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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Did I fall off the sustainability wagon?

 
Three years ago I realized I needed to spend some time focused on my health and well-being. I declared that I would spend a “Year about me.” That turned into Year Two, and then ultimately three total years “about me.” Yes, it took a little longer than I expected.

A brief look back

For those new to this blog, the brief backstory is this: in 2007, my husband and I left Los Angeles (my home of 10 years) and moved to the outskirts of a town of 1,600 people in Northern California wine country. For a year, we essentially lived off the land.

We turned a barren, over-tilled backyard into a 2000 square foot garden. Every day we had fresh food from the garden, fresh bread from our own starter, fresh cheese we made from local cows milk, and fresh wine from a local organic vineyard.

We also worked to reduce our carbon footprint to just 10% of the American average.

And I blogged about it all.

It was beautiful.

But the recession hit, our rescued cat almost died from pesticides (a canary in a coal mine), I couldn’t find a local job, and we depleted our savings.

We tried back to the land, but it wasn’t right for us, at least not at that time in our lives.

So we moved back to Seattle, my original home, to live sustainably in an urban center. We became involved in our local community, we gardened in a community garden plot, we walked or took the bus everywhere, we made new lifestyle changes.

I started a business that was going to change the world. Matt started a new career path.

And shortly after we moved, the meaning of sustainability changed for me. I realized I was working so hard to “save the planet”, that my body and mind were suffering – for the long, hard work weeks of a startup, plus blogging every day, plus all the volunteer work I was doing.

Thus the year about me began.

Where I am now

Over the last few years, I’ve hinted at some changes. We went on a juice cleanse. And another. I started meditating and doing yoga, and having regular medical massage sessions. I stopped eating gluten.

Daily pains I thought were a way of life are now gone. I lost 10 lbs. and 4 pant sizes (from inflammation loss). I’m doing really great work that I love.

The positive changes

  1. Reduced medications. A reduction my meds means less medications being produced for me, less medications ending up in the waste stream, and probably increased longevity.
  2. Reduced driving. I drive maybe once a week, for an average of 5 miles or so.
  3. I shop locally. More often than I did before. Last year I didn’t make all my Christmas presents, but I did buy them all within a 5 mile radius.
  4. Reduced home/work carbon footprint. I worked within walking distance, and now I work from home. In an apartment. Where our footprint is lower than a house.
  5. Fewer medical visits. My primary doctor is a naturopath, who looks at my body holistically. Often what the American medical system thinks is a big deal, for a naturopath it’s about rebalancing your body (more on that later).
  6. Community impact. I’m now on the boards of two non-profit organizations. One is our local community gardening trust, which I’m leading into a new era of supporting gardens and urban farms throughout the northwest (not just in our own city).
  7. I’m truly amplifying my impact through my work. I am empowering some great organizations and businesses to do more of their work, better.

The less “good”

  1. I travel a lot for work. I recently started offsetting my carbon. And I do a lot of work remotely with great online tools. And I travel with a reusable coffee cup, water bottle and bag. But I still travel.
  2. I don’t worry as much about my waste. We eat packaged food quite a bit. Still organic, often local, almost always recycled but nonetheless packaged. I just don’t have time with work and the other things I’m doing.
  3. I’m not writing as much, which means I’m not amplifying my impact in that way so much. Working on that now!
  4. I buy new clothes. Until recently (after the Bangladesh disasters), I hadn’t looked too much at the supply chains of the clothing I bought. Now I do… some. That’s one to work on together.
  5. I’m not gardening as much. I still have my garden but I’m not an ideal gardener. My garden has weeds, I don’t nurture it the way a good gardener would.
  6. I went back to some products. I still make my own deodorant. A little different from that recipe – I’ll have to post it. But I use packaged shampoo (SLS-free), soap, other cleaning products (natural, organic, local when possible).
  7. I buy from Amazon. It’s technically local – I can see the Amazon HQ from my living room – but it’s hardly really supporting my local economy. I can do better.

So, did I fall off the wagon?

I’m not sure if I’m less or more sustainable than I was 3 years ago. Less in some ways, more in others. I do, however, know that I’m happier and healthier than I’ve been in a very long time.

