Challenge

work-life balance: Men struggle as much as women to maintain work-life  balance - The Economic Times

I’ve never been a very competitive person. Growing up with an older sibling, you quickly realize that you’re more than likely always going to lose anything that isn’t purely chance. My odds were only slightly better even in those scenarios as I never seemed to be lucky either. I have always blamed this dynamic in my childhood for creating the largely apathetic attitude I have regarding any type of competition. I expect to lose. I don’t care much if I win. So what’s the point? I’ve always preferred to avoid any chance of failure.

Recently I’ve realized that my lack of a competitive drive has also bled into my relationship with my own personal challenges. I’m a huge quitter. I’ve never had any problem backing out or giving up if I believe I am going to finish short of my goal. In addition to that, academics have always come easily to me. I never had to struggle to understand or accomplish anything as far as my school work went. I got pretty used to being ahead of my peers. It felt good to always be the smartest person in class, even if intellectually I knew I didn’t attend a very good school. When I got to college and found myself actually having to study for my chemistry and biology classes, I was quick to change my major rather than put in the extra effort. Psychology came much more naturally to me than science, so I finished out my formal education at the top of my class, no studying required.

I still think back on those college science classes every now and then though. I take pride in the fact I still managed to get A’s even though it was hard. Whereas I don’t really care about the grades I got in my psychology courses, because in my mind, they were easy. I was more shocked that anyone managed to do badly. I’ve started to recognize this recurring theme in my life though. I’m so afraid of failure that I only allow myself to do things I know I’ll excel in. Yet, whenever it does happen that I find myself in a challenging situation, it seems I enjoy it more in some ways. I definitely take more pride in accomplishments that were difficult for me. Sadly, despite my many accomplishments, I only have a few that fall into this category.

I think in a certain way, society encourages this type of behavior. “Do what you’re good at” seems to be the message. There is this idea that we have natural gifts. Once we find out what those are, that is where we should focus our energy rather than wasting our time improving at something we may only ever be mediocre at. Only after learning about the 10,000 hour rule, did I really begin to question that idea. While it is still widely believed some people are simply born with special talents, the 10,000 hour rule explains that if someone devotes enough time to a certain art or discipline, they will surely master it, regardless of innate ability. This idea puts the locus of control back on the individual.

After spending the last few weeks absolutely obsessed and in love with my new electronic drawing tablet, I started to view this whole issue from a different perspective. At first, I was terribly intimidated by this new software I had no idea how to use. A large part of me wanted to quit and just go back to pen and paper which I already knew I was good at. However, knowing how much money I spent on this tablet, I pushed through the discomfort of being an amateur. In doing so, I ended up having so much fun learning something brand new.

Through this experience, I’ve begun to realize that I actually enjoy being challenged. Once I get past my initial fear of failure, once I overcome my massive ego telling me it will be the end of the world if I’m not the best at something, no matter how frivolous, I inevitably start to have fun. Sure there is frustration along the way as I struggle to do something new, but that makes it all the more satisfying when progress is made. Ultimately I don’t even care if I can eventually master whatever it is I’m doing. The enjoyment itself is all I’m after.

I remember hearing about how highly intelligent students may do poorly if their lessons don’t keep up with their ability. The smart kids get bored and lose interest while waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, causing them to lose focus and motivation, or even start to act out. This never made much sense to me growing up. I liked that school was easy. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want their lessons to be harder, even if they found them laughably easy. Now I think I’m finally starting to get it.

A happy mind is a busy mind. A bored mind will tear itself apart. In my opinion this is why we often see the most intelligent people also suffering with the most extreme mental illness. Being intelligent is simultaneously a gift and a curse. High intelligence demands high levels of intellectual stimulation. The brain was made to create, to investigate, to learn, and to solve problems. Without these healthy outlets for mental energy, the brain begins to make problems for itself.

When all I do is things that only require half-assed effort, my brain has plenty of extra energy to run amuck. Boredom breeds rumination. With nothing to occupy my mind, it begins to pick apart little details of the past or fret over the future. To me, this is the opposite of the “flow state.” When we are in that coveted flow state, our brains are fully engaged in what we are doing. The rest of the world falls away, and we are able to exist in the present moment. When nothing in the present requires our full attention, the mind is free to wander. With enough wandering, it’s only a matter of time until we find ourselves in the uncharted territory of our own mental illness.

