Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Consumed by hatred

I hate with such passion. I hate will such intensity. I hate with the core of my being. I hate that you are alive. I hate you so much, I want you to die.

I don't know those feelings. I have no idea how it feels to hate so much. I don't understand where those feelings come from, how they grab ahold or how they fester and infiltrate every cell of a person.

Every time I see/hear/read messages of hate, I ponder these thoughts. I never reach a conclusion. How can I even begin to relate, when I've never felt it myself? There is such a vast and insurmountable gap between "almost hate" and hate. And then, in addition to that, to hate so much that you want someone to die, or hate so much that you go out of your way to kill, I feel completely at loss, I fundamentally don't understand, my brain does not compute.

In my life, I've always valued compassion and empathy. To me, it's one of the greatest experiences of being human, our capacity to relate and to connect with one another. But in this case, I might make an exception. I don't want to be able to empathize. I don't ever want to know this kind of hatred. I never want to find myself wishing for death and destruction. I much rather continue on in life wishing for hope and change.



Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Love takes Courage

This passed weekend, many people around the world celebrated Valentine's Day. For some, it was serious business involving intricate planning, gifts, flowers, surprises, dinners, trips and grand gestures of love. For some, it was an intimate affair with a home-cooked meal and a good movie. Some gave their children a little extra attention. Some gave their parents a call. Some texted hearts and happy emojis to their friends. Some didn't really care, and some would rather have seen it removed from the calendar year.

I have no opinions on the opinions about Valentine's Day, but since February 14th is recognized as Valentine's day in many parts of the world, I want to take this opportunity (though a few days late) to share some love-related thoughts.

Love plays such a central role in many people's lives, whether it be romantic love, love of children, love of family, love of friends or all the above. With such an engulfing and exposing emotion, no wonder love can both heal and hurt.

We learn to love from a very early age, we love our parents, grandparents and/or friends. So, from a very early age, we are vulnerable to being hurt, maybe by a secret our first BFF promised never to tell, or by a parent who couldn't make it to a recital. As we grow older, and perhaps have our first romantic love encounter, that experience will usually also translate into our very first soul-wrenching break-up.

Eventually we might find our soulmate, the one who completes us and makes the world make sense. But we know, for a lot of people, that soulmate will be the most hurtful relationship they will ever have. Many will start families, and bring new life into the world. The love for their children is unlike any other love and with that comes enough worry and fear to last a lifetime.

We lose people we love. They grow old or their lives are cut short by sickness, accidents or other forces at play. Unhealthy love can trap people in abusive relationships and it can be a life-shattering force of destruction.

We don't know the outcome when we love. We just love. And when we love completely and wholeheartedly, without holding back, we expose everything that we are, and leave ourselves naked in the hands of the person we love. We trust them with our dreams, hopes and happiness and trust that they will keep all of it, and ultimately us, safe. When you give away that much power, you leave yourself vulnerable to be hurt, in ways that are unparalleled. And yet, most us us, long to love and love to love.

Sometimes, especially in this day and age, our world can seem to be a scary place. We are encouraged to toughen up, to be prepared, so that we can defend ourselves, against the many things that can attack us and is out to harm us. But in reality, fear and anger is pretty easy, it doesn't take much courage to be afraid. Love on the other hand, takes real bravery. So if you're a person who love, have loved or is able to love, when you get up in the morning and get ready to step into the world, remember how brave you are, and that real bravery comes from having the courage to love and to trust.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2015, The Prequel

It's a new year. It's 2016, to be precise. Last year was a really good year, as most years are. I travelled, ate great food, drank great wine, loved great people and moved into a new home. But if I would speculate on what I will remember as the most significant happenings, ten years from now, two things stand out.

Two things were set in motion in 2015 that might potentially have a real impact on my future, for years to come. 

First off, meditation. About a year ago, I took a real interest in meditation and started practicing. It's been a real journey and it has been much more rewarding than I first thought it would be. I believe meditation is a lifelong practice, it is not a skill you acquire but a skill that invites you to continuously keep exploring. The journey this far has taken me from ordering a book on Amazon to regular meditation and lectures at the local Buddhist temple. I've persevered through some of the longest minutes of my life, but also experienced what 9 hours of sitting meditation feels like. A year in and I already have a feeling meditation will be a trusted companion in life.

