All posts by Alex Carmichael

A new season

In most parts of the world right now, the season is shifting. Looking out to the garden from our kitchen table right now, I see flowers blooming, plums ripening, new life taking hold. Summer is dawning. Or it could be turning to winter where you are.

In times of change, it can be grounding to return to basics.

Familiar things.

Nature.

Wisdom.

I’d like to focus for a second on the four elements that classical traditions around the world identified long ago.

We know them as earth, water, air, and fire.

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Let’s listen today to the wise words of voices gone by, as they bring a bit of nature-inspired insight to our day. Sometimes a helpful nudge can come just from hearing a different perspective on the world around and inside us.

“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky.” – Rumi

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” – Thoreau

“Earth laughs in flowers.” – Emerson

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” – Watts

“People are like tea bags – you find out how strong they are when they’re put in hot water.” – Roosevelt

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” – Dinesen

“Take a walk in good fresh air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you.” – Muir

“If you were a bird, and lived on high, You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by; You’d say to the wind when it took you away: ‘That’s where I wanted to go today!'” – Milne

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – Ward

“The finest steel has to go through the hottest fire.” – Nixon

“I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.” – Graham

“When you’re tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department generally uses water.” – Unknown

I hope these words bring some ease and lightness to your day.

Alexandra 🙂

Four simple steps to get us through rough patches

I don’t know about you, but I generally like structure. Especially in challenging times when it feels like the world is spinning or like I’m wandering through a fog. Having a simple set of guidelines to follow in these times has been a great help to me. Of course it’s also fun to be spontaneous and break routine now and then, but for the most part having a structure to rely on can be solidly reassuring.

I thought you might like to know what I’ve found helpful, in case you find yourself in a tough moment and need a bit of a hand getting through it. We’ve all been there!

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This particular structure comes from a book I highly recommend: The Reality Slap by Russ Harris. He’s a legend in the field of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a methodology my therapist introduced to me that involves mindfulness practices and living by your values.

Here are the lessons I memorized from Russ’ book, which I turn to whenever I need perspective and strength:

1. Hold yourself gently. The very first thing to do is to realize you’re having a hard time. Give yourself some love, kindness, and empathy. Pretend that you’re comforting a friend in a similar situation, or that someone who you can depend on is really taking care of you. Try to soften and not be too hard on yourself, remembering that everyone goes through difficult times. We’re all human, we all mess up, and we all feel intense emotions. It’s ok to be gentle sometimes.

2. Get grounded. The second step involves getting back into your body. Take some deep breaths and sit up straight. Go outside and lie down on the warm grass, feeling the ground supporting you. Imagine you’re a tree with roots anchoring you to the ground and branches lifting up towards the sky. Our bodies have great wisdom, and tapping into this before deciding what to do can often be balancing and help provide perspective.

3. Take a stand. The third step is remembering to live by our values instead of our emotions. When we act or say things impulsively out of anger, fear, or hurt, we tend to think small and might end up making things worse for ourselves. I like to write things down when I feel a strong emotion, and then come back to what I’ve written later on with a calmer mind to see how to best approach the issue. Look at the bigger picture, decide on a course of action based on what you value, and stick to it.

4. Find the treasure. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “the conditions for happiness and peace can be found in every moment.” This doesn’t mean we go around smiling blissfully all the time, definitely. But there’s usually one tiny thing you can be grateful for even in the midst of the greatest suffering. Seeing a flower bursting into bloom. Curling up under a comfy blanket. Having a warm cup of tea. Even the tiniest bit of enjoyment can help.

And the final thought that I turn to after going through this process comes from Robert Frost’s inspiring words, “The best way out is always through.” I will get through this, easier times are coming.

You will get through this. Easier times are coming.

For now, be gentle, breathe, live by what you value, and look for little things to enjoy.

With love,
Alex 🙂

Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all

Usually when something goes wrong, I want to take action and fix it as quickly as I can.

If our daughter forgets her lunch at home, I will stop on the way to school to get her a new one.

When I can’t sleep, I try every sleeping remedy known to man.

If I end up in a tense situation, my instinct is to talk it through until everyone is drained and exhausted out of their minds.

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Now in many cases, taking action to solve a problem is very useful.

But in some cases it may not be.

I heard some wise words this morning that I’d like to share with you. My friend Janya pointed out:

“When we’re injured, or hurt somehow, sometimes we just need to do nothing. Let ourselves heal, physically or emotionally. Let situations settle. Turn towards gentle self-care and relaxing deep breaths, and sit with the pain. It will pass, whether we’re fussing about it or not. And sometimes all the fussing can make it worse. So I ask myself, ‘what if all I have to do is give this space and time to heal?’ And often, that’s enough.”

