays a big role in whether or not we get pregnant at all).

What insights would you like to give to new Mothers?
Release any and all expectation. I, and everyone I know, had some pretty strong preconceived ideas about what it meant to be a mother, and it caused pain and stress to all of us. You’re moving into territory that is unknown to you, and the experiences of others are often irrelevant—comparing yourself to them is the worst possible thing you can do. You have to carve out your own path and comfort zone—if you’re successful in doing that things will go much easier. Charlie is now two and half and I find that every new stage requires the same release of expectation, because too often those ideas are not congruent with reality and it’s hard to reconcile that.

Realize that it’s not going to be all sunshine and rainbows—becoming a mother is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and you should give yourself permission to feel negative as well as positive emotions.

Find some ways to make time for yourself. A quick escape to a yoga class or an hour to just read a book will change the entire structure of how you feel and your ability to adapt to your child’s needs—it isn’t selfish, it’s a way of making sure you are able to give and provide what your child needs.

Lastly, I think in our society we have too much of a tendency to completely stop living life in order to attend to our children’s each and every whim. I went through phases of that only to find that it bred resentment really quickly. Instead, I take Charlie with me absolutely everywhere, and as long as she’s well fed and rested, it always works out. As she gets older she’ll learn a lot too! Oh, and one more thing: DON’T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF. If you care enough to worry that you’re screwing up your kid, chances are very good that you definitely aren’t.

Inspiring Women Celine Mackay by Ashley Neese

Share three of the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of Motherhood thus far.

Oh, where do I begin?! Here’s my best shot:

Rewarding:
Childbirth was hard, sooooo very hard, but the fact that I went through it taught me that I am stronger than I ever imagined and that I can do anything I put my mind to.

Every time Charlie learns something new, it floors me. I feel awestruck and the love that fills me up is so strong and bright, it’s almost more than I can bear. I’ll catch Charlie sometimes as she plays trying something new, or interacting with her surroundings in a different way, and I just get the biggest smile. It’s amazing.

Kids love you, it’s so clear, but still, the first time Charlie said “I Love You” will be etched on my heart forever.

Challenging:
Ummmm…. childbirth. Hah!

Being exhausted is super hard. I find that the times where either Charlie or I, or both of us, are not well rested things don’t go well, so finding ways to cope with that, to dig deep for patience, is a big challenge. That said, it’s getting easier!!

I have also found that starting a family dramatically changed the dynamic between my husband and I. I feel closer to him than ever before, but kids have a way of magnifying things that aren’t so swell in your relationship so you’re forced to deal with them. We’ve worked though it and are now stronger than ever, but when the honeymoon period of bringing your first baby home is over and life gets real, it can be a tricky landscape to navigate. You are learning not just how to be a new mother, but also a partner in parenting with your spouse, each with your own roles!

Inspiring Women Celine Mackay by Ashley Neese

How do you create balance between your personal and professional life?
Well, the more I think about this, and pursue it, the more I realize that balance is a myth. The way we currently do things in our society it’s truly impossible to be balanced, there are just too many balls in the air.

I’ve come to the conclusion that balance is an illusion; it’s more so a sense of peace that comes to you when you feel in sync with your present reality. When you go with the flow, so to speak, things feel easier and the sensation of balance is more real, but as soon as you struggle against the flow, to resist the elements in your life, even if it’s just in your own head, all semblance of balance disappears in a flash.

To me, finding balance is more about learning how to tip the scales towards one thing or another, whether it’s work, or parenting, or things you love doing, and just making sure that the scales aren’t permanently tipped towards one thing, and when you’re in each element, you commit fully. If you can keep your mind focused on what you’re doing and not yearn for the things you can’t do, in that moment, everything feels easier and balance feels more real. The fatal mistake is to think that balance means literally balancing: keeping all things in equilibrium at all times. It’s just unrealistic.

