This ever-present emptiness aches as it echoes quick, shallow breaths catch on inner absence Wanting to wrap the words of others around my wounds in place of proper dressing no sentiments offered are ever satisfactory to sterilize this self-induced infection The inflamed ego agony of not enough cannot be extinguished by anyone else decades dedicated to feeding the flames leaves little room for course correction A wall of fire rising so high sometimes it feels like all that is left is to be asphyxiated by the smoke and silently submit to the blaze
I truly believe I can choose to be happy my younger self was always so there was innocence and joy in each breath I loved everyone and the world at once my heart was full of gratitude But somewhere along the way my soul got bogged down with disillusion bitterness encroached upon my heart like blight creeping through late fall crops all of life turned sour for awhile Now I struggle with these separate shades of self I know deep down that pure love and light remain still it feels like a denial to turn toward it and away from who I've known myself to be as I've grown into the person I am today This anger and violence I've harbored for so long grip me so much tighter than childhood pleasures to let it go feels like a refusal to acknowledge my own pain to surrender to a delusion that it never existed to favor a false sense of all pervading peace My precious passion has turned to poison through years of focusing on the wrong things an all-mighty wave of indignation rises up to consume the small voice inside that pleads for the path towards gentle gratitude and humble happiness Can I really learn to reconcile these two opposing forces? Can the soft thread of unconditional love truly overcome the violent force of white knuckled hatred? I'm afraid of who I will become if I am unable to turn from my current path, led by self-righteous ego Still there is a quiet hope that stirs within that there is still time to reclaim my one life and use my precious gifts to create light instead of adding to the choking darkness that tempts me and ties my hands When I succumb to the swirling torment that tells me happiness is not my nature I will strive to remember my soul's complexity and call out for the small child that once embodied the brave wisdom of a wide open heart
closing your eyes the awareness is flooded by breath alone the soft hiss of air going in, air going out a subtle rustle behind your ribcage reminds you of pulsing life within the peace you find in this silent stillness the soft sense of comfort that resides there is not a separation from the world rather it is our ability to dissolve, to let go and be submerged in the One going inward, is going away it's surrendering the whole idea of self setting aside all the stories that you cling to remembering that they are not real rediscovering what is that peaceful place, that's what's real the softening of body and mind the deep undercurrent of all existence is always there waiting for you to recognize, to rest in
Maybe no one really seems to be the person that they mean to be.Conor Oberst
The other day my coworker paid me a compliment that took me by surprise. She told me that she envies the way I seem so calm and present all the time. She said I come off as truly content and mindful. Part of me literally cannot believe this is really the way that she sees me. Perhaps she is just telling me what she thinks I want to hear? I don’t know why she would bother though. The comment seemed to come out of no where.
Although I already think about it often, this really emphasized the idea that my perception of people and their perceptions about themselves are quite likely extremely different. I never feel calm and content or that I’m able to enjoy the present moment. I’m exceptionally pleased that I may come off that way to people, but it’s hard to wrap my head around how that could be. Inside I am in a near constant state of fear, anxiety, and agitation. Often I am even ruminating on thoughts of bitterness and anger, playing the victim in my own inner story.
My coworker’s comment made me realize just how easily we become consumed by the image we imagine of ourselves, that we forget others may not view us in the same way. We’re so familiar with the reoccurring thoughts and patterns in our own minds that we forget others have no awareness of them. In the same way, it’s easy to forget that the information we have to work with on the surface isn’t necessarily giving us an accurate understanding of the full complexity of another person.
With the limited information we have, it’s easy to just write someone off as an asshole or an idiot. However, if I reflected on my own actions day to day from an outsider’s perspective, I’d likely label myself in this hasty, inaccurate, dismissive way just as easily. It’s uncomfortable to see someone doing something that we think is inconsiderate or irrational and just let it go with the acknowledgement that we don’t (nor can we ever) know the full story. It’s easier to construct a story to tell ourselves with the small pieces of information we do have.
As a social worker, I hear all kinds of crazy circumstances that people deal with every day. I really couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. With that in mind, you’d think it would be easier for me to give someone the benefit of the doubt and assume they have a lot going on and reasons for behaving the way that they do. On the contrary, I still find myself constantly falling into the trap of cynicism and judgement..
Another helpful way to think about this is to consider that, at least in my experience, I am able to find redeeming qualities in just about everyone that I get to know on more than a surface level. When you only see a handful of moments in a persons life, it is much simpler to judge them harshly. The same tendencies in someone we know are more palatable to us than in someone we don’t know. I believe this is because we are able to weigh them against all of the positive qualities of the person we know, whereas we have no other points of reference for the person that we don’t.
