The Little Forest

The Little Forest

When I was very small I had three close friends: my Irish Wolfhound Marigold, blueberries, and a squirrel who didn’t have a name, just a feeling.

I lived in the forest outside of Fairbanks, Alaska with my parents. There were a few cabins connected by trails out there, a sort of neighborhood of people in rather unusual phases of their lives.

There were Ruth and Scott, who had goats and a baby, and there were Mark and Joanne who had Jessica who was a baby, and another man who was very big, tall, and hairy whose name I don’t remember. I also had an aunt and uncle and five cousins down the road in town. They had chickens and goats.

And the little forest.

I spent most of my non-winter days outside in various states of recombinantcy amid the low-bush blueberries. I sometimes tried to go visit our neighbors, only to be body blocked by Marigold the Irish Wolfhound at my mother’s direction, so again I would settle amid the vegetation like a little troll.

From this vantage point, I had an excellent view of the very small to minuscule plant life that lives in the space from ground level to about six inches up. And let me tell you, it is splendid. There are an astounding array of shades of green, gold, pearly grays verging on blue, and browns of all description. The shapes range from quite sturdy to ethereal. I have a very keen eye and deep love for color as an adult, and I suspect that this early study is when I learned it.

Let me tell you a bit more about the squirrel with no name (no relation to the horse that crossed the dessert). It lived in a stump behind our cabin, and if I sat about eight feet away from it’s home, facing away from it, and got very still inside while ever-so-gently casting my attention in its direction, it would come out to see what I was doing. If I got too excited or moved much, it was gone. That squirrel taught me how to be still but very aware. I use that skill today on humans who are confused or upset. That squirrel taught me how to hold space.

Marigold the Irish Wolfhound was a very large and very gentle beast. She taught me patience and the value of simple companionship. To this day I enjoy having another alive being in the room with me even if we are not interacting. As I write this, there is a napping dog about ten feet away, and my heart feels glad for it.

There is a harmony to the silent world, an unheard rhythm of feeling-tone that we all pick up on, even if we don’t register it in our conscious minds. Have you ever walked into a space and felt better? Or for that matter felt worse, even if things looked fine on the surface? The way we inhabit the rooms of our homes, the tone of voice and intent we bring to our everyday conversations, the softness-or-not of the clothes we wear, all of these things shape our internal harmony. And our internal harmony (or lack of) radiates out of us and fills the space around us. Have you ever visited an old church or ancient temple and felt all the love and devotion that people poured out of their hearts decade after decade? Just like the worn down stone steps and polished benches hold evidence of those who came before, so does the very space echo their inner states.

It took a long time of growing up for me to notice that it was this internal harmony of the deep forest that I was missing. I used to think that maybe I should live there again. The problem was, as an adult I have come to really enjoy where I live, and want to stay. I was fairly conflicted for a few years, but then I realized: the little forest was part of me. I find it in my canine companions, my herb garden, and my quiet creative time. I married a man who also likes to do his own projects, and we are quite comfortable giving each other space in that way. When I rest in my heart, I feel it.

Many people I meet don’t seem to care about, or even be aware of, their inner landscape. They don’t realize that their state of being is communicating to those around them and affecting the spaces they hang out in. My hypothesis is that they have never had the chance to be quiet enough to notice it. When I work with clients around their relationship with food and themselves, I eventually come around to talking to them about this. I use words like ‘the small voice that knows what is true’, or ‘your inner compass’. Honestly, it is more than that. It is an upwelling of connection to the vast simplicity of life. It is both brilliant and reassuring. It moves with every breath. Feel it and rest.

Sarah Campbell, Nutrition & Life Skills Coaching Boise
Spring Acupuncture
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It Doesn’t Matter if No One Sees You Change

It Doesn’t Matter if No One Sees You Change

In fact, it might be better.

I find so often that people do not give themselves credit for changes to their inner landscape.

We have this idea that transformation is not worthy unless other people see it- but what shapes our lives more than how we feel about ourselves, which is invisible?

When we create true internal change, we begin a ripple effect that unfolds in its own time.
It is a very different experience than working from the outside in, which is what most diet and fitness regimes are. We decide we want to look different, and then alter our behaviors to create those changes.

From one perspective, this is logical, the stumbling point that most of us run into is that this approach does not acknowledge our vast inner life. We humans are absolutely chock full of subtle perceptions, strong ideals, unconscious psychological reactions, and personal interpretations. Navigating all of that while putting yourself under the stress of reduced caloric intake and/or added physical activity is often a recipe for failure.

So then what should we do if we do want to lose a few pounds and become more fit?

I, and my clients, have found the most success by looking deeply at ourselves and discovering what small adjustments to our thinking and our daily routines have the potential to affect the most positive change.

Here are a few real-life examples (written in the first person for clarity):

  • Not going to social functions that I do not enjoy > having more nourishing downtime at home > less avoidance eating and drinking > gradual weight loss (in this example, we had to deal with the guilt of not accepting invites and practice ways of comfortably saying no)
  • Creating an enjoyable bedtime routine > getting to bed sooner > feeling well rested > having the time and energy to pack healthy lunches to bring to work > less eating out > better portion control > gradual weight loss
  • Buying a water bottle I love > drinking more water between meals > fewer cravings and less snacking > gradual weight loss
  • Writing a list in the evening of the 3-5 most important things I want to get done the next day > following through and doing them > less procrastin-eating > gradual weight loss

As you can see, each of these situations were tailored specifically for the client. The starting points of true inside-out transformations are as varied as we are as individuals. They don’t have to be big, scary changes. Often very simple adjustments to routine can yield big results.

