Personal Blog

Peace Within.

Writer’s note: I’m not certain (ha! what is certainty?) whether this piece is complete. I would love some comments and questions about what could tie it together. How can my words be more wholesome?

With the exception of the most critical responders, all of us are asked to turn inward. To stay home. To commute our attention from home to work and back, without leaving home. To meet fewer people. To rely on ourselves for more meals at home. To be stationary and forego transience. We are invited, in a commanded way, to commune with ourselves.

What a time to be alive. The thought that repeatedly crosses my mind. I have the sensation that I’m in a virtual reality experience, moving through a world with real sensation but where everyone is participating in different stories. To come together in a common story as is inherent in humanity, I believe we must first come to know, love, and nurture ourselves.

Spring is awakening the Earth, in the northern hemisphere. The temperature oscillates from dawn to noon to dusk to night. With each cycle, the daylight hours grow longer. The plants are gifted with a bit more sunlight and warmth to fuel themselves back to life. Each cell takes what it needs, not more. Each plant nurtures itself and shares benefits to co-exist with the others. The sunlight is plentiful, and moisture returns each morning. Hibernation fades away; nature’s conscience breathes movement from a sleeping vibration to a waking rhythm. The process is slow to the observing eye, and if a tree sprouts in the forest, and no one is there to watch it, yes, it still sprouts.

Many trees sprout.

I see people panicking. [Digression: psychologists have found that when people perceive that they are losing control, they buy more “functional” products that they think will give them a sense of control.] Is panic contagious? Since last summer, I’ve started to see trauma in others’ physical expression (almost everyone, really). Now especially, I see a mass of mess of miscommunication. I see instability and chaos, in my world and in the broader world. Yet I feel (almost) completely stable and grounded, and this makes me feel comfortably out of place. I find comfort knowing that we are mutually and equally uncertain of the future, and certainty rests merely in each breathing moment. It’s normal to panic, and these reactions merit validation.

Yes, this perception is partially rooted in the global outbreak of whatchamacallit. It’s fascinating to watch the people of the world trust in institutions that we take for granted, to see that we’re all let down and disappointed by these institutions, and to observe that people still wait for the institutions to advise how to act. Perhaps we are well to remember that “corporation” comes from “corporare,” corpus, to combine in one body, the human, an entity made of us. To trust in the other, can I first trust myself? To stay safely at home, we must find the home within our physical body. I #stayhome when I fully inhabit – and dwell in – my body and my mind.

Some seedlings grow tall.

I’ve long believed in the importance of religion, because – I hypothesize – society would be a mess if everyone would think for themself. The viral outbreak has led me to think that government holds the same importance, that people – including me – need to be told how to think and act, and that when we fail to secure our collective health and wellbeing, we fail to acknowledge our human consciousness. Lack of planning often constitutes an emergency, and an emergency that is perceived as a threat to any individual will trigger the brain’s fight/flight response and the sympathetic nervous system. And when we learn to recognize this animal response, we have the possibility to train ourselves how to return to conscious, rational thinking. The emotional response – in the physical body, the mind, and the spaces between – and the rational thoughts deserve equal validation.

We have a choice to not panic, even in the face of uncertainty and insecurity.

Breathing is one method of restoring the mind to a state of peace. In the German language, atmen means to breathe, and in Sanskirt, ātman means inner self, spirit or soul. Both come from the PIE root “etmen.” In a shift from involuntary to voluntary control – when we choose how to inhale, hold, and exhale – the breath can control the mind and pull the brain from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. The SNS controls responses to threat with a hyper-aware mind and body prepared to react; the PNS enables rest, digestion, and homeostasis. I hypothesize that the physical activity and conscious control of the body that yoga offers correlates with a stronger confidence and trust that I can control my safety and security, even in vulnerable moments. Aside from physical fitness activities and yoga, how often do I consciously choose to engage tension and relaxation in different body parts? Rarely. Therefore, I learn to find comfort and rest in tension in my yoga practice.

For all trees, rest and shedding layers are cycles of life.