And that personal sustainability means I’m more productive in the socially and environmentally good work I do in my day job, and I spread that positivity into the world as I go about my life.

There is always room for improvement. I could use a little help from you all to keep me on track for those improvements. So here we are.

Let’s get back on the path to sustainability together. I missed you all!

A Year About Me: Year Two

I’ve spent a lifetime of working to help others and save the world, often to the detriment of my own health and well-being. So in retrospect, I can’t believe I thought I’d be able to dedicate one full year to myself… and then feel completed.

It seems that this will be year two of the “year about me”!

To be clear, I don’t want to change my dedication to helping others and making a large impact. In fact, if there is one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that taking care of myself makes my work with and for others MORE effective.

2011 The Year About Me: Nurturing and healing my body

I made vast improvements to my health, the result of which is that I am only taking one asthma medication (from a high of seven medications at one point), I am gluten free, I have significantly decreased my waist size, I have fewer migraine headaches, I am regularly exercising and doing breathing exercises (pranayama) to increase lung capacity and decrease stress. I’m also finally learning how to relax. These are among many other improvements.

This quest for bodily awareness, nurturing, and healing is of course not over – but several things are put into motion so that I can focus on the next layer of my own well-being.

2012 The Year About Me: Nurturing and opening my mind

Compasssion

In the beginning of this year, I picked an outgoing word and an incoming word that help describe my vision for 2012. The outgoing word: judgment. The incoming word: compassion. Out with judgment, in with compassion.

As I began thinking and reading more about compassion, I quickly realized that compassion has a solid root and foundation in self-compassion. Without self-compassion, compassion for others falls flat. Without self-empathy, I don’t believe you can feel deep empathy for another being. (There are likely many layers to this equation – for instance, self-knowledge is a large part of self-empathy…. and so on.)

Early Results

Already I’ve noticed that in devoting time to nurturing my mind – namely with meditation and “breath walking” – I have been able to work more efficiently, and I have been able to see the bigger (strategic) picture of my work more readily. I’ve become a better interviewer when I’m creating documentary films. I’ve become a better strategic thinker when I’m working with my startup clients. I’ve become more creatively inspired when working on graphic design or brand storytelling. And I’ve even become a more pleasant person in basic interactions with strangers – like at the grocery store, at a networking event or just walking down the street.

They are little changes: it’s not like I’ve become fundamentally different person! But many things that I do take a little bit less effort to accomplish, and I feel like I’m accomplishing them just a little bit better than I was even a few months ago.

By nurturing my mind, I believe I’m becoming more effective at nurturing the world. This is similar to last year: by nurturing my body, I found I was less focused on pain, pharmaceuticals and just getting through the day.

And the most amazing thing is that my pain has improved even more as I nurture my mind. Half of meditation for me at the moment is exploring the many layers of bodily relaxation. (The other half is exploring mind relaxation.) As a result, there have been a few moments when I’ve realized that I am feeling no pain at all – anywhere in my body. It’s incredible, almost surreal.

How does this impact One Green Generation?

I don’t know what this year has in store, but I will share it with you! One of the ways I’ve found throughout the years to nurture and open my mind, is to write. I am a writer, and the times in my life when I have regularly fed my writing instincts are the times when I have transformed most.

Thank you for your encouragement!

I still receive regular emails asking me questions, thanking me for writing, and hoping I’ll return soon. Without my writing much lately, each day there are still about 2,500-3,000 of you who visit to look through the archives! So this is a community I hope to more actively nurture again.  It would be amazing if we could help one another more along our sustainable journeys.

It will be a process getting back to it: letting myself have the time for writing regularly again. But I believe it will happen. Feel free to prod me via email or comments if you see I’m absent for a while here. :)

And thank you all for your continued emails and comments. They mean a great deal, and I’m glad to have helped some of you along your own journeys.

And how are you?

How is your year going? How are you progressing with your hopes and dreams for the year, and for your life? Are you on a path that nurtures you?

All those of you who have done some of this self-exploration and self-nurturing, please recommend any resources that have helped you! I may benefit from your recommendations, as may other readers here.

