Why do you still seep through my subconscious and sour my dreams with your familiar scent? even when I finally feel sure I can let go your phantom reappears to pierce my heart Months of black void nights suddenly ended with blurry images and emotions on fire still razor sharp after all these years bleeding out onto my white sheets as I sleep Even the me inside my mind has grown weary of your semi-frequent infiltration last night I told you I wished you'd never have come back into my life at all Even so, there is something distracting about the way nothing else feels real after our unconscious encounters everything else becomes hollow For this reason some part of me still savors the sweet drops of pain you produce within me a reminder of the tender stirring I once felt inside a stark contrast to the silence that now smothers
Frightened by the violent riptide of my own raw emotion carried roughly away in rapids of self-righteous anger The sick, unshakable desire to stay inside this horrible hatred helpless to harness the grotesque venom of this self-harming state The sheer force of resistance soft heart turned to steel with heavy doors welded at the seam fortress of wild, agonized isolation Short moments of insanity disregarding the searing flesh of a hand clutching tightly onto a white hot coal Seduced by the spell of spite the toxic illusion of power promised to a soul that has been swallowed up and blinded by uncontrollable rage Sinking below dark waters a whirlpool of god-like wrath left trembling at the loss of all control
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.
Truth and facts used to be objective, hard, immutable things to me. There just had to be a right or wrong, a good or bad, that could be backed and proven by some scientific means. I was passionate about uncovering Truth at all costs. I devoted myself to the pursuit of these concrete certainties, feeling as if everything could ultimately be solved or resolved through them. Feelings did not matter. Emotion or personal beliefs did not matter. Only cold, hard facts were permitted into my consideration on any issue.
One of my favorite parts about Hard Times, a book I’ve been reading by Charles Dickens, is the mockery of this type of outlook. The book begins with several main characters that only concern themselves with Facts, to the exclusion of everything else. They abhor “fancy” and “imagination” of any kind, and see no need to indulge these things even in their young children. Yet as the book continues, we are shown just how damaging this perspective can be and how valuable our whims, beliefs, and opinions actually are.
It was very disheartening for me to discover that even “scientific” studies can be manipulated and skewed to favor a certain perspective. In fact, it seems almost unavoidable as no person, scientist or otherwise, is free from personal bias. Upon the light of this realization, I felt set adrift in a sea of permanent uncertainty. If I can’t trust in objective facts to guide me, how can we ever really know anything? It all seemed so pointless and relative.
All of the things I had rolled by eyes at such as faith, belief, gut feelings, etc. now seemed to be on equal footing with the laws I had been allowing to govern my life. For a long time I really despaired at this. Now I’m beginning to think it is a blessing, not a blow. We really do get to choose our own reality. What we believe about something really is just as important, if not more important, than the facts we may collect about it.
If you find yourself rejecting this idea, take a moment to consider the baffling reality of placebos. I have always been amazed at these fascinating findings. No one seems to be able to explain the mechanism behind this phenomenon, but placebos really can work in even the most unlikely scenarios. If you believe a sugar pill is a cancer cure, your body will begin to win the fight. If you know your entire church congregation is making appeals to God for you through prayer, your condition can actually improve. It really does call into question what might be possible if we truly believe.
Knowing that belief can even effect terminal illnesses, it’s no surprise how great an influence it has on more subjective matters. If you believe that you are a depressed, broken, unlovable person, that is what the world will reflect back to you. You will begin to acknowledge only what reinforces this deeply held belief about yourself and disregard anything that contradicts it. If you believe you are ugly and unattractive, your mind will seek out things that confirm this idea. But the reverse is also true of course. If you think of yourself as a happy, upbeat person, no matter what you face in life, you will absorb it through this positive filter.
The good and the bad news is, changing your external circumstances isn’t likely to change your beliefs. The question then becomes, how can we let go of trying to achieve what we think will make us happy and instead shift our mindset so that we are happy exactly as we are? This is the true challenge we are tasked with overcoming, not the world outside, but our own inner world.
I think most of us seek internal cues to motivate us to do something. We are unlikely to be outgoing and friendly if we don’t feel like it. However, if we want to feel that way, the best method is acting as though we already do. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. But it is effective. If you identify as a pessimist, but would rather be an optimist, just act how you imagine an optimist would act. Even if it feels phony at first, with practice your behavior will inevitably begin to change your beliefs.
