24/7 Mindfulness

The hardest place to be is right where you are. In the space between the finish and the start.

Half Alive

A few months ago, in an effort to recover from my disordered eating habits, I began practicing mindful eating. Mindful eating, for those who don’t know, is essentially exactly what it sounds like. Rather than watching TV or reading or even talking to your partner, you focus all of your attention solely on the act of eating. I did a pretty good job of doing this for a month or so, but since then I’ve fallen back into my old habits to some extent. I still practice eating my breakfast and lunch mindfully, free from distraction, but I’ve started to only eat half of my dinner in this way. Allowing myself to go back to watching Netflix or something afterward.

Although I am proud of myself for the progress I have been able to maintain, I can’t help but be a bit frustrated I haven’t been able to keep my mindful eating practice going entirely. When I ask myself why that is, the answer I always arrive at is that it’s just too tiring to be mindful for so much of my day. Despite that being how I genuinely feel, it still doesn’t make total sense to me. How is focusing on one thing more tiring than spreading out my attention and multitasking? Shouldn’t that be the other way around?

Any time I try to imagine leading an entirely mindful, present life, this is the obstacle that I envision. It just seems like too much work. But why does it seem like that? Logically I don’t see how there could be that much of a difference between focused attention and scattered attention. Either way I am still awake and conscious and processing my surroundings the entire time. I wonder if there is a difference in the amount of energy we exert between the two or if this is just a false perception I employ to avoid myself.

I find myself giving the excuse, “I just need a break,” when I want to skip out on a mindful dinner. But how is eating and watching Netflix more of a break than just eating? Why does it seem like such an effort to just be still? I’m sure a lot of it has to do with unconscious conditioning, but it feels like there is more to it than that somehow. Where do I go when I am not being mindful? When I’m zoning out? Sometimes it feels as if my consciousness dissipates and I am just floating by on autopilot. And to a certain degree, I enjoy how that feels. It’s nice to not have to focus on anything. Even though I truly believe a more mindful life is inevitably a happier one as well. Why then do my mindless moments hold so much importance for me? Why does it seem like a nightmare to imagine being mindful 24/7?

It makes me wonder what the consciousness of a monk might feel like. Have they reached a state of perpetual mindfulness? Is that even possible? What might that be like? Considering this also brings to mind a quote from Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception:

To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet.

The Doors of Perception; Aldous Huxley

If you’re not familiar with this book, in it Huxley is describing his thoughts and experiences while under the influence of psychedelic drugs, particularly Mescaline. From Huxley’s description, this drug allows the doors of our perception to be flung wide open. We are aware of everything all at once. All of the sensory information that the brain would normally filter out is being noticed. And while this is a profoundly beautiful and moving experience according to Huxley, it is also quite overwhelming. That is why he believes our normal conscious mind is filtered through was he has labeled the “reducing valve.”

I don’t know if this is truly relatable to regular, every day consciousness, but that is how mindfulness feels to me sometimes. It has the ability to make even the most mundane, monotonous moments beautiful and profound, yet it can become tiresome and overwhelming trying to remain in this highly focused state for too long.

Then again, perhaps mindfulness is more like a muscle. Maybe the more I practice, the less of an effort it will seem to be. Just like doing a 150lb. deadlift might seem impossible at first, if you keep slowly increasing your maximum weight, you’ll get there eventually. There is still so much that I don’t fully understand about mindfulness and the obstacles standing in the way of it for me. I am hopeful that with further practice and contemplation, I will be able to uncover some of the answers I’m looking for.

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Algorithms

Algorithms, particularly social media algorithms, have been on a lot of our minds lately. But what even are they? Well one definition I found says that algorithms are: a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer. So basically they are like an ever evolving blueprint guiding the computer’s actions. This isn’t much different from the way that our brains work, at least from my limited understanding of both.

I was thinking over how strange and ironic it is that we as a society have been struggling so much with technology and social apps. Even though we don’t want to argue, fight, compare, etc. These apps feed us the type of content that will get us to react in that way. This morning the parallel between that struggle, often leading to mental illness, and the struggle to cope with mental illness itself really became apparent to me.

Sometimes it’s almost as if the universe presents us with clever metaphors to force us to confront the things we try to avoid. Humanity has been running from itself, especially in the last few decades. We’ve submerged ourselves in these digital landscapes as a distraction from our thoughts and worries and fears. The internet, in a way, is the ultimate form of disassociation. Yet, there is still so much we can learn about ourselves through this unlikely medium.

It’s ironic that the very place we’ve gone to escape ourselves has become a mirror of the worst within us. These algorithms online tailor what we see, they filter the world through a lens of violence, outrage, and disgust. As I explained before it’s because we are naturally inclined to react to these things more forcefully than things that inspire joy, happiness, comfort, or love. Even while pointing that out in my post about personal responsibility, it didn’t occur to me just how much these algorithms are actually amplifying the algorithms within our own brains.

