Anxiety is living life in the periphery a mind afraid to focus on direct experience like eyes left straining into the blurry images produced from the outer angles of sight Endlessly missing the opportunity to see what's right in front of me distracted by the desperation to see it all before making my next move Walking blindly into the future while believing there is some safety in focusing all attention on the sidelines absorbed by unclear, obscured visions Mastering the practice of mindfulness the ever evolving effort to stare straight ahead being present with what's before me rather than apparitions hovering just out of view Keep walking faithfully forward syncing each breath with firm steps resting in the reality of perpetual uncertainty softly savoring all the surprises of life Allowing myself to become engrossed in the ever unfolding mirage of right now releasing all tight tendrils of assumed control to be submerged in this moment
The internet is great at giving us a false perception of the way other people live and conduct themselves from day to day. Despite this flawless image YouTubers and other influencers give off, one thing still seems real to me: their ability to focus their talents and efforts and present them in a consistent format to their followers. They find their content niche and stick to it diligently until they manage to build up a following.
This is an impressive feat in my opinion. My creative interests are so scattered and fluctuating. It’s pretty apparent if you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time. I can never seem to pick a theme or pursuit and stick to it. I have far too many things I’d like to work on. I realize that I can’t do them all. If I want to monetize these creative outlets for myself or create cohesive finished products for a personal brand, I have to focus my energy on one thing at a time. Focusing on one thing, feels like abandoning all of my other interests though. I tend to lose momentum and start feeling stuffy and stagnant when I work in one arena for any amount of time.
I should consider myself lucky. Maybe these influencers really only have a small set of interests or talents, and that’s what makes it easy for them to narrow down their creative range to catch a consistent audience. I’m truly blessed to have so many passions and creative gifts that I could turn into a personal or career path. My biggest obstacle is wrangling my attention and fixing it on a single endeavor to complete a bigger, well thought-out project. Maybe on some level I’m just afraid that if I devote too much time and energy to one creative medium and don’t receive a return on that investment, I’ll feel like a fool or a failure.
Just for context, here is a list of all of the things I’ve been swirling around in my head that I’d like to work on:
- Podcasting (no idea what of the thousand topics I’d be able to settle on)
- YouTube (same issue)
- Online/Livestream Yoga
- Private Yoga lessons
- Vegan mentorship
- Art (selling prints, commissions)
- Writing (Poetry, short-stories, fiction, non-fiction)
- Positive Affirmation Coloring Book (publishing and marketing it)
Obviously I can’t expect myself to actualize all of these possibilities. The vague idea of each and every one of them fills me with excitement, inspiration, and motivation. When I get down to the details and the physical steps I’d need to take to turn these ideas into something concrete, I become paralyzed with fear and uncertainty. I may have a lot of creative energy and valuable talents, but I have no idea how to market them or myself in any meaningful way. The idea of creating a mediocre finished product leaves me feeling awful. There is also a fear that by turning any one of these ideas into a business would rob me of the joy I have just doing them for fun.
If I had any money at all, I would likely go out and find myself a manager or someone to help me stay on track and advertise one of these skills. However, anxiety over money is the only reason I’ve been so eager to find a way to profit off of these ideas in the first place. For now, I’m planning on finishing the steps of publishing my positive affirmation coloring book. I’ve already got 30 drawings to compile for it and a good idea of who I would be able to market it to in my community as well as online. I’m just stuck in the limbo of trying to navigate self publishing and perfecting the tiny details about compiling them into a presentable book.
When I find myself struggling with these practical steps, I can’t help but feel pulled to abandon the idea all together and chase a different goal. Logically, I know I’ll eventually face the same problems with anything I try to produce. At the end of the day, I think lacking self-confidence is what’s holding me back. As I continue to try to move forward towards securing a self-determined future for myself, I’m going to try to imagine what I would do if I were confident. A confident person doesn’t get bogged down with the little details and agonize over making everything utterly perfect. I have great ideas. I’m extremely intelligent and talented. And I am going to make something incredible to contribute to the world. That’s the kind of energy that’s going to carry me forward into the next phase of my life.
