My soul is an impressionist painter finding beauty at a blurry distance so much potential and excitement still waiting to be discovered Feeling sick inside as I slide forward to notice the soft edges have become hard and defined repelled by the rough realness of reality that contains concrete corners and lines My eyes frantically search for another frothy formless future far away where everything can be perfect suspended in ideals and imagination The grass is always greener because you can't see it well enough yet to notice all the biting beetles hidden beneath and between the bright blades Dreams manifested can never hold a candle to those yet to be reached and realized the mind is the only place things can be perfect a pleasant pile of pros with no cons Fixed a few feet away from fantasy the tantalizing glow behind a half-opened door my essence is the same as a dissatisfied cat unable to commit to open or closed Savoring the sweetness of desire before the bitterness of defeat or the horror of an unanticipated too sharply real success
Haze of Change
Senses sharpened by a shift in reality the surreal sensation of sudden change unstable ground under cautious steps keeps me tethered in the present moment My soul lurches back and forth between ecstatic excitement and utter terror at the prospect of all that's to come should I dare to let myself hope? Surely it's psychotic to leave this safe haven this resting place that's given me such grace the soft embrace of a found family have I formed ties strong enough to last? Still, it's been so long since I've felt this stirring this passionate flutter of energy inside my chest for once I want to let myself follow it to fully embrace my innocent, hopeful heart I've finally felt the hand of fate guiding me I can't bear to ignore the voice of opportunity even as it beckons me beyond my boundaries to new places tinged with fear and uncertainty Perhaps for the first time, I feel ready to be brave making the right choice doesn't mean it's easy left disoriented and dazzled by unknown possibilities it's been the hardest decision I've ever had to make
Big changes are like the breeze creating little whirlwinds of unease small rippling waves made on the smooth surfaces of the mind The gapping maw of an unknown future unable to imagine what may come next hands shaking with anticipation palms made damp by possibility Holding down the hope that begins rising to the throat the droning drumbeat of "what if" holds a steady tempo of new terror White knuckled grasping of what is the daunting decision to sail past the distant horizon where the sun hangs necessary gambles in the game of life What might be lying just out of sight paradise or peril, it cannot be predicted the fear of failure tastes metallic on my tongue but there is no turning back now that I've begun
Making Up Stories for People
Years of yoga and meditation have helped me a lot when it comes to overcoming my anger impulses. The one area of my life where my anger still tends to flare up and overwhelms me is while driving. I don’t know why, but I have never gotten more angry than I get at people driving like assholes on the highway. Road rage is such a perfect term because it does seem to go straight past anger or irritation and straight to blinding rage. I have really lost myself a couple times, blaring my horn, flipping the bird, driving recklessly out of spite, etc. Just some real stupid stuff. I always feels so embarrassed and ashamed of my behavior later, but in those moment I have completely lost myself.
Normally when someone cuts me off or is driving under the speed limit in the passing lane, I immediately jump to thoughts such as “what an idiot,” “this person is a complete fuck,” “why doesn’t anyone know how to drive,” “this person has no consideration for anyone but themselves,” etc. These thoughts continue to race through my head as I become more and more angry. Often one small incident can have me fuming for the rest of my 30 minute drive. I keep going over it in my head, justifying why I was in the right and the other person was in the wrong. Often even assuming that the other person was driving like as ass on purpose just to piss me off.
One thing I have been trying to do to address these triggering scenarios is to turn them into a game of sorts. I’ve tried this in the past a little bit, but I think I was still taking it too seriously. I would try to come up with excuses why this person may be driving the way they are, but another voice in my head is usually screaming “that’s ridiculous,” “it’s so unlikely,” “how can there be THAT many people with reasonable excuses.” It feels like I was missing the point of the exercise. Originally my goal was to inspire sympathy for the person. Now my intention is just to entertain myself and maybe even make myself laugh. The truth of the matter is I have no idea who this person is or why they may be driving the way they are. I’m certainly not a perfect driver and have made excuses for myself in the past. So instead of immediately demonizing them and listing off to myself all the reasons they are a garbage person, I’m going to start making up elaborate life stories for them instead.
This doesn’t have to be something you only use while driving either. You can use this technique for any difficult people you encounter in life. It doesn’t matter how “true” or “likely” the stories you come up with are. The point is to turn an angering situation into an opportunity to have fun and invite some levity into your life. Sometimes it even helps for me to imagine someone else is asking what that person’s story is and I am coming up with one to tell them. Get creative!
