Archive for the ‘What Soft Animal Loves’ Category

Image result for i can shake off everything as i write

What if I told you one of the easiest, most versatile and affordable tools you could adopt for your “coping toolbox” for being mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy was… journaling.  Yes, that old chestnut. A favorite go-to of angsty teens everywhere turns out to be a remarkable tool for life-long self care.

I share my enthusiasm for journaling both as an avid journal-keeper myself as well as a therapist. Personally, I love going to coffeeshops and journaling. I sit down and “check in” with myself, see what’s *really* going on with me. Sometimes I doodle, sometimes I embroider quotes with colorful markers and pen. Sometimes I vent. Sometimes I stare out the window and then back at the empty page; permission to “just be”. If there’s a problem that I’m trying to tackle, I typically review all the variables, projected possibilities, pros and cons until an answer begins to emerge. Sometimes there is no “answer”, especially around things that are not in my control, but acknowledging the emotions I’m feeling makes me feel a little better.  And that, my friends, is something useful to know how to do! Keep a journal long enough and you have a record of your subjective experience across time, which is pretty neat to look back at later.

Image result for journaling writing

Regular journaling often leads to more easily putting together the puzzle pieces of seemingly unrelated experiences into a more cohesive whole (pssst, that helps with meaning-making, problem solving and with feeling more “in control” of one’s life). Just writing down a description of what exactly you are experiencing during a given day… recording your thoughts, noticing your feelings and then perhaps following the bread-crumb trail to where those feelings began, studying and notating your own behavior… this can be a powerful tool that can help you in a multitude of ways.

As a therapist, I encourage people to allow themselves to be more curious. And perhaps try to record this curiosity.  Pull out pen and paper or, your phone if you prefer, and ask yourself questions about you, your life, your day, your process.  Be curious about why or why not you did something and why you did it the way you did.  There’s almost always a reason, a motivation, a pull, a purpose, a function… hiding in plain sight. Being curious about yourself is “fine-and-good” but doing it alone in your own head only gets you so far; it will only get you so much benefit. It’s kind of like doing a math problem in the air, we all get lost pretty quickly. So, it’s helpful to write all this complicated stuff down so you can work with it in a more “hands on” way!

Being curious on paper, now that’s a lot like a conversation! Or, perhaps like keeping detailed notes in a field experiment. Journaling is a safe place where you can say anything, a place to “try on” different ideas, solutions or to envision various possibilities… all to yourself, right where you can benefit from it by putting solutions into action.  If you want to.  Journaling might even help you realize all the excellent reasons to NOT act right now.  Understanding the why or why not can be comforting, illuminating, a relief.  It gives you more power and insight over your own existence.  Journaling can help you develop the super-power of self-knowledge… and that leads to personal growth.

So, Why Journal? How Does It Help Exactly?

Journaling has been studied extensively and been found to be beneficial in many ways.

  • Journaling has been shown to lead to long-term improvements in mood, reduced depressive symptoms, lower blood pressure

  • Journaling helps you discover patterns in your life or your behavior through “self-observation”. Journaling helps you document your experience for future reference or analysis. You could treat your journal like they are the field notes of a scientist studying and observing an interesting subject (you!) in the wild, noticing what happens in sequence and noting the results, being curious about how things might have gone had one variable been different or a different approach been taken.

  • Journaling helps  develop more understanding, compassion and gratitude towards others, yourself, your problem solving, your struggles, and the ways you cope with life. Journaling can help you learn to listen to yourself and pay attention to your own needs and desires, like a friend gently comforting you when you are freaking out. Here is a wonderful series by Kristin Neff on how to enhance self-compassion.

  • Journaling helps you sort through moments in life that are uncomfortable, ambiguous or uncertain.  It’s a primary tool to help tolerate sitting with ambiguity (which you know the soft animal of my body loves :)

  • Journaling can be used as a coping tool to get relief during difficult moments. It can reduce ruminating thoughts by serving as a container and space to organize thoughts.  Once you’re familiar with using journaling it can feel like an oasis, an access-point to feeling empowered and free in the midst of situations that may be disempowering or when you are feeling trapped.  Journaling is like a transporter in that way.  (Tip: try asking yourself “would writing help me right now?)