The ego looms large over the mind with mental illness. The ego tries to keep us in our comfort zone, tells us challenge is too hard, that failure is painful. But if we can push past this flawed perception, if we can overcome our ego, we actually find that it’s fun to be challenged! Challenges are what help us to learn, to grow, to stay interested in our day to day lives. It’s new. It’s novel. It’s engaging. Challenges are true workouts for the brain. And just like physical exercise, it makes us happier.

Now my problem has become coming up with ways to challenge myself. My brain is quick to catch on to anything new I try. Therefore I’m constantly required to switch it up and try new things if I want to keep my mind engaged. However, just like with my workouts, it’s always hard to motivate myself to take things to the next level. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason. It feels good to be good at something. I’m going to work harder from now on to remember that it also feels good to be challenged and practice facing difficulties with enthusiasm rather than dread.

Default Mode Network

NeuroScience

If you haven’t heard the term default mode network (DMN) before, you’re not alone. Yesterday was the first time I did. Although I still am new to this concept, I wanted to talk about it today. I just wanted to get that disclaimer out first thing. I’m certainly not an expert on this. I hardly know anything about it. What I do know, however, is already enough to enthrall me and make me eager to learn more. So don’t take my words here as gospel. Go read about it for yourself.

I first heard about this term while continuing to read How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. If you’ve read my other posts referencing this book, you already know where this is going. That’s right, psychedelics. Scientists have discovered a very fascinating phenomenon in the brains of people tripping on LSD or psilocybin. These psychedelic substances inhibit or turn off the default mode network in our brain.

So what is the default mode network? From what I’ve gathered, the default mode network includes many different parts of the brain that are active when we are “in our own heads” so to speak. These are the pathways we are using when we are ruminating, daydreaming, planning, remembering the past, contemplating the future, etc. Basically this is the network that is active when we are lost in thought, rather than focusing our attention on something in the outside world. In the book, it also specifies that this DMN kicks on when we are thinking about ourselves.

This aspect of self-awareness encompassed in the DMN is one of the reasons why we are able to experience “ego death” while using psychedelics, which switch off this network. It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that ego death and transcendent experiences are both known to occur while tripping. The DMN, while useful, is also being linked to depression and other mental illnesses. People that spend a lot of time in the DMN are often less happy overall than people that spend less time in this brain state.

I find this very fascinating because it seems to reflect a lot of the advice you hear given to people that are unhappy. “Try to focus on someone else for awhile.” “Rather than ruminating, use that energy to help someone you love.” “Become a more active part of the community.” All of these shifts in focus are actually helpful, but now it seems science is getting a better idea exactly why that’s the case. And I don’t know about you, but I find it more easy to follow through on advice if I know the facts back it up.

Another thing I found interesting is the idea that social media tends to strengthen the DMN. When we are scrolling through Instagram or checking how many likes we got on our last Facebook post, our brains are in the default mode network. Apart from all the other reasons there are to disengage from social media, this one is quite compelling. No wonder I feel happier and less anxious now that I don’t use those apps!

If you’re looking for a way to experience the bliss of brain states outside of the DMN, but don’t want to take a drug to do so, you can try meditation instead. Surprisingly fMRI scans of experienced meditators and those of brains on psychedelics are remarkably similar. Training our minds through meditation can give us the power to focus. That focused attention in itself is another way to get ourselves out of the DMN. I believe that is why the “flow” state we experience when we loose track of time while working on a task that completely absorbs our attention is so pleasant. It’s a great feeling to “lose ourselves” in our work.

I have yet to see any research related to this, but I’m interested to know how the DMN functions in adolescence. I hypothesize that it may play a role in the unhappiness a lot of us experienced during this time in our lives. It also appears to be a time in life when we tend to be the most selfish. We’re learning who we are and what we want, finding our own identities. While this is an important and necessary part of growing up, it also requires a lot of self-centered thinking, which as we now know, can lead to a greater sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. As we get older and start to think more about others, the emotional turmoil of youth also seems to subside somewhat.

