Juggling Gratitude and Fear

Lately I keep coming back to the realization that a lot of the luxuries I take for granted every day will soon be unavailable to me. Fresh produce from the store, peaceful morning drives to work, running water, hot showers, internet access, electricity, coffee, a healthy, pain-free body. Most of us have lots of precious moments like these every day that we don’t pay much attention to. Even if you don’t believe that the world is headed for catastrophe like me, it is still a shame that we don’t take the time to be grateful for the small moments of joy in our lives.

My issue is not so much that I don’t realize I need to be grateful for these things, it’s rather that it’s hard for me to avoid the fear that comes along with realizing that they are in fact luxuries I may not always have. My heart swells with panic instead of gratitude when I acknowledge that in a few short years I may be going to sleep hungry. I may be fighting just to stay alive, to keep my loved ones alive and safe. My mind tends to fixate on the negative, preventing me from enjoying where I am and what I have right now.

I don’t quite know how to reconcile the two sides of this coin. How can I remind myself that I am so privileged without dwelling on the fearful vision I have of the future without these comforts? As soon as I try to feel gratitude for the little things, I feel terror and dread instead. But I don’t want to continue sleepwalking through these “mundane” moments either. It is a constant struggle to try to balance the simple pleasures of my day to day life now with the nightmarish future to come. I’m afraid that my efforts to be more mindful are only resulting in me practicing fear and anxiety instead.

I am genuinely at a loss as how to address this issue. I’m not sure if trying to hold this in my awareness is actually worse for my mental health than continuing to take my many blessings for granted. It’s hard to feel grateful that you are not in physical or emotional pain without also contemplating the day that pain will come. If anyone else has experienced this dilemma, I would love to know your thoughts. Is there anything you have found helpful in handling these contradictory emotions? I would greatly appreciate any advice offered.

Welcome To The Post-Apocalypse: A Open Letter From The Martyrs of The New  World | Geek and Sundry

It Feels Good to Feel Again

Excavating my emotion
from beneath a harmful haze
of chemical concoctions
Rediscovering what it means
to feel the world around me

No more sedation
no more shaded sensation
happiness and sorrow held equal
remembering the beauty of both 
a genuine smile cutting through pain

Grateful tears spilling over
delicious, warm, salty
quenching my once parched heart
soaking cheeks and shirtsleeves
releasing years of stagnant suffering

Shedding the grey scales
that have gathered on my skin
sealing me inside 
a hollow human form
I am finally free
Tears get in your eyes | The Compass

The Pleasure Paradox

Profound pleasure
is hard to find
it hides beneath thick, sticky layers
of pain, shame, and fear

Piercing pleasure
ignites a small terror
Will this last?
Do I deserve this?

Simple pleasures
are overlooked all together
discarded and forgotten
alongside childhood trinkets

Pure pleasure
is something to be hoped for
to be dreamed of
never to be obtained
Self Pleasure & Self Sex - How To Pleasure Yourself | Goop | Goop

Attachment

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the feeling of absolute devastation when we lose someone that we love. Whether it be through death, divorce, distance, or any other circumstance it always seems unbearable. I am reluctant to even remember the many times I’ve lost someone in my life. These events led to some of my darkest moments. At times I even contemplated giving up all together. The lingering memories of that pain cause me to have great caution when forming new relationships. I am always trying to brace myself for the worst. Trying to keep just enough distance to keep my heart safe.

I remember recently being afraid for my sister in this regard. She has been living with her new boyfriend for around a year now. She was telling me how everything is okay now because she has him. While I was happy for her, I was also terrified to hear those words. I was afraid for her. What would happen if he decided to leave? I gently brought this to her attention, urged her to try to keep her heart and mind safe somehow. The thing is, we both knew that wasn’t really possible. You cannot ration your love for someone. You can’t plan to protect yourself from future pain, no matter how much you want to.

Even though I’ve only had a boyfriend again for a week, my mind is already flooded with future scenarios. Now that I’ve invested my feelings in another again, I am terrified of the wrenching pain that would ensue if he leaves me. To lose all of my newfound happiness and hope in one fell swoop. I don’t know if I could bear going through that type of pain again. But that is the price we pay for love. In order to experience it, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. And to be vulnerable means risking being hurt, perhaps even ensuring that we will be hurt. We only have one decision to make: is it worth it?

I’m not going to allow the fear of the future to keep me from loving will all of my heart. Love is what this life is about after all. It’s always worth the risk. It’s always worth the pain. Even if I tried to lock my heart away, there will always be painful moments. After all, we all have to let go of everything in the end. What’s important is learning how to appreciate and be fully present with what we have while we have it. It’s okay to need other people. It’s also okay that they sometimes let us down. Both of these things are important parts of what it means to be human.