  • Journaling can be used to clear away the “cobwebs of the mind” or for “daily maintainance” of self care. Writing daily has the reported benefit of “clearing” the mind and giving relief to the writer in a way that could be useful if you are wanting to alleviate your mind of worries, “mental clutter” or stress.  Journaling is an opportunity to face problems head-on daily instead of letting them pile up.

  • Journaling cultivates curiosity and problem solving skills. Curiosity leads to insight, personal growth, gain perspective about self otherwise difficult to attain –

  • Journaling helps improve self esteem and self love.  Journaling helps you process/ notice destructive thinking or destructive circumstances, it helps you examine irrational or cruel ways of regarding yourself and practice being more self-loving.

  • Knowing yourself is one of the best ways to improve future relationships. Journaling helps you know yourself so you can be a better in each of your relationships.

Image result for beautiful journal

How to Journal… like, specifically, HOW do you start?

There are numerous approaches as to how to approach journaling.  There is no one right way to do it (thank goodness!) so think of it as a no-fail, low-risk situation we already know has numerous benefits.  First start with some guidelines:

Keep It Simple – don’t feel like you have to go out and get some fancy leather-bound journal–in fact if you know you’ll be tempted to keep that beautiful journal pristine and therefore not use it then skip getting the most gorgeous journal in the world.  Using a spiral-bound notebook like the kind you used in school may feel uninspiring or remind you of unpleasant homework.  I encourage you to use whatever is readily available, is utilitarian and that you like on some level (but maybe don’t love).  Sometimes when I’ve forgotten to bring my journal with me I’ve used post-it notes, scraps of paper, etc. and tape them in my journal later.

Let Go of Perfection – no need to manage your grammar here, let yourself write without censoring, let go of correctness or even making sense or having your words be legible (to everyone anyway). This space is for you, so let yourself go. Some find that focusing more on the quantity vs the quality of writing helps banish the critic.  If your goal is to write non-stop for 10 minutes you will focus on that task instead of how good what you write is, and that’s good.

Have Courage – please know that writing takes courage, vulnerability. It’s not always easy to “open up”, even to yourself. But as Brene Brown reminds us, vulnerability is a strength. With great risk comes great reward; writing is worth the risk because of what you’ll gain in insight, personal growth and cultivation of a handy coping skill.

Image result for i write because i don't know

Then there’s the HOW of journaling techniques, of which there are many:

Start with just writing about your life – use journaling as a way to capture, document and describe in detail what is going on in your life right now. Capture your life “as is” and without judgment. You could use pictures, clippings from magazines or scrap-book paper, draw, make lists, use different colored pens or pencils, zentangle, write a poem, list what you ate, what you saw, what you read, favorite quotes, end your entry with naming what you’re thankful for at this very moment or with an affirmation that’s resonating with you.

Maintain a log of successes –  Begin by writing big ones you can easily remember and then try writing down small successes that occur during the week.  As you pay attention, the list will grow and serve to inspire and ground you.

Stream It – Dump It – Time It – Trying a variety of approaches to journaling often keeps the practice fresh and stimulating.  “Stream-of-consciousness” or dump-writing are easy ways to get journaling quickly and without judgement tripping you up.  According to Samara O’Shea in her beautifully written book Note to Self: On Keeping A Journal And Other Dangerous Pursuits, she describes stream-of-consciousness writing:

Stream-of-consciousness writing is mental anarchy and spring-cleaning all in one.  It’s like going into the basement, turning the tables over, breaking the records in half, cutting the stuffed animals open with a sharp pair of scissors (and feeling much better afterward), then putting it all out just in time for the garbage man to collect.

To get started, O’Shea suggests beginning with any word (which will inevitably lead you somewhere); picking an emotion that’s been overwhelming you lately or one that you haven’t felt in a long time; or asking yourself a question.

Dump-writing is, essentially, what Julia Cameron of “The Artist’s Way” recommends.  She calls it doing “Morning Pages”.  You can set a timer for 10 minutes or decide ahead of time that you’ll write 3 pages longhand without stopping.  She emphasizes doing this exercise first thing in the morning which provokes claity, comfort, prioritizes your mind and synchronizes the day at hand… clearing out the “cobwebs” of the mind.  The nice thing about dump writing is there’s no wrong way to do it.  They are not high art.  They are about anything and everything that might cross your mind.  They are for your eyes only.

Change your writing style to match your mood – If you are angry, maybe scratch large red words there, if you are feeling uncertain or scared, maybe write tiny words in a spiral shape. You could also write using colored pencils or pens and see what colors you are drawn to or which match the emotion you are feeling.