As this term was only coined in 2001, there is still a lot that science doesn’t understand about this brain state. A lot more research needs to be done. I’m excited to see what else neuroscience will discover about our brains and how exactly they work in the future. But as I said earlier, I am not at all a voice of authority on this subject. I just couldn’t resist sharing the concept and the things I’ve learned that have got me so excited about it. I highly recommend doing your own research and reading more about the default mode network for yourself. Feel free to correct me if I have misinterpreted, misunderstood, or misrepresented any of the things I’ve shared about this network. Also Let me know in the comments if you find out anything interesting that I didn’t mention.

Exploring the Mind

Still immersed in How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, I have been unable to prevent the psychedelic perspective from penetrating my every thought. I am desperate to find some free time in which I can start experimenting with my own spiritually centered trips. One of the things I find most interesting about psychedelics is the revelations people often experience while taking them. It’s not as if these insights are new. They are usually a reflection of things that have become platitudes: We are all one, love conquers all, we have the ability to choose our own reality, make our own happiness, etc. This is one of the reasons I find it so difficult to express the psychedelic experience to those who haven’t taken these drugs for themselves. It’s almost too hard to put into words and make sense of in my own head, let alone translate it to others. It’s similar to the way we can pass along knowledge, but not wisdom. There is something ineffable about the experience that solidifies the truth of the realizations that come with it.

Pollan’s book talks a lot about the seemingly limitless potential of these drugs to treat mental illness, comfort the dying, and even improve the quality of life for average, healthy people. What it hasn’t seemed to touch on yet though is the implications these psychedelic experiences have in regard to our minds in general. Sure we are introducing a foreign substance to our brains, but the pathways it activates are already inside of us, just waiting to be utilized. People have already found ways to access these mental pathways through breathwork alone, without the use of any substances. What does all this mean when it comes to our limited perspectives and perception of ourselves, others, and the world around us?

As a child, unburdened by biases or expectations, the world seems like quite a fantastical place. We’re present, we’re in the moment, we’re open to new experiences and ways of thinking. Understandably, that changes as we age. The more time we spend looking at the world through a certain lens, the more it begins to feel like that’s the only lens there is. We forget that we haven’t always thought or felt the way we currently do, and that others don’t think, feel, or react in the same ways that we do. Wouldn’t it be amazing to take a peak into the mind of someone else for just a few moments? Or better yet, to truly know the full capabilities of our own brains?

It’s frustrating and fascinating to realize that no one will ever truly know what it feels like to be anyone else. We take for granted that as human beings we are pretty much the same, but how alike are we really? So much of our experience of life is private and uniquely personal. The way our minds work are too complex for us to fully grasp, despite how far science has come. One of the issues psychedelic researchers have is how to quantify and categorize such personal, subjective experiences into usable data. Science has been relegated to the very limited realm of objective facts and observable behaviors/phenomenon. It seems we haven’t quite figured out a way to explore and understand subjective experiences, despite what a huge impact these things have in the world.

I suppose subjective subjects are better left to philosophers than scientists. However, one thing that is mentioned in Pollan’s book is the suggestible nature of a psychedelic experience. Whatever you are primed to experience is most likely what you will experience during your trip. Just like in a lot of other ways, in this way psychedelics seem like a hyper-intense reflection of reality in general. Our perceptions of everyday life are also highly suggestible, especially in childhood when the rigid patterns in our minds that psychedelics break down, haven’t yet been formed. If you wake up each morning and tell yourself you’re going to have a bad day full of tedious, tiresome activities, you probably will. On the other hand, if you can make yourself believe you’re going to have an amazing day filled with smiles and laughter and new adventures, you probably will! The external circumstances can be exactly the same.

It is impossible to imagine just how many different ways of thinking exist in the world. I believe we are each capable of experiencing all of these perspectives. More than any physical barrier, what holds us back most in life are our own limiting beliefs. Changing them can seem impossible at times. We don’t usually choose to believe what we believe. It’s an amalgamation of so many different factors that manifest as a belief system. Challenging those deep-seated ideas is no small task, nor is there a clear place to start. Part of the issue comes from realizing how much these beliefs limit our ability to even imagine alternative ways of thinking.

