Steps To Living An Extraordinary Life

Seven years ago, I was working in the marketing department of a big-time theater. It was a job I’d been chasing up and down the eastern seaboard. I was sitting at a desk calling A-List theatergoers and I was absolutely miserable. Was this not the top of my mountain? Apparently not.

It was during this time, my brother sent me an excerpt from Karen Salmansohn’s blog, where she described a kind of ‘happiness ceiling’. In other words, it is the amount of happiness we are each comfortable with accepting in our lives. This was a radical idea for me then. I always thought of myself as a pretty happy person, but I guess that’s it- I was always only pretty happy.

Karen Salmansohn

The idea of a happiness ceiling was in the back of my mind since then, gathering dust, because I had no idea how one goes about breaking the ceiling. I mean, awareness is the first step, but without an action plan, you’re kind of just sitting in the water.

Then, in comes Gay Hendricks, PhD and his life-changing book The Big Leap. He calls IT the “Upper Limit Problem”, essentially a belief, reinforced in childhood, that we are not worthy of an extreme level of abundance, love, or success. My chest contracted as I read the first couple of pages. First, being as egocentric as the rest of you, I thought of all the people that had let me down because they didn’t believe they could be happy. How they’d sabotaged our relationships because they were too scared to be extremely happy. Kettle…Black.

The Big Leap

I got about halfway through the book before I was able to take full ownership of my own “Upper Limit Problem”. For the most part, I picked these people- boyfriends that always had one foot out the door, and friends that were easily impressed and didn’t think very highly of me in the first place. These were choices I made based on my beliefs- how worthy I was of love, success, and admiration. Revelation!

What’s really great about The Big Leap is that Hendricks doesn’t just tell you, you have a problem and leave you out in the woods. He asks you to investigate in a step-by-step, very detailed way, peeling away each layer of your self-sabotaging onion.

So.. what do you do with all this newfound information? Well, if you’re me, you go big and start doing everything you consider out of your comfort zone. In the last couple months, that’s included having lunch in country clubs, jogging in high-end neighborhoods, eating in fancy restaurants and private clubs, working out in expensive gyms, and taking yoga classes from the best teachers I could find. This list looks expensive, but to be honest, I barely spent a dime. I simply acted like I deserved to be at these places, and the universe rewarded me as such. For instance, I called the gym and told the manager that I had to use their facilities for a week because ‘how was I ever going know if it was the right gym for me if I didn’t get to test drive it’. I used basically the same strategy for every place I went.

After a couple months, I think I’ve made a few cracks in that ceiling. I can more clearly see a life filled with abundance, love, and success.

What self-limiting thoughts are holding you back? If you need help answering that question, I highly recommend The Big Leap. Do it for that part of you that’s just screaming to be awesome.

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Anger Is A Gremlin That Lives Behind My Belly Button

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Parked in front of my favorite dive bar, yet scheduled for a kickboxing class down the block, I start to think, Wait. Why am I here?! “Because you’ve tried every tool in your yogi tool box and you still feel like an a-hole,” says some smart little voice in the back of my brain.

This journey started about two months ago after a particularly emotionally brutal incident. Now, the ‘incident’ itself doesn’t matter because we all have those out of the blue train wrecks we wished had never happened, but hey, here we are. Luckily, I’ve had ample training on how not to feel like an ass.

I started with meditation, and I’m talking some serious meditation; not a five minute app and off to the gym. No. I wanted to be myself, like, right NOW. I sat with a buddhist nun for three hours and I was able to access mostly sadness. If you’ve meditated before then you know that this is just the most pronounced feeling. There are often many other underlying feelings. After three whole hours, I found just one. No big breakthroughs, but I left with the pride of actually sitting with that feeling and not diving head first into a bottle of vodka. I meditated for thirty minutes, every day, for three days after that, before deciding I was ready to get back on my mat.

It was a beautiful 6am practice filled with my yoga family and two of my favorite teachers. I even felt moved to post on Instagram.

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The post was partly true, I was lucky, but in actuality I hadn’t separated myself from my feelings at all.  I was a giant ‘bag of mess’ and I was about to step on my mat and go through an hour and a half of moving meditation. About halfway through the Ashtanga Primary Series, I heard a ‘pop’ in what I thought was my clavicle. (For you yogis, I was attempting Supta Kurmasana and being adjusted.) Here’s were things get strange- I didn’t care and I finished the practice. It wasn’t until I got in the shower after practice that I cried, first from the excruciating pain (I had pulled my shoulder), then from the realization that I wanted to hurt. I wanted to feel real physical pain. Not good. I dragged my crippled butt back to the mediation cushion. I meditated for another two weeks, 30 minutes, every day. Partly because I couldn’t practice yoga until I was healed, but also because I know full well that depression is a very slippery slope.

My first meditations involved just recognizing my feelings. There’s so many ways to do this, but I always start with the most accessible one, so in my case- sadness. I let myself feel it and then notice all the stories that swirl around in my head and reinforce that feeling. After a couple of minutes, I let go of all the thoughts and just feel the feeling in my body. For me, sadness lives in my heart. It feels like my heart is ten times bigger and heavier than it should be. The next feeling that came up was shame. Of course. That’s why I nearly destroyed my body. As I sat with shame, I realized it was the shame of not being able to protect myself from being hurt (so… unrealistic, at best). The moment I was able to really see and feel shame, it started to dissipate and along with it, some sadness.

After two weeks, I changed my meditations. I practiced Loving-Kindness, which made me happier throughout the day and restored some of my faith in humanity, but didn’t make me feel any more ‘myself’. I then tried Mantra Meditation, repeating “I forgive you. I love you. I release you.” 108 times around my mama beads. This prompted me to actually call and text people who’d really hurt me and forgive them. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this, but in my experience, people either don’t respond or think you have some kind of ulterior motive. It’s entertaining if you find the humor in it.

I forgive youI love youI release you

After two months, I had accessed sadness and shame, forgave, and felt somewhat more myself, but I knew there was still a nasty little gremlin lurking just behind my belly button. Well, at least that’s where I imagine anger lives. Now, I’m not great with anger. I am a serious anger-avoider. I hate how it feels and I hate being ‘mean’. I am also fully aware that the only way to overcome anything is to face it head-on. This is why I ‘m now sitting in the gym with my gloves on. I want to see anger. I want to feel it. I want to beat the crap out of it.

With each swing connecting with the bag harder, and harder, I start to feel something bubble up to the surface. Anger, though smaller, and not as intrusive and all encompassing as I had imagined it, is here. I can now see this feeling as something other than myself, and every jab and roundhouse is FUN.

By the end of class, I’m lighter, soaring even. Maybe it’s part endorphin-rush, but it’s also the shear joy of staring down my fear and dancing with it.

I would love to end this post by saying that I am awesome, and I’m so much stronger now, and I believe in unicorns… but we all know that life is a process. And, no, I’m not completely myself. I may never be that person again, but that’s okay. I’m this person now. Whatever that means, I’m excited to find out.