Posts in Category: Mental Rest

Decisions, Decisions, or Embracing your Inner Toddler

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When you’re feeling indecisive, instead of agonizing, or making your best guess, what if you choose arbitrarily to see what happens?  If there’s no right answer, there’s no wrong answer.  If there’s no wrong answer, there’s no way to fail.  If there’s no way to fail, there’s no fear of failure.

No right, No wrong, No way to fail.Okay, say you have a decision in front of you.  It can be a big one like which job to take, or a small one like what’s for dinner, doesn’t matter.  You’re not sure what to do.  It could go either way.  What if, instead of trying to choose the RIGHT thing, when it’s really not that clear what the right thing is, you see it as “need more input” and just choose SOMETHING.  Maybe the easy thing.  Maybe the hard thing.  Maybe the thing that you don’t usually choose.  Maybe the comforting thing.  Just something.  You have 2 ounces of energy to spend on the decision making process, ready, go.  Okay, have you chosen?  Great.  If you’d agonized over the decision instead, how much energy would you have spent?  10 ounces?  a pound?  6 tons?  (You knew the energy in your life was measured as a weight, right?)  Is this decision worth that much energy?  Would the wrong decision cause permanent damage?  Is it really permanent, or is it something you can heal from or apologize and make amends and move on?  Is this a safe place to fail?  To be uncomfortable?

Now we’ve created a split scenario.  In one, you’ve spent 10 pounds of energy making a decision with the intention of it being right; in the other, you’ve spent 2 ounces with the intention of gathering information.  Now it’s time to act on your decision.  You start to see that it’s not working out quite the way you’d imagined.  When the intention is to get it right, and it’s going wrong, there’s pressure for it to be right, there’s energy to correct whatever’s going wrong or save face, there’s probably some beating yourself up for choosing the wrong thing, and maybe a side of anxiety around the next time you need to make a decision or do the thing again.  When the intention is information gathering, then you can calmly observe the failure, see that maybe it’s not a failure after all, or maybe it is and you can laugh about it.  You understand what’s going on better because now you’ve lived it, and when the time comes to make a decision again, it’s a bit easier because you remember what happened last time.  When your intention is information gathering, you might feel a little younger, a little more like a kid, a little less in control.  You might need to admit that you have more to learn, and that might feel uncomfortable.  Or it might feel freeing, like a weight has been lifted.  You’re experimenting in this moment, living in this moment, gathering your set of life data, getting better prepared for next time.  You’re admitting that you weren’t prepared this time, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact, an observation.  And geez, maybe the decision was just what to eat for dinner.

When the intention shifts from making the best choice you can to gathering information, it’s so much easier to laugh at your mistakes, forgive yourself (well, there’s nothing to forgive in the first place) and move on.  You’re learning by experience and developing your intuition.  Instead of expecting yourself to know it all already and rely on your rational brain to figure it all out, you’re approaching life like a kid again with an air of curiosity and joy of discovery.  It means there might be mistakes, and there might be grand ones, but you’re not beating yourself up over them, and life moves on.  You can apologize if necessary, make amends if necessary, and try again if necessary.

Where did we get this idea that it wasn’t safe to make mistakes in the first place?  Why do we expect such high standards of ourselves?  At some point it really was a matter of life and death that we get it right.  Is it still?  In every situation?  At some point, it was society keeping us on the straight and narrow.  But now don’t we keep telling our kids that it’s okay to make mistakes?  That it’s about the journey?  Yet it’s so hard for them, and it’s so hard for us.  We’ve gotten stuck in this place of working so hard to do right and thinking we need to know or figure out everything, that it’s blocking our ability to be present in the moment, laugh at our mistakes, and save our energy for the important stuff.

 

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Revoking consent

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“This isn’t working for me anymore, I want you to stop.”  When I say this, I have revoked consent for the current situation.  Maybe we can find a way to make it work, or maybe not.  Either way, this, what we’re doing right now, what YOU’RE doing right now, I need it to stop, now.  And I will use my power* to make it stop.  Even if it makes you upset.  Even if you want to keep going.  Even if you don’t care whether I consent to this or not.  And so you learn, that when I say no, I mean no.