Looking at it that way really underscores the importance of finding time for focused creativity as an adult. Creativity isn’t about what you produce. It’s about expanding the limits of our own minds so that we are better able to come up with creative solutions to our problems and allow ourselves access to more options in our inner lives. Creativity is a muscle that is not exercised nearly enough. It is completely undervalued in our schools, offices, and communities. Studies have shown that adults are drastically less creative than children. Longitudinal studies that follow the same participants over decades reveal that despite being very creative at one point, they lose the vast majority of that creativity as they grow older.

If you find yourself feeling stuck, like the world has lost it’s luster, you’re not alone. The panoramic view of existence we all enjoy in childhood becomes narrower each year. For me, it’s extremely comforting and reassuring to remind myself that there is so much I don’t know. There is so much I am incapable of even imagining. So when I begin to apathetically ask myself, “Is this all there is?” I know the answer is a resounding, “No.” There is so much more waiting to be discovered.

Some St. Louisans Find Therapy, Meaning In Psychedelics As Researchers  Study Benefits | St. Louis Public Radio

Missing the Point

I’m still rather new to the practice of setting intentions for myself. I’ve been trying to take a moment each morning to set daily intentions and then return to those intentions throughout my day in order to guide me back onto the path I want to take. Trying to set intentions so far has only really emphasized exactly how scattered I am throughout the day. It’s quite hard to focus on the energy I want to cultivate. Half the time I have completely forgotten what intention I’ve set before I even leave for work.

My experience with intention setting has still been able to serve me, albeit not in the way I thought it would. It has shown me just how often we lose sight of what really matters to us. Even though we’d all like to be kind, we can instead be very short-tempered and aggressive. Even though we’d all like to be generous, we still pass up dozens of opportunities to share our abundance each day. Even though we’d like to be closer with our family, we end up arguing over dinner instead. Even though we’d like to relax, we end up pressuring ourselves to do more.

This just goes to show why setting intentions for ourselves is so important. Rather than setting one for the entire day, at first it may be easier and more realistic to set intentions for smaller tasks. I think often we have been so pressured by society to embody goals such as productivity and progress, that we forget to ask ourselves if those goals are in alignment with what we really want for ourselves. For example, every weekend I get excited at the idea of having time to relax and unwind from a hectic work week. Yet somehow I end up being just as busy on my days off. Instead of giving myself permission to rest, I see this free time in front of me and immediately start to fill it with errands. After all, I don’t want to “waste” this time.

If you take a step back and think about it, wasting time is really a matter of perspective. What makes something a waste? Is it a waste of time to play catch with your dog instead of doing the dishes? Is it a waste to watch a movie with a friend instead of writing that essay due next week? It all depends on what you’d like to prioritize. If you want to prioritize a clean house, do the dishes. But if you’re prioritizing taking good care of your fur babies, playing with your dog is the right choice. If your schoolwork is most important to you, you’d want to take care of that right away. But if you find it more important to set aside time to bond with your friends, go ahead and watch that movie. We get to decide what the best use of our time is, not our parents, not our friends, and especially not society.

Most of the time when we do something we regret, it’s because we lost sight of what really matters to us. We say we want to be closer to our loved ones, but when we talk to them, we end up getting angry at every little thing they say, correcting them whenever we get the chance, or arguing about things that aren’t even that important to us. When emotions like anger or fear bubble up inside of us, that is a great cue to take a deep breath and try to remember our intention. What do I want to get out of this conversation? Am I trying to be right? Am I trying to be the smartest person in the room? Or am I trying to show this person I care about them and have a lighthearted chat?

I love the question: would you rather be right or happy? It’s a great model to use for whatever intention you may set for yourself. If you’re like me and you find yourself spending your only day off giving yourself more work to do, try asking: would I rather be productive today or would I rather give myself a chance to rest and recover? Usually both options are completely valid and valuable in their own unique way. It’s not about what you should be doing. It’s about what you’d like to do.

Try setting an intention for at least one small part of your day today. You might decide to set the intention to be calm and mindful on your drive home from school or work. Seems simple enough right? But notice if you still manage to become enraged when another car cuts you off or is driving too slowly. When this happens, as it likely will, gently guide yourself back to your intention. Was your goal to get home as fast as possible? Or was it to have a calm and enjoyable drive? No need to be hard on yourself for getting off track. Stay curious about your automatic reactions. Isn’t it fascinating how our minds are able to defy our best efforts? Keep practicing and it will feel even more rewarding when you notice your ability to focus become stronger and stronger.

