Defining Moments

Each of us have moments throughout our lives that come to define us. It might not even seem like a memorable event at the time, but looking back years later we come to realize that it was an important turning point for us. One of the things I find most beautiful about the human experience is how often some of our darkest hours turn into something to be grateful for down the road. We are able to find resiliency and meaning in the most difficult and harrowing of circumstances.

For some reason, I have really been contemplating my past recently. When I was younger it seemed like my memory was an organized folder of events laid out in order. As I’ve collected more and more experiences though, that folder has become a complete mess with huge sections that seem to be missing entirely. As a child, I was sure I’d want to remember everything about my life and have detailed records to look back on fondly once I was older. However, at some point, maybe around the end of high school, I changed my mind. It felt like I was collecting a lot of notebooks full of worthless musings rather than important accounts of my daily life. Besides, I had yet to feel any need to look back through those early diaries.

Now it seems like I’ve changed my mind yet again. I’m quite distressed by how cluttered and unclear my memory has become. At some point I’d like to start working on a timeline of my life, adding details of whatever form as they come to me. That is a daunting endeavor, but I thought I could at least start by recounting some of the significant, what I would consider “defining moments” of my adult life.

1. Discovering Neuroplasticity

This may seem like a silly, impersonal moment to consider as one that defined who I am now, but looking back I know I would not be where I am today without it. Although my education in psychology has not necessarily been a great financial decision in the long run, it provided me with a wealth of information that is priceless to me. I wanted to study in this field because the brain has always fascinated me. I wanted to understand what is was about me that made me feel so different and separate from everyone else. I wanted to learn what was “wrong” with me and how to fix it.

One of the most impactful, useful pieces of knowledge I collected in this pursuit was the concept of neuroplasticity. From the brief bits of psychology I had learned before that, I had assumed that after a certain age (an age I had already unfortunately passed) the brain stopped developing. I felt hopelessly trapped in the thinking patterns and habits that I had already unconsciously been developing my whole life. I wasn’t happy at the time, so I would never be happy.

Finding out that no matter how old we are we have the ability to actively and intentionally change the pathways in our brains, strengthening and forming new connections, was groundbreaking. For the first time in my life, I really felt like I had control over my own happiness. It gave me the hope and confidence I needed to finally trust in all the woo-woo self help nonsense I had always cast aside as wishful thinking. That was the day my journey to create myself truly began.

2. Hopelessness, Helplessness, and Heartbreak

The second defining moment I had as an adult was losing the love of my life for the second time. Although it happened once before, I felt the second instance was more devastating, more final. When this person came back into my life after years of no contact, I actually cried from sheer joy and gratitude. I still remember wishing I believed in God at the time so I would have someone to properly thank for my unimaginable good fortune. Little did I know that hardly over a month later, I would have been cursing that same God as it all came tumbling down around me.

I won’t get into the details, but when he left that day, the pain was so great that I numbed myself from it. I sat is silence for a long time. I was speechless, directionless. I felt utterly hopeless. I felt no other option other than to surrender to that immense ocean of sorrow before me. But that surrender allowed something beautiful to bloom inside me. It made me realize that clinging to the image of happiness I had always had in my head, wouldn’t make it any more possible. I accepted that perhaps I may never achieve that particular dream.

As heartbreaking as it was to let that dream go, when I did it allowed me the space I needed to realize that what I had been envisioning certainly wasn’t the only possible form of happiness. I knew that I had the ability to craft another, different, yet equally happy life for myself. Even if that life would be one I’d spend alone. At that moment I felt a shift. I felt a swell of energy inside me, urging me not to give up just yet.

This is the night I remember when I hear people talking about their “dark night of the soul.” Painful as it was, it taught me that I am much stronger than I thought I could be. It has given me a new image of my inner strength and resilience. It forced me to finally take the reigns of my own life.