What advice would you give to women entrepreneurs?
I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that growing a business takes patience. It’s difficult to feel as though I’m making progress when things take so long to manifest, so it’s really key to break down goals into super small, bite-sized chunks to remind yourself that every day is a step in the right direction.

The other thing that’s great about teeny tiny goals is that you can reevaluate where you are in your business on a daily basis, which promotes innovation. I also find that reflecting on what your goals are in the first place is a very effective mini-meditation—it involves going inside of yourself and asking if where you are now aligns with where you want to go, and it requires looking at the big picture. I’m not saying I’m amazing at this, but I have found that when I can be diligent in this practice it makes a big difference.

As well, I find that as women it’s in our nature to try and do everything, and to hold ourselves to a gold-standard. Try and find a way to let go of the desire to control all things, to always do more—I found that the moment I was even moderately successful in doing this I saw immediate results in a positive direction.

Inspiring Women Celine Mackay by Ashley Neese

Have you ever struggled with self care in your life? How did you navigate that?
Yes, and I still do. During my pregnancy I did a lot of things to take care of my body, but I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it for my baby. Since becoming a mother I’ve seen what happens when you let yourself fall apart, and we all know it isn’t pretty. It’s impossible for me to be kind, patient, understanding, loving and nurturing when I’m a burnt-out disaster, so I realized the hard way that I need to take good care of myself.

I began with yoga, which immediately made space in my head for more, and have slowly been layering in more and more small things as I feel I can handle it. The nicest thing about this is that taking good care of myself also feels indulgent and helps me feel more satisfied and at peace.

I’m also taking great care in my environment and do my best to keep things tidy and clean. When my house is in order I feel so much better, and while this doesn’t sound like self care, I enjoy a welcoming space so much that in a way it is caring for myself to ensure that my surroundings agree with me.

Name three books that you refer to often.
One that I referred to often in the past but no longer need to is Ecoholic by Adria Vasil. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to remove toxins from their life and live more sustainably. I read a lot of cookbooks, since food is a constant source of inspiration for me. A current favourite is Sarah Britton’s book, My New Roots. And, as cheesy as it seems, I like to go to bed on a positive note, so a silly and heartwarming book I read a few pages from regularly is Neil Pasricha’s Book of Awesome.

Inspiring Women Celine Mackay by Ashley Neese

Best advice you have ever taken.
Always focus on where you want to go.

What impact do you want to have in your community?
My aim through my work with Pure Green is to have a positive influence in regards to living consciously, with respect for the planet and each other. For more about our mission (in my own words) please read this..

What are you most grateful for?
My health, and the health of my family. All too often I meet people whose lives are affected by illness, and I remind myself daily that although things could be better or less stressful, as long as I and the ones I love are still in one piece, it’s all good.

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Be sure to follow Pure Green Magazine on Instagram for a daily dose of inspiration!

Photography Emily Blackman (lake shots) and Lauren Kolyn (Celine & Charlie)

2/1/2016

I’ve Learned To Love In Layers

I've Learned To Love in Layers by Ashley Neese

I came into this world with a head full of hair and a heart full of joy. My parents said I was a happy baby, busy, chatty, full of smiles. I enjoyed dancing and hanging out with adults and I had a propensity to lie about my age. I always wanted to be older and couldn’t wait to be a grown up.

I came into this world with a heart full of joy and I loved every minute of being alive. Somewhere along the line I had to start building walls around my heart of joy. They became attached to my energy center and kept me protected from the outside world. The problem with building walls is that you don’t just keep out the bad, you keep out everything. After years of self sabotaging and trying to medicate my pain I eventually had to break myself open in order to continue living.

It has taken years to slough off the layers of protection so that I could get back to this business of being joyful. The good news is I made it! I’m here! It’s truly never too late to begin to open to the light of who you really are. Never too late.

I want to live in joy and a big part of dwelling in that vibration is learning to love on a deeper level.

