On Un-doing, and feeding the right wolf


“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”



I’ve been thinking lately of how so much in life comes from not doing rather than doing. We think we have to achieve, perform, or accumulate in order to be happy, content, and/or successful. Or that we have to accomplish x amount of tasks in order to “be a good person.” We’re always looking for that magical thing we can do to make everything be okay.

But the truth is, we’re already okay. Just as we are. In fact, it’s only when we allow all of those fake trappings of accomplishments and possessions to fall away that our true selves can really shine through. I picture a snake shedding its skin, or a statue’s exterior crumbling away to reveal a more beautiful and authentic core.

In the same way, I’m finding that only when I remember to slow down and take regular pauses during my busy, task-oriented days (I am a graduate student, after all), am I really able to remember what really matters to me and appreciate the beauty that is always here. I was reading an article on Mindful.org earlier today, that made the point that suffering is all around us. BUT, so is joy. And that everything we really need to be happy is right here with us in every moment. It’s just that our brains are biased toward negativity. As I’ve heard Dr. Rick Hanson put it, it’s like they’re teflon for good and velcro for bad. So in order to not be swept away by the negativity that inevitably creeps in, we have to make a conscious effort to notice the good things and hold them close.

I’m reminded of the Native American legend about the two wolves. If you’re not familiar with it, it goes like this:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

So my challenge lately has been to make sure I’m feeding the right wolf. As much as I hate to admit, I’ve been catching myself with some regularity at feeding the evil wolf. The news will come on, and there I go, fanning the flames of some perceived injustice. Or someone will say something that annoys me, and I’ll continue the story inside my head of how inconsiderate, thoughtless, and rude that person is. It’s a real challenge to stop sometimes! Getting angry or feeling superior are powerful emotions and can be addictive at times. But for the most part, they don’t do anyone any good. So when I notice myself feeding that evil wolf scraps, I pull my hand away, as hard as it may be, and try to turn my attention to more constructive things. We need more good wolves in this world of ours. We have more than enough evil ones already.

So if you must do something today, make it feeding the good wolf inside of you.


Thoughts on Thinking

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

-William Shakespeare

I think a lot. I am a human, after all. And thinking is what has enabled our species to reach the great heights it has. No other species can think, analyze, and evaluate to the degree that humans can. But thinking is a double-edged sword. Especially when our thoughts aren’t always even true. Heck, sometimes, our thoughts aren’t even entirely in our control. I read something Byron Katie once said along the lines of “we don’t think, we’re thought,” which I think nails it. It’s like our brains control us much of the time rather than the other way around.  That’s one reason I like meditation so much, because I feel like it helps me to get a better handle on my thoughts and not be such a slave to them. Because dammit if those little buggers aren’t trouble makers.

If you think about it, (ironic, I know) thinking is what perpetuates a lot of our discomfort. When you’re stressed out, anxious, upset — it’s your thoughts that are causing that. You’re telling yourself some kind of story about what has happened, or what you think might happen, and it’s upsetting. But what if you stopped the waterfall of thoughts? Either cut them off outright or paused and questioned them. I was listening to a Tara Brach talk the other day in which she encouraged us to “not believe the thoughts; just feel the feelings” and it’s really stuck with me. I’ve tried it out a few times since and it’s been immensely helpful. It’s incredible the space that opens up when you let your thoughts go and just sit with what’s left. It turns out that what’s left isn’t nearly as bad as your thoughts might have you believe. In fact, there’s evidence that emotions don’t last any longer than 90 seconds. The only reason we remain angry or upset for longer than that is likely because we’re feeding our emotions with our thoughts. Just fanning the flames. So next time you find yourself spinning off into dangerous thinking territory, try to stop yourself. Some thoughts are like animals in a zoo. It’s not good to feed them 😉



Letting Go

I have a confession to make: I haven’t really been “loving what is” lately.

Instead of accepting whatever is going on and making the most of it, I’ve been resisting things with all of my might. And I’m not talking about instances that I really shouldn’t accept, but those that really can’t be any different, so I might as well suck it up and make the most of it.