Secondly, I decided to pursue a new endeavor all together. Last fall, I took the first steps towards becoming a certified Domestic Violence Counselor. This journey was not necessarily planned, and it happened spontaneously, but while looking at volunteer options, I stumbled upon this opportunity and something about it just felt right. It took me a while to think it through, to make sure this was something I was ready to take on. After some soul-searching and self-evaluation, I filled out the application, and before I knew it I had done my interview, been accepted and found myself in a classroom doing my 40-hour California state mandated Domestic Violence training. I finished my training in December, just a few days before the Holidays. I met the most amazing people, fellow Domestic Violence Counselors in the making, and one couldn't help but be inspired and humbled. I left the training feeling slightly overwhelmed, a little bit nervous, but also empowered and really eager to go into the world and lend a helping hand.

So here we are, at the start of 2016. Seldom have I felt this antsy at the start of a year. Preparations were made, I'm all warmed up and much of what happened in 2015 is leading up to this moment. I'm in the starting blocks, ready to go. As I try to tell myself to stay calm and focused, I can't help but yearn for the sound of the starter pistol. And when it goes off, I will slowly and mindfully, with patience and compassion, walk to greet all that 2016 has to offer. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Stay kind, stay compassionate

One moment, you're living life, whether it be at a concert, enjoying a nice dinner or doing some shopping. Next moment, it all goes black.

Senseless.

When innocence is under attack, it's an attack on our humanity. Not just an attack on our way of living, or the way we have structured our society, but an attack on how we think and what we bear in our hearts. It threatens our safety, it creates fear and it feeds on our insecurities. It hardens us.

In a world that is more intertwined than ever, forces are at play, trying to polarize us and pitch us against each other. In these uncertain times, I believe there is only one distinction that matters. Every single person on this planet, who don't engage in terror, devastation or the desire to create fear, are on the same team. It doesn't matter where you're from, what you do or who you are, activist, Average Joe or refugee, we're all in this together, in the same boat, trying to navigate treacherous waters.

For our team to win, we need to remember to support each other, watch out for one another and to be each others cheerleaders. We need to open our hearts and minds, and trust our team members and allow them to play. We need to understand that we can help our team, but also that the team can help us.

When faced with something unfathomable, we often feel helpless. But we are not. We can stay kind, stay compassionate and stay optimistic. Remember our team's past victories and believe in our future successes.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

No complaining?

Today is October first, and my month long challenge of no complaining has come to an end. So, how did it go?

It went... ok..?

The challenge turned out to be different than I thought. In my mind, the goal was to find out how it would affect me, and my interactions with others, when removing all negative sentiments from my speech. I would be vigilant of what I said and therefore I would be able to notice the impact of complaining and whining.

Right off the bat, I had made the wrong assumption. I assumed I would be able to think before I speak, and that turned out to be false. It was much easier to be aware and mindful when faced with a conflict or when negative emotions were in play, may it be news media or being cut off in traffic. But in regular conversation, about mundane things, it was very difficult to watch every word coming our of my mouth. More often than not, I would realize I said something negative, or agreed with something negative, as I heard myself say it. And I'm absolutely certain a lot fell off the radar all together.

It was interesting to me, that I, personally, had a much more difficult time adjusting my habitual speech, than to adjust my expression of strong negative emotions/sensations. It was much easier to not complain about physical pain than to keep myself from complaining about the weather.

The biggest fail of the month happened early on, and it was the biggest fail because I was fully aware and I actively chose to complain/whine/bitch. My husband and I had planned a visit to a tannery in Santa Cruz, to buy leather for some craft projects. We decided to start the day with a few hours of hiking, then find a cute place to eat lunch, followed by shopping. The hike in Big Basin was great, but by the time we sat down for lunch, I was ravenous. A ravenous woman, waiting for food, in a small café in Santa Cruz could only end one way.