I used to really believe that the way I felt was the inevitable result of the hard facts about my life and the world. If I found myself in a “bad” situation, I felt helpless. I told myself, “Under these conditions, it is impossible for me to be happy.” I reserved my happiness for moments I felt it was justified. Now I realize that my happiness is just that, mine. I can enjoy it whenever I see fit. It’s certainly harder to connect with some days than others, but just knowing that there is always a possibility for it is a great gift. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Don’t feel the need to withhold your happiness by believing it does not suit the circumstance. The only thing determining that is you. Even when it seems impossible, remember that you really do have the power to choose. The more you remind yourself of this, the more you work to behave the way you want to feel rather than feel confined and oppressed by the way you do feel, the easier it will become. No facts, no circumstances, can stand in the way of your happiness and success in this life. Only you can. And while that can seem scary and like a huge responsibility to take on, it is also quite beautiful.
Feel your feelings. This is one of the new popular phrases floating around the internet. But it’s never really made clear what is meant by these words. A lot of us resist this advice for that very reason. Why would I want to feel my feelings? I’ve been taking such pains to avoid them for most of my life. What isn’t explained is that these mental loops that we are labeling as “feelings” are not, in fact, our feelings. They are the cascading cycles of inner dialogue that we have built up in response to our feelings. These thoughts are really want we desperately want to avoid.
The way to escape these thoughts isn’t by pushing down our feelings or trying to numb them through distraction or substances, it’s to direct our minds away from the words and into the physical sensations we are experiencing. This is definitely something easier said than done, but it’s a practice worth putting effort into. Watch your mind as it tries to move back into thinking instead of feeling. I did this with my anger just the other day. I moved my awareness into my body. I felt the tightness around my heart, the heat in my face and neck. Then after just a few seconds, my brain was back to narration, finding ways to justify and bolster these uncomfortable sensations. Again and again, I had to keep putting down these words and picking up the actual feelings I was experiencing instead.
It’s quite difficult to remain in silent sensation, especially when it’s not a pleasant one. The mind is so good at labeling and explaining and creating stories. It’s an odd experience to not focus on defining and labeling everything. I’ve spent my whole life searching and trying to learn the words and explanations for what I go through every day. That’s the reason I got a degree in psychology. It may be helpful to have a background of knowledge about these things, but sometimes even that isn’t what we really need. Sometimes all we need to do is allow and be present with whatever is there, whether we can define it or not.
Learning that it’s safe and beneficial to trust and allow the physical sensation of my emotions without constantly analyzing has opened the door for me to accept this level of awareness in my relationships as well. I have a tendency to become fixated on what the other person may be thinking or feeling in regard to a shared experience or out interpersonal bond in general. I become overcome with worry that they perceive our relationship differently than I do, that I like them more than they like me, that they are unhappy, upset with me, etc. In order to relieve myself of this anxiety, I search for ways to reassure myself through explicit, verbal communication.
However, I often notice that even hearing the exact words I am looking for from the other person, I find myself unable to trust their words alone. I revert back to internal analysis, worrying, and skepticism. Giving myself permission to accept my own feelings for what they are at the simplest, most primal level, has encouraged me to do the same with other people. Ultimately we will never know what another person truly thinks or feels about anything. We have to eventually trust our interpretation and move on.
Like most things, this lesson is magnified while under the influence of psychedelics. Whenever I’m tripping with someone, there are phases where I feel we are perfectly in sync. Everything is easy. I feel connected, understood, and loved. Then a thought will arise or some slight friction will occur that leaves me questioning. Have we really been on the same page? Am I just being delusional to think they’ve understood me thus far? A dark cloud will appear for a moment, but will quickly pass as I allow myself to trust and enjoy again.
Our lack of trust in our emotions and our perceptions is what causes most of our stress in modern times. I think the fear behind this is primarily the fear of being wrong in our assumptions. We want to guard ourselves against every possibility. This is an impossible task, though. We will never be able to verify the validity of our perceptions and interpretations. Therefore, the best thing we can do for ourselves as well as those we love, is just accept, allow, and be present for whatever may arise. Give yourself permission to enjoy your experiences even when you can’t explain them, put words to them, or back them up with empirical evidence. Some things are meant to be felt, not spoken or explained.