Leaving Judgement Behind

I was at a beautiful vineyard hotel overlooking the Columbia River Gorge for a weekend retreat.  There, midway through a hot stone massage session, I found myself thinking, “boy, she’s not the greatest massage therapist.” And internally I gasped.

Here I am splurging for myself on my 40th birthday, so that I can get some much needed R&R… and I’m not even letting myself enjoy it.  I’m judging it.  I’m wondering if I should have picked a different massage. I’m thinking over and over about my disappointment in myself, the massage therapist, and the situation.

And then I looked around. The place was beautiful, candles were lit all around me, there was a faint scent of clay and aroma therapy oils.  I was about to have an amazing dinner with an amazing husband in a beautiful little winery with a fabulous view.

I’ve worked very hard over the last 3 years just to make ends meet.  Finally my hard work was beginning to pay off – socially, enivornmentally and economically.  At long last I was able to reward myself and recharge.

And, well it’s high time to reward myself and recharge!

So I stopped my thoughts and repeated a few times in my head, “Just be… without judgement.”  After which I proceeded to just be, where I was right then, receiving a pretty good massage from a very nice woman.

And I relaxed.  I enjoyed the moment for the good things it had to offer.   I accepted the massage she was offering me and allowed it to heal me in whatever way it could.

Leaving Judgement Behind

When I was in the Arizona desert this winter, I found myself standing between a horse and a world reknowned psychotherapist.  I was judging this man’s cowboy boots and hat, his aloof mannner, his psychotherapy jargon, his way of trying to get under my skin.  And then I realized he had – he was under my skin, digging up details I needed to surface, uncovering things about myself that I needed to face. He was, in fact, quite brilliant.

I falsely judged a good man. The guilt I felt afterwards was shocking.

An hour later I walked a labyrinth as a meditation practice. This particular practice involved picking a rock from outside the labyrinth, mentally attaching to it something you were ready to leave behind, walking the labyrinth in meditation, leaving that rock in center, and mentally bringing something out in its place.

It’s a very simple but very powerful practice.  I didn’t know what I wanted to take back in its place, but I knew I wanted to leave judgement behind.   As I meditated around the labyrinth, it came to me so very clearly: I wanted to replace judgement with compassion.

Compassion

Judgement’s counterpart for me is compassion.  In the case above, this means compassion for the cowboy therapist who was trying desperately to relate to me – a city girl with a chip on her shoulder – so that he could help me, and do his job well.

And compassion for myself.  Self-compassion.  Because I could really use this man’s help to get to the next stage in my own awareness and happiness.  Because as much as I devote my life and work to helping others, I need to make sure I’m healthy as well – I need to nourish myself so that I can nourish others.

Presence

It isn’t easy to give up judgement.  I can probably never completely get rid of it, nor would I want to.  But I can get much closer, I can be much healthier in my relationship with people and with the present moment.

And it takes time because you have to retrain yourself.

I read recently that you judge yourself the way you were judged by others when you were young.  It’s just how you learn.

So maybe you were never quite good enough, never made the right decisions, were always in danger of getting fat… Maybe this will help you as it has helped me:  think for a moment about how you were judged when growing up, ask yourself whether or not it might still be the way you judge yourself today.

I believe we also develop early habits of judging others as well, and they’re often very similar to how we judge ourselves.  That other person isn’t good enough at what they do, they don’t make the right decisions, they are in danger of getting fat,… whatever it is for you, see if you judge others that way also.

I’ve found that the key to beginning to change is to be present in the moment, so that I can observe my thoughts and actions – plus learn and grow from what is happening now.  This requires presence without judgement, of course (you can’t fight judgment with judgement!) – and presence with compassion.

My personal mantra has changed for me a bit since my 40th birthday.  It is now, proudly:

Just be present… with compassion. 

My 28-Day Mind and Body Detox

Happy New Year!!

Matt and I are beginning a 28-day cleanse today that will last through the month of January 2012. Some of you followed our cleanse last year.  This year will be similar, but I will also be focusing on a more spiritual detox in additional to the physical one.