On the flip side of this, my interaction with my coworker reminded me just how silly it is to worry about what other people might be thinking about me. I spend a great deal of time worrying about how I come off to other people. I’m terrified that they will think of me in the same harsh, unforgiving manner that I think of myself. While that might be true, it may also be true that they think more highly of me than I think of myself. The point is that I can never know for sure, nor can I hope to precisely shape the way another person thinks of me intentionally. It’s best to just express myself as I see fit in the moment and not worry about the rest.
I struggle with anger nearly every day. The smallest things can set me off in an instant. A pattern has begun to emerge from these occurrences. The common denominator for my anger always seems to be a sense of “not knowing.” For example, I’ve been getting extremely frustrated with my dog the last few days. She goes through spells of refusing to go up and down the stairs. I try to carry her, but she won’t allow that either. She makes me chase her around in circles before finally she goes on her own. This has been happening on and off at random intervals since we’ve moved here, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it’s all about.
I’m obviously not mad at her. She’s just an innocent animal who is clearly scared or in pain of some kind. (I’ve wondered if it may have to do with arthritis inflammation that comes and goes.) Regardless of what the explanation is, I think what it really comes down to is the fact that I don’t know. As someone who prides themselves on their quick wit and intelligence, not knowing anything is a threat to my ego. It’s not as if I’m consciously aware of this in the moment though. I make lots of excuses for myself to explain why I am actually angry. Normally it has something to do with believing the whole situation to be utter nonsense. If I can’t understand it or find a good reason, I assume that it’s impossible to understand, that there is no reason.
I realize that this isn’t true. There are many motives and reasons that guide people that I cannot fathom or understand from the outside. It’s a bad habit of mine to assume they must not have a good reason, and they are just being difficult. I guess it feels like deep down one of us must just be stupid, and since it absolutely cannot be me (because I am so very smart *eye roll*) it must be them. This is yet another way my black and white thinking causes problems for me. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that two people can just misunderstand one another. One person doesn’t inherently have to be of lower intelligence.
I’ve been trying to practice compassion in the face of anger recently, but it hasn’t been going as well as I might have hoped. I think the missing piece is that, while I’ve been trying to foster compassion for the other person, I have not offered myself the same compassion. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to not understand. It does not mean that I am any less intelligent for acknowledging that. You don’t have to know absolutely everything to be smart. No one knows everything. We all have our blind spots.
I think if I afford myself the grace to not know, I will finally be able to relax enough to get curious again. The double edged sword of intelligence is the ego’s desire to protect and prop up that intelligence. Sadly, if you never allow yourself to not know, how will you ever be open to learning something new? Learning, coming to new understandings, and finding new perspectives are some of my favorite parts of life. How boring it would be to think there is nothing left for me to discover.
By turning to anger so quickly in any situation I don’t immediately understand, I am robbing myself of the opportunity to learn something new. The next time I find myself overcome with frustration, I am going to try my best to pause and ask what is it about this situation that I am not understanding? Can I allow myself to not understand for the moment? How might holding space and staying open allow me to benefit and grow in this moment?
Maybe if I were to resist my anger, I may notice something new about the periods of time when my dog appears afraid to go down the stairs. Maybe I can help her more effectively if I give myself the space to discover her hidden reasons. And ultimately, even if I never understand, can I offer compassion anyway? Can I have the humility to accept that there are some things I may never understand? Can I acknowledge that compassion does not always come from understanding? Compassion and loving kindness are mine to give freely and are applicable and beneficial in any situation regardless of personal comprehension.
In the same vein this mindset would do me good in regard to the way I feel I’m perceived by other people. I tend to think that if I am not fully understood by someone, then they cannot truly love me. Now I am beginning to see that isn’t true. I’ve certainly loved people that I may not have understood 100%. I don’t think we can ever understand another, or even ourselves, fully. But that does not lessen or cheapen the love that we can offer. The best love is unconditional anyway. I don’t have to reserve my love and compassion for only people and situations that I understand. Perhaps it is even better given in those instances. Love and compassion transcend understanding, and that is part of what makes them so poignant, beautiful, and worthwhile.
Lying in bed last night, about to drift off to sleep, my mind was flooded with fearful thoughts of my boyfriend coming home in a few months. You may at first assume you misread that first sentence, but no, I was afraid for him to come home. Even though I love and miss him tremendously. Still I was feeling terrified by the way things may change once he’s nearby again. I was afraid of how my routine would change. How much time will he be expecting us to spend together? Will I have to drive up to the city multiple times a week to see him? How often will he be staying with me? All of these unknowns prevent me from my normal mental and emotional preparations for change. I simply don’t know how my life is going to be from day to day in 2022.