If I think of it in terms of the serenity prayer, “Lord, grant me the willingness to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” then I guess you could say the Lord has granted me the wisdom to know the difference between the things I cannot change and the things I can, but not the willingness to accept it..

Or perhaps I’m just stubborn and thick-headed…Either way, I’ve been resisting. I do this a lot actually. I get thoughts or ideas in my head and once they’re there, it’s very difficult to let them go. They’re like an annoying piece of food that gets stuck in your teeth and bugs the hell out of you, but you can’t get it out for some reason or another. Instead of just letting it go for a little while and forgetting about it, you continually rub your tongue over it, reminding yourself that it’s there and how fricking annoying it is. (Okay, so that analogy is kind of weird and not entirely accurate, but just go with me here.) The point is, resisting things does not make them any easier or more tolerable. In fact, it makes them more difficult and more painful. Yet my de facto reaction when things are not going “my way” is to grab onto that thought and ruminate over and over and OVER about how miserable I am, when in fact, I could be trying to find something GOOD about the situation or at least relax into it. I think this tendency stems in large part from my desire to always be in control and for things to always go according to my expectations. When something is going differently than my head thinks it ‘should,’ I get upset, and I scramble for ways to change it or get the hell out of there. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that in life, THINGS RARELY GO ACCORDING TO PLAN. That’s what makes it life. It’s unpredictable and spontaneous, and while it has its share of disappointments, it is also full of delicious surprises.

Yet while the number of things I CAN’T control greatly outnumbers the number of things I CAN, one of the things I can control is my attitude. So that is what I’m going to work on changing this week. I’m going to try to relax my grip on the wheel, roll the windows down, and enjoy the ride on this windy road of life. Wherever it may take me.

Letting Go

My hands are tired from steering

My eyes are starting to blur.

My mind is doing cartwheels,

I’m not sure which way to turn.

My lips pursed in concentration,

my jaw clenched in iron rage.

Nose scrunched up beyond frustration,

I’ve driven right into a cage.

The darkness presses in around me.

The air is getting thick.

I gasp for one last breath of it,

but it’s so stale it makes me sick.

My shoulders sag beneath the burden,

my chest is caving in.

My knees give out below me,

And I’m sure this is the end.

A cloud surrounds my senses,

I don’t know where I went wrong.

I tried to stay on top of it,

but it’s been winning all along.

They pry my wingers from the wheel,

force air into my lungs

Move the key from the ignition

back to the life where it belongs.

I take off my gloves, loosen my grip

stop trying to win things by force.

I give up my seat in the captain’s chair,

Letting life run its own course.

©Jennifer K. Horton 5/5/12

When Doing What You Usually Do Isn’t Enough

I’m a huge creature of habit. I think a lot of us are. And while it can be helpful at times to have the ability to function on autopilot, it can also spell disaster.

In my case, I’ve been “doing what I usually do” for quite some time now. I have my little routine and when I stick to it life feels do-able. Everything feels manageable and A-OK. So when I’m presented with a choice to deviate outside of that routine, I usually decline. “No thanks,” I’d say. “I’ll just stick with what I usually do because, well, I’m used to it. And it feels good. And it’s easy. And comfortable…” The problem with all of this is that “what I usually do” is obviously not working out for me too well. I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say that I know with certainty that I am not functioning at my optimum potential. I still struggle mightily with anxiety and depression, and I can’t quite seem to shake this shit head of an eating disorder. While I wouldn’t exactly say I’m unhappy, I’m not exactly happy either. I feel like I’m out in some deep blue ocean treading water. It’s better than sinking, sure, but I’d like to have a damned boat. With a propeller and a freaking rudder. As it is, I’m just floating along. And I realized this morning that this is largely due to my tendency to just “do what I usually do.”

Well. ENOUGH. Today is the day I stand up and say “NO.” Because what I usually do is clearly not taking me where I want to go. It’s keeping me stuck, and quite frankly, being stuck SUCKS. Big time. So today is the day I shake things up a bit. Today, I am a REBEL. Granted, people on the outside probably will have no idea I’m bucking the trend, but in my experience, huge and sudden changes don’t work too well, so I’ll be going more for the slow and steady approach, but even small changes add up to be big ones. So okay, maybe not exactly a rebel, but rebel-lite. Regardless, let me just go on record and say that today is the day I start asking myself some questions before I act instead of deferring to autopilot mode. So without further ado, here is my version of the ever popular top 5 list (except it’s only 4, because I couldn’t think of a 5th…:

“4 Questions to ask yourself before you act.”