When I say, I’ve learned to love in layers I’m talking about each wall I had to knock down, or have knocked down, in order to get a sense of what love means. With every layer that dissolved, some with ease and others with immense discomfort, I discovered a new depth to love.

Learning to love in layers has asked me time and time again to practice loving rather than simply professing love. There is a major difference between telling someone you love them and acting like you love them. I’ve always been good with words and dishing out I Love Yous has never been much of an issue. On the flip side, out in the field of life, the practice of loving has been intensely difficult. My story of learning to love has been years in the making and to be honest I feel like I am just beginning to scratch the surface.

I consider myself a bit of an academic. I realize that might sound strange given how I’ve positioned myself as a guide and teacher but it’s actually a pretty big part of who I am and how I identified for years. I’ve been a voracious reader since I learned the alphabet. I completed every summer reading contest at our local library and have always preferred to fall asleep with a good book instead of a droning TV.

I studied love for over a decade. I sat with some of the leading love experts in our culture. I taught classes and a prestigious art residency on the role of love in contemporary art. I published a magazine about love, stood on many a street corner in busy US cities asking strangers how they defined love, and logged countless hours working on love related art projects. You could even say, and it wouldn’t be a stretch at all, that my current healing practices and classes are all about love. The difference in my work today is that it is about how we experience, give and receive love and less about quoting scholars and creating definitions. Instead of focusing on love related projects outside myself, I turned my life into an experiment on what it means to live in love.

It’s taken me many years to recognize that love is energy and like any other form of energy love can be exchanged. In order to get more love we have to give more. In order to receive more love we have to give more. What I have come to understand through direct experience is that love is available to us at all times, all we have to do is be willing to notice its presence.

It sounds easy enough in theory to simply be aware that love is an energy that you have access to at all times. In reality this is can be a challenging practice especially if one of our go-to modes of operation is in the vein of unworthiness. Feeling like we’re not enough leads to a lack of love in all directions. When you’re operating at a deficit chances are you’re looking for love outside of yourself. No matter how much love you manage to get from all the reaching, seeking and grabbing, it will never be satisfying. You will always want more.

This lack of love and feelings of unworthiness are the basis for all addictions and I’m not just talking about alcohol and drugs. Anything you use to check out or numb your feelings is something you should further examine. Addiction is a huge part of our lives as individuals and as a society. It’s imperative you get a handle on the places you feel unworthy and do the work you need to do to open yourself to love. This is the remedy for true healing.

Learning to love in layers has meant faking it until I make it in pretty much all areas. Most of my life I didn’t feel worthy of anything so I was one of the reaching people on the constant hunt for the next thing to make me feel better. I got into relationships thinking people would fill up the emptiness I felt inside. I created project after project about love hoping it would bring me closer to feeling whole. I drowned my sadness and grief around not being able to receive love in a sea of internet research and Amazon shopping sprees.

What I learned through all of the seeking is that if I really wanted love in my life I had to start with myself. This was the first layer: self love.

I started this blog nearly five years ago. My first few years writing posts were all about the small actions I took on a consistent basis to teach myself how to love. As I mentioned earlier, I built some very thick walls around my heart and they didn’t just disappear overnight. I had to work. I had to make self love a daily practice even on the days I didn’t feel worthy or deserving of sweetness. I had to act as if and the feelings began to follow.

So often I hear clients tell me they want to know the outcome before they take the risk. I can totally relate to this as it’s how I’ve felt much of my life. When it came to practicing self love I wanted to feel worthy before I started. The real practice became taking that step into the unknown and attempting to love myself through the discomfort and fear.

I’m still fine tuning the self love layer and probably will be for the rest of my life. I’ve let go of the notion of needing perfection and am steadily enjoying the ride of opening my heart to being curious each day. When I am willing to approach self love with a sense of tenderness and wonder I remember I came into this world with a heart full of joy and it’s much easier to access that truth.