Physical Body Detox

We’ll be using the Clean method to create our daily menus, supplements and physical activity.  We’ve looked at a few others, but found that this one works best for us.

If you’re thinking about a cleanse or detox, my advice is to peruse a few different options and then settle on one.  Make sure it is something you can follow through on, and one that is healthy.

But otherwise, don’t think too much about it – just do it.  You can always modify slightly along the way to better fit your needs, goals and lifestyle.  And no matter what cleanse you do, you’re going to be more detoxed at the end than you were at the beginning!

At the least, a physical cleanse focuses on what you put in your body in order to allow your body to better detoxify.  In addition, may focus on supplements, physical activity, sweating, hot-cold baths, skin brushing and more.  Try as much as feels comfortable, and add on as you go if you start feeling more comfortable.

If you’re interested in how we did the Clean cleanse last year, follow my nearly daily posts beginning here.  If you want to try a few other books, you might check out:

It’s your body, your program.  Do what feels good to you.

Mental and Spiritual Detox

In addition to the physical body detox, I’ll be working on a mental and spiritual detox this year.  What does that mean? Well, honestly I’m going to find out as I go!  Based on my 2012 goals, here’s where I’m starting…

Classes

I’m going to begin by taking a few classes at local yoga studios:

  • A weekend intensive Intro to Pranayama Series
  • A weekly Pranayama Series
  • An Introduction to Meditation Series
  • A Sangha Meditation Series

In addition, I will probably drop in on a few yoga nidra classes, as well as warm yoga classes.

Walking Meditation

As you probably know, I walk to work every day – about 3 miles of walking in total.  When I was at Miraval in December, I took a class on breath walking.  I won’t say it’s as powerful as guided sitting or laying meditation, but it is certainly helpful to slow my blood pressure and clear my mind!

So I’ll be doing that regularly, either to or from work – or both.

Reading

I’m currently reading Wherever You Go, There You Are.  I believe a couple of you recommended it to me a year ago, and it has come up since then several times.  So finally I’m taking the hint!  :)

I’m also thinking about reading Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.  I’ve heard good things about the author and it looks right in line with my cleanse.

Writing

As you saw in my Plans for 2012, my goal is to write regularly again.  I had a breakthrough yesterday that writing, cleansing and positive personal change go hand-in-hand!  So now I have a bigger reason to write.

So my goal is to work up to daily writing again.  That could mean a blog post here, a blog post at my professional blog, a journal entry, or just jotting down some profound thoughts on a napkin.

What Do You Think?

Anyone have ideas for good books/activities I should try?

Or… Have you done this before? Do you think I’m nuts?

What Are Your Plans For 2012?

I had a transformative vacation the week before Christmas.  I left Seattle thinking I was headed to a sunny resort for a little R&R, and I returned a week later quite changed.  Wonderfully changed.

Matt and I went to Miraval.  I’d never been to a resort before – never felt I could or should.  But this one was different.  The tag line is “you won’t find you anywhere else.”  I admittedly scoffed at it when I first heard it.  But I did begin to find me there.

I spent a week being me, investigating me, and nurturing me.  I cleaned the feet of horses, meditated using many different methods, faced some of my fears, allowed my emotions to be raw and exposed….

I also did Chi Gong, Reiki, Thai massage, Shiatsu, Ayurvedic therapy, psychotherapy integrating a horse (!), Gin Shou Tui Na (incorporating cranial sacral massage with a Chinese balancing massage), a full Chi journey, and Chi Nei Tsang (an abdominal “massage”).

I couldn’t begin to tell you the details all in one post (I may go through some of those experiences in other posts if you’re interested), but suffice it to say that I am renewed, reinvigorated, and rebalanced – taking life a little differently, a little more thoughtfully, and with greater awareness and presence.

For this reason, I wanted to lay out my New Year Goals before the 1st, so that I can enter 2012 with full intentions.

My 2012 Personal Goals

  1. Increase My Energy Levels with:
    • exercise
    • nutrition
    • meditation & self-compassion
    • balance & alignment
  2.  Increase My Strength:
    • physically
    • mentally
    • emotionally
  3. Increase My Self Knowledge by finding comfort, forgiveness and hope in:
    • the past
    • the present
    • the future

My 2012 Professional Goals

  1. Create a Five-Year Plan.
  2. Aggregate all I know and do into a System that can be replicated.
  3. Grow my business by 20%, following a specific Growth Plan.