*I will use my personal power, I will ask respectfully first and and insist, and if that doesn’t work, I will move in physically to prevent you from continuing.  I won’t power over, I won’t shame, I won’t step on you.  I will do my best to keep anyone from getting hurt.

Assuming that I’m within my own boundaries and I have ownership over whatever it is I’m setting limits on (my body, my stuff, common spaces in the house, enforcing established rules…) this is my current mantra with my kids.  It feels awful and awkward and mean and like I’m making it too big of a deal.  And so I double down and do it more.  Because when I don’t, I’m enabling rape culture and power dynamics. When I don’t,  I’m modeling to my kids that my needs don’t matter very much, that their feelings are more important.  And when they’re older, and in questionable situations, I don’t want them to think that their needs don’t matter very much.

When I let my needs slip behind theirs, when I make exceptions to the rules, when I let them insist, when I give in, when I say no, no, no, no, okay just one – I’m trying to be nice and understanding and kind and reasonable.  But I’m not in the long term.  I’m compromising myself and my values, my needs, my own personal power in favor of their outward calm.  I’m telling them that their tension, their hurt, their upset is a BIG DEAL and needs to be avoided.  I’m telling them that their potential upset is bigger than my own power.  That they need to avoid getting upset.  That if they’re getting upset, then something is Very Wrong.

There’s a concept of consent culture that I’ve seen floating around, where parents ask their kids consent for everything, from the moment the kid can reasonably give it.  I have a few issues with this, but the one I want to focus on here is, what’s the end goal?  I don’t want to bash it completely, but I’m picturing this kid, fully grown.  They’ve learned to ask consent for everything.  Awesome.  They’re not going to be raping anyone.  Awesome.  But they’re also going to be expecting to be asked consent for everything, and that really isn’t the case I’ve seen in the real world.  What happens when someone else comes along and *doesn’t* ask their consent?  What happens when they ask consent but the other person doesn’t know how to say no?  And then, what about the times when consent was implied but never explicitly asked and now there is a victim?  Is it all up to the “attacker” to ask first?  Is the victim rendered a powerless victim as soon as the attacker doesn’t ask consent, no matter what ensues, questionable or not?  I’m finding that the ability and power to say no is just as important as the habit of asking.

My 10 year old is irritated and is bossing my 6 year old around.  He’s going along with it but I can see by the look on his face that this isn’t cool with him, and he’s not speaking up for himself.  I ask him, “Is this working for you?  Do you give her permission to boss you around like this?” and he slowly shakes his head no.  And so I tell her, “this isn’t working for him, find something else to do.”  And she gets angry and stomps and yells (which is why he isn’t speaking up for himself in the first place) and I listen to how outraged she is and I remove her from the situation and hold the limit.  I give her space to vent on me instead of making my 6 year old bear the brunt of her big emotions.  She learns that no still means no, even when it’s hard to say and even when the other person is intimidated by you.

When I notice the nonverbal cues and speak up for the kid who isn’t speaking up for himself, all sorts of magic happens.  I show that it really is okay to speak up for yourself, the world isn’t going to end when it makes the other person upset.  I show how to step in and help in a situation where it’s clear that one person is uncomfortable enforcing their boundaries on their own.  I show that the nonverbal cues matter.  I show my kids that I have their back.  And How it doesn’t have to be an explicitly spoken no.  All forms of no mean no.  Look for the subtle signs.  Even when one party is bigger and stronger or has more social power, that’s not an excuse to bowl over someone else’s needs.

I’m learning a lot through this revoking consent process.  I’m learning that my own comfort matters, and is worth actively doing something to achieve, and that *gasp* I can even make my kids upset over it.  I’m also seeing more clearly the converse – that self sacrifice and avoiding conflict don’t get you anywhere, that bending the rules and “being nice” and not upsetting people just keeps everyone miserable for longer.  I’m gaining confidence in speaking up for others, not just myself.  And I’m building my personal power as I see how much of a difference I can make.

