Finding the fortitude to simply surrender Nodding in acknowledgement toward all that's disconcerting Breathing into the tight spaces of not only our bodies but of our minds as well Saving space for the unknown bowing down to the bigger picture that we cannot yet see humbly accepting a limited perspective of this life Noting our indignation as it arises in opposition to adversity and asking ourselves: What is this? Do I really know what's best? Can I release my opinions and embrace what is? Learning that our white knuckled grip is doing us no favors practicing unclenching our grasp on the way things "should" be the way others should act should think should be Having the humility to say: I don't know Having enough trust to say: And that's okay Cultivating curiosity in place of judgement Letting go
For years now, I have practiced yoga, meditation, and gratitude daily. While I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my mental health since implementing these practices, it still feels like the changes I’ve experienced have been underwhelming. I thought that after such diligent effort over so many years, that I would be further along in my spiritual journey by this point. I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, etc.
In the beginning, these daily practices were done very intentionally. It was easy to remain mindful because everything was so new to me. However, after solidifying these routines, they became just that, routines. Many days I find myself just going through the motions. That is the reason I haven’t been able to enjoy more of the benefits ever after so many years. I also think this may be a reason some people find themselves giving up on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all together.
We must always be careful not to allow these things to become just words, just routines. Going through the motions may be better than doing nothing at all, but it isn’t going to result in the profound changes we’re seeking in ourselves. Yoga isn’t about the shapes the body takes, it’s about where the mind goes, learning to watch our own thoughts, learning to let go, to make peace with our perceived flaws or shortcomings, and so much more. In the same way, a daily gratitude practice isn’t about how fast you can list things off, or being able to fill up a whole page. It’s about the energy, the emotion behind the things your listing.
It’s almost funny when I think about it. I don’t know why I would expect writing a list of things I’m grateful for to be any different than writing a grocery list considering the way I normally feel while doing so. I usually don’t feel anything at all. If anything, I feel annoyed. “Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I can’t think of anything to write. Why am I such an ungrateful person? Why is this so hard for me?” That’s usually the kinds of thoughts occupying my mind as I struggle to think of enough bullet points to fill the page in my gratitude journal. Saying the words, “I am grateful,” isn’t enough. You’ve got to feel it too.
Now for some people this may just be something that blossoms naturally from doing the practice. That’s how it is for all of us at the beginning I think. But for an emotionally blunted person like myself, after the initial novelty of the practices begins to wear off, it takes a bit more effort to uncover that emotional energy. Words and actions may help to illicit certain feelings, but we can’t allow ourselves to become to distracted by the words and actions alone. It’s the energy, the emotion, the sensation, that really matters. Having the emotion without the words, will still work wonders. Having the words without the feeling behind it, does nothing.
So the next time you embark on any mindfulness practice, try to focus on the energy behind your intention. What is your goal in doing this practice? What types of feelings and emotions are you trying to invite into your life? Are you trying to train your brain to quickly list things? Or are you trying to train your brain to actually experience a certain kind of energetic state? If you want to be able to more easily experience gratitude, you’ve got to actually practice feeling grateful, not just telling yourself you are.
This may be a lot more difficult of a practice, if you’re like me. I really struggle to get in touch with my emotions. If someone told me to imagine what love feels like, I’d feel confusion and maybe anxiety rather than love. If that sounds like you, try this short exercise:
- Close your eyes.
- Take 5 slow, deep breaths in and out.
- Now, imagine someone or something that you love. At first, you might still struggle to feel anything. If that’s the case, keep concentrating on more and more details. You might try to remember and recreate in your mind a memory with this person/animal/object.
- Once you’ve got a clear image in your head, move back into your body. What types of sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel and where are you feeling it? Maybe you feel an opening in your heart space or a lightness in your stomach.
- Whatever you’re feeling, focus on those bodily sensations. That is love. Not the words, not the thoughts, but this, right here, this feeling.
- Stay with that feeling for awhile, breathe into it, explore it, try to savor the subtleties of it so that you may more easily call yourself back to this energetic state in the future. Try to memorize every aspect.
- When you’re ready, you may release the practice and open your eyes. You can come back to this practice as many times as you need to. Eventually it will become easier and easier to cultivate this feeling whenever you want to.
If you’ve been practicing for a long time like I have and are just now coming to this realization, no worries. Obviously it took me this long to realize too. No need to be harsh on yourself about it or feel like you’ve just been wasting time up until now. The foundation you laid by “going through the motions” has led you to a place where you’re now able to delve more deeply into your practice, to add a new layer to your daily routine. We all move through our spiritual practice at our own pace, with our own unique obstacles along the way. Honor where you are now and keep moving forward.