1.  WHAT? What am I doing? Is it what I usually do?

2. WHY? Why am I doing this? Is it helping me get to where I want to go? If not, why do it?

3. HOW? How can I do this differently to align more closely with the kind of life I want to lead?

4. HOW? (part 2) How will doing this make me feel afterwards? It may feel right in the moment, but will I still be glad I did it when it’s done?

So there you go. Try it out today. Be a rebel. (or rebel-lite) Do something differently in your life and see how it makes you feel.


Drifting Without an Anchor

I’ve been feeling rather aimless lately. Largely because my apartment lease ran out at the end of June and I still haven’t found a new place to live. I suppose I should be grateful that I have family that doesn’t mind me staying with them  until I find something, but because my family lives in another state from where I’d been living, I feel like my life is essentially on hold. I don’t have any roots in this state. No real friends to speak of, no job, nothing. Granted, I hadn’t firmly planted roots in the other state either, but I at least felt like I was beginning to. As it stands now, I’m not really sure what to do. Just wait? In case you haven’t picked up on it in my other posts, I’m not exactly good at waiting. Patience is not one of my strong suits. I like to move. I like to know where I’m going. So just about everything about my current situation is uncomfortable.

As all of this was running through my head this morning, I began to draw a connection between my current living situation and the stage I’m in of recovery: Not exactly ‘sick,’ but not exactly ‘recovered’ either. I suppose people call this stage ‘in recovery,’ but to me, ‘no man’s land’ seems like a better term. Without a foot firmly planted in either place, a person begins to feel like they’re floating around, with nothing concrete to hold on to. In a lot of ways, recovering from an eating disorder, or any kind of addiction, is very much a leap of faith. You decide the old ways are no longer working, so you let go of that raft and jump across the abyss to another one that you can’t exactly see yet, but you’re pretty sure it’s there. Somewhere…

Until you find it, though, hidden somewhere in that scary darkness, you’re left treading water in what can seem like shark-infested waters. You don’t have your old weapons to fight the sharks with, but you don’t really have any new ones to hold on to either. Or if you do, you haven’t really mastered how to wield them effectively yet.

Anyway, I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this wandering, prolonged analogy, but it just kind of tumbled out of me as I started to type so I’m going to roll with it. If anything, perhaps this post’s aimlessness will help convey my current state of mind more clearly than my limited vocabulary.

If not, here’s a poem I wrote back on New Year’s Eve of 2010. Maybe it will do the trick.

Darkness presses in

I find it hard to see.

I watch those around me,

but no one ever watches me.

I look for an escape route

but all looks just the same

How to flee these feelings?

How to stop the pain?

I want to curl up in a ball,

pass winter with the bears,

numb the empty heartache,

cut out all my fears.

But the knife I had is gone —

I’ve tossed it in the trash.

Searching for a new way

to cope with living’s wrath.

It’s hard without my feather —

my wicked magic wand

that curious little spell I cast

on its way to being gone.

Now I’m left with a blank canvas–

a virgin page to fill

Looking at it’s blinding

I’m afraid I never will…


(To be continued….?)


Tearing Up the Rulebook

For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived by a set of internal rules. As I grew older and entered adolescence, these rules became more and more rigid, requiring me to jump through all sorts of hoops in order to be ‘good enough.’

Be polite. Make good grades. Make people laugh. Be pretty. Exercise. Eat healthy. Don’t make mistakes.

Essentially: Be perfect.

It worked out well for me at first — as long as I could put a check by each of my ‘to-dos’ each day, I was okay. I felt good about myself and all seemed right with the world. But the minute I deviated from one of my rules — all hell would break loose. I’d get anxious and upset and I couldn’t think about anything else until I put things right. With such a rigid and lengthy list, my days quickly became consumed by my need to cross things off. Life faded into the background and soon nothing else mattered.