When getting upset is Wrong and must be avoided at all costs, that sets a perfect stage for dangerous power dynamics.  The upset powerless person won’t stand up for herself, won’t make a fuss, might not even validate her own upset feelings.  The upset power-over person will be scared, panic, and see the other party as the one who is out of line.  An upset power-over person who is panicking and blaming others is a perfect recipe for senseless violence.

My comfort matters.  It’s okay to be upset.  I have your back.  Nonverbal cues matter.  It’s okay to stand strong.  Every no means no.

My favorite part of all this?  Is how it’s all done with modeling and in ways that I’m completely in control of.  I don’t need anybody else to buy in, I don’t need to lecture, nobody needs to understand anything.  I am empowered to enforce my limits.  I especially like how it models personal power and consent in a way that doesn’t require any cognitive load.  It becomes hard wired into the limbic system and sticks around as intuition even in times of stress or weakness.  There’s nothing to consciously remember.  No just means no.

 

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Big Rock Must Do Chore Lists

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How we make space for the important stuff and ditch the rest.

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In our family of 5, we have ongoing lists of things that need to be done, and important things that keep slipping through the cracks.  If I want a sense of calm and peace in the way we go about our days, I need to prioritize where I put my energy and how I plan my time.  I do want calm and peace.  I want my time to be valued and respected.  And I want to respect my kids’ autonomy along the way.  I’ve been trying to balance it all and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

We have the Must Do things that we’re committed to on a routine basis, the spontaneous extras we want to do (like making cookies, going to the movies, inviting a friend over), and the extras we want to add to our commitments (that extra class, that big project, the weekly teatime).

Of course then there are the things that we’re spinning our wheels with, taking up our time, that aren’t actually that important to us.  Like 10 hours of legos and minecraft and facebook and Harry Potter a day.  Not that those things aren’t valuable, just maybe we don’t want to be spending all day everyday doing them.

Are you familiar with the big rock analogy? It’s the story of the glass jar that fits big rocks and gravel and sand and water, but only if you put the big rocks in first.  

The Must Do list is our big rocks, the extras are the gravel, and the spinning wheels is the sand.  The things we mindfully want to be doing, vs the sand that we find ourselves choosing in the moment as the path of least resistance.  On our Must Do list includes things that everyone needs to do (eat), things that only a certain person can do (practice guitar) and things that it doesn’t matter who does them so long as they get done (feed the dog).

Every day, first thing, come the Must Dos.  These are our biggest rocks, our highest priorities.  Once all of the Must Dos are either done or scheduled into the day (I trust they’re going to happen – for example, we don’t have to be done with dinner by 10am, but we *do* need a dinner plan before moving on) we can move on to the Priority List.  This is the list of extras that we want to do.  The “Mommy will you…” list.  “Mommy, will you…?” “Yes, as soon as we’re set on the Must Dos.”  

When we’re on top of the Must Do list, getting it all done painlessly, we can add extra activities and commitments to it.  When we’re not finishing the Must Do list, then we start simplifying our commitments and making more space for the stuff that matters most.  In practical terms, this means dropping an activity, or decluttering the stuff that’s taking up physical and mental space in our lives, until we are really keeping up.

A note, all of these things are limits that I’m setting for myself.  This is what I need in order to maintain my peace and calm.  I am not willing to commit to paying for/transporting to extra activities until I know that the things that we’ve declared are the most important are being taken care of.  I’m not willing to go out of my way for someone else until I trust that my needs are getting met too.  Ooh, that’s hard to say without feeling selfish.  But the more bandwidth I have, the more I have to give, and everyone wins.  I’m not telling the kids what they can and can’t do – I’m showing them a window of what I am and am not willing to commit myself to.  If they want a class that they have the means to make happen completely without my help, I won’t stop them from doing it.  If they want me to drive them there however, then it needs to fit into my structure for me to say yes.

So that is the bare bones structure.  I can imagine it getting adapted in all sorts of ways, depending on each individual’s personal priorities.  

Here’s how it looks for us: 

My kids are 22 months, 6 years, and 10 years old.  My main priorities include quality meals, improving our circadian rhythms, a reasonably tidy house, hygge family time, and project time.  And so our Must Do list includes things like eating, getting outside, having a meal plan, dishes, laundry, tidying, taking care of the dog, and the fun things that keep slipping through the cracks, like reading books together, one on one time with each kid, board games, family adventure days.