Guided Journaling Often Gets You Thinking– There are TONS of writing prompts out there. Some examples to try:

  • How am I feeling? How do I want to feel?
  • What does my soul want me to know?
  • What would an ideal day for me look like, sound like? How can I make such a day happen in the next month?
  • What do I want to learn about myself?
  • What do I want to change about myself? What would I never change about myself?
  • Describe the room, describe the people in your life, describe yourself.
  • Describe the aspects of your life that you are pleased with and those areas you’re displeased with.
  • What questions would inform the work you are doing?
  • What intuitions do you notice?
  • What are some of the forces driving you?
  • What fascinates you?
  • What is your particular understanding of yourself, your past, your family, your purpose?
  • What do you hope for in the future?
  • What is being revealed to you?
  • What puzzles you?
  • What questions might you ask of yourself and of your work?
  • What is it you have been given to say?

I also like the book “The Creative Journal” by Lucia Capacchione.  It’s a book full of guided prompts around certain personal growth topics such as “Where You’re At, Where You’re Coming From”, “Who You Are”, “How You Are With Yourself”, “How You Are With Others”, “What Your Higher Self Knows”, and “Where You’re Going”. The prompts can be used using writing, drawing, art-making, poem-making, or whatever medium you like at the time with a goal of self-exploration.

Get Inspired Using the Words of Others – Write down lines from a poem or quote that inspires you or copy quotes in fancy lettering.  Let yourself doodle with eyes open or eyes closed.

Write with your subdominant hand – Subdominant hand writing helps access your unconscious mind. You can start a dialogue with your inner child by writing with your subdominant hand. Try answering with your dominant hand.  What issues emerge?  This kind of writing can also be used to tap into or develop your intuition.  For example, your could write down concerns or questions you have for your “higher self”.  Take a deep breath and listen for a response. Let yourself write automatically.If you don’t get an answer right away, look and listen for signs between journal sessions.

Tap into a new perspective by using the third person – Try writing about yourself in the third person and you’ll find it helps give you distance from the problem and gives a different perspective.  Afterward, write down what you learned about you.  This is especially helpful if you are struggling with something that’s disturbing you.

Starting to see why journaling is like the swiss-army tool of coping?  If not, maybe try journaling about it…

current music faves: phantogram, tori a (as always), florence and the machine

current show faves: the oa, this is us, american crime story

see what’s going on at my practice at www.erynsmithmoeller.com

Read Full Post »

Aside from living in extremes, there are subtle ways we throw ourselves out of balance.  One that comes up a lot is when things get increasingly uncertain, unclear or ambiguous. 

When stakes are high, sitting with ambiguity can feel especially unbearable and most of us will try to push it away.  It’s normal to feel a bit uncomfortable with a high level of uncertainty.  It’s also normal to do a bunch of stuff–like try to control everything and get all grumpy–as a way to combat the anxiety that comes with sitting with so much ambiguity.

When things aren’t moving as fast as we would like it can be tempting to start pushing.  Hard.  We may really come out of the bag with our Sthira-selves:  controlling, pushing, busying, holding-on and efforting ourselves into a frenzy.  We overburden ourselves with tasks, we do all the things we think might make us feel more certain and then think of more things. 

Some of us drink the workahol down, yum.  And then we start to break down.  Because our bodies, minds and spirits are tired from all the effort.  And look!  The highly uncertain thing we can’t-control-but-want-to is still there, unchanged!


There’s a saying, “you can’t push the river.”  Sometimes things are going to go the way they’re going to go, even if we pull out all the stops.  Sometimes trying to control forces that are bigger than ourselves is useless.


Letting go is about giving yourself permission to ease up.  It’s about seeing that it is actually better to let go than hold on.  Sometimes holding on is hurting you more than helping you.  I’m reminded of a post I wrote a few years ago about hoarding.  Hoarders hold on to so much stuff that it can get to the point where their holding-on is making them sick or threatening their housing.

We need to wake up when holding-on is hurting us. 

We need to cultivate curiosity about how we might be using something to hold onto in order to feel a sense of control in world that feels out of control.  When we allow ourselves to really see the reality that we are safe, that attachment is an illusion, that the present moment is all there is, we let go.  Or on faith, not knowing these things… we let go and learn.