I wonder if you might find a bit of space and time in your heart today to let a hurtful thing heal. Just do nothing and let it be exactly as it is for now. And see what happens?

I’ll be sitting right here with you.

I love you just the way you are

I just love watching hawks.

The way they glide so effortlessly over great expanses of land. Their super sharp eyes that can spot dinner moving down below, and the focus and speed with which they dive and hunt. So beautiful. So powerful.

As I opened my eyes this morning, the thought entered my mind that in many ways, I’m like a hawk.

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Sometimes I’m very good at stepping back, gliding, and seeing the big picture around me. And sometimes I get into tunnel vision mode and can only see the very focused thing that I’m hunting. I’m so grateful to Jon for pointing this out to me recently, although it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to hear.

It’s true though. I’ve always learned that you get what you want in life by extreme focus and relentless action until you achieve your goal. And it works too – I’ve done everything I had written down on the bucket list I made for myself in college:

  • Sell a startup, check (twice).
  • Move to California, check.
  • Have a homebirth, check.
  • Run in a marathon in Hawaii, check.
  • Save someone’s life, check (twice).
  • Eat pizza in Naples, check.
  • And so on. (Maybe it’s time for a new bucket list!)

The point is that when I’ve been focusing on these goals, I’ve lost sight a bit of the people around me. I haven’t paid enough attention. It’s something I’m definitely going to be working on now, in a gentle, accepting way. I love being a hawk, and I can learn to be a better hawk too.

I wonder if you’ve ever thought of what animal might represent you? What strengths and weaknesses does your animal have? Sometimes seeing ourselves outside ourselves like this, as an animal, can help us be more loving and understanding of both our gifts and our flaws. 

Now if only hawks were cuddly and soft too, then it would be a perfect match for me.

But whatever your animal is, be it hawk or bear or kitten or frog or mosquito, please remember today that I love you. Just the way you are.

With you always,
Alexandra

The power of adjusting expectations

This is a trick I definitely wish I had learned when I was younger.

It’s such a simple idea, but so powerful in helping life run just a bit more smoothly.

Simply stated, have different expectations for your day depending on what’s happening in and around you.

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Here are a few examples to better illustrate the idea:

1. If you wake up with a migraine, you might not want to push yourself to do all 50 things on your task list and go to all the meetings you had planned. Gently adjusting your expectations here might mean working from home, or even just resting and healing in a dark room until you can fire on all cylinders again.

2. If your best friend (or parent, or spouse, or child) is going through a hard time emotionally, you might need to expect that they’re not going to be as available to be present and supportive for you. This is a time to dial up your self-care activities, like cooking healthy food, moving your body, and finding other ways to connect that feel safe and nourishing. Keep yourself strong and balanced so you can either help them recover, or at least be patient until they’ve come through the storm.

3. If you have pressing deadlines to meet at work, you’ll probably want to communicate that to people who either live with you or are closest to you. Adjusting expectations here could be the difference between maintaining harmonious relationships and finding yourselves on the rocks. I might say something like, “I love you tremendously, and I want you to know that the next [month] at work will be very busy. It might feel like I’m farther away for a while, but I’m always holding you tightly in my heart, and the busy time will pass. Let’s think up some ways we can stay connected during this period, and also some fun things we can look forward to doing together after it’s over.”

Having different sets of expectations like this can make it easier to be just that little bit more understanding, patient, and kind. To ourselves and others.

If we all practiced this, wouldn’t it make the world a more loving and peaceful place? In any kind of weather?

With love as always,
Alexandra

Be your own valentine

Valentine’s Day seems to be a very polarizing holiday. Either you’re over the moon in love and want to shout it from the rooftops, or you just want to hide away and feel sorry for yourself because no one cares.

I’ve been in both places before, so I feel you.

But a thought came to me the other day, that could at least diminish the painful part of those inevitable lonely Valentine’s Days that some of us will be having.

Why not be your own valentine?

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This works whether you have a love in your life or not, actually. Treat yourself the way you’d most want to be treated. Get yourself a flower or a chocolate, write yourself a love letter with all the wonderful things you want to hear, maybe treat yourself to a massage or a nice dinner.