The ongoing Priority List has all the one off things.  Some of them are boring, like returning stuff to the store or calling the dentist and others are fun like making cookies or going to the movies.  Anything can be bumped up to Must Do status if it becomes time critical.  For now, things on the Priority List only happen once the Must Dos are completely taken care of.  As we build up routines and trust stuff will get done, I bet we will open up more space to mix in some of the extras during the day.

We also keep an ongoing list of Activities that we would like to add to the Must Do commitments.  This is stuff like Scouts, Theater, weekly Poetry Teatime, and bigger projects like learning to sew a dress.  The way I’ve been balancing Activities is, we start at 0.  At the end of the day, when we’ve checked off all of our Must Dos, then we add (+1).  If there are any Must Dos that we didn’t get to, we subtract (-1).  If we get up to +5, then we’ve proven that we have space to add to our Must Do list, so we can add an activity (and reset to 0).  If we get down to -5, we’ve proven that we’re overcommitted and so we drop an activity, or else clear out a big box of stuff that isn’t sparking joy anymore.

Future notes: I can imagine a more advanced version of this, where different activities have different weights based on the commitment involved, and where boxes of stuff also have weights.  And activities and decluttering can be traded out as priorities become clear.  You really want to do theater (4 points) but don’t have the time to add that many activities?  Trade out one smaller activity you’re already doing (2 points) and help clear out two big boxes of stuff (2 points).  We’re not ready for the extra complexity yet though.  Another issue that’s coming up is, how do we make it fair when one person is pulling all the weight and others are just reaping the benefits?  I don’t have a solid solution for that one yet that balances honoring the person doing the work without leaving behind the person who can’t find it in them to help out.

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The Ultimate Life Hack: Love, Power, Boundaries and Vulnerability

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I’m a big fan of Brene Brown’s work.  Daring Greatly felt like it was written for me and my family.  I saw shame and armor at every turn.  When I read it, I was thrilled to finally have a target for releasing so much of the tension written into the way I see the world.  Embrace vulnerability, even though it’s painful – it’s worth it.  Clear, concise, even some practical examples of how to do so.  It was still difficult and unnatural and exhausting, though.  Then came Rising Strong, with some more tips and examples of how to take the lows and use them to bounce back better than before.  How to make that vulnerability a little less scary and learn from it.  Helpful, but still painful and difficult.

Then I read a simple picture book, The Conquerors.  With it’s clunky drawings and war theme, I was a little turned off, but then it changed my life.  In the book, the general goes and invades all the countries around and conquers them all because he has the best, strongest army.  Then he goes to the last country that was so small he hadn’t bothered before.  This one, however, he can’t conquer like he’s used to.  They welcome him and his army with open arms and teach them all about their way of life.  The soldiers go home and bring the little country’s customs with them.  The general sees it as “spoils of war” but the little country isn’t destroyed in the slightest.  Everybody wins.

When I think about Brene Brown’s vulnerability with myself as the little country, that it’s not me against the world, but rather me showing the world how I do things… Then it becomes really easy to just show up and be myself.  Be seen.  There is no threat, the threat is just a perception.  I can be completely myself and not have to use tons of defensive armor, because this is *my* turf and therefor I’m in charge and you can’t touch me.  If someone comes in and doesn’t respect that, then it’s easy for me to see that it’s their problem, not mine.  Because this is *my* turf and nobody is in control of it but me.  For someone else to try and take control is laughable.  Show up, be seen, live my authentic life.  Ask for help when I need it, learn from my mistakes, go see how other people live *their* lives (but don’t think that I can control the place just because I’m there).  Aaaahhhh.  I can feel the shame melting into a puddle on the floor and leaving me there, strong, myself, and with the strongest boundaries yet.