3. Yoga Teacher Training

The previous life events were what I believe ultimately prepared me to delve deeper into my yoga journey. When the stars aligned and I somehow found myself in teacher training, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Before then I thought yoga was just about exercise and flexibility. I was shocked and delighted to find that there was so much more to it than that. I am so grateful for all of the amazing things I learned in teacher training that have helped me to continue to deepen my own practice.

It has even helped repair my relationship with spirituality in general. After years of ardent atheism following a Christian upbringing, I never thought that I would be open to anything anywhere near religion or “faith” ever again. I still consider myself an atheist, but that hostility and hatred I once harbored for anything religious or spiritual has finally faded. Yoga has helped me make peace with a lot of the grey areas of life and make peace with myself in general. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to share what I’ve learned and continue to learn with my students each week.

Overall, the combination of these three events in my life completely changed the trajectory I felt my life was on when I was younger. Contemplating these moments reminds me just how amazing this life really is. Just when I start to feel like I know it all and can predict exactly what will happen for me next, life surprises me yet again. What a beautiful thing it is to be a part of this world. I can’t wait to find out what else the universe has in store for me. Stay curious, keep learning, and be open to everything that comes your way. You never know how important it might be.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Where Words Fail

Some feelings escape expression
a bone deep experience 
often cannot be spoken
a twinge of added poignancy
holds you fast in the moment

Words can only come
after the moment has past
part of the perfection
lies only in the present
oh, fleeting, frenzied feeling

Even memory cannot contain 
the depth of some moments
still you hold this flat snapshot
lovingly before you, inspiration
to guide you forever onward

You don't know if these tastes
of true living will return to you
or how far away they may be
but you breathe only hope
that they will, that they're near

 
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Memories

Today I thought I’d give myself a little break from coming up with a topic to write about. Instead I’d like to write about a few memories that make me happy. I’m hoping that by doing this it will put me in a good mood and help me enjoy the rest of my nice, rainy day off. So here are five memories of mine that bring me joy.

One: The drunken sleep overs I used to have with my two best friends in high school.

Despite all of the problematic things I went through, high school was still one of the best times in my life. I was very lucky to have a very close knit group of wonderful people around me. It was especially nice to spend the night with my two best friends, let’s call them Bailey and Ally. Young and full of teenage angst, nothing was more gratifying than sneaking around after our parents went to sleep and getting into their liquor cabinets. Drinking was never more fun than when it was forbidden. I still remember one night in particular that Ally, Bailey, and I even snuck a couple boys into my house. We had so much fun and they brought us some weed to smoke too. I distinctly remember having my first cigarette that night. We were standing out in the warm night air, there was a hardly perceptible drizzle of rain coming down. In that moment with my best friends in the world, I felt completely and utterly content.

Two: Making forts at my mom’s office.

When I was a preteen, I used to spend a few days every week in summer at my mom’s office. She worked for a local college and they had a summer program for kids around my age so that employees and students didn’t have to pay someone to watch their kids after school let out for the year. Even though I was still a very awkward little weirdo, I managed to find myself a group of friends there. The other girls in my group were a few years older than me, but that made me feel cool to be included. One of our favorite things to do (especially if it was stormy out) was to move together a bunch of tables and cover them with blankets. Then we would go inside and hangout in our nice little fortress. I can still recall that feeling of togetherness and comfort that it always gave me. Although I don’t think about that place often, it still holds a lot of precious memories for me.

Three: Walking to the park in my hometown.

Many times throughout my childhood and adolescence I walked from my house to a little park in town. We lived on a back road on the outskirts of a small town, so it was quite a substantial walk there and back. I used to walk there with my sister and grandma. We’d often get some Reese’s pieces or a can of pop from the little corner store. As I got older I would walk there with my friends when they would come over. In middle school I would often walk there alone to meet a boy in town that I dated. I still remember getting butterflies when he would call me and ask if I wanted to go to the park. That’s even were I got my first kiss all those years ago. I honestly haven’t thought about that in years, but it brings me just as much joy as it did back then.