If you have a daily gratitude practice, maybe today try to list only 1-3 things. Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of emotion behind each listed item. Let me know how it goes! I’d also love to know: What does love feel like in your body? What does gratitude feel like to you?
Maybe no one really seems to be the person that they mean to be.Conor Oberst
Probably my favorite man in the world (besides my boyfriend) is the man I work with at my small little three-person office. I’m not quite sure I’ve ever held someone in such high regard. I genuinely view him as a member of my family and I look forward to talking to him every day. If we were closer in age, I’d definitely have a crush on him. Since he’s my parents’ age, I think of him like a father instead. Strangely enough, he and my real father go by the same name.
Earlier when I walked into his office, he was telling another coworker/friend of ours that he had been talking about me with his wife last night. He was telling her about how close we’ve gotten over the last few years and how much he’s grown to love me. I nearly teared up as he listed off my best qualities proudly. I was so close to telling him that I view him as a father, but decided to bite my tongue. Maybe I’ll tell him one day, but not today.
Never having been close to my biological father, seeing him in this way means a lot to me. I honestly have never had a closer, non-sexual relationship with a man before in my life. He has taught me so much. I am filled with admiration and love for him. He’s one of those people that I just mesh with extremely well. He has such an open, accepting, light-hearted aura.
However, despite all of this, I struggle with the warm emotions I feel for him. It is a constant balancing act whenever I start to feel attached to someone. There are only a small handful of people I’ve ever felt strongly enough about to be vulnerable with. Even so, that vulnerability terrifies me. My anxiety tells me I’m not safe, that I’ll only end up getting hurt and rejected if I show the world who I really am. No matter how safe the person may make me feel, that pinching fear in my chest never fully leaves. Even when I so desperately want to be closer, I can’t help but keep myself at arm’s length.
I think when you don’t have personal experience with social anxiety, you imagine it’s only being afraid of negative social interactions such as being humiliated or not knowing what to do or say in a given situation. But actually, positive social situations can be just a stressful. Even after a great moment of intimacy with someone I genuinely care for, I find myself feeling anxious afterwards. Thoughts start to pop up: Did I share too much? Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Do they like me as much as I like them? I feel awkward and embarrassed by getting closer to someone, even when it’s what I want. It’s quite frustrating and isolating as you can imagine.
I think most people in my life notice a striking difference between who I initially present myself to be: cold, distant, quiet, serious, soft-spoken, reserved and who I reveal myself to be later on: warm, loving, sensitive, affectionate, funny, loud, outspoken, passionate. Although most people seem to change once you get to know them better, I don’t think it’s usually as drastic of a difference. I doubt most of the people I am close to even realize how deeply loving and affectionate I can be. I’m just too afraid to be that vulnerable with practically anyone.
It really makes me wonder how different those around me might be from the way they present themselves to the world. I tend to take situations and individuals at face value. I can be pretty gullible and have to make a great effort to integrate the various layers of a person into a cohesive image. That’s one of the many great things about my friend at work. He is not without his flaws, but somehow his flaws make him all the more endearing. Loving someone despite their flaws is such a beautiful and profound thing to experience. Not only that, I am able to see the way he loves others who are deeply flawed themselves. He is open and accepting of just about everyone no matter how different they are from him. Witnessing this in another has helped me so much to come to terms with my own issues.
So for those of you out there also struggling with creating close, meaningful relationships despite your earnest desire to do so, know that you aren’t alone. And for everyone else reading this that may not have much knowledge of social anxiety or mental illness in general, I hope this has given you a new perspective and a better understanding of some of the issues others are going through.
I became cynical at a very young age. I can still remember deciding that if I didn’t allow myself to have any expectations or dreams for the future, then I couldn’t be disappointed. At the time it felt like a brilliant defense against a world that was inevitably only going to let me down. It almost felt like outsmarting reality. Oh my crush doesn’t like me back? Duh, I knew he wouldn’t. I’m going to have to work a dead end job until I die? Obviously, the world is a terrible place. As if expecting the world and everyone in it to screw me over would make it any less painful when it happened.
Although I’m no where near as jaded as I was when I was a teenager, I never really allow myself to have big aspirations. Subconsciously I still fear the pain of failure or rejection. It seems safer not to try or even hope. Rather than daydream about things I don’t have, I’ve preferred to do my best to enjoy and cherish the things I do have in my life. I have been writing a daily gratitude journal for around 4 or 5 years now. It has definitely helped me be more mindful of the little things that light me up throughout the day. It’s a reminder that I can choose to focus on the good in my life.