It sounds silly, but it can be surprisingly effective! I remember something similar I did during a time when my world was upside down and I was needing a lot of reassurance. I actually started texting myself sweet supportive messages, like “I love you! You’re doing so great, keep going and everything will be ok! 🙂 <3”

And then I would receive the text, and feel the reassurance, and be able to keep going.

So I’ll sign off today with a note from me to you reading this right now: Happy Valentine’s Day, you beautiful heart! I love you, keep going, and remember I’m always here for you.

Love,
Alexandra

How forgiving yourself can help everyone around you

I have a confession to make. I’m not generally an angry person, and I don’t tend to hold grudges, but I do sometimes momentarily snap at people.

It’s usually in response to one of three main triggers: fear of abandonment, fear of being late, or fear of someone being angry with me if I don’t meet expectations. Maybe those are all the same fear, actually.

It does seem to depend a bit on what day of my monthly hormonal cycle I’m at, how much sleep I’ve had, and how much background stress is around me.

But I’m not proud of it.

The other day I snapped at Jon, when he was feeling low, and the next morning my WellBee score plummeted from its relatively stable 70-80 range down to 19. I felt guilty, angry at myself, afraid, and miserable.

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The thing is, I’m sure we’ve all had moments like this. We’re only human, after all. And as worthwhile as it is to keep trying hard to learn and improve and open our hearts more, sometimes we’re going to crash and burn. I think this might even *need* to happen sometimes, to make space for a new understanding or opportunity to emerge.

A couple of days after the snap, I realized there wasn’t much point in beating myself up – that would only make things worse for everyone. I started forgiving, softening, being gentle with myself, and that helped me be softer and more gentle with people around me too. Being kind to ourselves has a ripple effect, and ends up helping everyone. Maybe even the world!

So here’s my little nudge for you: if you find yourself locked in a self-critical pattern today, maybe just try to find a tiny bit of soft forgiveness to wrap around your tender heart. It might not help immediately, but cultivating that feeling of gentleness will eventually help us grow beautiful blooms of hope and love, for ourselves and for others.

I know I feel a warm loving heart when I think of you reading this – a moment of connection in both of our days. Thank you for listening, and please share your experience if you feel so inspired.

Alexandra

Can organizing bring peace?

I’m starting a new project this week. It has about seven parts to it, and each part has multiple sub-parts.

It was feeling too big in my mind, and generating anxiety, so I did some googling for tools that could help me get all the parts out of my head and into some organized structure.

I found a very simple, colorful app that’s surprisingly useful, so I wanted to share it with you. It’s free, from Google, and it’s called Keep.

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It took less than an hour to untangle my mental knot into beautifully colored sections. And now that all my notes and tasks are organized, my mind can rest and be more at peace.

I wonder if it might help you, at times that feel chaotic, to add a little bit of order to your day?

With love and hugs,
Alexandra 🙂

A lesson from Martin Luther King Jr.: Doubt yourself, and move forward anyway

If you haven’t seen the new Oscar-nominated movie Selma, I won’t spoil it for you. But I will say that it showed me a very different, more vulnerable side of Martin Luther King Jr. that I hadn’t appreciated before.

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He was tired from the struggle for civil rights. He doubted his own efforts. He thought long and hard with trusted advisors about strategy and messaging. He made painful mistakes in his personal life. He realized he was just a pastor from Atlanta taking on the President of the United States.

And yet none of this stopped him taking action. He drew inspiration from his beliefs and from the stories of people he was trying to help. He forged ahead anyway, letting his doubts accompany him but not impact him, and he ended up changing a nation.

Dr. King’s story inspires me today to keep going along my path even when doubts appear. Trust that I am doing what’s right and that it will work out. It’s not always easy, but it’s a great skill to cultivate for my emotional strength toolbox.

I hope this message supports and encourages you along your journey too.

With love and gratitude,
Alexandra

See the good in the struggle

Here’s a thought that’s been transforming my whole attitude towards life lately. I wanted to share it in case it’s helpful for you, too.

The idea is simple yet profound, and has taken a long while to trickle into my deep subconscious understanding.

This is it: you can mine your suffering to find gold.

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When we go through a challenge in life, we may find that some new insight or understanding or good comes out of it. And if not, we can still use the experience to open our hearts and increase our compassion for others in the same situation.

So in times of distress, I remind myself:

  1. There are others feeling like this right now, I’m not alone.
  2. It will pass, I can ride it out.
  3. How can I use this experience for good, growth, or benefiting the world?

As the poet Rumi says, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”

Sending love and warm hugs,
Alexandra