When my boyfriend comes over today, I am going to let all of these worries go. I am going to simply enjoy the time we have together right now. I am going to be present with him in every moment. I am going to be grateful for what we have today, even if it doesn’t last forever. I will no longer allow fear to close my heart. I will love with everything that I’ve got. And I’ll keep loving until the day I die, no matter the cost.

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Breathe Into It

One of the first things you tend to learn when getting into yoga philosophy is that resistance to unpleasant feelings, situations, or emotions only leads to more intense, prolonged suffering. In fact, it could be said that all of the suffering we experience stems from our aversion to certain things. Life is about perspective primarily. So if we can teach ourselves to see everything through the eyes of loving kindness, there is no where for suffering to take root.

This principle of non-resistance can be seen in the mind, but also in the physical body. I have always been someone who detests the cold and avoids it at all costs. Unfortunately for me, I also happen to live in the northern part of the country where winters can be pretty intense. I read the other day that when you brace yourself against the cold and try to resist it, you are actually only making yourself feel colder! When we tense up our bodies, our blood vessels are constricted. Therefore less blood is able to flow to our extremities, making us colder. If we can breathe deeply and relax our bodies, we won’t be as uncomfortable with low temperatures.

This also works with other types of pain or discomfort. The breath is such a powerful thing, if we can only learn to utilize it. I often notice when I am in some type of physical pain whether it be a stomach ache, a sore throat, or just muscle cramps, I desperately try to avoid and disassociate from that area of my body. Sometimes as a kid I would even visualize boxing that body part off from the rest of me. Needless to say that type of response has never worked for me. Despite my best efforts I am unable to ignore my body’s painful cries.

The other night as I was struggling to fall asleep due to such a pain, I decided to try embracing that pain instead of attempting to push it away. I turned to focusing on my breath. I imagined sending the swirling, healing oxygen to that painful part of my body with every inhale. As I exhaled, I relaxed and accepted the unpleasant sensations. This didn’t make the pain go away, but after a few moments I felt much better. Today I am struggling with a very upset stomach from overeating yesterday. Stomach pain has always been one of the hardest problems for me to deal with ever since I was little. I’ve felt tense and uncomfortable all morning. Nothing I’ve tried seems to have helped. However, as I sit here writing this, I’ve been trying to also take slow, deep breaths down into my belly. I can definitely still feel some discomfort, but it’s much less pronounced than earlier.

Just like with most meditative practices, the hardest part is staying focused. Even after years of practicing yoga and meditation it can be hard for me to take deep breaths as I move through a normal day. In fact, a lot of the time I find that my breath is exceptionally shallow or that I’m holding it! It can definitely be frustrating when it feels like despite your best efforts you aren’t making much progress. The good thing is each breath is another opportunity to practice. Breathwork is something we are able to work on anywhere no matter who we’re with or what we’re doing. Not to mention it’s free! It can even be quite fun once you start to notice the connection your breath has on your body and mind.

I find it really helps me to attach an image or an emotion to my breath to help me concentrate. Recently I’ve started to imagine each sip of air as a delicious food, drink, or even a drug that I get to consume. I look forward to every inhale and exhale. I savor the way it feels as it moves through my body. Sometimes I’ll also picture all of the wonderful things my body will be able to do with so much fresh oxygen. I imagine it providing me with energy and happy feelings. I imagine my body using it to perform all of it’s vital functions: building new cells, cleansing toxins, healing me, etc. Just thinking about it makes me so grateful for this body I have been blessed with. It inspires me to breathe deeply as a gift to this body. Inhale – I love you, body. Exhale – thank you, body.

The next time you are feeling upset or you’re in pain, whatever it may be that you find yourself resisting, try to honor that feeling rather than running from it. Perhaps it will even turn out to be a gift. It is easy to go through life without growing or changing when things are going well. However, pain and discomfort are necessary signals that we can learn so much from. For instance, my stomach hurting this morning is a reminder to take better care of my body. It is my body asking me for love, kindness, and respect. Instead of being frustrated and upset with my body for not behaving the way I want it to, I am going to listen to it’s urgent request. I am going to use this unpleasant morning to push me to do better for myself today and from now on. It all begins with the breath.

So just breathe

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Change

I think it’s very interesting how many people I’ve heard say they don’t like change. I am one of them. Yet change is the only true constant in this world of ours. Without change none of us would even exist as we are. Just like with most things, it can be beautiful and also terrible. Just a few weeks ago I was quite excited about all the new changes that seemed to be happening in my life. Now as things continue to develop and change even further, I feel as though change is no longer a friend, but a bitter enemy.