After expressing myself through some very negative body language, I turned to my husband and declared that I didn't care how I promised I wouldn't complain, I'm totally gonna. "How difficult can it be to make a panini? I know it's Santa Cruz, but come on! How do they survive as a business, they are sooooo slow! Look, they are just chatting amongst themselves and not even caring about their paying customers! Chipotle is down the street and we would've been fed by now!"

Eventually, I did get my food. It was delicious. Instant happy camper. Also, I was happy we chose to support a small local business. And I apologized to my husband, and the universe, for not having more patience.

One subject stood out, as a repeated source of whining. The weather. We've had a very warm month. We don't have AC, my allergies prevents us from leaving our windows open at night, and we've had quite a few days in the upper 90s (35C+). Sleeping was a struggle. I was better at not complaining about the heat itself, but I did a horrible job at not whining about being tired.

Moving forward, I will keep on trying to minimize unnecessary negativity. I will practice thinking before speaking. I will remind myself that whining will not change the weather, or make cheese melt faster. As long as I keep myself fed and well-rested, I believe I'm up for the challenge.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Meditation

"Please share a few words about your experiences over the past 12 weeks"
This was the instruction, at the final class of my Meditation & Zen Buddhism Course.

My respons: "It has been a huge sigh of relief. I've been told, on many occasions, that I'm naive, I need to grow up and I need to realize that the world is a tough place, it's eat or be eaten. But here, I've realized that maybe I'm not crazy after all, my sunny outlook on life isn't something I need to rid myself of and it's perfectly ok to be happy and content.

Also, it has been great to be around people who are trying to solve their personal problems, and problems of the world, through kindness and compassion."

Let me take you back a few months. Last winter I started thinking about meditation, as a great tool to have in life's toolbox. My understanding of meditation was the ability to calm the mind and to be able to see things for what they truly are. I thought it might be a good thing to learn while life is good and easy, so that in the future, if I need it, I would already have a head start.

The step to explore meditation was not a very big one. My grandparents were both devout Buddhists and avid meditators, so even if I never took part, or knew much about it, Buddhism and meditation wasn't anything foreign or mystical.

After New Year, I started the exploration in the privacy of my home. I Googled books and articles and ended up reading a couple. A book that I found particularly approachable was "How to Meditate", by Pema Chödrön. But the more I read the more I understood the benefits of participating in guided meditation.

After some more research (i.e. Yelp) I found Chung Tai Zen Center in Sunnyvale, just a couple of miles from where I live. They offered free Meditation and Zen Buddhist classes throughout the year, different level courses, each lasting 12 weeks. Once a week, one hour of meditation, followed by one hour of Buddhist teachings.

In all honesty, I was somewhat hesitant at first. I wanted the one hour meditation, but wasn't sure about the one hour lecture that followed. Would they try to "recruit" me and rope me into their religion? But I was still curious, and also interested in how it all tied together. Curiosity won. And I'm so very glad it did. The lectures were interesting and inspiring in so many ways, and it gave depth to the meditation I wouldn't want to be without.

I ended up doing Level 1, and this week, I'm starting Level 2. I've found all of it very interesting, very thoughtful and sometimes very challenging. I expect I will want to share some of the things I've learned and some of my personal insights moving forward. But for now, I'll leave you with something inspired from a fellow meditator. This older gentleman presented himself as a devout Catholic, born, raised and practicing. When he is asked how he consolidates his Catholic beliefs with attending classes at the temple, he simply says "There is only one God, but Buddha is a great teacher".

To make his quote my own, "I don't believe there is a God/Gods, but I believe Buddha is a great teacher".


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

No complaining, please!

Today is September 1st and summer has officially come to an end. A new season brings a great opportunity to take a refreshed look at things. So, in the spirit of self-revising, I will set myself a challenge, or will conduct an experiment rather. Over the next 30 days, there will be no complaining.

Let me elaborate. Over the next 30 days I will make every effort not to vocalize negative sentiments that will not lead to actual action. So, no complaining, no negative comments, no "policing", no whining, no arguing, no debating etc. You get the picture.