My stability in chaos is healing an affliction in my current circumstances: between physical living arrangements, constantly transforming interpersonal relationships, waiting on official legal paperwork, being employed in a strong-but-threadbare start-up. Factually, many of the major variables and aspects of my life feel uncertain. Amidst this, I take 100% ownership and acceptance of my reality, and I’m not afraid. I have been afraid. I know what fear feels like, physically, in my body. Right now, I don’t feel afraid. And if I feel fear later, I’ll continue to breathe, to peel away the layers of my mind, and to find peace within.

Guest Blog: Atolla Skin Stories

Thank you to Atolla’s team for trusting my words and giving me a new platform to share my writing talents.

This is the first in a series of skin stories written by Atolla users about their relationship with their skin. Stephen, a cyclist and yogi, shares his journey of learning more about his skin with Atolla.

In Stephen’s words:

On the cusp of understanding my skin sequence with the help of Atolla, I find it helpful to digest and process my skin story. It’s my skin, the literal face that I present to the world, and no doubt, the world around me signals that I belong when my skin is clear, smooth, evenly colored… no blemishes, no bumps, no discoloration or patchiness. Since my early teenage years, I’ve struggled with a variety of skin experiences. 

Decades later, I remember my best friend’s mother handing me a washcloth on a teenage sleepover, and hearing for the first time that I should wash my face every night, then feeling a burning sensation and thinking that, maybe, the washcloth was too abrasive for my sensitive skin. Decades later, I remember sitting in a doctor’s office with my mom and being prescribed steroids for folliculitis, when the follicles on my upper leg hairs spontaneously inflamed. I fearfully thought I had a “freak” second episode of chicken pox. I remember asking the same doctor for help managing acne, and subsequently taking a low dosage antibiotic and topical until the zits and blackheads subsided. I felt guilty when the towels discolored and wondered why I needed multiple prescription medications for my skin to be “normal.” I remember seeing my near-retirement father manage minor breakouts and wondering if that would be me in thirty or forty years. In more recent years, I remember finally establishing a strong relationship with a dermatologist, who truly took the time to understand my needs and my lifestyle. He helped me understand that, yes, my bike helmet’s foam comfort band was potentially holding bacteria from my sweat. He helped me understand that I’d be best to look for non-comedogenic sunscreen and products best for sensitive skin. Sensitive? Was that my skin type…? 

I felt guilty when the towels discolored and wondered why I needed multiple prescription medications for my skin to be “normal.” 

I remember taking a friend to a boutique skincare store and both of us being confused, not having the vocabulary to answer “how would you describe your skin?” I mean, how would I describe my skin if I had no education in skin…? How would I describe the texture of my living room walls or the shape of the clouds in the sky? I felt ill-equipped to answer this. Skin talk isn’t small talk.

And then I remember, after hearing about Atolla, understanding that oil and moisture were two separate concepts. When I took the Skin Health Test, I skeptically realized that my skin’s pH would matter; until now, pH was grade school light-the-bulb-with-produce science, not part of my morning routine. And did I want a water- or oil-based serum? What’s a serum? Something I should do between cleansing and moisturizing? As far as I knew, it was cleanse then apply toner, which subdued my acne but left my skin feeling dry and warm…

The most confidence-inducing realization was that Atolla could help me manage all this learning, from the comfort of my home, without me needing to book follow-up appointments and go to multiple skincare aisles to read products that I didn’t understand the ingredients. Being mobile – traveling regularly, living with small bathroom spaces, sometimes showering at gyms or away from home – also means that I don’t want to carry five bottles of soaps, lotions, oils, and emergency topicals. I wanted simplicity and confidence, and Atolla keeps delivering. 

In the past few months, I’ve reduced my facial skincare to basic cleanser, serum, and moisturizer. I no longer have the curiosity to explore other products in the dense and overwhelming skincare aisles. I don’t need to ask another shopping center kiosk full of plastic bottles, testers, and airplants “what do you think maybe might be good for my skin?” and “why would that product be good for me to try?”. I won’t take home a 2-3 day trial sample, begrudgingly knowing that skin is environmental and can take weeks to adapt… 

The most confidence-inducing realization was that Atolla could help me manage all this learning, from the comfort of my home, without me needing to book follow-up appointments and go to multiple skincare aisles to read products that I didn’t understand the ingredients. 

