Happy Birthday to Me! Birthday Memories and the #1 Lesson Learned this Past Year
Happy April 5th everybody! It's the day that marks the anniversary in which against all odds my mom was rushed to the hospital over a month early because I just had to come out! I was destined to be an early morning riser, and the fact that I was born a little before 6 am marked so many of my birthdays moving forward. Every year, I would set my alarm a little before six, at the exact minute I had made my appearance the year I was born. I would rush to the door, and the same thing would always be waiting for me. My mom had woken up even earlier to make me a birthday cart. Not a birthday card (although there were several of those too), but a birthday cart. We had this little table that had four wheels that we used for when we were having our dinner and a movie nights, or that we used whenever we decided to make a jigsaw puzzle for overachievers and the thing was hanging around there for months. On this little table, in the wee hours of the morning, my mom would arrange all of my favorite things. Birthday cards with cute messages from her, balloons, flowers, cake of course, and all my favorite foods.
The fact that it was breakfast time didn't matter, she would fill it with what at that time (in my pre-vegan days) I would have eaten my weight of, things like apple strudel or apple pastries, cheese puff pastries, smoked salmon, bagels, pickles, slim Jims, strawberry tarts, deli meats. and even sushi! Yup! Weird, but fun birthday breakfast every single year. That table also had a board underneath, which meant that under the delicious grub, and under the pretty tablecloth, was a pile of presents, ready to be opened and played with.
As if that wasn't enough, she would plan the most incredible birthday parties for me. she would go all out with decorations, food, games, the prettiest party favors and prizes. One year she created her own bingo game that was designed so that everyone would yell bingo at the same time and there weren't any losers. It did not go over well, but it was pretty funny.
There was always cake of course, and that ranged from my almost yearly obsession with having a little chocolate and pistachio cake from a local bakery, to the year she made a petit four pyramid filled with candles, to the first time I got a tiered white cake. There was the time we made our first gingerbread house together, and the time she made a gazillion tiny pink doughnuts.
One year she took all of my friends to the beach for a 3 day birthday party.
Another year we had a full Jane Fonda/Olivia Newton John aerobics party of which I will never show you pictures (hey... it was the 80s!).
Needless to say my birthdays were always a huge deal, and when I got old enough, hers were too. In fact the first dinner party I ever threw for anyone, was for my mom's birthday when I was 16, in which I cooked a sushi feast for 40 people. Yes, 40 people!
Nowadays, I go all out for Carlos's birthday in January, but I love to keep mine very low key, partly because I don't like the idea of doing dishes or cleaning up on my birthday. In fact the best plan for my birthday is heading out to the country with Carlos and the dogs, a picnic and just being in the middle of nature.
Today I got lucky because Thursday is our podcast episode and post day and I get to celebrate my day with you!
When I thought of something special to do for today's episode and post, I thought of so many ideas. Last year I gave you a massive list with ideas of how you could celebrate with the cooks in your life. This year I thought about doing a whole episode on vegan cakes, on entertaining, or an a life lesson learned for every year thus far. As I've mentioned so many times before, I love any time marker throughout the year that makes me reflect on the previous ones, and look forward to the next, so then it hit me. There's something I learned this past year that has been so incredibly helpful to me and that I haven't had the chance to share that much here in the blog or podcast. I thought about this little life lesson (ok, big life lesson), because it can apply to almost everything we talk about here at Brownble, whether that's food, going vegan, making habit changes, improving your relationship with food, body acceptance and even cooking! So that's what we're going to do today.
Let me give you some back story
This life lesson came my way thanks to an incredible scientist and mindfulness researcher, Dr. Shauna Shapiro. In the short video I'll be including below, she talks about what happened when she arrived at a meditation retreat in Thailand and started noticing that she just couldn't meditate. She tried to sit down and clear her mind and immediately a thought would come. She tried to clear it again and immediately another one would make an appearance. She tried, and tried, and tried, and soon the thoughts that appeared were all about how she couldn't do it, how she was sitting in a room full of monks mastering this and she was failing miserably. She would beat herself up every time a thought entered her mind, every time she noticed it had wandered. She started to get so frustrated and judgemental, thinking this wasn't for her, that she used a lucky encounter with a monk, the only one who spoke English, to describe what was going on and get some tips.
What came her way via this monk was a kind of schooling, of how what she was doing in that monastery was not practicing mindfulness. She was practicing judgement, impatience, anger, irritability, lack of self compassion, perfectionism, but not mindfulness.
He gave her, the words that have transformed so much of my past year and the words that Shauna says transformed her practice and her life:
"What you practice grows stronger".
The monk continues to tell Shauna that when she is sitting down every day to try to be mindful and present but instead goes on this self-criticizing path, that is what she is practicing. When she sits every day with those monks, getting angry at herself because another thought entered her mind, all she is practicing is getting angry at herself. When she sits down every day to be mindful but instead gets frustrated and thinks she can't do it, all she is doing is practicing frustration and thinking that she can't do it.