Letting go is part of the course-correction system that can bring us back to life, back to balance.

current music faves:  the national, pixies

current show faves:  real time with bill maher, once upon a time

Visit me at www.erynsmithmoeller.com

Read Full Post »

Now that we’ve explored Sukha (easing up, letting go) and Sthira (control, effort), let’s explore what being out of balance looks like and how to not live in extremes.

It is interesting to consider the imbalance created if one were to live life in full-on Sukha-mode. With only ease, relaxation and softening we may cease to accomplish much of value, atrophying while we sit on the couch, allowing Netflix to auto-play the next binge-watched episode into infinity.

In contrast, in full-on Sthira-mode: only effort, control, pushing and holding on, we may become tyrannical workaholics, dogged in our ambitions and achievement-orientedness. Relentless in pursuit of exact outcomes or expectations of self or others we stay busy but lose soul.  Exhaustion sets in but you don’t notice until you fall over because your body says “no” when you won’t.

Living in either extreme tends to become out-of-balance and feel unhealthy after a while. Eventually we notice and try to correct-course.  That being said, it isn’t easy to regain balance.

For example, someone seeking employment for months on end would understandably exercise Sthira a lot with efforts toward improving their station in life and generating income on which to live. Certainly a logical goal. Finding work does indeed require the effort of Sthira. But even in the context of job searching, one’s tireless efforts can become obsessive and cause suffering. Even the job seeker needs balance, I would argue, to be the most effective candidate. She or he needs to be well-rested, relaxed, pulling from her Sukha-side, yet confident and skilled and strengthened in their area of expertise, bringing her Sthira-best; balanced.

Another example might be someone doing online dating and hoping they will meet the partner of their dreams. They have put in the effort of creating a compelling profile, responding to inquiries over email, working on improving their appearance perhaps; putting forth effort to achieve the desired outcome (rocking the Sthira effort stuff). In this case, finding the partner of one’s dreams is not an especially controllable outcome (despite excellent efforts). Isn’t it funny how things happen when people stop looking? Maybe sometimes Sukha or letting go of control and expectation could be key to the goal itself in the end? Though, it is good to note that not putting a dating profile up at all would not necessarily help the goal (must have the Sthira effort along with the letting go of Sukha).

 Together, steady efforts of Sthira (in yoga or in life) along with the softening and allowing of Sukha creates balance.  Grace Duckworth beautifully states the need to balance both Sukha and Sthira:

In asana practice, when we push ourselves 100% we lose track of our breath because we can no longer control the pace – this is all sthira, only steadiness or effort. On the other end of the spectrum when we find something that is comfortable – like practicing the same posture the same way over and over without challenging a new approach – this is all ease or surrender. We have to find balance between the two. When something is challenging we cannot only push, we have to release somewhere; and when something is easy we search for a way to bring more to the posture or our practice.

“Just find balance” sounds cliche, I know.  But it’s kind of awesomely helpful putting it into practice.  Sukha/ Sthira offers a deeper way of looking at this truth, perhaps inviting it to take root more fully in your life. 

These new ideas can bring new awareness to when we might be pushing too hard or it may help you notice when you might not be pushing hard enough.  Balancing ourselves is hard but noticing when we’re out of balance and trying to do something about it is a great start.

For me, I struggle more with too much Sthira, too much doing and not enough easing up. I began to notice when I was overdoing it. I gave myself permission to ease up, let go, let myself not work so hard, and guess what?  I was okay! I didn’t even feel guilty, I felt an opening up of possibilities and confidence that things will be alright, even if I’m not putting forth effort all the time.  I learned that my working hard is great and all but there’s a limit at which it begins to backfire.  There’s a point at which ease, relaxation and letting go is MORE beneficial than working even harder.

By allowing ourselves to be more gentle, more relaxed, more open while putting forth effort and doing awesome stuff, that’s when true growth happens and we find balance.

current music faves:  brandi carlile, sia

current show faves:  extant, hollywood game night

Visit me at www.erynsmithmoeller.com

Read Full Post »

Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring the theme of balance in a series I’m calling Hacking a Yoga Sutra:  Balance, When to Push Harder and When to Let Go.

We begin with defining balance and it’s components according to a yoga sutra.  Look for parts 2 and 3 (how not to live in extremes, regaining balance) in the coming weeks!

~Namaste!  Thanks for reading,




How do you know when you are out of balance?

