Inspiration or Intimidation

Looking to others
can be a source of strength
to see success in someone you admire
can light a fire deep inside

Learning to savor
the achievements of others
as if they were your own
is a skill that cannot be understated

Compersion means celebrating
the joy of those around you
and what could be more beautiful
than that selfless sensation?

But comparison is the thief of joy
self confidence seeps away 
in the face of constant observation
of those you believe to be better

The fluttering chest and flushed face
I used to feel from absorbing the images
of those perfect women I adored
left me broken and starving

What used to inspire
became a reminder
that I could never be enough
no matter what

To protect myself
I turned away from the world
deleted all the sources of self doubt
but there is always someone to envy

Someday I hope to learn
how to bloom into my own best self
without feeling burdened
by who I'm not

Conflict

Conflict breeds closeness
a concept I've never quite understood
how can fighting foster connection?
I've always favored a clean break

Torn, tired muscles
grow back stronger every time
I suppose this is the principle
I've never applied

Emotions too big to express
evaporate on my lips
speaking out signals vulnerability
it's safer to pretend I don't care

Always held at arm's length
trading isolation for immunity
from all the messiness
wound up with others

Relationships aren't worth the risk
this mantra once protected me
always alright, but alone and uninspired
sometimes it feels too late to change

Trapped

trapped inside a groundhog day
of my own design
rinse and repeat
for the thousandth time

why not fall back into bad habits
when there is nothing better to do
it's tedious and troublesome
but the truth is far more terrifying

it's always been easier
to hide behind a mind set to autopilot
than to confront the chaos and uncertainty
that causes me so much fear

at least this way the days fly by
sticking to strict schedules
provides the protective illusion of control
assures there are no unexpected surprises

but the unexpected, the unknown
that's where spontaneous joy resides as well
hidden behind a writhing wall of fear and hesitation
I am what's holding me back

A Higher Hunger

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
 

Fear Moves Forward

that flutter in my chest
never seems to settle
eyes fixed on the future
never find rest
there is always something else
looming just over the horizon
a new fear always forms
to take its place
perching itself on my racing heart
safety and peace
permanently out of reach
forever pushed back
anxiety is a moving target
that always promises you
"just one more bull's eye
and I'll be gone"
no matter how many times
I fall for this lie
I'll believe it again tomorrow
because it's so tempting to think
that this will go away
that if I can adjust my life just right
I'll be able to rest

Cycles

My sorrow comes in cycles
waxing and waning with the moon
regular intervals of lapping tides
frigid dark waters against a jagged shore

long desolate seasons of solitude
convince me that joy was never mine
the cosmos close in around me
a heavy weight upon my sunken chest

when the sun finally emerges on the other side
of that cruel and endless winter wasteland
happiness breaks over my heart
like a revelation

my sleeping soul cracks open
shivering with delight in the warm heavy air
finally freed from its cramped cocoon
to absorb the majesty of the world reborn

open and unafraid, buoyantly held above
the stark reality of the season past
the second side of my dual nature
shaking off the bizarre burden I've been carrying

why was I so sad before?
what was it that I'd been pained by?
now suffering seems so far away
was it ever here at all?

I don't recognize myself
as I look back through the snow
and the aching, bony trees
caught in the swift, sharp wind

the summer beckons me forward
into a bright mirage of green
where nothing can cause me harm
where this time the cycle has surely stopped

each moment maintains its own eternity
forever paralyzed in each part of the pattern
immovable sadness giving way to boundless joy
always and again

What Am I Making This Mean

Our thoughts and inner chatter come at us so quickly that it’s hard to realize what is an objective truth and what is a distorted or biased perception of that truth. The events that play out in front of us don’t necessarily have an emotional undertone or meaningful significance, yet we are so used to assigning these things to every little event in our lives that they feel inseparable. The rejection we might face from a loved one is so immediately followed by our thoughts about what that rejection means, that it feels impossible to distinguish between the two.

I don’t think it has any immediate benefits, but I do believe in the long term just making a conscious effort to pull real moments away from our automatic perception of them is a valuable practice. It can feel pointless and frustrating to do so at first. Just cognitively realizing that rejection, for instance, does not mean we are unworthy of love, doesn’t make our conditioned reaction feel any less true or painful in that moment. This is just the first step though. Eventually once we’ve worked on recognizing and accepting that distinction, then I believe we will be able to move on toward challenging our painful perceptions and subconscious convictions.

It has been interesting for me just to notice how violently my mind resists the very idea of my immediate reaction being a choice or something I could view differently. There is a physical sense of revulsion in my body. My heart closes tightly. My mind attempts to shut down this new direction in my thought patterns. Despite how painful a belief might be, I find myself clinging to it desperately instead of being open to reevaluating the situation. Isn’t that a curious thing. Why am I so stubbornly trying to maintain a way of thinking that causes me so much suffering unnecessarily?