Four: Talking with my friends on the phone and AIM for hours on end.

When I was a kid, talking to your friends was a much bigger deal than it seems to be now. We didn’t have phones glued to our hands to text people sporadically throughout the day. We set aside time specifically for talking either on our landline phones, or on Aol Instant Messenger (AIM). I actually still really miss AIM. It was better than texting because, for one, you could type on an actual keyboard so you could have more in depth conversations. You also knew that if someone was active on there that they wanted to talk to people. I hate the way texting doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end and you never know if someone is busy or just ignoring you. Even though the advances we’ve made in technology are supposed to bring us closer together, I felt much closer to my friends before smartphones existed. I used to call one or more of my friends on the phone every day. We would talk for hours about everything and nothing. A few times my friend Ally and I would even be on the line in complete silence, just watching a movie together on TV, then discussing it during the commercials. I long to go back to those simpler days.

Five: That Christmas in College were we all bought each other toys.

I used to have a really awesome group of friends that I hung out with my second or third year of college. Sadly since then we have all drifted apart. A lot of the memories from that time have been blurred or obliterated by copious amounts of alcohol. There is one that stands out in my mind though. One year for Christmas we decided to buy each other kid’s toys instead of normal gifts. We had all been missing our childhoods and thought it’d be fun to have a kid Christmas one last time. We all went to Ally’s parents house to spend the night. We drank a lot, opened our gifts, and played together with our new toys as if we were kids again. It was so silly and stupid and special. I am really grateful for that experience. It warms my heart.

So there you have it, five random memories from my life that make me smile. It definitely did feel good to write about all of those things. I have truly had a wonderful life. There are so many of these kinds of memories that we forget we have until we go searching for them. I’ll definitely make more posts of this type in the future to see what other gems I am able to unearth. What are some memories that make you happy?

white ceramic mug on white wooden shelf photo – Free Image on Unsplash

Memory

Photo by Allan Mas on Pexels.com

Memory has always been something that fascinates me, like dreams. Another mysterious inner activity of the mind that we struggle to fully understand. Both my memory and my dreams are private worlds that only I may enter. It’s an interesting thought. Reality can be confirmed by those around us experiencing the same things. How are we to know if our solitary memories and dreams are “real?” Perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter. They are real to us. Therefore they influence the way we see and interact with the world.

Lately I’ve been asking people about their earliest memories. I’ve done this a few times in the past as well. Even though I always seem to get similar responses, I never cease to be shocked and frustrated. I don’t think anyone I’ve ever asked has told me about a memory from before they were in school. Even kindergarten memories seem to be rare for people. This is just so hard for me to believe. Do most people really not have any memories from early childhood, before school? Before 5 years of age? That just can’t be true. I can’t imagine going through life like that.

The excuse is usually, “Well, I have a really poor memory.” But so do I! My friends will tell me stories from our adventures together in college and I’ll have only the foggiest recollection of the whole scenario. There are handfuls of people I’ve met and even slept with that I don’t remember at all. Sometimes it feels like my memory is a jar of sand with a crack near the top. All of my early memories seem to be safe at the bottom of that jar, but memories from recent years slip through the crack and are lost forever. I used to have a nearly photographic memory. However years of drug and alcohol use have all but destroyed it. But I just thought a deteriorating memory would encompass every memory, not just more recent ones. Perhaps my brain is able to hold onto the memories it keeps, but is just hit or miss when it comes to forming new memories.

Either way, the fact remains that even will this poor memory of mine, I am able to remember countless things from a very young age. I have tons of memories from before I went to school. I have memories of my grandmother watching my sister and I and the fun we would all have together while my mother was at work. I can remember going to preschool when I was 3 and 4. I remember the friends I made. Even snippets of conversations, the toys we would play with, the ones we weren’t allowed to and how frustrated I was by that. (There were finger paints and giant blocks that we were forbidden from using to my confusion and dismay.) I can remember a lot about kindergarten too, not just one or two memories.