Then.  Then.  Then, power and love surfaced as relevent topics.  The idea of using my power to do things on my own, power to ask (not demand) for help when I need it.  Power to stand up for what I believe in.  Power to make change.  Power to choose my own life.  Power to keep trying when the first, second, hundredth time doesn’t work out.  This is personal power, and it’s in direct contrast to using power over someone.  With power over someone, you take away their choice.  You gain power while they lose it.  Or else you give your power away to them.  Let them control you.  You create power dynamics, power struggles.  It’s the opposite of consent, and it’s what most of us think of when we think of power as a dirty word.  Or as a holy grail.  Striving for promotions, sibling rivalry, parents yelling at their kids.  Evil overlords.

Finally, love.  Mr. Rogers said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring.  It is an active noun like struggle.”  If love is an action, what are the everyday actions we use to show we care?  How do I love someone?  How do I show my love?  What does love feel like?  What does it take to be lovable?  What is self love?  I realized that the actions I use to express love – helping, guiding, teaching, protecting, preventing pain, not causing hurt – those are all power dynamics.  If I show love by helping, then to receive that love, you need to be helpless.  If I show love by guiding, then to receive that love, you need to be malleable without strong will of your own.  If I show love by protecting, then you need to be weak.  If I show love by preventing pain, then when you are in pain, I’ve failed and I’m not lovable.  If I show love by not causing hurt, then how do I speak up for myself when it conflicts with you?  How do I hold strong boundaries and stay true to myself when you are helpless and weak?  And how do you stay true to yourself when I need to feel lovable and I’m trying so hard to help and guide you?  This kind of love feels like strength and weakness.  Power and control.  It’s easy for me to see how we get our identities wrapped up in power dynamics.  I am the teacher.  I know stuff.  Lots of stuff.  More than you, so I can show you I love you by teaching you.  I am lovable because I teach.  How dare you tell me I’m wrong?  How dare you not accept my teachings?  How dare you be uninterested?  Don’t you understand that those things hurt my identity?  Don’t you LOVE me?  Am I not lovable!!?!?  And if I’m hurting, then who caused it, and why wasn’t I protected??  I must not be lovable.

Show me you love me

I want love to feel like acceptance, to feel expansive, like being understood, like safety and security.  Like the best place to explore and experiment and figure myself out.  The safe landing pad.  Open, cozy arms.  Shoulders to cry on.  And so I’m upgrading my love actions with listening, understanding, and respecting boundaries.  Self love as understanding myself, figuring out my own boundaries, and respecting them.  I’m releasing the power dynamics and outgrowing the need for an identity in order to be lovable.  I am unconditionally lovable purely because I exist.  I am lovable because I have needs and limits and I communicate them.  I am interesting because I’m a person and I have a story.  I’m lovable because I don’t have it all together.  I can see and respect and love you and not be threatened by you, because there are no power dynamics in our relationship.  

And just like that, the vulnerability armor explodes into a cloud of glitter that sticks to the puddle of shame on the floor.  And I’m free, and can walk away.  There is pain, and there is hurt, there is old trauma that I can finally process and it will cause tears, but there are shoulders to cry on and feeling low is just another way to be lovable.  Conflict is a chance to better understand someone (love!).  Failure is an opportunity for understanding (love!).  In order to be lovable I just need to exist.  I just need to exist.  And when there isn’t someone right there to shower me with love when I need it, there’s always self love – it’s not a booby prize.  I can always understand myself and my own needs and limits better, and use my power to get them met.  And that feels really, really good.

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Who’s in charge here?

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Sometimes I want everyone Out.Of.My.Space.  It feels like everyone’s encroaching, everyone has an opinion, there are so many shoulds, and it’s not even my own anymore.  It’s a canvas for the world to define.  Then I picture myself spinning in a circle with my arms out, ripping the encroaching walls to shreds.  Spinning with a burning torch, making a ring of fire to mark MY SPACE.

Fire Dancer

But then I remembered the picture book, The Conquerors.  How the people who defended their country lost to the stronger general, while the tiny country that accepted the invaders with open arms not only stayed intact, they were able to spread the joy of their way of life.

I like people.  I want more people in my life.  I don’t really want to chase everyone away.  I want to invite them in.  What if my burning circle of fire isn’t so much a defense as it is a definition?  This is MY SPACE where I am in control.  In this circle, I am in charge, I am the only authority.  Anything from anybody else is merely a suggestion, a comment card.  Anyone with a raging, authoritative opinion clearly has issues because this is my space and they have no authority.  I can easily brush them off.