Take a moment to consider all of the people that you love in your life. It doesn’t matter how many people come to mind. Everyone has at least one person that is precious to them, even if it’s your mother. Now concentrate on the emotions that bubble up and the warmth building in your chest when you think about these people or this person. Focus on your hopes and wishes for them to be happy, healthy, and successful. Hold onto that tender, loving feeling. Really examine it for a moment.
Now realize that there are people in this world that feel that very same way about you. No matter what you think or feel about yourself, no matter what you feel worthy of, or whether you think you deserve it or not, you are loved. Take a moment to contemplate how utterly amazing that is. Allow yourself to accept that love and self-less compassion. Float in the soft gratitude of that energy being sent your way at any given time of the day.
As strange as it may sound, I had never really thought about this idea until a few nights ago. Suddenly it just crashed into my awareness as I was lying down to go to sleep. It filled me with such wonder, such joy, and humble gratitude. I am loved. I repeated these words back to myself again and again in a state of starry-eyed disbelief. Not only that, I am loved by the people that mean everything to me. I am loved by the people that have stood by my side through decades of my life, who have seen the best and the worst of me. What could be more incredible? What more could I ask for in this life?
Notice what kind of emotions come up when you consider being loved. Does it feel good? Does it feel safe? Uncomfortable? Unreal? Undeserved? Or maybe a mixture of a lot of different emotions? For me it was pretty hard to wrap my head around, and it still is. I just can’t believe that I would be worthy of those warm feelings that I experience when I think of my love for others. It seems unbelievable that anyone could feel that way about me. Yet, logically, I know that there are lots of people that genuinely enjoy my presence in their lives. At the very least, I know my mother and grandmother love me unconditionally, probably in a deeper, more pure way, than I’ve loved anyone myself.
Despite a squirming sensation in my chest that tells me I don’t deserve it, that these people are wrong to love me, I’ve never felt more grateful for anything before. Not only that, keeping this in mind helps me to remember to love myself just as much as those who are dear to me do. I hope that adopting the perspective of your loved ones from time to time helps you do the same. The next time you are causing yourself more suffering or feeling self conscious or small, imagine offering yourself the love and compassion that your family and friends would want for you. If you can’t find the motivation or passion to be kind to yourself for yourself, do it for everyone else that loves you.
One of the benefits of coming off my SSRI medication is being able to reconnect with the full range of my emotions again. I’ve come to find that this is also a very challenging experience at times. While it’s much easier for me to feel joy, love, and laughter, I’m also more quick to anger and prone to tears. Although this may be unpleasant and uncomfortable at times, I still consider it a positive overall. Because this is the human experience that I had been missing out on for so many years. I may have wanted to numb my anxiety, but I hadn’t realized that in order to do that, Paxil was going to numb everything else as well. Even so, at first that was a trade I was willing to make, but after a while I began to wonder what I had given up and whether or not it was truly worth it.
The first thing I noticed was that I never cried anymore. Obviously in the beginning, I thought that was a great side-effect. Who wants to feel sad? I certainly didn’t. And without those heavy feelings weighing me down, I felt almost invincible. After a few years, though, I genuinely missed being able to cry and experience that release. It began to feel like the pressure of all the sadness I was not allowing to come up to the surface was becoming a dense ball of discomfort deep within my heart. There were many times that I desperately wished that I could cry and let it out.
What I hadn’t noticed was how I also laughed less while on Paxil. It started to seem like I hadn’t laughed genuinely for years. I still found things funny and made tons of jokes, but I never really laughed. I was beginning to forget what that even felt like. Laughter was more of a social obligation than a natural unconscious reaction. It never even occurred to me that this was related to my medication until a few days ago. I’ve realized that that involuntary laughter bubbling up inside of me had returned. I had forgotten how amazing it felt.
So the first things I picked up on were laughter and crying. Both of which I now cherish and am immensely grateful for. However, I’m also being confronted with my ol’ buddy anger. You see as a teenager, I was an extremely angry person. I can still remember the white hot rage I would experience on nearly a daily basis. Rage that seemed uncontrollable and terrifying to those around me and even to myself after the fact. I foolishly believed that had simply faded with age and was also being nullified with my yoga and meditation practice. Although I still felt anger more than other emotions, it was no where near the level of intensity that it used to be.