Oddly enough, just eight hours later after waking up, having some coffee, and starting my workout, the thought of him not only being close by again, but even living with me, seemed like a dream come true. I couldn’t wait to share as much of my time with him as possible. I fantasized about being the very best version of myself with him by my side to motivate and inspire me. Everything I’ve been aspiring to do/be seemed more likely to happen once he is back home. The same changes that sparked fear last night, were now the very thoughts spurring me onward, giving me hope and energy.
This is not an uncommon occurrence for me. There are many times I find myself overwhelmed with a thought at night, that brings me joy the next morning. The question that always arises is, “Which one of these people is really me?” Who should I believe? The evening me or the morning me? How can one person shift so totally in the span of a day? And shift so predictably and consistently at that? It seems like everything becomes scary and negative in the evening hours, but in the morning the whole world appears brand new and enchanting. It makes me wonder if this is normal. Do other people feel this way? Is this what people mean when they say “morning person”?
In my mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that this drastic inner change is caused by my brain’s neurochemicals dwindling as the night sets in. So I’m inclined to believe that the morning version of me is more true to who I am. The evening me is depleted and out of sorts, unable to view the world accurately. However maybe it’s my morning self that is deluded. Perhaps my refreshed brain is offering me a rose colored perspective that is just as inaccurate. Should I be distrustful of both? Should I deem the middle ground between these two states the most reliable and realistic?
This confusion and uncertainty about which thoughts are “me” and which thoughts are “not me” has always been of great interest to me. Never being able to decide, I gravitate towards the Yogic perspective. None of these thoughts are actually “me.” I am not my thoughts. I am the one who watches these thoughts. I am the one who wonders which of them are me. After all, that watcher within is the one consistent aspect of my mind, the one that is ever-present and unchanging.
Now the question becomes, how can I learn to identify with the watcher, rather than the fluctuating thoughts constantly demanding my attention? How can I keep myself from getting caught in the undertow of emotion that they cause? I suppose that this is the purpose of meditation. To practice being the watcher. To train ourselves not to get swept away. To ground ourselves in the impermanent and illusory nature of existence. To cultivate trust in the fact that it is okay to allow these thoughts to pass through us without letting them force us into action.
Contemplating the different layers within has, at the very least, allowed me to let go of the urgency I feel to respond to the thoughts I have. Lyrics from one of my favorite bands explains it best: “Nothing is ever as pressing as the one who’s pressing would like you to believe.” So when I find myself franticly playing out different scenarios in my head and wondering how on Earth I’ll be able to cope with them, I remind myself of those words. I assure myself that I don’t have to make any decisions or take any action right now. I can acknowledge that sense of urgency without feeling pressured by it. I remind myself that no matter how serious a situation may seem right now, with time my perspective will surely change. It’s okay to just wait, to observe, to sit with those feelings for now. Because I know that tomorrow I will awake to a new world, a new me. And maybe she will be able to handle it. She always has.
Finding the fortitude to simply surrender Nodding in acknowledgement toward all that's disconcerting Breathing into the tight spaces of not only our bodies but of our minds as well Saving space for the unknown bowing down to the bigger picture that we cannot yet see humbly accepting a limited perspective of this life Noting our indignation as it arises in opposition to adversity and asking ourselves: What is this? Do I really know what's best? Can I release my opinions and embrace what is? Learning that our white knuckled grip is doing us no favors practicing unclenching our grasp on the way things "should" be the way others should act should think should be Having the humility to say: I don't know Having enough trust to say: And that's okay Cultivating curiosity in place of judgement Letting go
If you haven’t heard the term default mode network (DMN) before, you’re not alone. Yesterday was the first time I did. Although I still am new to this concept, I wanted to talk about it today. I just wanted to get that disclaimer out first thing. I’m certainly not an expert on this. I hardly know anything about it. What I do know, however, is already enough to enthrall me and make me eager to learn more. So don’t take my words here as gospel. Go read about it for yourself.
I first heard about this term while continuing to read How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. If you’ve read my other posts referencing this book, you already know where this is going. That’s right, psychedelics. Scientists have discovered a very fascinating phenomenon in the brains of people tripping on LSD or psilocybin. These psychedelic substances inhibit or turn off the default mode network in our brain.