The monk then advised to actually take those moments of her mind wandering off, as reminders that now she was indeed present by noticing it, that she could have kindness instead of judgement, and that she could use those moments to bring the mind back. That it was about self compassion, and coming back without judgement, one time, then another time, then another time, and as many as it took.
Although you know how much mindfulness and being present has changed my life, I'm not telling you this story to talk about mindfulness or meditation. I'm telling you this story because when I first heard that phrase "what you practice grows stronger", I felt I had found a winning lottery ticket stuck to the bottom of my shoe. I felt I had seen a unicorn and there was no one around me to share it with and no phone to take a picture to show everyone later. Still, there it was, and the more I had the chance to think about it and mull it over, the more sense it made to me.
"What you practice grows stronger"
We talk so much about changing habits at Brownble, and I always tell you that something like going vegan or making more vegan choices is about the long journey ahead. It's about doing it today, and trying again tomorrow, and if on Sunday you fell off track a little bit, on Monday you can try it again. There's no on or off, there are just little detours and a whole lot of practice. This is one area in which we know that what we practice grows stronger. In everything from shopping in a new way, to building different meals, to answering difficult questions, to making a vegan pie, the more we practice it, the more the habit grows, the simpler it gets.
What about the opposite though? Have we been practicing the things that pull us back? Being unkind, the negativity, the feelings of unworthiness, that we're not enough or not doing enough, or the feeling that we can't do something unless it's perfect? Have we been making the negative grow stronger by practicing that instead of something else?
You know how much I love to talk about improving your relationship with food, improving confidence, improving your body image, being kinder and gentler to yourself while still being brave to make some changes that would help everything from our health, to the animals, to the conservation of our planet. I love to help people navigate a messy relationship with food and their bodies because this is something that occupied my every thought for years. I teach you everything I've learned, and I've guided you towards everything that helped me so much to get to the other side. What we haven't talked about is practice. The importance of practice, and this idea that what we practice grows stronger, whether that's the good stuff or the bad stuff.
If there's one thing I've held as a mantra this past year it's that very phrase. It acts as a reminder that every time I'm getting anxious about something by over-complicating it in my head and looking for every little thing that might go wrong, I'm practicing anxious thoughts and helping them grow stronger. Every time I look in the mirror and I'm being self-critical, I'm practicing self-criticism and perfectionism and helping them grow stronger. Every time I forget to be mindful while I eat and I overdo it and don't feel that great, I'm overly critical and worry that I've started to go back to old ways, I'm practicing worry and overthinking things, not to mention a lack of self compassion, and all of that grows stronger. When I've felt overworked and overstressed and I still tell myself it's not time to take a break because there's so much to do, I'm practicing not listening to my body and that grows stronger. Every time I go down a shame spiral, when I didn't do the right thing or I made a mistake, I'm practicing shame and that grows stronger.
Whenever I've caught myself this past year in one of these situations, I remember that there's another side to that coin. That although it's been programmed into us to push push push and be perfect, there is indeed another way. A way that is kinder to ourselves and that needs to be practiced for it to grow.
Every time I look in the mirror and I'm kind to myself based on what I see, I practice that and it grows stronger. Every time I feel tired and I listen and give myself a break or rest, listening to my body is practiced and grows stronger. Every time I sit down for my mindfulness practice, the habit is practiced and grows stronger. Every time I get into the kitchen and cook, this is practiced and grows stronger. Every time I answer a question about veganism even when it makes me uncomfortable, or when I go to a social situation that makes me nervous, this is practiced and grows stronger. Whenever I'm really mindful when I eat, when I listen to my hunger and fullness signals, when I tell myself that food is there whenever I want it and I don't need to overeat it anymore, this is practiced and grows stronger. Every time I see food as neutral instead of good or bad, and I allow myself to enjoy it, respecting myself and my body through the process without the need to restrict anymore, this is practiced and grows stronger. Every time I exercise doing something I love to feel better instead as a punishment for what I ate or to pay for what I'll eat later or to change my body, exercising for joy is practiced and grows stronger. Every time I listen to the person I'm speaking to, or to my own intuition, listening is practiced and grows stronger. Every time I make a mistake, had a disappointment or something unexpected happened, if I respond to it by being kind to myself instead of judgemental of myself, I'm practicing kindness and it grows stronger.
What you practice grows stronger. Always remember that it's a two way street and you can choose what you'll practice and what will in turn grow, so that it supports you, rather than punishes you or hurts you.
This little phrase has changed so much of my day since I started using it, and it was the biggest help and support this past year. As a recovering perfectionist it helps me so much when I notice that all experiences are really just a winding path, and each step a little practice to help us move forward.
I hope this little gem by Sauna Shapiro helps you as much as it helped me, and I'm of course leaving you with the video so you can hear it from Shauna herself. She is one of my favorite teachers and I know you'll love her too.
Thanks so much for spending my birthday with me! I'm spending the day with my dogs today, then I'll be eating delicious sushi in a romantic dinner with Carlos, followed by a little low key dinner and cake with his parents tomorrow, and the BIG celebration, a little escape to nature in a few weeks! My favorite place to be! See you next Thursday with more!