Presence & Breath

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PresenceSoul searching, spirituality, meditation, and all those good things are a big part of my life. Personal growth is a bit of an obsession of mine, and I love to learn new things and try new practices as part of my personal development. In the past, I’ve posted about meditation, which I practice daily, and today I want to write about two practices that are closely related to meditation: presence and breath.

As I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, last year I participated in this awesome group coaching program focusing on eating disorders and body image issues. The foundation for this work was very soul-centered, which is one of the reasons why I was drawn to it in the first place. Two of the first modules we worked on were about presence and breath, so I’ve been learning about and implementing these two practices for a while. Due to daily stress and anxiety (I’m an introvert who can get pretty bad social anxiety), I recently decided to revisit presence and breath with the intention of making them firm fixtures in my life.  

Being present on the daily is a challenging endeavor. I’m still at a place where it takes dedicated and constant observation of my thoughts and feelings to shift into presence. The cool thing about this practice though, is that you quickly discover that in those fleeting moments of full presence, it really is a rewarding and perspective-shifting experience. I find this especially true as someone who is trying to:

  • Connect with my body on a deeper level,
  • Be more aware of my life and how I show up day in and day out, and
  • Be more positive and optimistic in general.

Breath is a huge part of practicing presence. I don’t think you can have one without the other. Really think about it – breathing is this involuntary act that we do constantly to stay alive. But when you really hone in on it and focus on it with intent and curiosity, it can become a great tool that helps alleviate stress and promote wellness. Breathing can literally cause a state change in your body. I’ve found breathing to be really useful when it comes to:

  • Meditation: Focusing on my breath can help me drop into a meditative state quicker, and go deeper into my meditation.
  • Stress/Anxiety: I’ve started to use breath to help curb stress/anxiety. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I’ll stop and take a few deep breaths until I feel more centered and less anxious.
  • Disordered Eating: It’s impossible to binge if you’re present (and focusing on your breath). Most of the time, if I want junk or am heading toward binge autopilot, it’s because of stress or some other #donotwant emotion that I’m trying to suppress with a quick state change – hence the magic of breath.

So how do you start practicing presence and breath?

I started out by setting daily alarms on my phone, usually for 9AM, 1PM, and 7PM. When the alarm would go off, I’d take a moment to breathe and center myself and then check in with myself to see if I needed a shift or to do anything (drink water, walk away from my desk, cord cut, etc.). At first it was challenging, especially for the first two alarms that went off at work. I’d often be too busy to stop, so I’d just shut off the alarm and keep working. BUT when I actually started to commit to these practices and respected the alarms and daily check ins, I noticed such a difference in my mental and physical states that I now do presence/breathing check ins frequently throughout the day without using any alarms.

As for the literal practice I use, it goes something like this:

  1. I close my eyes and take three deep breaths. I favor 6-3 breathing (inhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 3, exhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 3, repeat).  Sidenote: If I’m at work when I do this, and people are around, I’ll head to the bathroom, otherwise if I’m by myself in the office, I’ll just stay at my desk.
  2. Take inventory. Mental inventory is when you check in with your mindset and emotions. Are you feeling sad? Anxious? Angry? Physical inventory focuses more on your body and visceral state: are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Sometimes I take inventory of my surroundings, just noticing what’s going on around me: the conversations, the colors, the furniture, the light, etc.

There are so many benefits when it comes to presence and breath. The biggest benefit of presence is also the meaning of it – to just be in the here and now, where everything is okay, the past is long gone, and the future hasn’t happened yet. The benefit of breath is that you can really hone it to become a tool for your health and wellness. It can up your meditation game and help you learn to alleviate stress and anxiety – those are some game changers right there.

I think there’s something magical in that such simple practices can have a truly profound impact on your overall health and happiness.

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Fangirl Fav: The Brave

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TheBrave

I think we all know by now that I’m a huge fangirling nerdbomber when it comes to TV and movies. Oh, and books. Duh. So I wanted to take a minute to fangirl over my favorite new show of the season so far: The Brave. It airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC, and here’s the official rundown of the show (edited a bit for brevity’s sake):

This fresh, heart-pounding journey into the complex world of America’s elite undercover military heroes follows Captain Adam Dalton (Mike Vogel) and his heroic Special Ops squad of highly trained undercover specialists as they carry out each mission on the ground. This team works hand-in-hand with D.I.A. Deputy Director Patricia Campbell (Anne Heche) and her team of analysts as they wield the world’s most advanced surveillance technology from headquarters in D.C. All members of this elite squad, both in D.C. and across the world, have one thing in common: their resilience and commitment to freedom is unmatched by any other. Often facing insurmountable challenges, the team works tirelessly to get the job done and to prevail in even the most complex situations. Week after week, the team uses that determination along with their unbreakable bond to save the lives of innocent people and execute missions in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