This public discussion about social media and Facebook are actually a fascinating parallel to the discussion of neuroplasticity. Unfortunately, no one has the power to change the algorithm in our heads except us, so in this instance, while not our fault, it is up to us to make a change. While that autopilot algorithm does do a lot of the work behind the scenes of our consciousness, we are able to take back the wheel and steer ourselves in a new direction.

Let’s get back to what I mean when I say this is a metaphor though. Think about the internet, for the most part, we all understand that what comes up in our feed every day isn’t all that exists on the web. Yet, somehow the things we take notice of in our everyday lives, start to seem like all there is to notice. We become cynical, or at least I did.

I can still remember arguing with someone when I was in high school. I was insisting that life was mostly negative or neutral events with light sprinkles of happy ones in between. How sad it is to look back at my young self who truly believed such a terrible thing. At the time, that was true though, at least for me. Because that’s what I was looking for, so of course, that’s all I found.

We are always subconsciously looking for evidence to support our beliefs, even when those beliefs aren’t something we are happy about. It starts with a belief, just like our apps start with an interest. Our “feeds” in life then fall into place around that central idea. That isn’t all there is to see, but it is all that we’ll see.

That inner world of ours, our perceptions of life and those around us, seem so real. It’s hard to conceptualize that there may be so much more that we are not aware of, that our view is skewed by the limited scope of what we are taking in. The world around us is continuously colored and altered by our mood, our knowledge base, our preconceptions, our biases, our past experiences, and so much more. These are the “filters” that we use on the universe. But the small amount that we are able to take in, that is not an accurate reflection of existence. Just as our Facebook or Instagram feed is not an accurate representation of the content available online.

So don’t get too trapped in your own perceptions of this life. While we may not be able to make a new account or scrub our hard drive so we can start again from scratch, we can make an effort right now to challenge our preconceived notions. We can practice compiling new evidence to support beliefs that we choose to hold. We can make our mantra each day that the world is good, that there is beauty and happiness all around us. I promise you, no matter how dark the world may seem to you now, practice believing that there is light and you will find it.

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On Animal Abuse

I’m currently reading Neither Man Nor Beast by Carol J. Adams, a feminist and animal rights activist. She is best known for her ability to tie significant social justice issues together to show the intersectionality of all who remain oppressed in our society. I have also read one of her earlier, and perhaps more famous books, The Sexual Politics of Meat. Both of these books work to bring the animal and women’s rights movements together to see the similarities between the types of oppression they are fighting.

Among the many new things I’ve learned from reading Adams’ books, I learned the other day that hunters are more likely to be domestic abusers. While, this was no surprise to me, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about this data before. I was also surprised when, upon telling people this somewhat obvious fact, there was a lot of hesitancy and discomfort in response. People are quick to say: Well, not every hunter hits their spouse and/or children. That’s true, but that wasn’t what I was asserting. The fact remains that it is a risk factor and a red-flag for women to look out for when finding a partner.

This new information and the reactions I got regarding it, led me to think more deeply about the ways in which our society categorizes animal abuse. I can’t think of anyone who would openly claim to support animal abuse, yet the vast majority of human beings take part in it every day. You might find yourself disagreeing at this point, and if so, I’d like to ask you how you define animal abuse. Wikipedia defines animal abuse as: the infliction by omission (neglect) or by commission by humans of suffering or harm upon any non-human animal. The Humane Society’s definition says animal abuse, “encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing.” It goes on to clarify: Intentional cruelty can run the gamut from knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter, socialization or veterinary care to maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating or killing an animal.

You’ll notice that these definitions are broad and include the majority of interactions that the human race has with our animal brethren. (I am including the eating of animal flesh as interaction, although most people would not consciously consider eating a hamburger to be interacting with an animal.) Hunting certainly falls into the category of animal abuse by these definitions, does it not? Animal abuse definitions are not offering exceptions based on “intention” or “purpose” of the abuse. You’ll notice that there is no footnote indicating that these things are okay if we consume or display the carcass of the animal afterwards.

It never ceases to amaze me when the internet goes wild about the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, while in the same day, the same people will sit down to several meals of meat. How is a dog different than a pig or a cow? It’s not intelligence. It’s not friendliness. It’s not inherent value as a living being. It’s simply a difference in cultural brainwashing. Realizing this makes the opposition to another culture’s meat eating practices, while excluding our own, problematic if not outright racist.

However, getting back to the issue of animal abuse as a warning sign for violence towards other humans, I’d like to know how psychologists would explain this connection, given our culture’s general acceptance and inclusion of daily practices that cause harm and death to animals. It seems like most people know about the early warning signs of future serial killers, pychopaths, sociopaths, etc. One of the main ones is torturing or killing animals.