At times like these I try to remind myself of all the changes in my life that initially felt unbearable, that ended up leading to some of my greatest joys. You can never really tell what even the smallest change may mean down the road. At the very least, it is an opportunity to practice letting go. Something I’ve never been very good at. I’m surprised my fingers are not just bloodied stumps from all the clinging I’ve done in my life.

One of the things I struggle with when facing an unpleasant change is whether or not to surrender to the sadness and pain that accompany it. I never know when I am just letting myself experience a healthy amount of painful emotions or when I am feeding those same emotions. Surely it isn’t healthy to turn away from every pang of the heart, but at the same time it is so easy to fall further into that deep dark hole that I’m still working to climb out of.

I suppose when I was younger there wasn’t much of a choice to be made. It was impossible to deny the feeling of raking claws across my chest, tearing at my tender heart. It seems like I used to cry so often as I was lying down to sleep at night. I never thought I could actually miss those awful moments of sorrow. Yet now I almost long to feel in the way that I once could. For years now, it has been nearly impossible for me to cry. It isn’t that I haven’t had reason to. The tears just don’t seem to come anymore. Instead of stinging eyes, now I only feel this strange gaping chasm behind my ribs, a terrible emptiness.

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The Monotony of Life

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Some days I start to feel really overwhelmed by the way it seems like I am living nearly the same day over and over again. I wake up, I let my dog out, I feed my cat, I make coffee, I pick up clumps of white cat fur from every room, I collect up several lady bugs from the windowsills, etc. I start to feel weighed down by these mundane maintenance activities. The idea of doing something you’ll just have to do again tomorrow or at the end of the day or even an hour from now has always frustrated me.

Maybe it’s just that same idea of feeling forced to do something over and over that I don’t want to do. It’s hard to accept in the moment, but in reality I do want to do those things. Maybe not directly, but I want the results. I want my pets to be comfortable and happy. I want my house to look clean and orderly. I definitely want to drink that morning coffee. Focusing on the giving myself the result rather than being burdened by the process might be helpful. Instead of thinking: Ugh, here I am filling this dog bowl for the hundredth time, I can think about the love I have for my sweet dog daughter and how grateful I am to have her in my life to care for. But even that takes mindful awareness and lots of practice.

I’ve been experiencing mild physical pain the last few days. Although it’s quite aggravating, it has also been helping me understand something bigger. I’m very fortunate in the sense that I don’t experience pain or illness very frequently. However, in the times I do, especially thinking back to being sick more often as a child, it almost feels like my whole body is in a panicked revolt against the area that is experiencing distress. I so desperately want to isolate and separate from that area of my body, to numb it, to detach it. I’ve even heard other people express this idea by wishing they could just remove their head when they have a migraine or head cold. It seems counterintuitive to actually embrace that troubled part of our bodies instead. Yet that is exactly what we need to do.

It only increases our suffering to try to avoid pain, physical or otherwise. Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I remembered this tidbit of yogic wisdom. I allowed my awareness to caress that painful place. I sent my breath there. I sent loving kindness there. It must have worked well because the next thing I knew I was waking up to a bright new morning. I think this principle can also work in the other difficult parts of life.

Instead of resisting my monotonous morning routine, I’ll practice embracing it. Sure, maybe I’ve done these things a million times before and will probably do them another million in the future, but what does it feel like to do them today? And I don’t have to lie to myself and pretend it’s fun. Maybe it does feel frustrating. What does frustration feel like? Can I allow myself to experience that?What does my body feel like? Can I move mindfully? Can I find something new even in these repetitive tasks, just like I do in my yoga practice? Does my body feel stiff and achy from hours of sleep? Am I feeling sleepy or awake? What does it feel like to be experiencing these things? Can I practice gratitude and mindfulness even in the dullest moments? Can I remember to breathe deeply in discomfort? Can I experiment and find new ways to be kind to myself with my thoughts and movements?

All of these things are obviously easier said than done. Usually when we are feeling tired and irritated, the last thing we want to do is pause and be mindful or grateful. But I think just taking a few moments now and then to set these intentions for my everyday life helps me to remember to at least try. Even though I may not “succeed” I’ll know that today I can at least give myself some credit for trying. And those small moments of practice add up.