Your story could be as simple as what is going on in this person’s life today that has them out of whack, such as just breaking up with their girlfriend or maybe they have a new puppy they just adopted in their car distracting them. Your story could also go all the way back to the person’s childhood. This person was raised by wolves and just reentered society a few years ago, managing to get their license, good for them! Make it as realistic or utterly wild as you like, whatever brings you the most joy and serves best as a distraction for your anger.
Certain emotions just can’t seem to coexist. The opposite of anger is compassion, so if that works for you, make up a sob story for the difficult person. However, for me, it’s often impossible to switch off my anger with compassion in the moment. It is more easily diffused with humor. The most important thing is to remember your intention. I tend to take everything too seriously, so it can be hard for me to let go of what I have deemed the “reality” of the situation in favor of something more silly. Remind yourself that it doesn’t matter what the “true” story of this person is, you’ll never know it anyway. There is really no reason to assume your negative perception is more true than a funny or compassionate one. Ultimately the only thing that matters is how you want to feel.
Reality is often stranger than fiction anyway. I also genuinely believe that the vast majority of people are not intentionally trying to be problematic. We all believe we are the hero in our own story. We all have justifications for even our worst actions. As tempting as it is to paint ourselves as the victim and the other person as the villain, what good does that really do us? It is much more fun to take the opportunity to be lighthearted and play pretend, and that’s what life is really about, just finding ways to enjoy every moment. I’ve already wasted far too many being angry.
Managing Sudden Change
Change is scary. Especially when it’s unexpected. Sometimes even a good change can cause extreme levels of anxiety when it happens suddenly. Today I find myself struggling with that kind of change. All week I have been eagerly awaiting the weekend. I desperately needed a full day to rest and recharge. I have been feeling so overwhelmed and ungrounded. I was so happy that the weekend had finally arrived so that I could just relax and do some boring housework.
However, last night, out of nowhere, my boyfriend tells me that a few of his friends are going to drive down to the city near me tonight and wants us to hangout tomorrow. I felt my breath catch in my chest. I was filled with horror, dread, despair, and anger. How can he expect me to drop everything and see him on such short notice? How can I possibly get out of this? How can I mentally bear to go another full week with no chance to emotionally and energetically recover? I want to scream, to cry, to hide myself away, to disappear completely.
Amidst this already chaotic swirl of emotion I also felt immense guilt and shame for my involuntary reaction. The anger that I was initially directing outward at him for being “inconsiderate” was now turned back on myself for being so rigid and ungrateful. I was ashamed of my inflexible, violent nature. I couldn’t help thinking about the way a “normal” person would have reacted to the same surprise. An impromptu chance to see someone I love who I haven’t been able to be with in over a month? What an amazing opportunity! How fortunate! How exciting! That’s probably what most people would think. The layers of unwanted, uncomfortable emotions I was already feeling were condensed even more tightly around my heart by this realization and the guilt that it produced.
I spent all morning in a brutal battle with my own thoughts and feelings, arguing with myself, making excuses, imagining hateful words to spew at others and myself for the injustice of any inconvenience to my incredibly easy and privileged existence. My yoga class was undoubtably terrible earlier. I felt like a fraud, unworthy to lead my class with such a childish inner torrent raging inside of me. “None of this will matter at all next week, next month, next year.” I keep telling myself that. I keep reminding myself that at the end of my life, would I really be happy making a decision to sour this unexpected chance to be with my beloved simply because my house would have to remain uncleaned for yet another week? What is going to matter on my deathbed? Sundays spent in monotonous home maintenance or moments shared with those most important to me? Obviously the latter. So how can I still feel so unsafe inside?
Mental illness is not rational. That’s what it always comes down too. I can’t expect to explain away these feelings. I must make peace with the fact that logic and reason won’t make these thoughts and emotions go away. I have to accept them. I have to sit with them, watch them, get curious about them, learn from them. Instead of doing that, I busily flew around my house this morning trying to leave for my class on time after waking up late, planning a detailed message to send to my boyfriend. “You need to account for ‘x’ if you want ‘y’. I need this, this, and this, so I can be comfortable. These are all the ways in which you need to accommodate and tiptoe around my anxiety and OCD.”