The second layer of love I am working with is giving more. In the past my exchange with love was off because I only gave to others and didn’t give to myself. Now that I’ve been practicing loving myself for some years I am learning to give more love to everyone in my life. This has been such a healing practice. I cannot even tell you how much my family relationships have shifted in such a short period of time by simply loving them more. It’s really blowing my mind and has invited me to question so much of what I believed about love in the past.

And the third layer of love I am practicing with is letting love flow back to me. This piece is what completes the energy circle of love and in some ways has been the most challenging part of the exchange. Over the years I have developed some very useful tools for loving myself and sharing more of my love (from a place of abundance versus a place of lack/addiction) with the people in my life. Now that I am choosing to call in more joy, I have seen that in order for that to fully manifest, I have to be willing to take in the love that flows through my life on a daily basis.

I've Learned To Love in Layers by Ashley Neese

The interesting awareness that came to light over the New Year was that there was a lingering layer of unworthiness in my energy field that I’ve needed to clear in order to receive more love in my life. There was a block, I felt it with my family, especially my parents, I felt it with Jason and whenever someone would try to give me love there was a hesitancy in my energy, the block that wouldn’t let the love in entirely. Just a little percentage could come through.

Today much of my work has been to clear this deeper level of unworthiness so that I can completely accept the beauty, magic, and love in my life. Clearing the energy has meant being willing to get dirty and explore all of the ways I deflect attention and love, shrug it off like it’s no big deal, and feel like I owe someone something if they love me. All of those examples reflect a level of unworthiness that has taken me a while to unpack and call out. Being able to explore the depth of my unworthiness to this degree has helped me clear it quickly. It’s amazing how fast we can process and heal when we’re able to pinpoint the root cause of our pain and all of the ways we trick ourselves into believing it’s more surface than it is.

Since I have done the work of going within and investigating the snags in my ability to fully receive love everything is changing. Right before my eyes and in the middle of the grief I am experiencing from the recent transitions in my life, I am completing the energy exchange with love and it is opening my heart wider than I ever imagined possible.

For the first time in my life I have let people love me and been able to take it in. Just writing this brings tears of tremendous joy to my eyes. For those of you that know me and have been walking side by side on this journey with me, this feels like such a big deal. And I am going to say that again because I’m standing at a huge crossroads right now and I just took one giant step towards taking a bigger stand for myself, my capacity to love and my ability to be of greater service to the world. This is a really big deal.

Learning to love in layers has been an incredible journey of the heart. Each day I feel closer and closer to the little girl that came into this world with a head full of hair and a heart full of joy. I start my mornings with a fresh pot of tea and a good dose of curiosity, asking the universe to reveal what I need to know and support me to keep my heart open no matter what.

What I have discovered on my path is that it’s up to me to keep the walls down. I’ve worked tirelessly to learn to connect and love in ways that lift my spirit and give my life meaning. At the end of the day the true practice of loving lives in the heart of being thankful for every breath, grateful for the opportunities to share my joy with the world, and freely take in the love that is coming my way.

No matter where we come from or what protection we have to put in place to survive, it is never too late to begin the practice of loving ourselves and opening our hearts to exchanging love each day. There is nothing easy about learning to love, but it can be as fun and joyful as we choose.

All my heart.

xoa

 

LA friends, if you want to dive deeper into the practice of self love I am leading women’s circle where we will unpack this topic together. It’s going to be a fun and healing afternoon. Sunday, February 14th, 4:30-6:30 p.m. at The Raven in Silver lake. Sign up here.

 

Photos by Lani Trock

1/27/2016

Creating A Container For Grief

Creating A Container For Grief by Ashley Neese

I’ve always done well in chaos. At one point in my life I thrived in copious amounts of chaos and drama. I’ve done well in tornadoes and shit storms because they are familiar. What I haven’t done very well, historically speaking, is grief. The heaviness of this emotion has a tendency to take me pretty far down the rabbit hole and it’s something I tried my best to avoid for years.