My 2012 Citizen Goals

  1. Have a book outline complete by the end of the year.
  2. Become a regular writer.
  3. Work diligently in the garden:
    • as a neighborhood citizen.
    • as an educator and inspirer.
    • as a healthy human being.

My 2012 Guiding Principles

  1. Compassion - for myself and others – without judgement.
  2. Continuous presence - being, growing, and learning from each present moment.
  3. Self-healing – allowing myself those important moments to grow, love and recharge.

What I’m Striving Toward for the Long-Term

  1. Solid personal direction, compassion and resilience.
  2. Forgiveness for what doesn’t matter, empathy and strength for what does, and shining hope for what will become.
  3. Professionally, my every moment has importance and leads toward positive global impact.

I look forward to 2012 with open arms.  I think it’s going to be a good year!

How about you?

What are your goals, big or small?

Will you make yourself a list of goals or a Wellness Plan this year?  You’re welcome to use the outline I’ve created to begin!

On the eve of my 40th birthday


I remember when my mother turned forty. Back then, in the 80s, they called it “over the hill” and had black-themed party decorations and cards about how close to dead you already were.

When my mom turned 40 I was a teenager. I can’t even imagine what that would be like, to have a teenage daughter right now. She had also owned 3 houses by the time she turned 40. First she had a career as a teacher, and then she became a full-time mom. My dad had had the same job for close to 20 years. They were settled.

I live in an apartment – one in a series of rentals throughout the US over the last 20 years. I’ve been married for just 5 years, my husband is in school. I’ve got 3 degrees (nearly 4), I’ve worked in several industries and am making my way in a new one.

A client asked me the other day how long I’ve had my own company. I had to stop and think. “I’ve never done anything else,” I said. And he replied, “Wow, I’ve never met a serial entrepreneur before!”

I’ve never thought of myself as that. It’s just what I do. The epitome of what I do is unsettled. And impermanent.

This year my grandfather turned 100, and he too has been doing quite a bit of reflecting. I think there are points in our lives that society tells us are milestones. For me it was 14, 25 and 40. So far.

“I’m gonna be forty!” Meg Ryan. “When?” Billy Crystal. “Someday!” Meg Ryan. When I was young I watched that scene in “When Harry Met Sally” and thought 40 was such a distant future.

Why 40? I think it’s because when you’re younger you see 40 year olds as true adults. Old adults. People middle-aged, heading for retirement. People who have figured out where they’re headed in life and they’re on their way there.

So it’s only natural when you get to that age finally, to ask yourself “am I headed there?” If you then ask yourself “where?” it seems like maybe you have a problem. I don’t know where I’m headed. Am I headed in the right direction? I think so. I never dreamed it would be such a circuitous route though!

I’ve done a lot. I have worked with children in multiple capacities and ages (art camps, soccer refereeing, drug and alcohol recovery, day camps, housing projects). I’ve worked myself up in the film industry – first as a set decorator and art director and then as a documentary filmmaker. I’ve created multiple behavior change campaigns – for asthma, microfinance, sustainability, civic engagement and exercise. I’ve been founding member of a startup. And failed. And have done it again. I’ve helped multiple corporations and governments to plan and innovate over the next 10 years. And I’ve helped several successful startups get off the ground.

Oh, and I’ve written a blog. For 3 years. And as I hear from readers, it sounds like I’ve made a true impact here. (Thank you, for all of you, who have told me this – it means a great deal and keeps me writing!)

So here’s the whammy: I feel I’ve only just begun. I have a lot of life left to live, a lot to do with all the knowledge and skills I’ve picked up over the years.

And I haven’t accomplished what I wanted to yet. Not by a long shot. I want to create substantial positive change in the world. It’s what I set out to do back around the time my mom turned 40.

I don’t know how to get there. I don’t feel like I’m middle-aged, certainly not close to heading for retirement. I wonder how a teenager would view me now.