Luckily I was too rushed to send anything until I had had a chance to calm down a bit. On my long drive to the studio, I had time to think. Is it really right for me to insist the people in my life enable me to continue on being enslaved to my unhealthy sense of control? Why should anyone else be burdened by these irrational “requirements”? That wouldn’t be good for them or for me. Once again, I was trying to mold the world into what I think it should be, to make every moment suit my personal preferences. I was placing the blame on the event (a sudden change of plans) instead of on my inner reaction (discomfort, anxiety, anger.) I can’t manipulate the world around me in a way that will shield me from these emotions. What I can do is learn how to tend to the emotions themselves.
Everything that we initially view as negative, irritating, or upsetting can ultimately be transformed in our mind into an opportunity for self study and inner growth. It’s easy to say that I want to be enlightened, that I want to find inner peace, but it’s much harder to be given the chance to cultivate that peace and enlightenment. It’s moments like these, the instances that cause avoidance and rejection to rise up inside of me, that are my greatest lessons, my greatest opportunities to practice being who I want to be.
Earlier this week, my friend at work accidentally dropped a mug on my favorite bowl and broke it. A few years ago, this would have devastated me. I may have even cried. Definitely would have harbored a silent anger and resentment toward my friend. Yet that day, after an initial jolt of disappointment and irritation, I saw an opportunity present itself. Instead of focusing on myself and my misfortune, my focus shifted to my friend. “She must feel so badly,” I thought with compassion. In that moment all I wanted was for her to know that I still felt nothing but love for her. That was what mattered, not an inanimate object.
Even though I’m not sure she fully believed me, I quickly told her that it was okay. I told her that I had been taught recently that we should perceive everything we have in this life as already being broken. That way we can enjoy it in the moment, and still be able to let it go when the time comes. I thanked her for giving me the chance to practice non-attachment and letting go. And I was thankful, surprisingly. I was even excited to witness the inner progress I had made. I genuinely wasn’t upset. I was actually eager to use this moment for my spiritual growth, to turn it into something much more valuable than a silly bowl.
Now I see that moment as preparation, a warm-up, for this weekend. Can I also practice letting go of my plans and the way I think things should be? Can I learn to embrace change instead of immediately rejecting it? Can I actively teach myself that I will be okay even when things don’t go the way I thought they would? These are all questions I have to ask myself today, ways in which I must now challenge myself. This weekend is a spiritual gift, even though it may not look like it right now.
I am going to be grateful. I choose to be grateful. I am going to stop being so upset with myself for the fact that it is a hard choice to make. Instead I am going to be proud of myself for even having the option. Not long ago, this choice wouldn’t have even been available to me. I would have been so lost in my immediate reaction that I would have completely missed this chance to shift perspective. Now thanks to my yoga practice and all the hard work I’ve been doing for years, I am able to see more clearly. I am more easily able to observe the storm inside myself without being sucked into it. The storm is still there, even as I write these words, but I’m going to sit with it for awhile, with compassion, with empathy, with curiosity, and with love.
Changing Adversity Into Opportunity
No one enjoys facing hardships in their lives. Whether that hardship is losing a loved one, a breakup, or even something more harrowing like losing your home to a natural disaster, we all have our own hurdles to overcome. Through most of my life I had that “woe is me” attitude. It felt like my life was so difficult. I was the stereotypical dramatic teenage girl. I never really took the time to wonder if there might be a different way I could view the challenges in my life. It’s especially hard in the moment.
It can be helpful to prep ourselves for the inevitable hard days ahead of us. One way I like to do this is to look back on past negative experiences. Usually once we’ve put some time and space between ourselves and the event, it is much easier to put it in a new context. A lot of things that once seemed like they’d be the end of me have become moments I look back on with pride. Without a lot of the negative experiences I’ve had, I wouldn’t be nearly as strong and resilient as I am today. In hindsight, they were blessings rather than burdens.
Using this mind-frame, try to practice viewing even current dilemmas through the same lens. Surely it will be a bit harder, but it’s worth the effort. When you find yourself facing difficult moments, notice where your thoughts go. Mine usually revert back to that tried and true narrative of, “no surprise, this always happens to me, I can never catch a break,” or “why me?” Rather than allowing yourself to get swept away by these unhelpful thoughts and the emotions attached to them, get curious instead.