Over the last few days, I’ve caught myself being overwhelmed with anger more than I have been in years. I thought I had learned to let it go, but in reality that viscous current of adrenaline was just not as strong as it once was. I am feeling it again at full force, and really struggling to cope. I am fearful that I may become the aggressive, angry person that I used to be when I was younger. I forgot how compelling the feeling of anger can be. It is all consuming at times. The phrase “blinded by rage” is quite accurate. That emotion tends to hit me like a freight train. It comes on suddenly and is irresistible. I feel helpless to control my actions when I’m in such a state. Of course, I have never physically harmed anyone, but I am quite good at spitting venom. My tongue becomes the deadliest blade and once I’ve calmed down, I am always mortified and ashamed of my behavior.
If anger is the price I have to pay to keep the rest of my emotions, I will. Especially because it seems to be the only negative change I’ve noticed so far from lowering my dosage to practically zero. I had definitely expected worse. I’m surprised that this anger has merely been lying dormant inside of me all along though. To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed. I really thought I had overcome that ugly side of my personality.
Now the real work begins. I’ve been given all these years to practice and grow spiritually, and I’m being given the chance to use what I have learned. I’m trying to remain curious about those angry feelings when they arise, instead of turning that anger back on myself like I often do. It is quite fascinating, honestly. One thing I’ve noticed is the way I cling onto those violent feelings. My rational mind is useless against such a powerful rage. There is a self-righteousness mixed in that likes to feel vindicated and does all it can to justify my anger. It almost makes me more angry to imagine letting it go. As if that is letting the offending person or situation “off the hook.” It feels like my duty to make sure they don’t get away with it.
Given that I’ve already shown myself time and time again that trying to reason with myself in this state is pointless, I’m trying to employ a different strategy. Rationalizations allow me to still focus on whatever it is that has angered me. My goal from now on is going to be shifting my focus. I want to try to turn that focus inward. Usually when I’m angry, my mind is going a mile a minute listing ways that I am correct to be angry, riling myself up even more, stoking the flames. Rather than letting my mind do that, I’m going to try to focus on the feeling itself, to get out of my head entirely and move into my physical body.
What does anger feel like? For me it feels hot and stiff. My chest tightens, my breath becomes quick and short, my heart beats fast and hard against my ribcage. While these aren’t pleasant sensations to focus on, this is a way for me to work through my anger in a mindful way. Even though I’m finding this experience frustrating and challenging, at the same time I am grateful. I am grateful for the chance to get to know these long hidden parts of myself again. I am grateful for all of these newly rediscovered emotions, even the difficult ones.
Change is scary. Especially when it’s unexpected. Sometimes even a good change can cause extreme levels of anxiety when it happens suddenly. Today I find myself struggling with that kind of change. All week I have been eagerly awaiting the weekend. I desperately needed a full day to rest and recharge. I have been feeling so overwhelmed and ungrounded. I was so happy that the weekend had finally arrived so that I could just relax and do some boring housework.
However, last night, out of nowhere, my boyfriend tells me that a few of his friends are going to drive down to the city near me tonight and wants us to hangout tomorrow. I felt my breath catch in my chest. I was filled with horror, dread, despair, and anger. How can he expect me to drop everything and see him on such short notice? How can I possibly get out of this? How can I mentally bear to go another full week with no chance to emotionally and energetically recover? I want to scream, to cry, to hide myself away, to disappear completely.
Amidst this already chaotic swirl of emotion I also felt immense guilt and shame for my involuntary reaction. The anger that I was initially directing outward at him for being “inconsiderate” was now turned back on myself for being so rigid and ungrateful. I was ashamed of my inflexible, violent nature. I couldn’t help thinking about the way a “normal” person would have reacted to the same surprise. An impromptu chance to see someone I love who I haven’t been able to be with in over a month? What an amazing opportunity! How fortunate! How exciting! That’s probably what most people would think. The layers of unwanted, uncomfortable emotions I was already feeling were condensed even more tightly around my heart by this realization and the guilt that it produced.