Trading Pain for Pleasure

How much pain are you willing to put up with to keep someone close to you? I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time now. Some days I feel like I would sacrifice anything just to have that special connection. Other days I wonder if it’s really worth it, if I’m just addicted to reopening old wounds in a desperate attempt to feel something again. I can never decide what would truly be best for me. Should I try to protect myself and try to give up these feelings? Or should I follow what I feel no matter how painful the outcome? Can I really trust these feelings? Or am I deluding myself?

I always feel like there are two sides of me constantly arguing with each other. My brain, my logical self says, “Move on! You are being stupid. This is pathetic. You are romanticizing the past. There is nothing but suffering to be had by clinging to a memory.” But my heart, my emotional self says, “Nothing else makes me feel like this. Nothing else makes me feel anything. That has to mean something. I don’t know what, but I can’t ignore this pull. Everything else seems grey by comparison.” My brain interrupts in protest as I try to express this ineffable feeling, “You are a literal crazy person. You are one of those creepy, stalker, weirdos. You’ve lost sight of reality.” The shame and embarrassment of this likely conclusion usually halts me in my tracks, keeps me from acting, keeps me from even pondering the question anymore.

I am so terrified that any further attempts to reach out will only reinforce this idea in the mind of this other person. Is that how they see me already? Would they be right in seeing me that way? Maybe so. For the longest time, I felt cheated and insulted by the idea of mere friendship. Now I am horrified that I turned my nose up at such a generous offer. After all that I have done, I don’t really even deserve that. And maybe because of those past mistakes, those egregious, selfish acts, I should resign myself to this bond being forever severed.

I’ve genuinely never felt closer to anyone, never been known so deeply by anyone, never cared to know anyone else so deeply in return. But perhaps this fixation, this constant clinging, is what has been preventing me from developing any other significant relationships. Then again, I always come back to the question: Is it even up to me? Am I even able to truly let this go, even if I decided I wanted to? It seems like right now, the best I can manage to do is go numb, to not think about it. In fact, just writing this all out has left me emotionally exhausted. I think it’s about time to stop for now.

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Hypocrisy for the Holidays

In memory of the 56 billion each year, 153.4 million each day, 6.4 million each hour, 106,546 each minute.

Carol Adams

When I started this blog, I intended to focus on veganism. I wanted to make a change in the world and help vegans in small areas of the country like me be successful. As you can see from the majority of my posts, I’ve all but abandoned that goal. I quickly grew weary of fighting what seems like a hopeless battle.

Yet I still have a small ember of that fire in my heart. I feel guilty about giving up on the billions of farmed animals that are alive and suffering at this very moment. I know that I should be fighting every day, every moment, with every breath I have. Even if it is hopeless. Even if I burn myself up in the process. Even if I lose my voice from screaming. Because who else will help them? What right do I have to live happily, to turn my head away, when they are still suffering?

When the holidays come around each year it gets more difficult to avoid these painful truths. There is a seemingly never ending stream of curious questions about what I’ll eat for Thanksgiving. Looks of mild disgust when I happily explain how yummy my tofurky always is. Looks of pity when they think about my holidays as a vegan.

I try to be a good example, give a good sales pitch. I try not to get annoyed when I have to answer the same questions for the 9th year in a row. That deep well of rage still simmers in my soul. Bitter outrage at the insanity, the inhumanity of it all. But after all these years a heavy sadness overwhelms that anger. A cold damp rain in my heart, threatening to extinguish that ember. A sadness about the ways things are, my inability to change this fucked up world, about all the lovely, innocent babies crying out somewhere in the dark.

There are very few things that can bring me to tears. Imagining the grand scale, the sheer magnitude of unimaginable suffering the human race inflicts upon these gentle beings is one of them. I spent my meditation today silently weeping for them. Saying I’m sorry, desperately wishing them some sense of peace, an end to their pain.

Maybe if I could shed these tears at the dinner table on December 25th I could finally get through to my family. Maybe I could show them the anguish I feel. The anguish they contribute to, are complacent with. The sickening absurdity of praying for peace on earth before carving up a corpse.

I know even that would not move them though. They would just think that I’m insane. Or trying to get attention. Because that’s how all vegans are seen. We are dramatic, attention seekers. We are arrogant, know-it-alls. We are despised and mocked. No one wants to confront their own hypocrisy, their own atrocities. And I can’t really blame them. It isn’t easy to live with this immense weight. This horrible knowing.

And so I prepare to share my table with death, with violence, with cruelty, with ignorance this holiday season, as I do every year. And I will swallow that pain with my red wine. I will pretend it’s all okay. I will close my heart to the bodies of my brethren laid before me with shame. Because I simply cannot bear to feel what I truly feel. I cannot bear to scream and fight anymore. And I am so ashamed. I am so sorry that I am not strong enough to save them.