My Mom carries enough grief for my entire family. You can hear it in her lungs every time she coughs. Grief comes through in her sentences that trail off into the grey areas when we start to dig into the past a little bit. It’s super messy back there and very difficult to talk about.

When I think of grief I think of my Mom living in her bed after Grandma died. The curtains drawn, crumbled up McDonald’s hamburger wrappers in piles in the trash can. A cat or two sleeping at the foot of the bed and Guiding Light on the TV set. The room was always dark, there was a thickness in the air, some from the humidity of the South and the rest from all the stuff we didn’t talk about. It was just hanging there, like an entity that needed someplace to be.

Sometimes I’d crawl in bed with her and eat hamburgers and watch TV. Other times I’d sit in my bed in the room next door, listen to records and pop Xanax until I couldn’t feel anything anymore. For so many years I thought my Mom was the only one that carried grief in her body. When I drew my first sober breath at 21 years old I recognized I had plenty of my own.

Grief isn’t usually a topic I write about because I want to focus on the light, the growth, all of the ways we are resilient and seeking redemption. I don’t want to bring you into a dark part of my past but I am going to anyway. I want to shift and in order to walk a little more free in this world I need to expose some of my story and share how it ties in with my life today.

And the truth is we are resilient. All of the dark crevices in our lives are the places where the light gets in and this is where we find our deepest well of strength and our greatest capacity to love.

I want to love myself through the mess.

I want to love myself through the crushing sadness that feels like it might last forever.

I want to love myself exactly as I am. Here. Messy. Dark. Snot faced and slightly depressed.

Okay really depressed.

I spent seven days on the couch last week grieving. One short month after going through a breakup, moving into a new place, healing some deep family wounds and narrowing the focus of my practice, my body gave out. And I made a choice to give in.

I remember saying to my Naturopath in early December, I cannot believe how great I feel and how not sick I am given everything that is going on! She tilted her head to the left and gave me that all-knowing-doctor-look, yeah, you’re getting sick as soon as you land.

And I landed.

I landed with a giant thud and it hurt like hell.

Oh, wait, this is my new life?!

Shit. This is so much more painful than I thought it would be.

Ouch.

And then the waves of grief began.

Coming down with three shades of the flu was exactly what my body needed to start processing the grief I’ve been experiencing in tiny flashes.

I’m a doer. I’ve been busy since I was a toddler, in fact, one of my favorite statements in my early years was, I’m busy. It’s part of my DNA, it’s embedded in my astrological chart to be doing things all of the time. So yeah, when I can’t be doing things I tend to get uncomfortable fairly quickly. This is why it’s such a big deal that I’ve been meditating for as many years as I have because it goes against everything in my nature, to be constantly fluttering about doing any number of things, reading, creating, healing, cooking, walking, writing, researching, talking, singing, working, brainstorming.

Creating A Container For Grief by Ashley Neese

When you’re busy all the time there is no room for grief. My body eventually put on the breaks and gave me a clear indication that it was safe enough to slow down now and start to lean into the heavy sadness.

Over the years I’ve read loads of books on grief, including the popular theories that there are a certain number of stages you go through during the grieving process. I’m not much for lists that tell me how to feel because I find my emotions are non-linear. What I have experienced with grief is that it comes in waves and that in any moment I can shift from feeling anger to extreme sadness to wanting to bargain with God. Acceptance hasn’t been much of a challenge for me because this past week because I was so knocked out with the flu that I had to surrender to what was happening. I had zero energy to fight or resist and that was such a blessing.

Grief has been difficult for me to share about because it always feels so heavy and loaded. I’ve taken a lot of pride in not being a person that has intense depression and all that has done is left me with even more sadness and grief. Even in my early sober days I did everything I could to not feel sad, grief or any other unpleasant emotion because they were too much. Any time I had an extreme feeling I was triggered to get high. I also felt super triggered by the grief of others. One of my greatest gifts is being incredibly empathetic and this is something I have had to learn to use rather than let it consume me.