It is honestly scary to me that no one else has these kinds of memories. It makes me afraid that I will someday lose them. It makes me want to start writing it all down for myself. It also makes me doubt myself. Do I remember these things? Maybe these are false memories. Maybe none of those things really happened or happened differently than I remember. Maybe I am just remembering the times throughout my life when I have recounted these memories to others.

What I used to consider my earliest memory is now suspect. I was only 1 or 2 years old. I was in my crib, throwing a tantrum, throwing binkies out onto the floor. I wanted my original binkie. Like the first one I ever had, if that gives you an idea of just HOW young I was. But it had gotten old and used up so my mother threw it away. (This I only discovered from telling this memory to my mom when I was younger.) Even at the time she was shocked I could remember that. And at the time I truly did. But now it feels more like I am remembering the story, not the actual experience. There are some of my very very early memories that feel this way now, but with others there is still that feeling of being transported back in time in my own head, that bodily sensation of being there again.

Part of me doesn’t fully believe people when they tell me their first memory is from when they were 9 years old or something. It just seems absurd to me. I question if it’s just that they don’t want to tell me their earliest memories. Perhaps that’s too personal for me to be asking. Or maybe they could think of earlier ones if they really concentrated and put more effort into it. I just cannot accept that I am rare in remembering things from when I was 3 or 4. Or that I could possibly be mistaken in thinking I can. That’s what actually unnerves me the most. Because those memories mean a lot to me.

I want to hold onto as many memories as I can from those early years. Those years of simple bliss, of being so lovingly cared for, marveling at the whole world, learning, exploring, loving everyone and everything with the innocence of a child. Maybe I will write as much as I can remember down and see if I can at least confirm it with my mom, grandma, or sister. That might give me some peace of mind on the matter. For now, I am going to keep asking people in the hopes that I can find more people that share these memories of early life. Please help me out by leaving a comment letting me know when your earliest memory is from. And if you’re comfortable doing so, let me know what the memory is about as well. I would love to hear from more people.

Visualization

I have recently become very interested in visualization. I’ve heard about the benefits of using it in meditation mainly. I’d like to start learning more about it. Even just daydreaming is apparently beneficial. I used to daydream a lot when I was younger. I don’t know when I stopped doing that. Maybe it was once I had been let down one too many times as a teenager. I began fearing my daydreams, thinking I was just getting my hopes up, setting myself up for disappointment. But now I think I did myself a disservice in viewing it that way.

Even though I now see that daydreaming is perfectly healthy and can be a positive, mindful practice, I still have lingering negative feelings attached to it. When I think about daydreaming, I am thinking about imagining things that haven’t actually happened or things that might happen in the future. Visualization can include daydreams, but it is distinct in the sense that you can also visualize places you’ve been, people you know, even things you have felt. For instance, yesterday during my short meditation, I was unable to settle my mind enough to focus on my breath. Instead I decided to picture myself seated on my favorite giant rock along the river. I went through every detail of what it felt like when I was there in the past and put myself back in that mental space. Allow me to take you there with me for just a moment.

It is summer. The smooth surface of the heavy stone beneath you is cool despite the warm air all around. You breathe in. The air is thick and soft. You breath out. You feel a gentle breeze pass over you. You hear it rustling the lush green leaves that surround you in this private place. Mixing with bird songs in the distance and the crisp collision of the waves against the bank, it creates a symphony that sends shivers down your spine. The earth is breathing too. It has its own soothing rhythm. Even with your eyes gently closed, you know it is very bright out. The sunlight creates a reddish hue on the backs of your eyelids instead of the blackness that usually resides there. You can feel the prickling heat of the rays against your skin, your shoulders, your cheeks, your open palms.