The funny thing is, I hate authority. I rebel against rules imposed on me by the outside, yet I had created the most overbearing rules imaginable for myself. I was driving myself crazy. Something had to change. The rules had to go.

Ha! If only it were so easy, right? My life was built around these rules. They’ve been my truth for twenty something years. I mean, try telling a bunch of football players that the point of their game was no longer to score a touchdown on a field by running and passing, but to gently roll an egg across a parking lot with their tongues without it breaking. Mmmhmmm. Now attach a lot of deeply held beliefs into the whole mix, and you begin to see the challenge I faced. STILL face — To be clear, this story is not finished. I have torn a few pages out of the rulebook, but the book is still very much alive. Part of the challenge, I think, is that initially I tried to change the rules, when really I just need to get rid of the idea of rules altogether. NO RULES. NONE. Life, fortunately, does not have a rulebook. We are each allowed to sculpt our lives however we choose. How wonderful is that?!

So join me. Let’s not waste time creating rules where none are needed. “Break” a few of your own rules today. Better yet, toss them in the trash, and LIVE.



Cleaning Out the Toolbox

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I have a tendency to get anxious.



And I know I’m not alone.

I hesitate to speak for everyone, because it seems there’s always an exception to the rule, but I would venture so far as to say that we ALL get stressed out from time to time. We get anxious, unsettled and uncomfortable. And unless we’re masochists, we HATE it. As soon as those feelings creep into our awareness, we do whatever we can to get rid of them. QUICKLY.

Some of us zone out in front of the TV or computer, others of us exercise. Some of us eat, others of us don’t. Some of us curl up in a ball and go to sleep, others of us work until we drop. Suffice it to say, our coping mechanisms run the gamut. (If you’re sitting here reading this wondering what the heck I’m talking about, then you’re coping mechanism is probably denial ;)). Some of our coping mechanisms are quite effective, while some of them actually end up causing MORE problems than the very problems we use them to escape.

I was thinking about this earlier today as I puzzled (for the gazillionth time in my life) over why, after twenty plus years, I continue to hold on to the destructive habit of rigidly controlling my food intake despite being perfectly aware of how very destructive it is. For some reason, despite years of treatment, therapy and oodles and oodles of facts and statistics, I continue to engage in behavior that is not at all conducive to the kind of life I want to live.

WHY? What the fuck kind of sense does that make?

On the surface: none. None at all.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you begin to see it makes perfect sense. Since I was twelve years old, I’ve used food and exercise to manage difficult emotions. In the beginning, it worked magnificently. As time went on, it lost its oomph. But by the time I realized what I was doing and how harmful it was, it was too late. It was habit. Try doing something for twenty years, all the while telling yourself how great it is and how awesome it makes you feel, and then suddenly stopping. Yeah. Not so easy. Even if you don’t have personal experience with an eating disorder, you likely can relate on some level. Just look at how many people in the world struggle with obesity and you begin to see what I mean.

So here I am, thirty something years old, and basically the only tools I have in my toolbox to deal with anxiety are food and exercise.

Until I take them out.

You see, I actually have been acquiring some other tools over the years to deal with difficult emotions. They don’t come as easily, and they’re not quite as effective, but they’re a heck of a lot better for me. I have mindfulness, communication, medication… I don’t HAVE to hold on to the dangerous tools I’ve been grasping for so long.

Yeah, I know. It seems terribly obvious and perhaps I should have had this realization much sooner, but when it occurred to me this morning, it hit me with astounding clarity. I was wondering why I continued to reach for the eating disorder when anxiety struck, when what I should have been wondering was why I still kept the eating disorder in the toolbox in the first place. It’s like sticking a kid in a room full of healthy food and telling them not to eat the box of cookies in the middle. Not gonna work. But take the cookies out, and that other food starts to look pretty tasty.

It will take a while to make these new tools as strong as my old ones were in the beginning, but I have a feeling they’ll be much more durable and effective. Besides, who doesn’t like new things? I can’t wait to try them out!

What tools in your toolbox are you neglecting? Which ones could stand to be tossed out? Join me today in a little late spring cleaning 🙂