I spent all morning in a brutal battle with my own thoughts and feelings, arguing with myself, making excuses, imagining hateful words to spew at others and myself for the injustice of any inconvenience to my incredibly easy and privileged existence. My yoga class was undoubtably terrible earlier. I felt like a fraud, unworthy to lead my class with such a childish inner torrent raging inside of me. “None of this will matter at all next week, next month, next year.” I keep telling myself that. I keep reminding myself that at the end of my life, would I really be happy making a decision to sour this unexpected chance to be with my beloved simply because my house would have to remain uncleaned for yet another week? What is going to matter on my deathbed? Sundays spent in monotonous home maintenance or moments shared with those most important to me? Obviously the latter. So how can I still feel so unsafe inside?
Mental illness is not rational. That’s what it always comes down too. I can’t expect to explain away these feelings. I must make peace with the fact that logic and reason won’t make these thoughts and emotions go away. I have to accept them. I have to sit with them, watch them, get curious about them, learn from them. Instead of doing that, I busily flew around my house this morning trying to leave for my class on time after waking up late, planning a detailed message to send to my boyfriend. “You need to account for ‘x’ if you want ‘y’. I need this, this, and this, so I can be comfortable. These are all the ways in which you need to accommodate and tiptoe around my anxiety and OCD.”
Luckily I was too rushed to send anything until I had had a chance to calm down a bit. On my long drive to the studio, I had time to think. Is it really right for me to insist the people in my life enable me to continue on being enslaved to my unhealthy sense of control? Why should anyone else be burdened by these irrational “requirements”? That wouldn’t be good for them or for me. Once again, I was trying to mold the world into what I think it should be, to make every moment suit my personal preferences. I was placing the blame on the event (a sudden change of plans) instead of on my inner reaction (discomfort, anxiety, anger.) I can’t manipulate the world around me in a way that will shield me from these emotions. What I can do is learn how to tend to the emotions themselves.
Everything that we initially view as negative, irritating, or upsetting can ultimately be transformed in our mind into an opportunity for self study and inner growth. It’s easy to say that I want to be enlightened, that I want to find inner peace, but it’s much harder to be given the chance to cultivate that peace and enlightenment. It’s moments like these, the instances that cause avoidance and rejection to rise up inside of me, that are my greatest lessons, my greatest opportunities to practice being who I want to be.
Earlier this week, my friend at work accidentally dropped a mug on my favorite bowl and broke it. A few years ago, this would have devastated me. I may have even cried. Definitely would have harbored a silent anger and resentment toward my friend. Yet that day, after an initial jolt of disappointment and irritation, I saw an opportunity present itself. Instead of focusing on myself and my misfortune, my focus shifted to my friend. “She must feel so badly,” I thought with compassion. In that moment all I wanted was for her to know that I still felt nothing but love for her. That was what mattered, not an inanimate object.
Even though I’m not sure she fully believed me, I quickly told her that it was okay. I told her that I had been taught recently that we should perceive everything we have in this life as already being broken. That way we can enjoy it in the moment, and still be able to let it go when the time comes. I thanked her for giving me the chance to practice non-attachment and letting go. And I was thankful, surprisingly. I was even excited to witness the inner progress I had made. I genuinely wasn’t upset. I was actually eager to use this moment for my spiritual growth, to turn it into something much more valuable than a silly bowl.
Now I see that moment as preparation, a warm-up, for this weekend. Can I also practice letting go of my plans and the way I think things should be? Can I learn to embrace change instead of immediately rejecting it? Can I actively teach myself that I will be okay even when things don’t go the way I thought they would? These are all questions I have to ask myself today, ways in which I must now challenge myself. This weekend is a spiritual gift, even though it may not look like it right now.
I am going to be grateful. I choose to be grateful. I am going to stop being so upset with myself for the fact that it is a hard choice to make. Instead I am going to be proud of myself for even having the option. Not long ago, this choice wouldn’t have even been available to me. I would have been so lost in my immediate reaction that I would have completely missed this chance to shift perspective. Now thanks to my yoga practice and all the hard work I’ve been doing for years, I am able to see more clearly. I am more easily able to observe the storm inside myself without being sucked into it. The storm is still there, even as I write these words, but I’m going to sit with it for awhile, with compassion, with empathy, with curiosity, and with love.
Excavating my emotion from beneath a harmful haze of chemical concoctions Rediscovering what it means to feel the world around me No more sedation no more shaded sensation happiness and sorrow held equal remembering the beauty of both a genuine smile cutting through pain Grateful tears spilling over delicious, warm, salty quenching my once parched heart soaking cheeks and shirtsleeves releasing years of stagnant suffering Shedding the grey scales that have gathered on my skin sealing me inside a hollow human form I am finally free
For years now, I have practiced yoga, meditation, and gratitude daily. While I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my mental health since implementing these practices, it still feels like the changes I’ve experienced have been underwhelming. I thought that after such diligent effort over so many years, that I would be further along in my spiritual journey by this point. I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, etc.