Wasn’t that pleasant to read? Did you feel the sun? Did you hear the rustling leaves, the waves? Isn’t it amazing how vividly our minds can reproduce these things for us wherever you are? I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and joy as I visualized this beautiful summer day that I nearly wept. I don’t have much experience with visualizations like this. Apparently they can get even better and more detailed with regular practice. I enjoyed that meditation so much that I even went through a catalogue of moments like that in my memory as I fell asleep last night. One that I was particularly struck by was the memory of a day last summer.

I try to practice my yoga outside whenever I can. It would probably even be nice to do in the snow, but I can never get myself to overcome my hatred of the cold to try. I have a big backyard and usually have my cat and dog outside with me as I do my daily practice in the shade of a big tree near the rusty orange creek that runs along the road behind my house. If it’s rainy I will sometimes still do my practice outdoors, just under my small covered porch. It’s just big enough for my yoga mat, and it’s a little slanted towards one side, but I like to think it’s a nice challenge for my balance. Last night the memory of one of those days practicing on my porch as the warm rain fell hard just a few feet away took my breath away. What a beautiful moment! A moment that was just for me. A moment that I can return to whenever I want. I let the sound of that far off rain soothe me to sleep.

It made me wonder how many other sweet simple moments I have stored somewhere inside my head. I had never really thought to look for them before. I am excited to start searching. I also want to start actively collecting these moments. When I discover myself in one of them, I want to practice using mindfulness to store as many of the small details as I can so that I will be able to reproduce it for myself later on. This life is so strange, isn’t it? I’ve inhabited this mind for over 27 years now and I am still discovering new ways to use and enjoy it. Do you practice visualization? What kinds of things do you like to visualize?

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Memory

There is a lot that we still don’t understand about the way our brains store and organize our memories. There have been a few times in my life where I’ve considered keeping a detailed journal of each days events. Part of me is afraid that there are important moments that I am going to forget. There could even be some I’ve already forgotten. There are definitely a lot of instances in college that I was too drunk to form adequate memories, but I do have a hazy recollection when a friend brings up different moments. It would certainly be interesting to look back on a written record of a memory years later and see if my memory recalls it as accurately as the written version. Seems unlikely that it would.

It is unsettling to know, but our memories aren’t very reliable. Eye witness accounts have been proven to be highly flawed, even when about a momentous event. How can we trust our own memories of simple every day things? When I look back on my life, I wonder how much of it has been colored by my own interpretations and emotions. How much has been altered? How much has faded away?

I have always been perplexed when people say their earliest memories are when they are 7 years old or something equivalent. Really? Is that when most peoples’ memory record begins? I have memories from before I was even able to speak. I certainly have lots of memories from before I was in school. But this discrepancy between myself and others has made me ponder my own memories even more. When I really think about it, those early “memories” do feel different than, say, a memory of being in middle school. I feel somewhat more removed. Like I am remembering other times when I’d told the story of that memory. It made me wonder if I should even count that as a memory any more. Maybe that’s why other people don’t claim to have memories from that early on in life.

I think the majority of us feel extremely confident in our ability to remember our past accurately. It is scary to realize that despite this confidence, the only thing we really can be certain of, is that those memories aren’t entirely correct. We may never know exactly what happened in our pasts. But then again, maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the ways our brains change our memories over time is just as important.

It seems to me that the more we learn and discover about the human brain, the more it appears that our reality is actually a clever illusion. This is terrifying and fascinating to consider. It is scary knowing we can’t really trust our own senses to portray our world with 100% accuracy. However, at least for me, this is also an exciting realization. To me this information also sends a message that we still don’t fully comprehend this existence. There could be so much more about consciousness and the universe that we can’t even imagine from our current perspective. It opens up a Pandora’s box of possibilities. It even makes me question the finality of death.

The things we reveal, the insights we uncover as we delve deeper into the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and biology may scare us. But they also may excite us. They may open up our understanding of this world, this life, in ways that no one could have anticipated. So while my brain may not be the same as a camera, recording my memories like a video, I will trust what it does save for me. And I will keep going. I will keep facing this crazy existence that may just be a clever illusion created for me inside my own head. It can be frustrating to accept there are things I just can’t understand. But I am still eager and hopeful that some day I just might.