At two and a half years in recovery I experienced my first sober breakup. I wanted to die. I couldn’t believe how intense the pain was. I was in the middle of graduating college and planning to move cross country to start graduate school in San Francisco. There was so much going on at once (seems to be a big theme in my life!) and I couldn’t handle the intense feelings.

I felt terrible and chose to go on antidepressants for a few months just to take off the edge and because my therapist was afraid I would start using again. When I got settled in San Francisco I went off the meds and found yoga. I began to incorporate mindful movement into my life as a tool for self healing and learning to hold space for my emotional body. I fell in love with my yoga practice. I found it was better than medication and it gave me many tools for living with all of the feelings instead of constantly needing to clip the sharp edges. I learned to take care of my emotions with my breath and meditation.

Over the years my ability to fully experience grief without medication or the fear of relapse has gotten stronger. One of the most helpful practices I have developed to support my grief is to learning how to hold more space for myself while I process heavy emotions. I call this creating a container for grief. The wider I am able to make my container, the easier it becomes to experience grief and other emotions (even positive ones like joy) in the same breath. This container allows me to become more real and this has been my life’s mission: to become real.

In the past when I’ve been sick and grieving I numbed myself out with loads of TV, crappy food or distracting myself by constantly talking to people on the phone. Last week I gave myself over to the grief and even though there were some moments that got really dark and a little scary, I knew I could handle them. I had been growing my container of support and fully gave myself permission to not do anything else but grieve.

There might always be a tiny piece of me that doesn’t want to have intense feelings in front of other people because of what I witnessed growing up when I didn’t have healthy tools for coping with life. I am also open to that completely shifting and my container widening even more. What I know for sure from my own journey and supporting many women on theirs is that it’s a wise idea to leave room for the miraculous.

Anytime we stretch out our arms to give ourselves a bigger hug, magic sparks and the unbelievable occurs.

Above all, all loss is loss and nobody’s pain is greater than yours. The most wholehearted thing any of us can do is be honest about what we’re going through and love ourselves through the process as it arises. Healing cannot be rushed. Believe me, I’ve tried too many times to count. Moving mountains of grief can be a slow process but I will tell you this truth, it does get easier. It really does. And, the more open you are and the more willing you are to nourish yourself through every wave the more you will make friends with the ride.

I know I still have some work to do around grief. I also know I have the tools to get through it and an incredible community of friends and family to hold my hand when I need extra help. We’re all going to develop a relationship with grief in our lifetime. It’s up to us to make that a rich and rewarding relationship that we can use in service to the people around us.

All of our deep sadness has a purpose. It’s making us into these brave souls who have been through something tough, who have seen some darker aspects of life and are here to walk each other home.

If I can move through this, trust me, you can too.

I’ve shared my container meditation practice below. If you have ways that help you move through grief I would love to connect around this topic. Wishing you all a beautiful rest of the week and more very soon.

Lots of love,

xoa

 

CREATING A CONTAINER FOR GRIEF (or any emotion you are working with)

Visualize yourself in a cocoon of golden light while you are meditating. The golden light is a safe place for you to experience all of your feelings.

Breathe gently in and out through the nose and imagine the golden light expanding beyond your physical body while still keeping you safe and protected.

Make room for any and all feelings that surface during this practice and breathe deeply into your heart.

Keep this visualization going for 5 minutes and then just sit quietly in meditation until you are ready to get up.

Practice daily for 10 minutes.

 

Photos by Lani Trock

1/14/2016

Calling In Joy

Calling In Joy by Ashley Neese

Every year I choose a word to focus on. It is such a simple practice that sets the tone for my intentions and acts as a guidepost as the months unfold. Last year my word was EASE and while that seems hilarious to me today because 2015 was one of the toughest years of my life, that powerful four letter word shaped all of my experiences in such a transformative way.