Anxiety is the price of intellect when there is nothing to occupy the mind it will follow it's own fancies namely, naming everything that could potentially pose a threat Genius is a gnawing hunger that left unfed, lends itself to a buffet of fear starved of stimulation it will learn to feed on insecurity Yet a fire that is fed only grows larger always asking for more no longer sustained on yesterday's small rations A tired mind, an engaged mind is peaceful and satisfied a brilliant brain left to wander will always find new worries and run itself ragged on rumination Great potential is balanced by the possibility of great peril a fast metabolism requires extra fuel likewise an exceptional mind needs it's own nourishment of new knowledge
fixation and focus are very different things fixation festers and ferments multiplies and consumes the subject grows until it suffocates focus is freedom from distraction submerged in the present moment the soft flow of inspiration over a thirsty soul finally silencing all inner doubt there is no comparison between the two though they seem so similar at first glance one state we chase the other chases us
there is no peace for a heart hunted down by phantom fears what you seek will soon be found magnified, multiplied lungs filled with flowers dark and haunted hovels iridescent crystals of consciousness each frame of reality a microcosm of unending eternity selections from innumerable fractals of possibility manifested as moments focus, focus, focus fear, death, joy, and love are equally present in everything don't be afraid of the uncertainty that engulfs you it is the soft caress of the brutal, boiling sun that sets you free
I recently read that one of the most important tips given to new race car drivers is, “whatever you do, don’t look at the wall.” When I heard this, it immediately reminded me of one of my very first practice driving sessions with my mom when I was a teenager. As I was driving 25mph down a street in my dinky little home town, my sister yells out from the back seat for us to look at a house to our right. Without thinking, I turn my head to look. In just that one split second, turning my attention away from the road and just to the side, I had swerved the car and nearly driven up onto the sidewalk. Whether you realize it or not, where you place your focus is the direction you are heading.
We say something similar when teaching arm balances in yoga. In teacher training when we practiced cues for bakasana (crow pose) we were told to always make sure to emphasize the importance of our gaze. If you look straight down between your hands as you try to lower your body’s weight forward onto the backs of the arms, you’re inevitably going to tumble forward and possibly hit your head on the floor. The trick is to look a few inches ahead of you. Looking forward, but not down. Our gaze is a reflection of our focus and intention and a reminder of how important these things are.
I think these physical examples are an excellent demonstration of how this same principle applies in more abstract matters. If you look at the wall, you’ll hit the wall. If you look at the floor below you, that’s where you’re going. If you focus on the potential problems or possible ways you might fail, that is where you’re going to find yourself in the future. It seems so obvious when I think about it in this context.
My anxiety is always directing me to the worse possible outcome. It would be great if I were able to print out a pie graph of my mental energy expenditure from day to day. I’d be willing to bet that 90% of my thoughts are about what I’m afraid of or what could go wrong. Even when things usually go pretty well for me, I always immediately find the next fear to latch onto as soon as one disappears. Somehow my brain convinces itself that it is doing this to keep me safe. And to a certain extent, it is smart to contemplate obstacles that may come up and how we can deal with them in the event that they do. However, this is not really what my anxiety is doing. It’s not coming up with calm, rational contingency plans. It’s telling me that the experience will be inherently stressful and traumatizing and trying to find a way to avoid it all together.
It’s really helpful for me to remember the real life examples of the way our focus determines our experience and even has an influence on future outcomes. Yoga gives us ample opportunities to practice these principles before putting them into action in other areas of our lives. Getting into an arm balance is scary. You’re quite likely to fall down the first few times you try. But if we focus on that fear or how it feels to fall and hurt ourselves, we’re never going to master bakasana! Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on where you want to be or what you want to see happen. If you focus on falling you’re going to fall or perhaps never let yourself try in the first place.