In the beginning, these daily practices were done very intentionally. It was easy to remain mindful because everything was so new to me. However, after solidifying these routines, they became just that, routines. Many days I find myself just going through the motions. That is the reason I haven’t been able to enjoy more of the benefits ever after so many years. I also think this may be a reason some people find themselves giving up on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all together.
We must always be careful not to allow these things to become just words, just routines. Going through the motions may be better than doing nothing at all, but it isn’t going to result in the profound changes we’re seeking in ourselves. Yoga isn’t about the shapes the body takes, it’s about where the mind goes, learning to watch our own thoughts, learning to let go, to make peace with our perceived flaws or shortcomings, and so much more. In the same way, a daily gratitude practice isn’t about how fast you can list things off, or being able to fill up a whole page. It’s about the energy, the emotion behind the things your listing.
It’s almost funny when I think about it. I don’t know why I would expect writing a list of things I’m grateful for to be any different than writing a grocery list considering the way I normally feel while doing so. I usually don’t feel anything at all. If anything, I feel annoyed. “Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I can’t think of anything to write. Why am I such an ungrateful person? Why is this so hard for me?” That’s usually the kinds of thoughts occupying my mind as I struggle to think of enough bullet points to fill the page in my gratitude journal. Saying the words, “I am grateful,” isn’t enough. You’ve got to feel it too.
Now for some people this may just be something that blossoms naturally from doing the practice. That’s how it is for all of us at the beginning I think. But for an emotionally blunted person like myself, after the initial novelty of the practices begins to wear off, it takes a bit more effort to uncover that emotional energy. Words and actions may help to illicit certain feelings, but we can’t allow ourselves to become to distracted by the words and actions alone. It’s the energy, the emotion, the sensation, that really matters. Having the emotion without the words, will still work wonders. Having the words without the feeling behind it, does nothing.
So the next time you embark on any mindfulness practice, try to focus on the energy behind your intention. What is your goal in doing this practice? What types of feelings and emotions are you trying to invite into your life? Are you trying to train your brain to quickly list things? Or are you trying to train your brain to actually experience a certain kind of energetic state? If you want to be able to more easily experience gratitude, you’ve got to actually practice feeling grateful, not just telling yourself you are.
This may be a lot more difficult of a practice, if you’re like me. I really struggle to get in touch with my emotions. If someone told me to imagine what love feels like, I’d feel confusion and maybe anxiety rather than love. If that sounds like you, try this short exercise:
- Close your eyes.
- Take 5 slow, deep breaths in and out.
- Now, imagine someone or something that you love. At first, you might still struggle to feel anything. If that’s the case, keep concentrating on more and more details. You might try to remember and recreate in your mind a memory with this person/animal/object.
- Once you’ve got a clear image in your head, move back into your body. What types of sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel and where are you feeling it? Maybe you feel an opening in your heart space or a lightness in your stomach.
- Whatever you’re feeling, focus on those bodily sensations. That is love. Not the words, not the thoughts, but this, right here, this feeling.
- Stay with that feeling for awhile, breathe into it, explore it, try to savor the subtleties of it so that you may more easily call yourself back to this energetic state in the future. Try to memorize every aspect.
- When you’re ready, you may release the practice and open your eyes. You can come back to this practice as many times as you need to. Eventually it will become easier and easier to cultivate this feeling whenever you want to.
If you’ve been practicing for a long time like I have and are just now coming to this realization, no worries. Obviously it took me this long to realize too. No need to be harsh on yourself about it or feel like you’ve just been wasting time up until now. The foundation you laid by “going through the motions” has led you to a place where you’re now able to delve more deeply into your practice, to add a new layer to your daily routine. We all move through our spiritual practice at our own pace, with our own unique obstacles along the way. Honor where you are now and keep moving forward.
If you have a daily gratitude practice, maybe today try to list only 1-3 things. Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of emotion behind each listed item. Let me know how it goes! I’d also love to know: What does love feel like in your body? What does gratitude feel like to you?