So what is the default mode network? From what I’ve gathered, the default mode network includes many different parts of the brain that are active when we are “in our own heads” so to speak. These are the pathways we are using when we are ruminating, daydreaming, planning, remembering the past, contemplating the future, etc. Basically this is the network that is active when we are lost in thought, rather than focusing our attention on something in the outside world. In the book, it also specifies that this DMN kicks on when we are thinking about ourselves.
This aspect of self-awareness encompassed in the DMN is one of the reasons why we are able to experience “ego death” while using psychedelics, which switch off this network. It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that ego death and transcendent experiences are both known to occur while tripping. The DMN, while useful, is also being linked to depression and other mental illnesses. People that spend a lot of time in the DMN are often less happy overall than people that spend less time in this brain state.
I find this very fascinating because it seems to reflect a lot of the advice you hear given to people that are unhappy. “Try to focus on someone else for awhile.” “Rather than ruminating, use that energy to help someone you love.” “Become a more active part of the community.” All of these shifts in focus are actually helpful, but now it seems science is getting a better idea exactly why that’s the case. And I don’t know about you, but I find it more easy to follow through on advice if I know the facts back it up.
Another thing I found interesting is the idea that social media tends to strengthen the DMN. When we are scrolling through Instagram or checking how many likes we got on our last Facebook post, our brains are in the default mode network. Apart from all the other reasons there are to disengage from social media, this one is quite compelling. No wonder I feel happier and less anxious now that I don’t use those apps!
If you’re looking for a way to experience the bliss of brain states outside of the DMN, but don’t want to take a drug to do so, you can try meditation instead. Surprisingly fMRI scans of experienced meditators and those of brains on psychedelics are remarkably similar. Training our minds through meditation can give us the power to focus. That focused attention in itself is another way to get ourselves out of the DMN. I believe that is why the “flow” state we experience when we loose track of time while working on a task that completely absorbs our attention is so pleasant. It’s a great feeling to “lose ourselves” in our work.
I have yet to see any research related to this, but I’m interested to know how the DMN functions in adolescence. I hypothesize that it may play a role in the unhappiness a lot of us experienced during this time in our lives. It also appears to be a time in life when we tend to be the most selfish. We’re learning who we are and what we want, finding our own identities. While this is an important and necessary part of growing up, it also requires a lot of self-centered thinking, which as we now know, can lead to a greater sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. As we get older and start to think more about others, the emotional turmoil of youth also seems to subside somewhat.
As this term was only coined in 2001, there is still a lot that science doesn’t understand about this brain state. A lot more research needs to be done. I’m excited to see what else neuroscience will discover about our brains and how exactly they work in the future. But as I said earlier, I am not at all a voice of authority on this subject. I just couldn’t resist sharing the concept and the things I’ve learned that have got me so excited about it. I highly recommend doing your own research and reading more about the default mode network for yourself. Feel free to correct me if I have misinterpreted, misunderstood, or misrepresented any of the things I’ve shared about this network. Also Let me know in the comments if you find out anything interesting that I didn’t mention.
As I drove home from my little mini vacation to go see my boyfriend, I started listening to a new podcast called Mindlove. I played it basically the entire drive back, so needless to say, I’d definitely recommend it. It got me thinking about all the ways my ego tries to hold me back. The ego is really good at convincing us it’s who we really are. For me I imagine my ego as that little inner voice that is always worrying, always bringing me down, always concerned with how I look or what other people think. When this voice speaks, I take it as gospel.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been taught that we should listen to our gut feelings. The problem with that is I’ve never quite felt able to trust those feelings. I have no idea how to distinguish between intuition and ego. Most of the time I’ve simply waited for “inspiration” to come to me. It rarely ever does. I just use the fact that I haven’t gotten inspiration as a sign that I should just keep waiting. I’ve been waiting for years though. Even when inspiration does strike me, it’s often not enough to get me very far.
I’m beginning to learn that things that are right for you aren’t always going to feel right. You’ve got to trust that your higher self knows what’s best for you and do it anyway. One interesting point I liked from Mindlove was that our natural instincts are always geared towards keeping us in the same place. We resist change even when it’s a good change. So when you’re feeling depressed the things that you feel like doing are going to be things that keep you feeling depressed. I’m sure we all know that feeling. We’re having a bad day so we “treat” ourselves. We eat a bunch of junk food, lie in bed, binge watch our favorite shows. I often think this is doing something kind for myself, when in reality, although it may feel good in the moment, it always leaves me ultimately feeling worse.
This is one reason why it’s so important to create a regular practice of positive things like yoga and meditation. It’s always easy to practice when you’re in the mood for it. But having that routine makes it easier to also lean on your practice when you’re not in the mood. Because that’s truly when we need our yoga the most.