I think the answer to this question is that somehow, part of me has developed this stimuli/reaction cycle as a form of self-protection. It doesn’t seem to make any sense how genuinely believing someone couldn’t or shouldn’t love me could be protecting me, but that scared little animal inside of me must have some basis for mistakenly thinking it will. Even our most hateful inner voice is ultimately just trying to keep us safe. It is just afraid for us. It’s up to us to work every day to push through that fear and show ourselves that we don’t have to hold on to these harmful inner narratives any longer.

One way I’ve learned we can distance ourselves from the intensity of these upsetting thoughts is to speak to ourselves as if we were someone else. Internally addressing ourselves in the third person, saying our own name instead of I, can provide a mental cushion of space between the emotional energy of the thoughts and our conscious awareness. A question I’ve been posing to myself in this way is: “Rachel, what are you making this mean?”

Framing the question in this way is actually a reframing. It has become so automatic that we’ve lost the original question we’ve been answering which would be “what does this mean?” After being confronted with an uncomfortable reality such as rejection, the small voice of fear inside whispers this follow up question in it’s desperate attempt to make sense of things and create a story around what’s happened. Our well worn response to the situation is our answer to that question.

Even though I might feel as though I am constantly doubting myself, I never seem to doubt these explanations and narratives I create around the moments of my life. Why not? Part of the problem is I’ve somewhere along the line lost the ability to recognize I am the one creating this particular meaning. After years and years of unwitting reinforcement, the voice that tells me how I have to think or react doesn’t feel like it’s coming from me anymore. It doesn’t feel optional. It feels like a hard and unavoidable truth.

When I ask myself “what are you making this mean,” it is a reminder, however surreal it may seem at first, that I’m deciding to add qualifiers and opinions to otherwise neutral events. The way I see a situation is not the one right way, or the only way to see it. Really there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to interpreting the experiences we have in life. It might feel like those possibilities are extremely limited at first, but the more we encourage our awareness of their existence, the more we will feel capable of pivoting our perceptions towards ones that better serve us.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe there is necessarily any objective truth in this insane experience we can life. All that matters, all that is, is what you believe. It’s not easy. Sometimes I don’t even feel like it’s possible. But even so, I do believe it is worth the effort to help ourselves see the world and our own lives in a way that brings us joy, peace, self-love, and equanimity. What else could be more important or meaningful? Even on the days were my battles with inner demons and mental illness feel like a living example of Sisyphus, I know the only thing to do is keep going.

Unworthy

The fear of not being worthy of what my torn and bleeding heart so longed to do was the most frightening fear of all.

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

Mental healthy is a slippery thing. One day I’ll feel like I’m doing great things, living a beautiful life, surrounded by love and opportunity. Then next I’m silently screaming in the shower as my body crumples convulsively in on itself in an attempt to disappear. The thought that grips me most violently in these moments is that I am alone. I am so alone. I’ve always been alone. I will always be alone.

My mind scrambles searching for the people that I love. Where are they? Where have they gone? They dissolve into floating masks, colorful fictions. A door slams in the face of my heart. It feels like these people never knew me, don’t like me, don’t care for me at all. Worst of all, I can’t convince myself that this is not true. Even on my good days this feeling is there, I just don’t look at it closely so it doesn’t hurt as much.

Depression and anxiety play tricks on you. Tag teaming tormentors of the soul. They twist and contort the world around you until it becomes unbearable and grotesque. They block out the light and tell you you’ve always been in darkness. Pinholes poked through a shrouded sky reveal only the most painful parts of your reality. Suffocating. All consuming. Looming large on a jet black horizon that seems to be closing in faster and faster.

When I find myself in this desperate state, my already poor social ability breaks down even further. A drowning man violently grasping and grabbing, trying to pull everyone around down with them in a blind attempt at salvation. When my clawing hand is pushed away, it is a confirmation that I’m not worthy of the oxygen I need. The world becomes a funhouse mirror. I can’t bear to look.

I’ve often heard people saying “it’s not you, it’s me” is just a line, a cop out. That no one really means this when they break up with someone. I’ve never felt so sure of that. I’ve felt the truth of these words in my own throat. It is because I love the people in my life that I feel compelled to sever all ties with them. I am nothing but a burden, a leaden weight pulling them underwater with me. I’m a chore, an annoyance, something they would be happier and better off without. When someone ends their own life, everyone gasps, “How could they do that to their family?” Not realizing they probably did it for their family.

I’ve felt unworthy since the moment I conceptualized that was something one could feel. I’m sure other people feel this way, but I wonder if they feel it in the same sense that I do. I wonder if they hold it up to the light of justice and feel these pangs with that additional intensity. The added weight of taking what is not yours, of doing something vile and criminal, something sickeningly selfish.

