Final crisp air of the last days of winter fragile, foolish hopes glisten with the frost my life is cracking open to reveal a new season finding shelter from sunlight in the cool moss It's hard to keep turning pages when the book seems halfway finished making paper cranes with yellowed edges translating words that weren't written in english Skittish tip-toe steps towards the sunrise unsure sounds of someone else, footsteps at my side breathe me in deeply with the humid air of summer protective ribcage sanctuary, by your heart I will reside
Overwhelmed by Imagination
Mental illness is a side-effect of great intelligence the convoluted, crippling creativity of an aimless mind consumed by endless possibilities others cannot conceive a life held suspended in anticipatory anxiety A feedback loop that becomes incapacitating a simple fear can become compounded tenfold fearing the fear, fearing the fear of the fear, and so forth spiraling into a paralysis of infinite indecision Stuck in the self-deception of finding a solution trying to think your way out of overthinking is absurd salvation lies in the surrender to sensation instead forsaking the mental landscape for the physical body What does this fear feel like? Where is it held inside? a jittering energy of dis-ease beneath my chest the dizziness that sets in from a blood pressure spike an unsettling static nestled deep in my stomach The fever of neurosis is broken by awareness how strange it seems to have survived the sensation I've been running from all of my life the cure of quiet curiosity Being present in the storm as it passes acknowledging the connection between frightening delusions and flowering imagination the balance between benefit and burden Learning to embrace the full scope of being this incredible entity with boundless potential finally finding gratitude within the fear I carry my best qualities sprout from that same seed
Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst
Meditating in my office a week or so ago, suddenly my heart leapt out of my chest at the sound of an airhorn. My friend was in one of his more incorrigible moods and decided to play around with our new coworker. I, of course, was not amused. However, afterwards, I did find a lot of things to be grateful for about that irritating experience. Firstly, there were many lessons to be learned through my reaction and subsequent internal dialogue. Because I was in the process of meditating, I was in an especially good position to be able to observe these thoughts and reactions.
The first thing I noticed was my unwillingness to let my anger and annoyance subside. I kept replaying all the reasons why that was so rude and aggravating, instead of just being in the current, once again peaceful, moment. The other thing I noticed was the tension I continued to hold within my body. It was as if I was trying to brace myself for yet another piercing sound to impinge upon my quietude. This I found particularly interesting to witness. What good was this state of tension and anticipation doing me? How was it serving me?
It wasn’t serving me at all, actually. I’ve often heard and believed in the idea that anxiously anticipating suffering in the future does not lessen that future suffering, it merely brings it into the present as well. But for some reason, this incident made a particularly strong impression on me as a metaphor to emphasize that truth. I think despite ourselves, a lot of us still fret about possible displeasure in our futures in an effort to somehow prevent it from happening. Yet a lot of the most painful things that happen in life are not things that we can plan for or prevent. It may behoove you to feel stress about losing your job, if you’re not performing your responsibilities. That may be something you can take actionable steps to prevent. However, I think more often we worry about things like death, aging, accidents, or other such sudden and inevitable things.
One of the most striking parts of my air horn meditation was the realization that no matter how tense or focused I was on being ready for another sudden sound, I would undoubtedly still jump and be surprised if and when it occurred. It would still be jarring and angering, despite having expected it. Although some part of me felt like I needed to be prepared, I knew logically that I simply couldn’t be. In these situations it is best for us to just accept that we may or may not encounter this experience, then let it go and return to the present moment. What good does it do us to discard the peace of the present in order to make futile efforts to deflect the effects of something in the future?
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst” is a turn of phrase that at first seems like sage advice. And as I said, in specific situations, it is. The tricky part is determining when there is a benefit in this strategy and when there’s not. I think the only way to determine this is to ask yourself: what practical steps can I take right now to mitigate this future event? In my scenario, there was obviously nothing I could do. I suppose I could have paused my meditation and kindly asked that he be silent for the next few minutes. But I don’t think that would have necessarily brought me any peace of mind, because knowing what a goof this man is, I wouldn’t have been confident he would respect my request.
So say you’ve determined that there is nothing you can do to prevent this future suffering. What now? Logic doesn’t seem to have the ability to diffuse emotion or the response of our physical bodies. What we can do is make an attempt to refocus our minds, despite our anxiety, on what is happening in the current moment. We can work to remind our bodies and minds that despite what may happen, right now we are safe and content. This is the perfect time to practice grounding exercises that can bring us back to the here and now. Pay attention to the sensations of your physical body. Notice any tension that you are holding in preparation for your fears. See if you can release that tension and instead center your mind on your breath, or perhaps the weight of your body on the earth and the points of connection to the ground below you.
This is definitely a practice and something that I still need a lot of work on myself. However, with this in mind, I think it’s a great place to start to view these minor incidents as excellent opportunities to do so. That’s one of the beautiful things that my yoga and meditation practice have given me. Now I am able to view even distasteful or outright painful experiences as gifts and opportunities for growth. Rather than focusing on my own pain and suffering and feeling like a victim in life, I can ask myself, what can I learn from this? What is this experience teaching me about myself? How can I use this misfortune to improve myself and my life in the future? It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it.
Setting Aside Time to Savor
Since the beginning of December, I have been slowing chipping away at cleaning and organizing that needed done around my home. I made a long list and spaced each task out so that I would only have one reasonable thing to do each day instead of trying to do too much and getting overwhelmed like I usually do. I had my doubts that I would actually follow through with any of it though.
After over a month and a half of diligent efforts, I am happy to say that I completed everything on my list as of yesterday! My last task was one I was dreading having to do. I needed to paint over this atrocious wallpaper my grandmother had up around the ceiling border in the kitchen. I knew it would probably be a huge mess and take a long time. Not to mention I had no idea if the results would even be worth it. But knowing it was my final task, I went about it with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
It actually didn’t end up taking as long as I’d thought. And it’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do for a room. Now I am even more determined to convince my father to let me paint the wood paneling around the house white as well. But I digress. The point is, I only spent a few seconds admiring my work before my mind was already racing off to what else there was left to do.
I never seem to allow myself any time to just enjoy what I’ve accomplished. I am always looking towards the future. And that can be exciting, but ultimately when that anticipated future arrives, I only acknowledge it briefly before looking forward to something else. I’ve never been able to truly savor what I have or where I am in the moment.
I’m kind of at a loss when it comes to what to do about this. I have gotten so used to most of my pleasure coming from the excitement of expecting things in the future. When I can’t think of anything I have to look forward to, that’s when I really get anxious and depressed. Even though at any given moment, there is so much all around me that I could be happy about and be enjoying.
Even within the span of a single day, I am always thinking a few steps ahead of myself. I look forward to my coffee, then slurp it down mindlessly. I look forward to my daily drawing, then get anxious when I pick up the pen. I look forward to dinner, then inhale it in only a few minutes while distracting myself with Netflix. No wonder I am always so anxious. I have been living in the future for so long.
I am present and peaceful when I meditate and do my yoga everyday, but that is only a small fragment of my life. I want to allow that presence to slowly bleed out into the rest of my life as well. I want to allow myself time to be proud of my accomplishments and savor my hard work. I want to enjoy where I am right now. Because, all things considered, it is a pretty wonderful place to be.