Why do we set an intention at the beginning of a yoga class? - Yogahub

Making Change a Habit

After 27 years of life, a pattern that now seems so obvious has finally revealed itself to me. While I’ve always heard that change is the only constant, it seemed equally as natural that we will inevitably resist and detest this constant change. How many times have you heard someone say something like “I wish things could stay this way forever”? I’m sure we all feel that way sometimes. However, even if it were possible to avoid change in our lives, should we?

I’m reminded of when I learned that despite having clear ideas about what will make us happy, studies show that we don’t have very good judgement in that regard. We don’t know what will make us happy. It’s a hard concept to wrap my mind around. I feel so sure that this or that will make me happy. I almost don’t even realize it when I acquire said thing and am still just as unhappy as before. I thought working from home would be a dream come true, but it turned out that I’m actually much happier coming into the office every day. Despite clearly remembering this baffling realization, a few months after coming back to the office, I find myself hoping for another shut-down so I can work from home again. I can’t seem to convince myself that being at home alone every day actually makes me feel depressed and more anxious than usual.

This strange dilemma is similar to the way I view change. I assume most people would say that they don’t like change. Evolutionarily, change is an obvious threat. If we’re able to survive with the way things are, change could potentially be catastrophic. Our minds and bodies are inclined to try to hold on to what has been working for us up to this point, even if something else may work better. As long as we’re alive, change seems like a big, unnecessary risk. I think this is one of the complexities that make modern day society so difficult for us to navigate. It is not an accurate reflection of what our minds and bodies were designed for.

I mentioned in some of my recent posts the new habits I have added into my daily routine to promote mindfulness and self care. While I initially felt an immense positive impact from these changes, after a month, they have begun to feel lackluster. This is the pattern I have finally noticed within myself. I am constantly concocting new plans and habits that I believe will help me live a happier and fuller life, more in line with my values. These changes are always amazing for the first week or so. Then they start to seem ineffective. I find myself back where I started. I fall back into the mindless hum of habit.

I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps what is making me so happy at first isn’t the specific tasks I’m including in my day, rather the change itself. Although the habits I’ve cultivated are mindful, I wasn’t being more mindful simply due to the actions I was performing. It’s much easier to be mindful when you are doing something new. Perhaps I wasn’t less anxious because I wasn’t watching TV while I ate, but because I was doing things differently than I normally would.

I’ve often had the feeling that intelligent minds are more prone to anxiety and depression. I believe this is due to the effort that we have to exert to stimulate our active, easily bored brains. Not many of us are willing or able to make that effort. I’ve always detested challenges as well as change. I don’t know if that was innate or a result of my early environment, but it is a misguided opinion nonetheless. I need to be challenged, I need new, novel experiences and information to make me happy. Now the issue is how do I go about intentionally including these things in my life.

When we’re growing up, we have little choice in the matter. There are lots of consistent changes that come our way which we have no control over. Maybe our parents move or get divorced. We have to go to a new school. We suddenly have a new sibling. Whether we are resistant to change or not, we know there is going to be a lot of it we’re going to have to deal with. Once we are adults and have more control over our own lives and environment, it becomes easier for us to avoid change. Often we even avoid changes we want to make out of fear. Stagnation may be unpleasant, but it is safe and that is our prime biological imperative.

After trying for years to cultivate healthier habits, there is one I have been missing. This month, I’d like to try to make change a habit. In order to break free from what has become a quite oppressive daily schedule, I think intentionally doing at least one thing differently or trying something new each day would be an excellent way to invite more mindfulness and mental stimulation into my day.

10 Facts About Chameleons

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.

Shades of Grey

It’s getting to the point where I’ve written every day for so many days that I can’t remember if I’ve talked about something before or not. However, I don’t really care enough to sift through all of my old posts to find out. So if I have started to repeat myself occasionally, I apologize. That being said, I’ve been thinking a lot about that black and white thinking I know I’ve mentioned before. This is a quality of mine that has in some ways been instrumental in determining my path in life. I’m not sure that I would have become a vegan or have the courage to stand up for what I believe in with as much passion as I do now without seeing the world primarily in black and white.