Why am I doing this? If you ask people who know me, I don't think they would describe me as a negative person or a pessimist. In my own self-assessment, I'm pretty easy going and generally happy. So this is not an intervention or an "attitude-detox". However, I've noticed how often negative comments creep into conversations, almost like fillers we don't really think about. I'm curious to know how much I do it myself.

I'm also hoping to discover in what ways it will affect my conversations when I become more aware of how I participate in them. This will make me much more mindful of the words I speak. And how will this affect my thoughts? Will I internalize and turn my mind into a cynical whiner, because I lack other outlets? Or will I let things go faster because I can't seek reinforcements?

Since this experiment came about out of curiosity, rather than needing a life-overhaul, and in keeping with a positive attitude, I will not be penalized if I slip, there will be no "swear-jar". I will allow myself to answer questions honestly and I will always have the option to say no, or to walk away. This is a "no-negativity" challenge, not a "always-positive" challenge. Also, I realize the subjective nature of defining "negative", but when in doubt, at least I will have to make a conscious decision.

If you and I have a conversation over the next 30 days, please help me and call me out if I slip. Please be patient if it takes me longer to respond than usual. In the best of worlds, these 30 days will not be much different from all other days. In the worst of worlds, these 30 days will be very quite days. But then again, maybe quite isn't always such a bad thing.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Four years of running

According to my Garmin, it's been four years since I logged my first regular run. Six months earlier, in November 2010, I had completed a 5 km race, but I found running so unbearable that I retired my running shoes directly after. But in May 2011, I gave it another go, and it stuck. Looking through my Garmin statistics, it would be fair to say that I've been a pretty regular runner ever since. Statistically, I've run an average of 1,8 times a week, each run averaging about 4,8 miles (7,8 km). Only three times, have I gone more than three weeks without running, with the longest break being 33 days.

It's been an interesting journey, to say the least. Thinking back, there is so much to say, but some things stand out more than others.

First year
In one word: Struggle
Highest High: First time I ran 5 km/3.1 miles without walking.
Lowest Low: Running, in general
Biggest lesson learned: I revisited running because I had started exercising regularly, changed my diet and was working towards a healthier me. No matter how much I disliked it, running burns a lot of calories. To hold myself accountable, I signed up to different races. So, by using running as a weight-loss tool and being motivated by participating in races I made running work for me. Lesson learned, running deserves more than one shot. Giving it another chance (or a third, or a forth) might be the key to the puzzle.

Four 5 km races (road, mud and trail)
Two 10 km races (road)

Second year
In one word: Discovery
Highest High: Finishing my first marathon, California International Marathon, in December 2012.
Lowest Low: California International Marathon. The horrendous race conditions made me visit the darkest corners of my psyche. Until that race, I had no idea how miserable I could be or to what extent I could deplete my self-confidence. If you're curious to read more about the experience you can read my full race report: http://www.scandinasian.org/2012/12/the-marathon-survivor.html
Biggest lesson learned: I lost a lot of weight during my first year of running and I found myself having a much improved body to discover. While exploring the boundaries I soon discovered how running could bring the highest of highs, but it could also bring you right back down. I truly got to understand and learn that running is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one.

One 5 km race (road)
Two 10 km races (road)
One sprint triathlon
Two half-marathons (road)
One marathon (road)

Third year
In one word: Tired
Highest High: Running through the empty streets of San Francisco's China Town, one rainy morning, before the daily hustle and bustle.
Lowest Low: The swim leg of Silicon Valley International Triathlon. Due to the Californian draught, a controlled lake swim in pleasant temperatures got moved, and turned into a foggy and freezing (56F/13C) ocean swim in Half Moon Bay.
Biggest lesson learned: After two years of achieving new heights and discovering new abilities, with the culmination in finishing my first marathon, I was tired. I stopped seeing improvements, I became slower and I had to learn how to be ok with it. But I did learn, that everything has its time and place. I learned that my running would never be sustainable if it was only driven by results.