Try asking yourself some pre-prepared questions. It can be good to keep these questions written down somewhere easy to access when you need them. When a situation arises, we will likely be too emotional/upset/frustrated to think clearly and come up with ways to spark our curiosity on the spot. A few go to questions may be:
- Why is this particular circumstance uncomfortable for me?
- What is this experience/person trying to teach me?
- How might I someday be stronger because of this?
- In what ways can I see this as an opportunity?
- What aspects of my personality does this scenario emphasize?
- Do I like these aspects of myself? Why or why not?
- How might I use this moment as a way to strengthen/lessen these parts of myself?
By staying curious, we cancel out a lot of the immediate anger or dismay that we normally experience when faced with something unpleasant. It’s almost as though our interest has the power to short circuit our outrage. When we look at these struggles through a less emotional lens, there is a lot we can learn about ourselves, others, and this beautiful world we live in.
Sometimes the most important lesson we can learn from our issues is that it’s okay to feel upset, angry, sad, anxious, etc. While these things may be unpleasant, they are just feelings, and we are on this earth to experience the full scope of them. When we make a big deal out of the feelings in general, we end up making our suffering even worse than it has to be. If you find yourself unable to get curious about how this situation may teach you something useful or give you an opportunity for self-growth, at the very least remind yourself that it’s okay to feel upset. All things pass, and so will whatever you may be facing in your life right now.
The Weight of Our Actions
I was watching some show the other day and there was a scene depicting a kid being bullied. This led me into a long reverie about when I was younger and all of the cruel acts I witnessed or was the target of in school. I particularly remember being made fun of one day for drawing anime in class. Even though this was a mild mockery and only happened one time, it led me to stop drawing for years. Back then I would have done anything to just not be noticed.
I began pondering the vast difference in experience between the two parties involved in bullying. To the bully, it is pretty meaningless. It seems like just a way to pass the time or have a laugh. It isn’t a significant moment in the bully’s life by any means. However, to the one being bullied, it can be a life-changing experience. It can change them forever. It cuts so deep. It leaves emotional, if not physical, scars. I doubt most bullies ever stop to consider this inequity of experience. While it may mean little to nothing to them if they were to just not pick on someone, the target of this attack could be spared so much anguish.
This lead me to thinking about how this might apply in other areas of life. As I don’t bully people, I wondered how I might still be able to use this insight myself. I started to consider all of the things that my mother would always pester me to do as a kid. Clean the cat’s litter box, put my shoes away, put my clothes in the hamper, wash the dishes. I get so frustrated with my past self for being so obstinate and inconsiderate. It would have taken me only a few minutes to do all of those things. I had plenty of free time. No job, school was always easy. I spent most of my time lounging around watching TV. Yet I couldn’t be bothered to do these tiny little things that would have meant so much to my poor, overworked, under-appreciated mother. I want to kick myself every time I think about it.
At the time, of course, I didn’t consider this at all. I was just thinking about myself. I started to wonder if there were still things like this that I overlook. Are there still tiny things that I could be doing that would mean the world to those around me? The answer is yes. Sometimes it’s just the gesture itself that counts.
Whenever I am at work and I go wash out my coffee mug, I will also wash any other stray dishes in our communal sink. And sometimes my coworkers repay the favor, washing my mug before I get the chance to. I don’t think any of us would be overly burdened by washing our own mug once a day, but it is still touching each time I find it already washed. There are small acts of love and consideration like this waiting for us everywhere.
Perhaps you just got a bonus at work and have extra cash so you leave a generous tip for your waitress even though she was struggling to provide good service because she was new. You might not think twice about this event, but the waitress may be moved to tears. You never can tell what small acts of kindness like this could mean to someone.
I hope to carry this out in my own life in the form of a game. Just a lighthearted excuse to be creative and find new ways that, with minimal effort, I can spread maximum kindness. It might look like cleaning the snow off of my neighbors car in the morning after I do mine. Perhaps it’s giving some undivided attention to my pets when I first get home instead of immediately getting distracted by something else. Maybe it’s making a point to leave positive reviews online when I truly enjoy a place or product. All of these things would be simple enough, and not be burdensome to me by any means. But it could make or break someone else’s day, month, or even year! Imagine what it would be like if we all took the time to find these little opportunities for spreading goodwill in our lives. Let’s all try to do at least one small thing like this every day. It’ll be fun.