It’s soooo good. I’m a huge action nerd with a soft spot for military dramas (note: my all time fav being Strike Back), and this show definitely fits the bill. Since the above synopsis was lengthy (and I swear, I did edit it for brevity’s sake hahaha), here’s a list o’ doom to cover why I heart this show…

Why I Love The Brave (And You Should Too)

  • It has something for everyone: action, drama, eye candy, heart strings pulling, suspense, humor, etc.
  • Mike Vogel (and his beard, ‘cause dayum, son).
  • Lots of well choreographed action sequences.
  • Strong female characters. The team’s sniper is a badass named Jaz, and of course Anne Heche rocks it as Patricia Campbell.
  • I’m pretty sure they use the phrase, “Stay frosty,” every episode, and I appreciate that!
  • Mike Vogel’s face (and biceps). #sorrynotsorry
  • There’s a lot of behind the scenes combat training and the like to make the show realistic and also pay homage to real life military heroes.
  • The ensemble cast is really talented and they have great chemistry.
  • Even for a high stakes military drama, there are moments of well executed humor that I appreciate. Case in point: Vogel’s Adam Dalton has a lot of sassy one liners that warrant a giggle or two.

I really like this how a lot and look forward to watching it each week. Of course, since it’s on NBC, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was suddenly canceled, since that seems to be their MO, especially for shows I like (lookin’ at you, Revolution). But, hopefully that’s not the case here.

I know there were quite a few military dramas that premiered this season, including SEAL Team (CBS) and Valor (The CW – don’t judge me), but I think The Brave was the most captivating. I couldn’t get through the first episode of SEAL Team without being distracted (sorry, David Boreanaz 😦 You’ll always be my vampire bae.). And Valor I really just tried because Matt Barr and his hair and abs and whatever, sometimes I’m just a really shallow fangirl, okay?

TLDR: Try The Brave. I think it’s great and deserves the viewership.

Magic Like Whoa

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WordsMy day job has been completely insane the past two months, and I am SO RELIEVED that it has died down and I can finally take a breath and recalibrate. Starting to do just that made me realize that there has been some major magic at work in my life lately, but I’ve only just had time to realize it.

And it’s awesome.

Last year I did this amazing 6-month group coaching program, The Society, with Samantha Skelly. She founded Hungry for Happiness, a movement of women dedicated to ending the fight with food and their bodies by addressing the underlying causes of emotional eating. The mission behind HFH and Sam is one that I love:

We envision a world in which women no longer feel compelled to diet. In which they have a strong connection to their body and its intuitive powers, and give themselves permission to feel pain, secure in the knowledge that our bodies don’t throw anything at us that we can’t handle. We’ve set a lofty goal of helping one million women end dieting by 2020. Will you join us?

Now my close peeps know that I’ve struggled with these issues for a long time, but it’s not something I really publicize, especially on social media. However, I learned that these types of issues reside in the dark corners of fear and shame, and when you yank them out into the light, they lose their power over you. If my time in The Society taught me anything, it’s to speak my truth and that when you allow yourself to be vulnerable with others, instead of ridicule and judgement, you’re often met with love and compassion.

Through Sam’s coaching, I was able to reconnect with my body, discover the underlying emotional issues behind my eating disorder, and connect with an amazing group of women who showed me more love and support than I ever experienced before in my life. It truly was a life changing and transformational experience.

When the program came to an end in late May, I was at a point where I realized how much I wanted to use my writing to help others, just like Sam helped me. Of course I want to be an awesomely successful screenwriter (and novelist!) too, but I also love connecting with others through writing and in a way that is beneficial and inspiring (and fulfilling to me personally). I just wasn’t sure how I wanted to or could execute that desire.

Fast forward to today, and I’m a writer and Community Manager for Hungry for Happiness. It all fell into place quickly, unexpectedly, and like, well, magic. My role as HFH Community Manager provides exactly what I wanted. Every day, I get to connect with women all over the world through my writing. I’m able to offer support, guidance, and encouragement to beautiful souls who are experiencing the same struggles I’ve encountered.

There’s also a layer of continued personal growth and development that I get to experience through my HFH work. Overcoming an eating disorder and body image issues is an ever-evolving journey. There is no finish line. You have wins, and you have losses. Sometimes it’s easy, and sometime’s it’s really, really difficult. But with coaching from Sam, I’ve cultivated a ridiculous amount of self-love that’s allowed me to connect with my body and my soul on a higher level and surrender to life’s lessons, miracles, and magic. I never thought that I would be genuinely grateful for issues that have caused me so much pain and suffering, but I am. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I wouldn’t be in a position to help others.