The ego likes to get very loud when we try to do something we don’t feel like doing. It tries to distract us, convince us to stop or do something else. It tells us we’re just wasting time, that it’s all a futile effort. I’m still learning how to stop obeying that nagging little voice in my head. I’ve allowed it to guide my actions for most of my life. It’s the part of me that cringes away from positive affirmations and acts of kindness. Oddly enough, it’s also the part that harshly criticizes me for struggling to embrace these self love practices.
My fear of anything even mildly unpleasant keeps me from connecting with that place of inner peace and happiness. I keep waiting for everything to just fall into place, waiting for the perfect time to change my life. But the truth is that “perfect” time isn’t ever going to come. I’ve got to be brave and start doing the work even though it may feel useless at first.
Shame is a powerful emotion. It grips us, stays with us. While other memories fade, shame seems to linger, just as poignant as it felt in the moment, for years afterwards. I can still remember some of the very first moments in my life that made me feel ashamed. The first was in daycare. I must have been only three or four years old. We were going around the group, introducing ourselves maybe, all I can remember is that after our turn, we got to pick a toy from this massive pile in the center of the circle we were seated in. Immediately I fell in love with this florescent yellow/green duck stuffed animal. The rest of the world seemed to fall away as I focused on how I had to have it. I began to feel panicked that another child would choose it before I could. Who wouldn’t choose that magnificent duck?! This panic led me to speak out of turn. In desperation I tried to take my turn early so I could secure the duck, but was gently chastised and told I had to wait. That is my first memory of shame. A shame so sour that even though I did end up getting that duck (still have it today at my mom’s house) the moment was ruined anyway.
I also have another very early memory of shame. It was my first day of kindergarten or one of the first. My family and I were seated around the table having dinner. I was telling everyone how my day went at school. There was a boy I knew because our fathers were friends, and I had always had a crush on him. At one point during dinner I proudly announced that I had told this boy that I loved him. To this day I can feel that sickening silence that followed. My mom, dad, and sister all stopped and stared at me dumbstruck. I immediately recognized that I had done something wrong. I don’t even remember how that incident ended, nor if it was ever brought up again. I just remember that bitter piercing shame.
I’ve read before that shame has a profound effect on us. I don’t need to be shown much evidence to believe that it’s true. We can all feel the power of shame in our own lives. Sometimes I wonder how those early memories of shame have bled out into the rest of my life, how they changed me. Generally shame is a social emotion. It is a cue that what we’ve done is not socially acceptable and that it could put our place in the group/society at risk. This is why it strikes us so intensely. It is a defense against behaviors that could get us ostracized. Although like most remnants of our evolutionary history, in the modern day sometimes it can be a hindrance instead of a help.
I’m actually not sure if anyone else experiences this, but I feel shame about things even when I’m all alone. And not about anything that would make sense to feel shame about. There are moments when shame grips me deep down, in my core. I feel ashamed to exist, to be who I am. For example, sometimes I’ll be having fun dancing and singing in the shower only to be suddenly overcome with shame. It’s hard to explain why. I guess I’m ashamed of feeling good about myself, of what other people would think if they knew how I had just been feeling and acting. It doesn’t really make sense even to me. But because of these feelings up until recently I would hardly ever allow myself to dance, even all alone.
It makes self-love and self-acceptance very tricky for me. Because my shame primarily seems to come from moments of feeling proud or liking myself. It usually follows intense happiness or joy about something I’ve done or am doing. Like this blog for instance. I love writing on here everyday. It makes me happy and I’m not doing it for anyone but me. But there are still moments when I feel ashamed of the things I’ve written. I think to myself: how dare you think anyone cares what you have to say, it’s so embarrassing that you prop up this false image of yourself online. I think similar things about anything I create. I’ll be so happy with it and desperately want to share it with others, but when I do I feel ashamed. I’m ashamed for thinking anyone else would care, for wanting to “show off.” I never fully believe any compliments I get. There is always some small part of me that wonders if they are just being nice.
All of this shame I harbor inside of me is just another example of how I tend to take life too seriously. Shame only works if you care about what people think of you, if you have an image of yourself you are trying to protect. When I imagine the times when I’ve seen someone else do something embarrassing or shameful, I don’t care much. At most I just feel pained because I am empathically sharing their embarrassment. I want to start facing my shame, to get acquainted with it, to know what makes it tick. And eventually to make peace with it. Shame is a product of the ego. I hope to someday let them both go.