Emotional Hygiene

bidet-montage-omniaI just used a bidet for the first time. If me saying that reads as TMI (too much information), that proves the point that there are some kinds of hygiene we under-privilege and under-normalize in the United States. In Europe, say the word “bidet” and it’s as if you said “sink” or “shower.” (Image source)

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 2.32.57 AMNext up on my list of to-do’s while-in-Italia this time, is to finally use the heated towel rack (pictured left, source). Truth be told, one of my biggest fears in life is for my house to burn down, and so, admittedly, a lack of confidence with working the on/off switch is a reason why I’ve steered clear all these years. It’s a built-in comfort in Italian homes, and I’m going to do it first-thing tomorrow morning.

For Italians, and a lot of Europeans (and Asians as I’m finding out), they may not have dryers (instead, hanging clothes to dry) but they have heated towel racks and bidets. A frequent, healthy, clean sex life and luxurious warmth for your naked body are priorities. 

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 2.13.54 AM.pngA TED talk from clinical psychologist, Dr. Guy Winch (here), bangs the drum that a lot of the physical, mental, developmental and relational challenges we face come from a lack of emotional hygiene. A lack of appropriate, daily attention to our emotions. Our interior life.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 2.25.15 AM.pngIn some ways, it’s easier to “get” that physical discipline is a tool for emotional resilience. My dear friends, partners Collette & Carolyn (pictured right), do aqua aerobics together. Carolyn started a running group at the incredible Recovery Café for members who have used drugs and alcohol as a substitute for self-care and relationships with others. In the process of running in community, building the habit of regular self-care–relationships are built. In the process of running with members, Carolyn found so much joy in it that it’s become a solo self-care habit for her as well.

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My friend Renee whose partner John is a fourth generation chiropractor (pictured left), shared this article with me from a woman she called a “mom-blogger” who is also a chiropractor and has a Master of Science degree in Neuroendocrinology. She talks a lot about doing physical actions to process and release emotional tension. Renee’s been teaching her son and daughter, Gibson (a few weeks away from 12 yrs. old) and Layla (9 1/2 yrs. old <she wanted to note the 1/2!>), about ways to physically process anxiety and emotion. It’s been inspiring and powerful to watch their learning journey together, and how Renee has supported them in their own discovery. Renee just sent me this video (below) of Layla talking about her own coping and calming practice when she took a tumble on her bike. This was unsolicited / unprovoked sharing that Renee felt compelled to document on video (with permission from both Renee and Layla to share here), as Layla was just giving an update on what her day was like.

In addition to running myself, I’ve been doing hot pilates for over a year now. I’ve learned that I hold a lot of emotion in my chest and often hold my breath in a way that doesn’t serve me well. I’ve been amazed at the results in my emotional resilience–all coming from practicing the breathing rhythms required, moving fluidly through the positions themselves, and receiving verbal coaching along the way. About a year and a half ago, I wrote about “The Science of Sleep”, with notes from a sleep doctor around the impact of sleep on our emotions, cognition and even our capacity for empathy (!).

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 3.11.20 AMWhen it comes to direct contact with our emotions, it’s harder for us to talk about things that feel less tangible, less “physical.” That’s the age-old dualism (see here and here) between the body and the mind / spirit showing up again. With just a little bit of work–integrating both sides into our everyday, we can become more whole as people. Yes, it’s scary and unnerving as a process, but some of the best things in life are on the other side of Fear’s influence over us <more on that below>. (Image source)

As one of the last exercises in a “Leading with Emotional Intelligence” class I participated in at Seattle University, we were asked to think of concrete, actionable ways to become more emotionally intelligent, or in other words, practice emotional hygiene. Here are some ideas that emerged in that process:

  • voxer-logo-3.jpgListening to your own voice / your own messages. Professional singers and speakers listen to themselves singing or giving a talk to sharpen their expression and communication. Try listening to your own voice–how you speak to friends and family. How you process your own life and experience. There’s a lot we can learn from listening to ourselves. In my “basic counseling skills” class in grad school, one of the foundational truths presented was: people do not hear themselves talk. That’s why, in active listening, we repeat back verbatim what we hear people say. So they can hear what they are already sayingHow can you do that practically? There are a lot of voice memo apps out there, if it’s helpful for you to audio journal. In order to listen to how you communicate with others, you can use Voxer. A walkie-talkie type app where you leave voice messages back and forth. The same function exists in Facebook Messenger. Also in iMessage if you are exchanging iPhone messages. I’m sure there’s more out there! (Image source)
  • Post-it-note-transparent.pngTravel Time & “Meditation Mondays.” I put a post-it note on my car dash with “MM” in my handwriting. It stood as a reminder for “Meditation Mondays.” On Mondays, I wouldn’t listen to music, call a friend or family member, or multi-task to-do-lists in my head while driving to work. Instead, I would intentionally, consciously pray or meditate or reflect. I did the practice for about a year with truly centering results. (Image source)
  • 95a23681d2e3fce38af374203cd216bf--fitness-quotes-quotable-quotes.jpgConsider what your deepest fear is / the role that fear places in your life. Fear is a sneaky thing. It can underly our days in ways that is scarily powerful. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s “open letter to Fear.” In narrative therapy, there’s the idea that metaphor isn’t metaphor–it’s literal. Fear is an actual, everyday character in your life. How does Fear show up? What does it say? What’s their relationship to you? A classmate and colleague shared that he realized he is only motivated by fear or critique, and that he wants to be more motivated by his own natural passions and desires. While “Trait & Factor Tests” (also known as personality tests) are not the best, they can help as a tool in processing your emotions regularly. The Enneagram is one of them. Part of the tool is discovering what the fears are that you’re most susceptible to. Check out some of that specific aspect / concept of the framework here. (Image source)
  • Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 6.23.01 AM.pngMake reading / writing on the topic of your emotions a regular practice. I shared in a previous post about putting passages of sacred text as daily reminders in my phone that pop up and invite me to consider my own life and responses. My friend Kristin told me about this blog resource for tips in the workplace. One of the articles (here) is about how organizations are being pushed to think through holistic health in their work environments–specifically in regards to emotional climate change. For me, I freewrite and read later what I’ve written. I also fill-out guided journals that present questions from different angles than you might choose to tackle on your own. (The journal pictured was one I just finished, source + I just started this one. This journaling idea book is also a resource.) I just met Jeremy, who puts notes in his planner of the steps he took emotionally / socially / spiritually that week to be more conscious.
  • ym-y-2073Facial & Body Mirroring. Try becoming more aware of your face. Do you have BRF (bitch resting face) on the regular? What are your micro-expressions while you’re at work? While you’re cooking? While you’re doing other tasks or activities? What do those expressions on your face say about your emotions? I actually have a small tabletop mirror on my desk at work. Sometimes, I notice my furrowed brow in passing and it helps me consider and process what I’m feeling. Similarly, what is your body doing? Where do you feel weight, energy or tension? A friend turned me on to this book “Eastern Body, Western Mind” and I’ve found it to be helpful in my own paying attention. (Image source)
  • Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 3.28.02 AM.pngThink of emotional intelligence as a lifelong strategy–a lifestyle approach versus curing symptoms / getting symptoms to go away. My friend Roberto is a licensed psychologist, a life coach and a professional dancer. He often asks people: “What’s your strategy to _____?” That approach invites strategies that are multi-dimensional and intersectional holistic–mental, physical, social, spiritual. (Image source)
  • L6z2s2GQAnd, perhaps, this is the most important one of them all. Instead of checking your phone, invite empty space into your “in-between” moments. In Rob Bell’s podcast, “The Importance of Boredom,” Rob talks about how we fill all of the empty spaces in our lives with more and more and more input. Our emotions–our mind, our spirits–are then buried beneath a rock pile of unprocessed events and experiences. The weight of the build-up can impact us holistically if we let it continue. (It reminds me of how my friend Lindsay’s partner Steve could no longer use regular deodorant. All the chemicals in the “regular” stuff were building up in his pores. He had to detox–starting to use a new brand with natural ingredients, and bear with the pain of transitioning over. His body had to adjust to the change. Now, he no longer needs as much deodorant because what he uses does the job well.) In the 10% Happier podcast #89, a police lieutenant talks about how he learned about mindfulness and its impact on his work as an officer. He now trains officers at varied career stages in mindfulness for their own growth in that area. Side note: there’s actually a symbol for silence in sheet music (pictured right, source). That’s because it’s an actual thing that can be chosen, with presence and substance. One of my favorite songs by spiritual singer-songwriter Jason Upton is about how the silence speaks. A coworker asked me to give her more to do because she had a long flight coming up for a work trip. Needless to say, you know what my response was.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 3.59.52 AMThe truth is, you have these ideas and more inside of you. My filmmaker friend Carter Johnson (pictured right; yes, that’s him interviewing Mr. Chiwetel Ejiofor!) constantly reminds me that I have all of the answers inside of me, if I will just take the time to listen and to find them. Carter has a reputation wherever he goes for being wise, thoughtful, humble, strategic, generous, and kind in all of his relationships. His emotional hygiene shows. Carter also happens to be all about style, tidiness, organization in his work life, and yes–house cleaning. He gives me the stink-eye when I spill crumbs in his kitchen. When I make fun of his intensity with it, he says “cleanliness is next to godliness you know.” The consistency and care with which he manages his emotions is an extension of powerful intention he activates in all areas of his life. And yes, he’s still chill and has a great sense of humor–not taking himself too seriously either. About a year ago, Carter encouraged me to watch / listen to a commencement speech that filmmaker Steven Spielberg recently gave at Harvard. The main idea of the speech, the “little voice,” he shared was a guiding force for him. It shows. You can watch the speech, as well as read the transcript here

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 3.45.56 AMSpielberg says:

“Now in a two-hour movie, you get a handful of character-defining moments, but in real life, you face them every day. Life is one strong, long string of character-defining moments. And I was lucky that at 18 I knew what I exactly wanted to do. But I didn’t know who I was. How could I? And how could any of us? Because for the first 25 years of our lives, we are trained to listen to voices that are not our own. Parents and professors fill our heads with wisdom and information, and then employers and mentors take their place and explain how this world really works.”

He continues:

“And usually these voices of authority make sense, but sometimes, doubt starts to creep into our heads and into our hearts. And even when we think, ‘that’s not quite how I see the world,’ it’s kind of easier to just to nod in agreement and go along, and for a while, I let that going along define my character. Because I was repressing my own point of view, because like in that Nilsson song, ‘Everybody was talkin’ at me, so I couldn’t hear the echoes of my mind.’

And at first, the internal voice I needed to listen to was hardly audible, and it was hardly noticeable — kind of like me in high school. But then I started paying more attention, and my intuition kicked in.

And I want to be clear that your intuition is different from your conscience. They work in tandem, but here’s the distinction: Your conscience shouts, ‘here’s what you should do,’ while your intuition whispers, ‘here’s what you could do.’ Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that.”

I often paraphrase author Dr. Parker Palmer as saying: “Don’t tell your life what it should do for you. Listen to your life; listen to what it is telling you.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 3.57.18 AMThere’s a word that comes up again and again in Jewish sacred text: Selah (pictured right in Hebrew, source). Nobody really knows what it is or means, but it seems to serve the function of noting: “Pause. Stop. Think on that.” So, with this one word, I will end this post and reflection:


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