Choosing the word EASE on January 1, 2015 served as a prayer to be able to flow through whatever came up, to be gentle on myself during the process and to open my heart to the notion that it is possible to expand even when all of the shit hits the fan. EASE reminded me on a minute by minute basis that I had the tools within to move through my most core shaking fears of not being enough and being an unlovable sad cat lady who lives alone in a tiny house.

And let’s be real for a minute, I love my tiny house and my cat with my entire heart.

The day Jason left our home I sobbed on the couch for hours and hours. Instead of questioning my sadness or trying to change it, I gave myself permission to feel every pang of heartache. I cried and cried and let out so many screams I was worried my neighbors would think something bad was happening to me. I needed to feel. I needed to yell. I had to move the energy and allow myself to grieve.

How often do you give yourself permission to just be exactly as you are in each moment?

This is something I’ve been reflecting on a great deal post breakup. In the past I tried to rush through the feeling part of loss. It took me much longer to heal and process because I wouldn’t let myself just go right into the darkest place and embody it for as long as I needed to. Spending some days on the couch crying was better than therapy. I embraced my most tender, vulnerable self and I know deep down it made me a much stronger and wiser person.

We must be willing to be who we are and not try and minimize our pain (or happiness!). The only way out is through and there is nothing like a conscious, heart opening, loving breakup to reveal what you’re made of. I’m proud of myself for showing up in the way that I did. It’s a big deal to let go with compassion and sweetness and hold space for the ugly cries and the sinking feelings too. More and more this is becoming the space I choose to dwell, a sacred place that makes room for all feelings and doesn’t try to avoid, change, or medicate any of them.

When I set my intention to focus on EASE last year my hope was that I would slow down, take in the fullness of my life, and be able to enjoy myself more. The cosmos clearly had other plans for me but I chose, each time I remembered, to carry the spirit of EASE into each challenging moment. Through the ups and downs of the year and all of the initiations along the way, I feel at peace knowing I ended the year with as much EASE as possible. That word was such a huge teacher for me and I am still learning volumes about creating calm, relaxing when I need to and being content no matter what is happening around me.

Calling In Joy by Ashley Neese

This year I am choosing to call in JOY. I know, I’m raising the bar like super super hight, but I am ready. I learned on a soul level last year that I am a true alchemist and am a living example of redemption. I have healed lifetimes of dysfunction, grief, and repression and am continuing to shift my paradigm and raise my vibration in ways that I am beyond excited to step into this year.

Up until last year I wasn’t ready to handle the caliber of JOY. I still had some major clearing to do in order to begin this next evolution. On January 1 I took a stand (walked on fire, more on that next week I promise) and claimed this word as my new teacher. I cannot wait to see what this year has in store and all of the incredible ways I will be able to infuse JOY into my life and the lives of the people around me.

I am letting go of the darkness from my past. I am not ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t exist. I am choosing a higher path for myself. It’s time. I’m over punishing myself for things that were out of my control and all of the terrible, tragic events that happened when I was a young teenager drowning in addiction. I have much more to offer this world and I am here to let that be known in a bigger way.

In order to call in JOY this year on a deep heart level I had to go through everything I have been through in my life. I had to break open, to gut myself in all possible ways in order to finally see I am worth it, I am lovable, and I have a powerful message to share. I am grateful for my past and to be honest wouldn’t change any of it. Our experiences, our parents, they make us who we are. How can we shy away from those teachings? I want to enjoy my life on a new level. Don’t you? It’s time.

Looking out the window of my tiny house to a sunset of peach and gold my heart is full of love. It has no boundaries or limits. There is more than enough to receive and share. When I look to JOY as my teacher for this year my entire body softens into the belief that there is so much contentment and hope to be found in every moment. JOY doesn’t depend on outside circumstances or events rather is found within each of our hearts if we are willing to do the work and truly listen.

I absolutely cannot wait to see what 2016 brings for all of us.

All my heart,

xoa

 

Images by Lani Trock

© ASHLEY NEESE 2016