One 5 km race (road)
Two 10 km races (road)
One half-marathon (road)
One olympic distance triathlon

Fourth year
In one word: Reliable
Highest High: My husband's surprise during Chicago Marathon. Unbeknown to me, my husband had asked some friends and family members to record short messages. These messages were then added to my playlist and throughout the race I was surprised by the voices and encouraging words from people who cared for me. The messages had me smiling, crying, laughing and snorting out loud. The support was overwhelming and it was the most thoughtful and heartwarming gift.
Lowest Low: Underestimating a trail half-marathon. To mix things up during marathon training, my husband and I decided to run a trail half. Having run longer than 13.1 miles/ 21 km several times in training, I got cocky. Too hot and too steep became a miserable reminder that under any circumstance, one should always respect the distance!
Biggest lesson learned: Running is truly an exercise in patience. After four years, I finally feel at peace with my running. I don't necessarily love it, but I wouldn't want to be without it. Lesson learned, running can be a sport and a challenge, but it can also be a comfort and a companion.

Three 10 km races (road, trail)
Two half-marathons (trail)
One marathon (road)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Home is where my stuff is

Home. What is home? About one month ago my husband and I left our old home for our new home.
My home is now in Sunnyvale. But I also go home to Sweden every year, and I stay for a few weeks before I return home to California.

My childhood home is still very much my home, until I stay there for an extended period of time and eventually I will get home sick. In many ways my husband is my home, but when we leave our home to visit other places, I feel more like a girl traveling with her favorite teddy, than a snail carrying its home on its back. Superficially, home can be where I sleep that night, but that home is within a certain context such as "go home to the hotel".

As significant as one's home is, it also abruptly changes nature as soon as one decides to leave. I'm currently residing in my twelfth home, seventh since moving away from my parents. Some of my former homes are more sentimental to me than others, but no place retained the value it once had.

While packing and unpacking our newest home, it got me thinking. I think my true home is were my stuff is. It's not as superficial as it sounds. Because it's not just stuff, it's the fact that my stuff exist because I acquired every singel one of them (by myself or by proxy). Also, I've made deliberate decisions on where I've placed them. Everything I own is where it is because I put it there, so nothing can really ever be out of place. And I think that's the answer to the question. Home is a place where nothing is out of place. It's a place were things are exactly how you decided for them to be. Home is a place where nothing can be wrong, it is always right, because it is yours.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Marathon Time-Capsule

I decided to go through my drafts of blog posts that never came to fruition. I found this gem from December 2012, two days after I finished my first marathon. I eventually wrote, and posted, another text, but this must have been my first attempt at jolting down my feelings, as this draft was created two days earlier.


"Running is like the frenemy who keeps inviting you to fabulous parties, where all her gorgeous friends are perfect. They all smile at you but you can hear them snicker behind your back, and it is obviously to everyone that you are out of place, self-conscious and trying too hard. You hate it, but you still yearn for the invitation and you always end up going, because at the end of the day she's so alluring and fascinating, and you just want fit in. If she took the time to get to know you, she would see how much you try, how much you care and maybe, just maybe, she will stop mocking of you and stop putting you through hell.

I rather loose another 50 lbs than run another marathon"


There you have it, my mental state, two days after my first marathon. By the sound of it, I felt misunderstood, my feelings were hurt and my ego was humiliated. But as it turned out, I lied. I did not loose another 50 lbs, but two years later, I did run another marathon.

My relationship with running has always been a tentative one. Most days a tedious battle, but some days encouraged by measurable progress and occasional achievements. The only way I knew how to approach running was to see it as a tool, as means to and end. First it was a weight-loss tool, then a tool for personal achievements. I used it as a tool to stay healthy and as a tool to maintain fitness. All of these reasons were good reasons, but throughout it all, I never actually enjoyed the activity of running much. The "Runner's High" I kept hearing about never happened to me, not once, in years of running.

But somewhere along the way, things started to shift. I'm not entirely sure when, were, how or why, but running stopped being such a struggle. At some point, running turned from being a chore, into something I could get myself to do, on days I didn't feel like doing anything at all. For the first time since I started pursuing this endeavor, it's something I can trust, something I can rely on and something that gives more than it takes. I'm no longer chasing the runner's high, I'm perfectly happy and content with the runner's satisfaction.