Realizing and reminding myself that my focus on fear is not helping me to avoid it, but instead propelling me toward it, is exactly where I need to begin. Normally when I contemplate shifting my thoughts to the positives and letting go of my anxiety about any given situation, I become afraid that by not looking at the scary bits, they’ll sneak up on me or something. It’s like trying to keep your eyes on a spider at the corner of your room so that it won’t suddenly appear on your arm. But what if staring at that spider was an invitation for it to come over to you? You’d probably keep yourself busy with whatever you’re doing and leave it alone.
It’s time for me to start giving my energy to the good things in life that I want to create, not the parts that I want to avoid. If I focus on the good, I’ll naturally move past or through the obstacles in due time. When I let myself focus on only the scary parts of life, that is all I’m going to experience, whether my fears come to fruition or not. I’ll have already lived the worst of them out in my mind anyway. It’s okay to let myself think about the good things that might happen too or the things I hope will happen. It’s safe to let myself be happy. It’s safe to imagine a future full of positivity and light. In fact, that’s the first step towards manifesting that future.
There are many reasons that I’ve had a hard time picking a specific career to pursue. One of which, is the fact that there isn’t really one singular thing that I was ever able to imagine making me feel fulfilled and happy for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for all the many talents, interests, passions, and abilities that I have. The problem has always been that there isn’t enough time in a day to devote myself to all of them the way I’d like to.
Even this blog stands as an example of my difficulty sticking with one theme or niche and really remaining faithful to it. The name of this blog is Protect the Innocent because when I started it, my goal was to make a blog with vegan commentary and to give advice to new/rural vegans. I wanted this blog to be my little attempt at activism. However, despite my deep concern and interest in this important topic, it quickly becomes oppressive to me when I feel unable to write about anything else.
It seems like I always end up either doing nothing at all when I can’t decide where to put my focus and energy or I just do a little bit of everything. The problem with the latter is that then I am unable to really delve deep into any of the things I want to do. I’m not able to master anything or do any really big time consuming projects. My energy is always being scattered and worn thin trying to pursue all of my many interests at once.
I get anxious when I think about narrowing my efforts. It feels like I am sacrificing so many things when I center myself on just one. I know it doesn’t have to mean I never pick up my other hobbies again, but it’s still hard to reassure myself in that regard. I’d really like to try to structure my time more effectively. Perhaps I can focus on just one thing certain days of the week or set an entire month aside to really delve deep into a certain project or skill set.
I think setting up a more diverse, yet focused schedule for myself would be an excellent way for me to make more meaningful progress towards my various goals. I also believe this could solve my issues with burnout and lack of inspiration. This way I’d be able to give myself a break from one thing, while still feeling as though I’m doing something meaningful in the meantime. The most important step is going to be the first one. I need to set aside time to work out this schedule for myself so that I can move forward with a clear intention and reserve my mental energy for the task at hand.
It has long been said that if your time is not being occupied with something productive, you will find yourself getting into trouble instead. I feel that the same applies to the mentally ill mind. According to an article by Origins, higher IQ is not only associated with “more and earlier drug use,” but also with more mental illness including anxiety and depression. My intelligence has always been something I take great pride in, but I also understand that it can be a curse at times.
It’s difficult to tease apart correlation and causation, but in my personal story I would say that high intelligence led to mental illness beginning at a young age, which then led to early drug use as an attempt to disassociate or slow my mind down for a while. I still love to self-medicate, but I believe that mentally healthy people have no interest in using drugs. If you are happy, you don’t feel the need to take any amount of risk in order to find relief, so why would you?
In recent years I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy. It seems like each and every moment is filled with a task or activity for me to direct my attention toward. I’ve begun to actually fear not having anything to do. I know I will start to worry, ruminate, and subsequently spiral if I’m left with nothing to occupy my mind for any significant amount of time. Even once my daily habits become too routine to demand much of my attention, I begin to notice negative, stress-filled thoughts clouding my thoughts.