Is it all in the perception, or is the world different now?

A Year About Me - Month 10

Hello!  Long time no see – I’ve missed you all.  I apologize for my lengthy absence!  I have been working on me, as I promised you at the beginning of the year.

I realized almost a year ago that I needed to rethink how I was treating My soul, My lungs, My body, My relationship, and My mind.  I wasn’t nurturing myself and I was taking my self for granted.  As a result, I wasn’t very healthy.

Re-Visiting My Wellness Plan

In January, here’s what I said:  By the End of the Year I Hope To…

Lift my arms over my head!  How am I doing?  Well, at the beginning of the year, I couldn’t get much past lifting my arms to straight in front of me.  So sad!  And now I have just a few degrees to go before I can lift them all the way over my head.  That’s due to stretching, yoga, and an amazing massage therapist who has helped cut through years of scar tissue in my frozen shoulders.

Learn to live happily gluten-free.  I’m still gluten-free and getting used to asking about ingredients in stores and restaurants. I’ve even started becoming dairy free this month. My body LOVES it.  I was a size 8 in January.  Now I’m a size 2.  I actually haven’t lost a lot of weight, most of it has been inflammation.

Figure out my next career step.  I’m getting a whole lot closer.  I now have several clients who are all doing amazing work – it’s extremely gratifying to help them do their work better, and I’m feeling increasingly empowered and effective as a consultant.  You can see what I’m doing here.  Every week my feet are more firmly planted in the consulting and storytelling world, and my stress level decreases.

Reduce my medications for asthma to just the rescue inhaler.  I have reduced my asthma meds over the years from seven down to just one now, aside from the rescue inhaler.  I got rid of 2 of them just this year.  I think it’s going to take a little longer than I expected, but I have confidence that I’ll be able to get rid of that one too in 2012.

Exercise regularly.  I walk to work every day – that’s about 2 miles a day.  I was doing yoga about 4-5 days/week until I injured myself.  Since then I’ve been working back up to yoga by doing a few gentle or Yin classes, plus stretching and exercises.  I am going to take a few private classes so I can learn to modify my practice to take better care of my body.  So I still hope by the end of the year I’ll be back to doing yoga regularly.

Increase my number of social interactions.  I have done this.  Some.  Though I get busy.  And lazy.  Still.  I am saying “yes” more!

Decrease my number of negative thoughts, words, and actions.  I could work on this for the rest of my life, for sure.  I am a little better than at the beginning of the  year, but this is one that needs revisiting and recommitting.

Have a healthy garden we regularly eat from.  Since we moved closer to our p-patch, I have done a much better job of keeping it up.  The neck and arm pain has kept me from being the star gardener this year, but I am excited for the spring.  I think it’s going to be a good garden season.  And we have winter crops growing now, too.

Write more, and write about the things I want to write about.  Harumph.  As you can see, I have neglected my writing.  The arm and neck injuries again have been a big culprit.  But I have confidence it will be coming back over the next couple of months as the pain subsides and strength reforms.

Spend more time outside of work with my family.  Yes – I’ve done this!!  Hooray!  It has been incredibly enjoyable.  And one thing I didn’t have on my wellness plan but is becoming increasingly clear is the importance of spending time with myself outside of work.  I’ve learned to do that quite a bit more as well.

Become more in touch with my physical and mental wants and needs.  Yes, so this is an essential component of healing.  Every time I make progress in this arena, I find there is a new level of growing and learning.  It is fascinating and very rewarding.

Part of this is understanding that when I have neck pain, it’s not just about the neck, for example.  It is about the need for a new glasses prescription (I was leaning my neck to be able to see), long-term shoulder problems (not allowing my neck to heal), stress (tensing up without even knowing it), working too long of hours (putting added strain on my body), and more.

Reduce and maintain a lower weight that feels good.  I could lose a couple more pounds to feel really good, but I’m pretty darn close.  I’m much happier with my body today than I was a year ago.  Though to the point above, it’s not just about the weight, it’s about the diet, the inflammation, the exercise, and the mental wellbeing.

 

How About You?

How have you done with the promises you’ve made to yourself this year?  Have you stuck with them?