Practicing gratitude has been so helpful that now I think I’m finally ready to open myself back up to exploring what I might like to add to my life. Confident in the fact that I will be okay whether my plans come to fruition or not. I’ve become even more interested in the concept of manifesting. I used to shy away from this practice, fearful that it would cause me pain if I was unable to draw what I wanted into my life. Now I realize that even more important than the eventual outcome is the practice itself. Manifesting isn’t only about getting clear with yourself about your goals and desires, it’s about learning how to live and feel as if we have already acquired all we hope to. It’s a way for us to learn that we already have the ability to feel the positive emotions we hope to find in the future whether our lives work out the way we originally plan or not.
So for the first time in such an incredibly long time, I’d like to make a list of some of the things I hope to cultivate and move toward in my life:
One: Live with My Partner
My boyfriend, Nate, has finally committed to moving back to my area after several months of living over 6 hours away. He still has to complete the training that he started and unfortunately won’t be able to come back until the end of the year. Still, I am eagerly awaiting his return. We’ve talked about living together some day, and though I haven’t said anything explicitly yet, I am hoping that he will come stay with me once he moves back. The thought of living with the man I love fills me with joy and excitement. At the same time I am pretty nervous about it. I have only ever lived with a partner once and it was barely for a month. Other than that, since graduating from university, I have been living on my own. It is going to be a big adjustment to have someone to share my home with. Despite the challenges, I am ready. I’m ready to give up all the bad habits I’ve developed from living alone. I am ready to start building a life with someone. This is the biggest hope I’ve allowed myself to have in a long time.
Two: Wean Myself Off of Paxil
This Friday I finally have an appointment with my doctor to discuss lowering my dosage. Although I’m scared, I’m also excited. I can’t wait to find out who I really am underneath this fog of medication. It is probably going to be hard, but I am ready. I know I can do this.
Three: Advance My Career
This one I’m still a bit foggy on. I’ll have to give it some more thought. All I know right now is I’d really like to move forward professionally. Whether that’s to become a more essential part of my current organization or to go back to school or to become a teacher, I don’t know. All of these options sound equally enticing at the moment.
As you can tell, most of these hopes are pretty vague right now. I’m a little rusty when it comes to daydreaming about what I might like for myself to have in the future. It’s honestly surprising to realize just how difficult the question “what do I hope for” is to answer. For now, I’m going to try to explore that question more deeply. More importantly, I’m going to start regularly asking myself “how do I want to feel” then inviting that feeling into my body, practicing the feelings I’d like to experience more of. Above all, I hope to be happy and I know I have the tools and the inner resources to make that happen.
Living with crippling social anxiety for most of my life, it is such a strange feeling to not be nervous about meeting someone new. I have a date with a vegan guy I met online this Saturday. It will be the first time we’ve seen one another in person. I think this is an example of a scenario where most people would feel at least a little nervous. But surprisingly even these types of encounters don’t phase me anymore. However, now there are other mental obstacles I face when meeting someone new.
For the longest time, I had basically given up on everyone. It seemed like it had been ages since I met anyone that was even remotely interesting, let alone funny. I began to think that I had just been lucky early on to meet so many wonderful people that have since slowly trickled out of my life. I had little to no hope of finding more people that were able to live up to my expectations. But now I’m starting to challenge that way of thinking. This last year and a half at my new job working with so many hilarious, fascinating, and intelligent people has reawakened my hope in humanity. Like I mentioned in my post yesterday, our minds subconsciously confirm what we already believe, even when it’s something we would really rather not be true. I wonder if perhaps at least some of the people I’ve written off in the past few years could have actually been perfectly nice if I’d given them more of a chance.
As I try to mentally prepare for meeting this person a few days from now, I have a very narrow line to walk. I am learning how to keep myself from expecting too much from someone while also not assuming they have nothing to offer me. Normally I have a tendency to do one or the other. When I expect too much from someone, I begin to get irritated when they don’t meet those expectations. Not only am I disappointed, but I actually feel bitter and resentful towards them at times. On the other hand, when I decide that someone will probably just be another boring waste of time, my mind tends to notice only the details of our encounters that support that predetermined idea.
It is hard for me to allow a new person enough time and space to show me who they really are. It can be hard for me to stick around long enough to get to know someone fully before making my ultimate judgement. That is partly because I feel like I am leading them on or wasting their time if I’m not feeling all in right away. I’m worried I am giving them a false impression of how invested I am in the relationship. It’s also difficult for me to stick around because sometimes it just feels like I am trying to force something that isn’t right. I guess I just feel pressured to make up my mind about people after only a few dates. Sometimes I even keep seeing someone because I feel like by doing so I’m giving them a chance, even when deep down my heart and mind have already been made up.
My intuition is something that I question a lot. It seems like I am usually able to tell right away when someone is a really good personality match for me whether it be a friendly or romantic relationship. But there have been times that unexpected people have become essential parts of my life. I never know when I should trust my intuition or when I should challenge it. Or even whether or not it matters. Maybe my intuition and initial impressions are going to influence me either way.