All the bonds in my life feel tinged with injustice. I don’t deserve to be loved. I couldn’t possibly be loved. I am doing a disservice to everyone I meet by allowing them to pretend for the sake of my own neediness, to dissuade my heavy sense of self pity. The melodrama is thick, but it’s genuine. This is how I feel. When I push someone away, there is never even a moment’s consideration of whether that has hurt them, whether they are sad, whether they might miss me or want me in their life. These questions seem ridiculous to me. I’m clearly not worthy of remembrance or tenderness. You don’t miss a rock that has finally tumbled out of your shoe when you shake it.

When I begin to feel better, when my agitated state of mind starts to settle, I still don’t believe these things to be any less true. I never feel worthy of love. I just feel less guilty about receiving it. I never lose that sense of being utterly alone. Being alone just doesn’t seem to hurt as badly. I’m left with only a sense of embarrassment and shame for showing the world my suffering. For being selfish and conceited enough to think that anyone else should or would care, for bothering everyone by asking them to, for being so ungrateful when I already have so much more than I’ve ever deserved.

I’m just left wondering: How can you move forward, how can you be happy, find love, love yourself, when you feel so certain that you are unworthy of all of it? When you feel guilty for even wanting to?

Living in the Future

Peace can only be found in the present
there is nothing more stressful
than living in the future
with the landscape of life
laid out before us
the horizon is forever offering
new reasons to cower in fear
there is no reason to concern yourself
with things that have not happened

presence is a practice
the art of being where you are
cannot be mastered in one day
begin by guiding yourself back
when you find that you have strayed
into that foggy premonition
of darker days to come
fear will only block the light
that shines on us right now

Permission to Pause

Coasting on momentum for such a long time, makes the idea of stopping a daunting one. One of the reasons I’m so fearful of allowing myself a moment to rest is because I worry that I’ll like resting so much, that I’ll never do anything again. Instead I keep white-knuckling my way through life hoping that somehow the tension will eventually break and things will get easier. My intuition for when to go inward and when to express myself creatively has gone dormant long ago. Now it’s hard to even tell what I’m feeling or need from day to day. I no longer trust myself. I have turned my back on my body’s wisdom.

Western society is so focused on outward expressions of productivity and progress. We have completely devalued and cast aside the inherent worth of rest, introspection, and mental/emotional/spiritual growth. I’ve been sensing the need to go in a different direction with my life for quite a while now. My daily pursuits no longer bring me the joy and sense of fulfillment that they once did. Still I continue to cling to them, walking swiftly farther down the wrong path, and then wondering why I haven’t discovered the new direction I’ve been searching for.

You can’t explore your other options and reassess things while simultaneously barreling ahead with your current routines. Especially when those routines are as time consuming as mine are. There needs to be stillness, quiet, and rest for you to gain new perspective and insight. Even if it feels like it or looks like it from the outside, slowing down and even stopping completely is not lazy, unproductive, or a waste of time. Come to think of it, what’s even wrong with giving yourself permission to be lazy and unproductive every now and then anyway? Moments spent “wasting time” can often transform into some of our most precious, playful memories. Whether or not something is a “waste” is all based on what you place value on. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Despite all of the endless examples presented to me constantly in nature, my human arrogance insists that the cyclical nature of things does not apply to me. As a species we’ve become so separated from the nature ebb and flow of activity and rest that we forget the importance of both. Now the setting sun no longer commands rest, the seasons have no hold on our ambitious routines. Even if we only cared about productivity and working hard, it would still be more beneficial for us to also take moments to relax and do nothing.

Forcing myself to do the same mentally and physically demanding tasks day in and day out, it’s no wonder that my inspiration and motivation have bottomed out. Nothing lasts forever, even our internal stores of energy and creativity have a limit when we never allow them to naturally be replenished. I hardly remember what it feels like to be bored. Maybe that should be my goal one day, to remember what it feels like to be so idle that I’m bored.

Having scheduled out every minute of every day of my life for years now, you’d think it would be easy enough to include a few days here and there to rest. Wouldn’t that be so nice? Wouldn’t that be such a loving treat to give to myself? Part of me is excited at the idea. Strangely, at the same time, I feel a deep fear rising up as well. In my desperation to avoid that fear, that voice in my head that says “you don’t deserve it” or “everything will fall apart if you stop to rest” is so powerful that I continue to push myself even though I’ve gone far past my limit. It’s high time that I acknowledge the fact that I can’t keep running forever. I can choose to face this fear and show myself that it is just a phantom. It will evaporate into dust in the shadow of my courage and loving awareness.

As winter shrinks back and the warmth of spring begins to thaw the frozen earth, I want to make sure I am able to pause and witness it. It’s been a hard year and I’m always so happy step our from the cold dark months to emerge again into the sunshine. This month, I am going to schedule at least one day to do absolutely nothing. I need to refill my cup. It’s long overdue.