Fangirl Fav: The Black Tapes Podcast

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tbtI know it’s been awhile since I posted, so to get my creative mojo flowing, I thought I would resurrect and slightly revise a post from one of my past (now deleted) blogs. Over the past couple of years, I have become a huge fan of podcasts. I listen to all different kinds, but it seems like I tend to favor personal growth podcasts and audio dramas. So, it’s no surprise that my very favorite podcast is The Black Tapes.  

Once I realized the power of podcasts in making my shitty work commute less shitty, I started listening to them on the daily. I wanted to add some fiction podcasts to my list, because hello – writer! That’s when I stumbled upon The Black Tapes.

Here’s the official blurb from the podcast’s website:

The Black Tapes is a bi-weekly podcast from Pacific Northwest Stories and Minnow Beats Whale, and is hosted by Alex Reagan. The Black Tapes is a serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both.

How do you feel about paranormal activity or the Supernatural? Ghosts? Spirits? Demons?

Do you believe?

I’m a total nerd for anything paranormal, which is why The Black Tapes originally caught my eye. I wasn’t exactly swept away by the first episode, but by episode three, I was completely hooked. Two 12-episode seasons have been aired so far, and SADLY – SO SADLY – the third and final season (which I hear is only 6 episodes) will begin on August 30th.

I’ll admit that the delay in production and distribution of season three, as well as the announcement of the podcast ending (on a shorter season no less), was a HUGE disappointment. I heard murmurings (through Reddit) of some behind the scenes drama between the creators, but I’m not going to put too much stock into that. I suppose, at the end of the day, I’m just grateful that we are receiving an end to such a wonderful and addictive story.  

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t delve too deeply into plot details or my own thoughts/theories, but I’ll just post a few reasons why I love The Black Tapes:

  • Dr. Richard Strand. He is the “enigmatic subject” mentioned in the podcast blurb. First and foremost, allow me to fangirl for a moment and just swoon over the voice actor for this character. Hot dayum he has the sexiest voice I’ve ever heard. Audio objectification aside, his character really is intriguing and insanely intelligent. And a bit sassy. Have I already swooned?!
  • Blurring the lines. Again with me being a nerd, but I kind of love that the creators, actors, etc. of The Black Tapes refuse to acknowledge it as fictional. The organizations and institutes they refer to on the podcast each have a website, and many of the characters have social media accounts. It’s just an added layer of dedication and production that I–a fellow creative–appreciate.
  • Alex Reagan. She’s the main character. I love her. She’s smart, kind, intelligent, and not a pushover. She probably falls into the category of “no self-preservation whatsoever,” but that’s what makes The Black Tapes so fun. Plus, she has mad chemistry with Dr. Strand. I so ship it 😉
  • Ensemble cast. Actually, I really enjoy most of the characters on this podcast. Even the throwaways are usually well acted and unique. This really is a world in which you can get lost (because death to commuting!!!).
  • Creativity like woah. I haven’t googled or looked into any of the information broadcasted on the podcast, like the “evidence” and “research” that’s disclosed to listeners, so I’m not sure how much of it–if any–is based off of history or legit sources, but whether it is or isn’t doesn’t matter. I’m just blown away by the dedication of all parties involved in the podcast and the layers of creativity that make up this show.

Although I’m so very sad to see The Black Tapes end in the near future, I’m super excited to see how the rest of the story unfolds. I really hope the conclusion is satisfying and we get some Streagan romance thrown in for good measure.

P.S. If you like The Black Tapes, check out the two other podcasts by one of the creators of The Black Tapes: Tanis and Rabbits. Tanis sucked me in immediately, but I’ve sort of lost a bit of interest in it recently. However, relistening to The Black Tapes makes me want to get caught up. Same deal with Rabbits. I think it’s the “weakest” of the stories from the trio, but it was interesting enough for me to listen to most of season one. The Black Tapes is the best of the group, by far. Well, in my humble opinion 😉

10 Chapters In

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Tea and JournalI hit a writing milestone this week with my current book, Destination Happiness – I am officially 10 chapters into writing this bad boy!!! As of now, that equates to just under 29,000 words. My goal is the 80-90K words range, which I think is definitely doable with my rough outline of 23 chapters.