And what about someone else’s space?  If my space is mine, then their space is theirs.  I don’t expect to have any authority.  I can instead come in with genuine curiosity, to explore and see what works for them and learn and take ideas for myself.  That feels really, really good.  I don’t have to worry about stepping on anyone’s toes or being offensive.  If someone takes offense, then it’s probably their issue and not something I’m doing wrong.

All that’s left is to show up in my own space and be authentic.  Which is what everyone’s been saying all along but feels so hard, impossible, vulnerable when it’s a should – but now it feels easy.  The hardest part is looking at and owning my own mess.  But since I own it, I can clean it up (or not) on my own terms and not worry about being judged for it.

 

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Review: The Conquerers

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The Conquerors by David McKee is a story of a general who loves his country and who invades and conquers all the other countries.  Finally there is only one small country left, and when he goes to invade, they are welcomed with warm arms instead.  The soldiers and even the general himself happily learn about and learn to love their culture, and everybody goes home happy – including the people of the small country.

Pros:  There are some really healthy boundaries modeled here.  The soldiers are free to do as they please, and it’s acceptance not fighting that preserves the other country’s integrity.

Cons:  Younger readers might not *get* it on the first pass.  My 6 year old liked the story, but it’s hard to tell if he consciously understood the moral.

Overall:  I love this story.  It’s so much deeper than it is on the surface, and kids might not get it at first, BUT it’s exactly the kind of limbic modeling that simmers in the background of their brains and colors how they see the world.

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Review: Ruby’s Wish

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Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges is the true story of the author’s grandmother, Ruby.  She is invited to go to school as a child, and she loves it.  However, she still needs to do her household learning as she is a girl.  While the other girls drop out, she stays and thrives.  She resents being a girl but tries to hide it from her grandfather.  He comes through in the end, though, and allows her to go to the University rather than being married off.

Pros: There are great themes of perseverance and being true to yourself.

Cons: There are elements that clash with Care and Feeding mindset.  Namely, Ruby is not in charge of her own life – she is at the mercy of her Grandfather’s decisions.  He has ultimate power/authority over her.  She feels the need to lie to him to cover up her intentions.  I don’t like how they deal with boundaries and vulnerability.

Overall: This book didn’t work for me.  I was looking for something that modeled personal power and got the opposite.

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Review: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

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Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown follows Mr. Tiger who lives in a drab world of animals walking on two legs.  He decides he needs something more, and starts to act truer to his tiger nature.  Enough is enough, however, and his friends ask him to take his wild to the wild.  He loves the idea, and goes.  Soon he misses home and comes back to discover that his friends have been inspired to act just a bit more wild themselves.

Pros: This is a great story of Mr. Tiger discovering his own unique needs, and doing what it takes to get them met.  In doing so, he models the same for his friends.  There’s an added bonus of testing perceived limits and enforcing boundaries without shame.

Cons: None.

Overall: I like it.  I’m inspired to be myself and not care what other people think.

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Review: The Dot

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The Dot by Peter Reynolds is about Vashti, a girl who doesn’t know what to put on her paper in art class.  She finally puts a single dot at her teacher’s suggestion and then is inspired to do a full study of dots, making them in every form she can imagine.

Pros: This book is great for breaking out of a perfectionism streak, and inviting exploration as opposed to the dichotomy of perfection vs mistakes.

Cons: None.

Overall: Yes, please.  I can use the reminder that it’s the process of discovery, not the final goal.

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Review: The Pink Refrigerator

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In The Pink Refrigerator by Tim Egan, Dodsworth the mouse is content with his boring life, then starts finding invitations to explore.  He discovers new interests, then sets out on his own to find more.

Pros:  It models great boundaries – there is no pressure to do any of the stuff, and he sticks up for his own desires.  There is no problem with his current/previous life, either.  No shaming.  It’s a great invitation to explore and try new things.

Cons:  None.

Overall: When the book was done, it left me with an immense feeling of calm and well being.

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