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.Proverb
The original quote is referring to keeping the physical body busy so that we don’t start making mischief. This is a lot simpler than keeping the mind busy, and that is especially true for highly intelligent minds that need a lot more stimulation. It’s a beautiful thing when my mind is set to work on a difficult problem or complicated task. I am energized, focused, and engaged. However, it isn’t always easy to find something my mind deems worthy of it’s full attention.
Depression and anxiety can make it hard to focus. And that inability to focus exacerbates the anxiety and/or depression. It is a viscous cycle that sometimes feels impossible to break. Similarly, depression and anxiety can cause us to lose interest in even things we once greatly enjoyed. This also makes it harder to find things to occupy our minds adequately. It’s quite difficult to focus on anything that you aren’t interested in or motivated by.
I think this is one of the reasons that I enjoy reading so much. When I’m reading, my brain is fully engaged in the story unfolding before me. My anxiety all but disappears while I’m losing myself in a book. It’s also a relief when we can redirect ourselves towards thinking about other people rather than our own problems. It requires a lot of attention and thoughtfulness to help others or work with them to solve their problems. Other people are always interesting and complex in their own way, which makes them excellent opportunities to get out of our own heads.
Sometimes my anxiety won’t allow me to focus on anything else. It tells me that it’s concerns and fears are urgent and pressing and must be at the forefront of my awareness. Then the difficult thing becomes not only finding something I’m more interested in to do, but to convince myself that it’s safe to redirect myself to that other task or train of thought.
If you notice yourself sinking deeper into depression or working yourself up into a frenzy whenever you have a lot of free time on your hands, consider implementing some safe guards to help prevent this pattern from occurring. When you find yourself in a good mental space, make a list of some activities that you enjoy or tasks you’ve been wanting to work on. Then when you have spare time, you’ll be able to refer to your list even if your mental illness has raised it’s ugly head and already begun to affect your ability to think clearing and redirect your attention.
In these stressful and/or depressed states, none of the items on your list are likely to sound very appealing to you. Just pick one and do it anyway. Trust that if you surrender to the task and allow your mind to be fully immersed in it, inevitably you will start to feel better. Don’t worry about the quality or outcome of whatever you decide to focus on. Remind yourself that it’s the focused attention you’re after, nothing more. Mental illness tends to fester in an unoccupied mind. A focused, busy mind is a happy, healthy mind.
As the new year quickly approaches, everyone’s first instinct is to set new goals. January is all about self-improvement and fresh starts. It’s always exciting to feel like you can start again with a clean slate. We have high hopes and big expectations for ourselves for the annual opportunity to recreate ourselves and refocus on what’s really important to us. However, what ever happened to the goals you set last year?
This is something not as many people care to think about. I’m definitely guilty of giving up on all my new year’s resolutions by the end of the month. While the first few days are filled with promise, it quickly devolves into disappointment and self-criticism. Then we really don’t want to think about our shameful failure for the rest of the year as we await yet another chance to start again. Checking back in my bullet journal for 2021, I was so beaten down by 2020, that I didn’t even set any yearly goals. Still I think we owe it to ourselves to reflect on the things we were able to accomplish at the end of each year, even if it’s just something small. Besides, what’s the point of setting goals if we never take the time to appreciate all the work we put into achieving them?
So today I wanted to make a conscious effort to give myself credit for my progress in 2021. Even without clear intentions for what kind of improvements I wanted to make, I manages to make some really significant changes in my life this year. And I don’t want to take them for granted. I encourage you, before the end of December, to set aside a few moments and make a list of at least a couple positive changes you made or lessons you learned in 2021. Here’s mine:
- Stopped taking Paxil for my anxiety.
- Overcame my eating disorder.
- Found an amazing partner and fell in love.
- Learned how to use my new drawing tablet and software.
- Cleaned and organized my home.
- Began calling mom and grandma once a week.
- Started making positive affirmation coloring pages for kids.
- Began listening to podcasts.
- Bought my first car.
- Stopped smoking.