Here is how to begin an exploration to discover one of your linchpin behavior changes:

  • Identify when you have the most difficulty with overeating or feeling emotionally uncomfortable (common times are right after work, in the evening, or on the weekends).
  • Think about what happens just before you feel stressed (work frustrations, loneliness, feeling deprived from being ‘good’ all week)
  • Think about what you can do to break the cycle in the before phase (delegate duties or share frustrations with co-workers, make plans for a walk or phone call with a friend, add foods you enjoy into your regular eating routine so you don’t build up cravings).
  • Do an experiment and try your personal intervention for a week. See what happens. Adjust as needed.

Notice that these are small shifts that, as I alluded to in the title of this post, most likely no one will notice except you. And that’s where part of the magic happens. You are doing a positive action for yourself alone. This builds self-trust. When we gain trust in ourselves, we are more willing to make bigger changes in our lives because we have a solid track record of being successful with small ones.

Our relationship with ourselves is the most important because it is reflective of all the other relationships in our lives.

Making friends with yourself is so worth it.

Sarah Campbell, Nutrition & Life Skills Coaching Boise
Spring Acupuncture
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Everyday Solace

Everyday Solace

Solace: something that gives comfort, consolation, or relief.

We all need it, and we all find it somewhere.

Some of us when asked, “Where do you find solace?” would answer in bed, a bath, alcohol, food, music, or physical movement.

Others would not have an answer.

When we are under stress, we forget to do the small things that help us cope. This is natural. Our animal selves/ limbic systems/ lizard brains get stuck in fight, flight or freeze and we ping-pong from feeling overwhelmed about work to feeling overwhelmed about food and fitness or the housework we have left undone, then something unexpected happens like we get sick or our car gets broken into and that’s it. We are officially fried.

The common belief is that heightened anxiety helped us keep alert to danger on the imaginary prehistoric savannah of our deep past. And while that may be true, knowing that doesn’t help us when we find ourselves in line to get fast food more often then we feel comfortable with, sleeping poorly, or being uncharacteristically emotional. For that matter, I often wonder if the sheer speed and volume of our everyday modern lives keeps our stress levels in the yellow zone much of the time, making it all too easy to trip over into burnout.

So what can help us?

What if we were able to rescue ourselves in small ways every single day? And I don’t mean that evening beer. What if we worked on offering solace to ourselves as a regular and healthy part of our day, the way we brush our teeth, take a shower, or drink water?

Where we might find solace:

  1. In the shower, stretch your body. In particular, hold your hands behind your back, pull them down, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and stretch your sternum and chin up. Feel the stretch across your chest. Take a couple of deep breaths. Afterward, feel how your breath feels more expansive. Let that sensation affect your mood.
  2. While you are driving in the car, talk to yourself out loud. I like to start by asking, “So what’s going on?,” the same as I would to a friend. Then let whatever comes up come out. It doesn’t have to make sense or be in any particular order. When I feel good, sometimes my talking turns into a made up, off-tune song about how I love my life. When there are some feelings or thoughts that need to move, I say them out loud and have a look at them, often dialoguing with myself about their validity (is that really true?), or if I need to take any action about them (what do you need to do or say about this?). Sometimes I just need to vent. It is also a great place to rehearse upcoming conversations you may feel anxious about. You can repeat key phrases so that when the time comes you are able to speak confidently.
  3. Hands-on-heart breathing. This is just like it sounds. Put both your hands on your sternum, one on top of the other. Gently press into your body so that you can feel the contact of your hands on your ribcage. Each inhalation, breathe up onto that pressure. Each exhalation, soften your face. Five breaths is a nice amount. This can be done any time, and usually offers a feeling of comfort and grounding. It is especially good when you have racing thoughts.
  4. Look up at the sky (maybe not if it is pouring down rain) any time of day or night. When was the last time you looked at the stars? Looking up, you guessed it, helps our mood lift. I enjoy watching the way the sky changes at different seasons and times of day near my home, which segues into the next suggestion,
  5. Look for beauty in everyday life. There are small beauties everywhere. The structure of vegetables is beautiful, for example. Our animals, loved ones, houseplants, art, the birds in the sky, the leaves on the trees… beauty is everywhere. Noticing it softens our edges. Being softer allows us to let go of tension we don’t need.
  6. Practice gratitude (not comparison). Simply looking for things to be grateful for changes our neurochemistry for the better (I find that completely wild). Many people find that listing three things either first thing in the morning or last thing at night, without repetitions (every once in a while repetitions are ok, but try to avoid the same list every day) is a good way to easily fit this practice into their lives.
  7. I saved my favorite for last. Simply remind yourself that with the next exhale you can relax back into your own body the way you would into a soft chair, dropping down and back. Go ahead, try it. It’s just one breath.

“You can’t take the sky from me” – The Serenity song, Firefly

Sarah Campbell, Nutrition & Life Skills Coaching Boise
Spring Acupuncture
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