I’m doing something I’ve never done before in writing fiction, and that’s to really focus more on characters, dialogue, and driving the plot, and less on the settings and details for the first go ‘round. As a control freak plagued by perfectionism, it’s tough to just gloss over parts, but it’s also kind of liberating. I feel like I am trusting myself to write what needs to come out now, knowing that I will be able to go back and beef up the minutia when it’s time to get in the every-little-detail-counts head space.

As a refresher, the synopsis of my story is:

Prompted by the death of a loved one and general discontent in her life, a woman leaves behind everything she knows and sets out on a road trip of self-discovery.

Basically, it’s Eat, Pray, Love meets Wild 🙂

When I first started brainstorming on this book, I began to map out my character’s road trip. There’s a slew of destinations and sites throughout the story, and although it was initially fun to plan this fictional trip, when I actually started to write, I was getting caught up in the “travel logistics” and all of the details of places I’ve never been before. Well, most of them, there are some destinations in the story where I’ve personally visited. Still, I kept interrupting my writing flow to stop and do research on places, and it was stressing me out to the point of not wanting to work on this project.

Luckily, I gave myself a creative intervention and realized that my main priority is just to write the damn story, and I can worry about prettying it up later.

Which is exactly what I’m doing. And, here I am, 10 chapters later! I’ve never written this quickly on one of my own stories (although I’ve already completed quite a few writing projects with my screenwriting partner). It feels really good to know that I can focus on my own book and actually make progress on it.

Here’s to another 13 chapters!

That Time I Was Anti Harry Potter

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HP Books

I know, my bookshelves are hot af.

Lately my social feeds and favorite news sources have been flooded with headlines reflecting on the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, and just reminiscing on my own personal history with the fandom has me all sorts of nostalgic. Anyone who knows me and my fangirl ways would probably just assume that I’m a HP fangirl, and although I am, that wasn’t always the case.

::cue dramatic music::

I was a teenager when Harry Potter became the it thing. I was also (and still am) a bit of a rebel, so although I loved to read, I refused to read the books simply because everyone else was reading them. I was sick of hearing my friends talk about them and decided to stubbornly stay as far away from the HP bandwagon as I could.

Until weeks before the release of the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

My childhood best friend was an avid Harry Potter fan. Just before the release of the fifth book, she begged me–one final time–to just give the books a try: “Please just try the first book, and if you don’t like it, I’ll never talk about Harry Potter to you again.” Irritated, but wanting to make her happy, I did give the first book a try. And within four days, I had borrowed and read all four books. By release day of book 5, I was attending the midnight release party at my local Borders, and I owned the other four books.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Poster

Said German Draco Malfoy poster.

For years thereafter, Harry Potter topped my fangirl favs list. I’m talking midnight release parties, reading the books aloud to my siblings (my character voices are awesome, if I do say so myself), buying all sorts of memorabilia (my prized possession being a German Draco Malfoy poster), and applying and being accepted (via sorting) to a infamous Harry Potter livejournal community (I was sorted into Gryffindor, although Slytherin was a close call).

Since I’m a huge (and unrepentant) nerdbomber, it’s fun to look back on my Harry Potter days. So, without further ado:

Harry Potter Highlights From the Life O’ Pam

  • Fanfiction: I dipped my toes in the pool of fanfiction thanks to Harry Potter. I know a lot of people roll their eyes at fanfiction, but as a fledgling writer, there is no better way to improve and gain confidence. Fanfiction was the first time I shared my writing with anyone, and it helped me grow more confident in my talent and learn to adhere to deadlines (because you can’t leave readers hanging too long for a new chapter!).
  • HP OTP: Speaking of fanfiction, my HP one true pairing was Draco Malfoy/Ginny Weasely. I know, I know, impossible in canon, but in fandom…well, talk about a following! She was the fire to his ice! They were the modern day Romeo and Juliet! Oh, the possibilities!
  • Goblet of Fire Movie Premiere: So, I may have attended the GoF movie premiere in NYC. It may or may not have been INSANE. I will never do something like that again, but it was a pretty cool once-in-a-lifetime experience. People were crazy, there were hundreds of fans lining up on the street hours and hours in advance. My friends and I took the train in at about 4AM for an early evening premiere. Although we weren’t as close the the red carpet as I had hoped (we were across the street), I did get a photo and signed movie poster of Katie Leung  (aka Cho Chang).
  • Sirius Denial: Sirius Black was and will always be one of my favorite Harry Potter characters. I know he was a hot head. I know he was terrible to teenage!Snape. But, well, I have a thing for bad boys, especially bad boys with motorcycles. #sorrynotsorry Also, in book 5, it sure as hell didn’t seem like he was hit with the killing curse, just saying. It was a RED flash, okay!? Needless to say, when they changed it to green in the movie, I was not happy.
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: I’m convinced that the second time my family went to Disney was solely for the purpose of me visiting the HP theme park. And um, it was awesome. I can’t even tell you what it felt like to walk down streets that resembled Diagon Alley and stand in front of a Hogwarts replica. Oh em gee. I’m sure you can imagine the amount of shopping I did in that park haha. A couple of wands here, a leather bound journal there. Sigh. I’d like to go back ASAP.
  • Writing Inspiration: I fell in love with the world and writing of Harry Potter, and I fell hard. I was immersed in this fandom as a late teen into my early twenties, and silly as it may seem, my love for these books helped to further validate my desire to be a writer. Rowling has such a great rags to riches story, and even back then, I found it truly inspirational. One of my favorite things about the Harry Potter series is that you can see how Rowling progressed as a writer. More so than the actual writing was the imagination that went into the HP books. Rowling created such a nuanced world filled with hundreds of different characters. She had threads, so many threads, of plot and subplot woven throughout the series. The aspiring writer in me was in awe of the intricacy of her writing and the way she brought so many things–things that seemed extremely minor at first mention–full circle. I remember thinking, how did she do that? How did a quick mention of something in book one or two turn into THIS in book five or six? And now, as a writer, I see that it actually comes naturally. It happens when you dive deep into your story and characters. But back then, before I understood this, well, it was magic 🙂

Holy novel length blog post, Batman! I suppose you can see how dear the Harry Potter world is to me. J.K. Rowling has created something amazing and inspiring – a story and characters that have touched and mesmerized millions of people around the world. And now, I need to bust out my calendar and start planning a Harry Potter marathon, both reading and watching, because it’s been far too long since I last got lost in the halls of Hogwarts.

Go with the Friendship Flow

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friends-1272735_640It’s been about five years or so since I started to dabble in the realm of personal growth, and within the past year I’ve really leveled up my commitment to my own journey of self-discovery. The concept of connection has been on my radar more and more, and I’m beginning to realize not only the importance of connection and our relationship with others, but also how it can spawn revelations when it comes to personal growth and authenticity.

Over the years, like everyone, I’ve experienced an ebb and flow with my friendships. None of my current friends are people I knew before college, and I’ve shed two of my longest tenured (think at least 10 years) and deepest friendships over the past two years alone. Losing those two friendships was really painful, but it also made me realize how important it is to let go of relationships that no longer serve you, especially if they’re toxic. Each of us deserves to be treated with love and respect, and if that isn’t something that you are receiving in your relationships, then it’s time to let them go. It’s also important to realize that sometimes you just outgrow people. I know for me, once I opened myself to authenticity and personal integrity and really took inventory of my personal values and beliefs, it was extremely difficult for me to settle for friendships that were unbalanced or shallow.

Looking past the pain of those lost friendships, I realized that the connections that I still maintain are bonds that truly light me up. I have quality friends. I am surrounded by people who genuinely love me and care about me and my life. They want what’s best for me. They encourage me to chase my dreams and explore my potential. They support me in good times and bad, and they love me for me. Really, at the end of the day, that is all any of us want, right?

The awesome–and unexpected–result of shedding toxic relationships is that it made me really invest in my relationship with myself. I began to realize that I deserve better. I deserve to receive the same quality of love and support that I so freely offer to others. Self-love was a big theme for me this year (in case you couldn’t tell ;), and it’s the reason I decided to dive into the amazing group coaching program that I’ve mentioned before.

And you know what happened once I did that?

friends_handsI received an influx of new and beautiful people in my life. These amazing earth angels share so many of the struggles and aspirations that I experience, and it has allowed us to bond quickly and on a much deeper level than I was used to. Bonds like that, particularly ones that accompany hardcore soul-searching, force you to be better. It’s because of that program, those ladies, and these new connections that I continue to dig deep and explore who I am and all of the things of which I’m capable.

When you live your life constantly inspired and excited for what could be, it’s like you’re living on a magical plane of infinite possibilities. And yes, that is probably too froo froo and woo woo for lots of people, but for me – it’s epic. It makes me smile. It makes my heart beat faster in anticipation. I know that I am aligned and being authentic to who I am, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m here – to shine my light and give others permission to do the same. That revelation and the feeling that goes along with it would never be possible if it wasn’t for the amazing, beautiful, soul tribe worthy friends who are part of my life. So thank you. All of you. I love you more than words are capable of expressing, and you know that from me, Little Miss Writer, that says a lot 🙂 ❤