Even if you feel like you haven’t done anything, I’d still recommend taking the time to reflect on the past year. I had no idea I’d end up having so many things to write until I tried. Without sitting down and thinking about it, I wouldn’t have thought twice about a lot of these accomplishments. They would have remained obscured behind the various new goals I want to set for the year to come. It’s easy to feel like you haven’t made any progress when you are always focusing on the future. I think it’s also a lot more common for us to focus solely on the places were we fell short rather than the places we have succeeded. Before you even begin to worry about all of the things left undone or all the improvements you want to make in 2022, give yourself the gift of acknowledging how far you’ve come. You deserve that self-recognition. That will be the fuel and the reassurance you need to take on all that awaits us next year.
One of the most common misconceptions I encounter when it comes to meditation is that the goal is to “clear your mind.” Not gonna lie, I thought this was the purpose for the longest time myself. Yet this is a very unfortunate misunderstanding that can cause people to give up on the practice all together. It seems like an impossible goal, and that’s because it is. Our minds are meant to always be thinking. We should be grateful for that fact and all that our brains do for us in every moment. There is no way for us to completely turn off our inner thoughts. And there is no need to. Meditation is not about doing that at all.
There are many different forms of meditation, but to my knowledge, none of them have the intention of emptying your mind of all thought. Meditation is about focus. It is training our brains to pay attention. The object of that focus really doesn’t matter. Regardless of what you choose, the intention is to keep bringing your mind back to that object. And I say bringing your mind back because it is inevitably going to wander and stray from your point of focus, especially if you are just beginning your practice. Our job while meditating isn’t to criticize or judge ourselves when we notice this wandering. It’s just to notice. That’s it. Our minds are our most powerful muscles, and just as other muscles need training and exercise to become stronger, so do our minds.
Sounds easy enough right? Well, I’ve always found one of the most fascinating parts of meditation to be just how difficult that really is. Doing nothing should be a simple task, but when you actually try to do it, you realize just how conditioned we are to always be doing or at least planning something. You realize how oddly uncomfortable it is to do nothing. You start to see all the ways your mind and body want to rebel against it. And while it does get easier with regular practice, there will always be days where it feels like the first time all over again. Those days that you find the hardest are the most important of all.
The hard days give us the opportunity to witness how we treat ourselves, how we speak to ourselves when things don’t go the way we want them to. Even though the brain may revert to it’s favorite hurtful comments, this might be the first time you’ve ever been present enough to really notice what those are. There are a few reflexive phrases my brain likes to throw out that, until I began meditating, I had no idea I was even saying to myself, let alone how often. It makes me think of that common school yard taunt: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. You can tell how dated that saying is, because now we have learned that words can hurt us too, even the words we say to ourselves. In fact, the way we speak to ourselves may matter most of all. Because these are often the words we take as gospel truth and believe without question.
While meditation alone does not necessarily help us to reframe this negative self-talk, being aware of that internal dialogue is the first step in doing so. The longer I practice meditation, the quicker I am to realize when I am being cruel to myself. Whereas before I either didn’t notice at all or felt too enmeshed in those painful feelings to extricate myself from them, now it is as if I can take a step outside of myself even in intense moments. The benefit of that space is that I am able to use it to choose a different path.
Now rather than piling on insults when I’m already having a bad day or have made a mistake, it’s easier for me to offer myself understanding and compassion instead of criticism. A lot of the repeated commentary inside my head is downright shocking to me when I examine it. There are so many deeply held unconscious beliefs I’ve been holding onto for years that when I lay them out in front of me seem absolutely awful. Meditation hasn’t stopped these thoughts from coming up, but it has helped me catch them when they do. And that alone has made a tremendous difference in my day to day life.
So while meditation is not what a lot of people imagine it to be at first. It is still one of the most valuable practices that I’ve incorporated into my life. It has allowed me to begin to heal in ways that I never thought possible. It has allowed me the space to craft an entirely new relationship with myself, which in turn helps me strengthen the relationships I have with other people in my life. It is one of the most beautiful gifts that we can choose to give ourselves each and every day.