Now I know my skin type:

I started at B-5443, moved to B-5553, and my latest test shows B-5653. This means breakouts are my primary concern; my skin’s oil stays in the upper-range of healthy; my hydration has increased toward healthy over the past four months; I’ve stabilized my pH level at 5; and I continue to sometimes sunburn, and slowly tan.

Now I know that skin can take several months to acclimate to new products. Now I don’t worry about buying extra products that I might not use completely and don’t know where to dispose responsibly. Now I trust that my skin can stay healthy and look young, without believing my face might fit the pre-pubescent stereotype at any moment. Now I have one consistent routine with a small set of products. Now I have the support of Atolla’s team whenever I am ready to update my skin test or have questions about my results. 

Now I want you to try a free month of Atolla, tell your skin story, and refer your friends.

Starting Over

Failure is the inadmissible normality of the western economy, an unattractive result within societies that constantly seek “up and to the right” improvements, the avoid-at-all-costs stepping stone to crossing the stream of success which necessarily feeds the achievers’ egos. Failure is also the critical and inevitable element of problem solving. What would a jigsaw puzzle be if not for its cracks and crevices? What would make a door or window, if not the opening? What would be a tree if it didn’t shed its leaves to sleep and prepare for regrowth? All solutions with cracks as part of their naturally-accepted design. Perhaps the fault of my human world is failing to recognize the necessity of breaking, braking, and taking a break.

I ended my final bachelors degree memo with the sensation that I failed to fail. I hacked the secondary and post-secondary education systems with flourishing grades, maintaining interest in most subjects, understanding the testing methodology, and unequivocally learning to learn. I did well in school, but I was also good at school. (There’s a difference in grammar and in meaning.) I knew that some classmates did not enjoy the same privilege and luck of my psyche, but in the classic fashion of achievers, I rode my own success without coattails, without empathy, and without concern for lifting those around me. Not only did I fail to fail, I failed to help those who failed, leaving them to fend for their own fortitude.

Eventually, after six years of full-time work and not enough respect for non-working hours, I broke. I found the frayed and scathed fringe of burnout, a notion that I previously degraded to conceptual publications. Come to find out: while some burn strong and long, every fire dies. Even an eternal flame starts somewhere, takes new fuel, and is not the same blaze from start to is eventual finish. There’s always the possibility to rekindle old flames. And – via my ever-acquainted soul-mama – I’m learning that it is only through the darkness that we can begin to see the light.

One of the beautiful aspects of taking a break is that the journey transforms. Each heartbeat pumps different cells: some young, some dying, and with every single beat comes a new heart. There’s fault, too, in the story of Hallmark greeting cards that champion every sunrise offering a fresh canvas; truthfully, we can start anew at any moment we choose.

Truthfully, I don’t know where I am in the spectrum of rebuilding and rebuilt. Am I renewed or renewing? I’m content with what I’ve built, but I can’t predict what the future will need nor offer. I softly finished my sabbatical in the fall, found several clients to consult part-time, and took the coincidence of the holidays to invest my time for my family. I felt really good about taking this time.

Meanwhile, I had the good fortune of meeting someone who catalyzed me to re-think leaving Berlin. In the midst of telling my handful of close friends that I would be moving on and starting over, I second-guessed why I would leave them behind. Why uproot myself? There was no good reason. What if neither a place nor its people would define my happiness, and what if I let my blood type, my attitude flow with – and not toward – the greatness I desired?

I started to think of today’s return to Berlin as v2, trying again, another chance with a refreshed attitude and more clear understanding of what I’m walking into. For a few weeks, I’ve intentionally left open a tab on my browser; Brad Feld’s blog reminded me to Simply Begin Again, a concept also familiar from a guided meditation that I – and Brad – discovered this fall. Probably there are scenarios in life where it’s too late to start over, but this isn’t one of them. I’ve passed through one valley, and I’m back on the trail, hiking familiar terrain with fresh feet, clean socks, and a different vision for what benches to rest on in the forthcoming moments.