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

Four Years

I can’t believe it has already been four years. Four years since my hopes were shattered. Four years since I lost everything just as I thought I was about to finally craft my own happily ever after. Four years since that long silence, since the day that still grips my heart and burns my eyes.

Yet also four years since I submerged myself in my yoga practice. Four years since my practice saved me, since I saved me. Four years since I decided to be my own happily ever after, since I decided to stop waiting for someone else to bring happiness to me. When I finally decided it was always mine to take.

Time can be a scary thing. How is it that I can feel hardly anything has changed and so much has changed simultaneously? How can it feel so long ago yet also so recent? When I was younger each day seemed to be stacked up neatly in my mind. Each moment so powerful and poignant. It feels like many more significant things happened within the three years I was in middle school than have happened in the last four. Is that an accurate perception? Or is it distorted somehow as more years pile up behind me? Have the years smeared together naturally due to aging, or am I losing the clarity I once had due to drug use? Perhaps both?

How am I already turning 27-years-old next month? It makes me want to laugh and cry all at the same time. Who even am I now? Do I even accurately remember who I’ve been? How much more will my perception of time be altered as more years pass? I can’t bear for it to become any faster or murkier. Yet I fear it will. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to keep changing. I had never envisioned myself even getting this far. And the rest of the road ahead seems less clear than ever.

Four years… a few blips in my memory. And what of the spaces in between them? Were they not worth remembering? Have I really wasted so much time already? Yet I remember that fall four years ago so well. It is sharp and sour. A drop in an ever-open wound. However, it is also sweet. It was that fall that taught me I would be there to catch myself. And that was enough. I was enough. I finally committed to myself, to my practice.

Nothing has changed since that day. Everything has changed because of that day. I am different. And I am the same. I have withered, and I have grown. Time marches on, relentless. A burden and a gift.

This Gift

Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com

When I was only a few years old, I can remember one particular instance on Christmas day very clearly. My older sister and I were gleefully opening piles of presents from my parents under the tree. It was early in the morning. My parents were in their bathrobes, gazing at us sleepily, but happily, from over their steaming cups of coffee.

As my sister begins unwrapping one gift, her face falls. In her hands she holds the board game Operation. I hear her shout angrily, “I didn’t want this!” To be fair, neither did I. We were both fairly timid and anxious children. The idea of a loud buzzer going off if you make a mistake in a game seemed quite upsetting. However, I can still feel how absolutely mortified I was by her reaction.

I think I must have been too young to really articulate my feelings at the time. I genuinely may have not been able to talk. (I have memories from far earlier on in life than most people I’ve learned.) But even being so young, I knew how terribly rude and ungrateful my sister was being. How could someone complain about a gift! Even if it is something you hate. It is still a gift. And gifts should be met with gratitude.

I think back on this memory a lot. Today it came to mind because I have been struggling with my anger once again. I have a tendency to get angry at the smallest inconveniences and keep that anger with me all day. Some days are worse than others in this regard. In order to quell that anger this morning, I meditated on the fact that this life, this entire existence, is a gift. Every moment of it.

How silly it is to let such small moments make me ungrateful for this gift. This unimaginably wonderful gift! I got to wake up this morning. I got to see the sun rise. I got to listen to music. I got to feel soft sensations against my skin. I got to snuggle and kiss my sweet fur children. I got to sip amazing coffee with pumpkin spice almond milk creamer!

It can be so easy to let our minds ruminate on the things that displease us. It can be so easy to forget to be thankful. The next time I find myself pouting about something, or getting upset, I am going to silently whisper thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you, universe, sweet mother earth, for giving me this existence, this consciousness! How could I ever be so selfish to ask for anything more? It is perfect in every way. Because I wasn’t owed any of it. Yet all of this was given to me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am so grateful.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com