I’ve noticed that it is often easier for me to get a feel for who someone is when I am able to spend time with them in a relaxed, group setting rather than one on one. This way I am able to observe them. I can see the way they interact and react to other people instead of just me. I’ve always felt it was easier to get to know someone when they are around their friends. This is one of the many reasons that online dating is especially hard for me. It doesn’t seem to work well for me to try to get to know someone in a vacuum. But I don’t know what I can do about that. As an adult I’ve found it exceptionally hard to meet new people, especially people that have the same interests and values that I do. I was hoping once I found a partner that was vegan everything else would come easily. Sadly, however, that hasn’t been the case. To my surprise, a lot of vegans still manage to be terrible people.
So as Saturday draws near, I am trying not to worry about what will come of it in the end. I am trying to stay curious, to stay open-minded. I want to allow myself to just have fun with whatever happens. I want to go into it with a light-hearted, playful mindset. With only the intention of discovering what this new person is all about. Perhaps it will be my soulmate, perhaps we’ll become good friends, or maybe it will just be a one time adventure exploring the local trails on a warm sunny day in spring. I am keeping my heart open to whatever the day may hold.
Well I didn’t think it was possible, but I’ve fallen even more in love with The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. It’s almost meditative just to read. The last few chapters have turned to discussing energy. Namely internal energy, chakras, energy centers, whatever you would like to call them. Once again, somehow this book presents me with things I’ve already known about and believed in, yet does so in a way that completely changes my understanding of these topics.
I’ve written about chakras before. I think we have all had the experience of feeling at least our heart chakra’s energy. It even stands out in our language with common phrases such as “heartbroken” or “my heart sank.” Even the throat chakra seems to be referenced with comments such as “choked up” or having a “lump in your throat.” The Untethered Soul brought another interesting aspect of this internal energy to my attention.
I feel silly for never thinking of it before, but our emotions and internal feelings have a huge effect on our energy level. Even though this seems obvious now, beforehand I only really considered things like rest, diet, and physical exertion to have an effect on our level of energy in the body. But these clearly aren’t the only things that have an effect.
The easiest example of this that is mentioned in the book is the feeling of either finding love or losing that love. When we first fall in love with someone or even rekindle a romance, it feels like we are capable of anything. We have so much more energy! Everything is exciting, interesting, meaningful. It’s a breeze to get out of bed each morning. We even look forward to it. You can almost feel the energy bubbling in your chest. On the contrary, when your loved one leaves you, that same energy vanishes. You feel empty, exhausted, despondent. We have to drag ourselves out of bed. Yet the amount of food we have eaten or sleep we’ve gotten doesn’t have to change at all for us to experience these drastic shifts in energy. Isn’t that fascinating?
I guess I always thought that was all just “in my head.” But how can it just be in my head if I am truly experiencing it in my body as well? In this book, Singer explains that what we are feeling is the opening and closing of the energy centers (chakras) in the body. When our heart chakra is open there is an enormous flow of energy traveling through us. This is what we are feeling when we are in love. Our hearts are open. But when we lose that love, or close our hearts, we are closing off that source of energy as well. We are blocking the natural flow.
The truly exciting thing is that we can teach ourselves to unblock these energy centers, allowing ourselves to experience an abundance of energy. So much energy in fact, that it can even benefit those around us. We all have access to this limitless source of energy inside. We just have to learn to let it flow naturally instead of resisting or clinging to different parts of life.
Singer suggests we play a little game with ourselves. Just start to pay attention to your heart space as you go about your day. You will feel it opening and closing over and over. Notice when someone says something you don’t like or that hurts your feelings. Notice how it feels in your body. Does your chest feel tighter? Does your breath become more shallow? That is what it feels like to close. Also begin to notice what it feels like to get a compliment or have a meaningful conversation with someone. Do you feel an expansion in your ribcage? Do you feel a flush of energy, excitement? That is what it feels like to open.
Once we can identify these sensations in the body, we can learn to stop closing our hearts all together. We might feel as though we are protecting ourselves by closing our hearts, but this is not the case. All we are doing is limiting our energy, shutting it away, blocking it up inside. But with practice we can eventually get to a point where we always have access to our boundless inner energy. Wouldn’t it feel wonderful to always be in love and to share that energy with everyone we meet?
I am so eager to begin this journey of opening. As someone who always seems to feel tired, it’s lovely to realize I have more then enough energy. It just so happens to be locked up inside. I am ready to learn how to release and let go. I am ready to allow that energy to flow through me again. It isn’t going to be easy work, but I know it will be worth it. I am ready to begin again. I am ready to open.