Some things are wrong. Some things are right. Some things are good. Some things are bad. This narrow frame of view is somewhat childish. Most people come to understand that very few things in this world actually fit into those parameters. The majority of life falls into that broad area in between, that grey area. While intellectually I recognize this, I still can’t help but reflexively place things into my black and white boxes. It is as if my mind doesn’t have a space for the many shades of grey. Rather than letting anything rest there, I feel many things, people, and actions constantly oscillate back and forth between good and bad, right and wrong. Which, as you can probably imagine, is quite mentally exhausting and emotionally confusing.

It has always been hard for me to reconcile the different aspects of people into a cohesive whole, a realistic image of a person in my mind. Instead I find myself idolizing someone one moment, then condemning them the next. This, understandably, makes all of my relationships quite difficult. I may feel undying love and admiration for someone, placing them up on an impossible pedestal, then feel utterly tricked and betrayed when they don’t live up to that unrealistic image. And even though I recognize this, I can’t seem to help it.

Even my self-image suffers from these extremes of perception. However, usually when it comes to myself I remain pretty consistently in the “bad,” “not good enough,” “broken” box. I focus on my faults and flaws while dismissing or diminishing anything positive about myself. Lately, I’ve even been feeling guilty about my posts on this blog. I feel like I’ve been playing a dastardly trick on everyone who follows me. I want to write about love and gratitude and yoga and self-improvement, but every time I do, I feel like a phony. “I’m not good enough to speak on these things,” I tell myself. I feel like a hypocrite for the things I write because I, myself, can’t embody those ideals fully in every moment. I’m not entirely perfect, therefore I must be utterly terrible.

Even though I know it’s ridiculous, it’s the way I feel most of the time. I feel like I am missing out on so much in life by being unable to accept all the shades of grey for what they are. Instead I find myself keeping a mental tally. If someone or something has more “bad” qualities than “good”, into the “bad” box it goes and vice versa. Anything close to true neutral flip-flops between the two endlessly rather than being allowed to remain in the middle.

As I’ve gotten older it’s become easier to recognize, but no easier to adjust. I know that this is possibly a symptom of an autistic brain, but I wonder if there is anything I can do to create space in my mind for the grey areas. Am I truly incapable of this type of comprehension? Perhaps there are some types of exercises or therapy that would help with this issue. In the meantime I guess I’ll just have to keep reminding myself that good people can do bad things. Bad people can do good things. No one is truly “good” or “bad” at all. Including me. We are all just doing the best that we can. And we are all constantly changing. I don’t need to label everyone and everything, I just need to allow them to be what they are. Even if that happens to be something I don’t fully understand.

Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

Meditation Metaphor

Imagine the mind as a flowing river. Normally we, ourselves, are submerged in the rushing waters of our own minds. Trying desperately to keep our heads above the current. We are swept along with every passing thought. Unable to separate ourselves. Meditation is a chance to step out of that raging river.

When we sit down to meditate, we have stepped onto the bank of the river. As we nestle in, the sunlight begins to dry our dewy skin. We align our backs with the trunk of a sturdy tree. We imagine our own roots sprouting from the sits bones, anchoring us. Finally finding solid ground after being carried by the cold rapids for so long.

As we watch the river in front of us, we notice leaves falling from the tree and landing on the water’s surface. These are our thoughts. Fragile and fleeting, the river carries them off quickly. As we meditate, our job is not to stop these leaves from falling, nor is it to catch them or collect them from the water. We simply observe them. We watch them land on the water, floating gracefully for a few moments before the current carries them out of sight. We don’t need to identify the leaf or discover why it fell. We don’t need to stop the flowing waters. Just watch. Just breathe. Feel your new roots grounding you, anchoring you in place. Secure as we watch the river of the mind and it’s many thoughts.

This is one way to visualize meditation. It isn’t about control. We can never hope to control our minds. Meditation is about observing. We are watching ourselves. Noticing what it feels like to exist. Maybe as we watch, realizing some of our own patterns, and maybe not. Just giving ourselves permission to sit on the bank for awhile. To just breathe, just watch, just be. It may even be helpful to visualize yourself at the side of a river as you meditate. Whenever you notice yourself getting tangled in thought, bring your mind back to the image of the water. Imagine the thought falling as a leaf into the river, and watch it go. We are not the leaves of thought. We are not the swift waters of the mind. We are the one who watches.

Photo by Rachel Xiao on Pexels.com