Do you only notice when you start to snap at people, when you’re feeling sluggish at work, when you’re binging on ONE category of life (only working, only partying, only eating, only sleeping etc.)?  Or maybe when you find yourself compulsively trying to control things around you.

What is “balance”, anyway?

Balance is defined as the equilibrium of power between opposing forces or the point between two opposite forces that is desirable over purely one state or the other. Most of us try to return to a constant state of stability, to re-balance when thrown off (think homeostasis of a self-correcting system). Yet, how balance is created, regained or maintained over time is a bit more murky: often there’s a lot of new age talk about self-care and moderation in all things.

In whichever context, regaining balance is easier said (or cleverly placed in a meme) than actually done.  You know, lived out and achieved. Balance is the stuff of acrobats, yogi gurus and nutritionists.

How do everyday people find balance?

In a yoga class recently (where I have been learning physical balance on the mat), the instructor was talking about yoga sutras and the ideas therein about effort, ease and balancing the two.  Apparently, these sutras have long defined and suggested underpinnings of balance. It’s in the context of successful yoga poses, sure, but I detect usefulness on a universal level.



The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Chapter 2.46  contains the phrase “Sthira Sukham Asanam” which refers to a yoga posture “being firm yet happy, steady yet comfortable.”  T. K. V. Desikachar describes the state of satva (equilibrium or balance) as “attention without tension, loosening-up without slackness.”

Sukha is the ease and softness needed in a yoga pose while Sthira is the effort and steadiness required. Together they interplay to create a pleasantly balanced pose.  Sukha and Sthira are dialectical opposites, yet complimentary:

Sukha                                            Sthira
Ease                                         Steadiness
Relaxation                                  Alertness
Letting Go                               Holding On
Allowing                                Pushing Oneself
Release                                         Strength
Surrender                                       Effort
Softening                                      Firmness
Vulnerability                                In Control

The literal translation of Sukha is “having a good axle hole.”   Ha, ha, right, “if only my axle hole were better, I would feel more at ease.”  Seriously though, maybe my axle hole is kind of difficult at times…

Sukha is a unique way of envisioning being at ease, open, surrendering to what will come.  Many people resist “letting go”, assuming it may be followed by things falling apart!  We like to feel we are in control so, often, we cling to things in an effort to allay anxiety.  As Americans, our focus tends to be very do-do-achieve-think-make-it-happen Sthira-focused.  But what if letting go didn’t have to be synonymous with things falling apart? 

Perhaps letting go allows things to fall into place.


current music faves:  new tori amos, silversun pickups

current show faves:  breaking bad, revisiting the wonder years

breakfast today:  pineapple coconut greek yogurt with granola, everything bagel

Visit me at www.erynsmithmoeller.weebly.com

Read Full Post »

If you haven’t heard of Brene Brown yet, she is a hot TED Talk speaker and psychological researcher specializing in the study of vulnerability and shame.  Here is one of her TED Talks that captivated me recently:

I just love her ideas.  So much of what she talks about in terms of the strengths of people who are willing to lead with vulnerability and authenticity line up with the sister-ideas around the value of accepting and sitting with ambiguity.  In fact, Brene Brown notes that “Vulnerability is not weakness (and the myth that it is is dangerous).  Being vulnerable means taking emotional risks, risking exposure, embracing uncertainty“.  She believes ones’ willingness to be vulnerable is “the most accurate measurement of courage”.  Wow.
People who have a sense of worthiness, belonging and being loved believe they are worthy of it.  According to Brene Brown, these people have in common:  the courage to be imperfect, to have compassion (kind to others and themselves), and end up being in better connection with others as a result of their authenticity.  She calls this whole thing being “Whole-Hearted”, to love with your whole heart even though there’s no guarantee of not getting hurt.

I just picked up her book Daring Greatly, named after a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:


“It is not the critic who counts; not the
man who points out how the strong man
stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could
have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is
actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust
and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;
who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error
and shortcoming; but who does actually
strive to do the deeds; who knows great
enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends
himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph
of high achievement, and who at the worst, if
he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

I am loving it… with my Soft Animal Body.  I just had to share these ideas with my fellow Whole-Hearted ones out there.

current music faves:  lana del ray, tuneyards

current show faves:  downton abbey, shameless

breakfast today:  everything bagel and laughing cow cheese

Read Full Post »