If the psychological issues that these warning signs reflect are lack of empathy, violence, aggression, lack of impulse control, and the like, I don’t know how we would be able to make distinctions between these random acts of animal abuse and culturally acceptable forms such as hunting and meat eating. If, on the other hand, the psychological problem that animal abuse in childhood reflects a disregard for socially unacceptable acts, then I can see that distinction making more sense. Although, I don’t believe that is the case.

Whether we realize it or not, I believe there is evidence for negative social outcomes in regard to all forms of animal abuse, even if it is condoned by our society. There is more and more data coming out every day about the detrimental mental health effects of working in a slaughterhouse. Many workers have even developed PTSD from these jobs. Slaughterhouse employees are also, unsurprisingly, more likely to commit acts of domestic violence. One researcher even discovered that towns with slaughterhouses have higher crime rates in general:

Amy Fitzgerald, a criminology professor at the University of Winsor in Canada, has found a strong correlation between the presence of a slaughterhouse and high crime rates in U.S. communities. One might object that a slaughterhouse town’s disproportionate population of poor, working-class males might be the real cause. But Fitzgerald controlled for that possibility by comparing her data to countries with comparable populations employed in factory-like operations. In her study from 2007, the abattoir stood out as the factory most likely to spike crime statistics. Slaughterhouse workers, in essence, were ‘desensitized,’ and their behavior outside of work reflected it.

The Green Star Project

Ultimately, the age old saying, “violence begets violence,” holds true. There is no way to escape this simple fact. Whether you choose to identify it as such, hunting animals, as well as purchasing their bodies from the grocery store, is violence. It will negatively affect you and our society regardless of how hard we try to blind ourselves to that truth. Karma has never appeared to me so clearly as with the results of eating animals. The human races’ mass scale animal abuse has and continues to contribute to all of humanity’s ailments whether they be illness such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, global warming, racism, misogyny, domestic violence, or crime overall.

We will never be able to accomplish world peace if we continue to sit down to dinners of corpses each night. Humanity supports itself through suffering, domination, and death. How then can we still wonder why there is so much hatred and violence in the world? It is there because we perpetuate it every day, because we have already closed our hearts to those most vulnerable.

Truth! #govegan #vegansofinstagram #mercyforanimals #loveanimals #repost  @pauline.dagonneau ・・・ For the animals ❤️

Your Worst Enemy

“The worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests.

Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”

Friedrich Nietzsche

We have such a unique and complex relationship with ourselves as human beings. We can simultaneously be our biggest advocate and our greatest enemy. The various sides of who we are are somehow able to exist within us at the same time. It is a power play between these contradictory parts of ourselves. Sometimes it may seem like that harsh, hateful bully is the only one left, demeaning us, discouraging us, telling us stories of failure and hardship. But even in our darkest hour, that advocate is still within us somewhere. All we’ve got to do is listen for her voice. We have to fight the narrative being sold to us by our inner enemy.

We have to realize that regardless of which voice is speaking to us, we are neither of these voices. We are the witness, the watcher, the observer of our thoughts. Imagine yourself as the viewer of a TV show, this drama called life. The character called us may only be able to see a limited version of the events taking place in the show. As the viewer, we have the advantage of a wider perspective. We can see that there is a bigger picture that can help us understand and accept whatever the character might be going through, even if it’s unpleasant. We can sometimes get caught up in what we wish would happen or what we hope for the character, but in the end we have to trust the writers and the producers of the show to make it all work out.

We have to step back from our hopes and desires and expectations for ourselves and our own lives in a similar way. We have as little control over what happens to us as we do to what happens to our favorite TV characters. All we can do is watch, and that’s enough. We have to surrender to the universe and trust that things are happening as they should be. It seems like a tough choice to make, but really it’s the only one available. Otherwise we will be grasping and clinging to a mere illusion of control and causing ourselves even more suffering trying to maintain that illusion.

I would perhaps go even farther than Nietzsche does, and say that we are our only real enemy. Think about it. Do you really think anyone else cares as much about our success or demise as we do? Does anyone else even have the ability to make us suffer or fail? Sure those we share this life with have an influence on us. They have an effect on our lives for sure. But at the end of the day, we get to make the final decision. Will these new challenges we find ourselves forever faced with be chisels that chip away at us until there is nothing left? Or will they be the building blocks, the brick and mortar we need to build ourselves up bigger and stronger than ever before? There really is no objective reality. There is only our subjective experience of it.

Nobody can hurt me without my permission.

Gandhi

I’m sure I would have always understood and accepted the first quote by Nietzsche. After all, I have plenty of experience being my own enemy. However, when I first heard this second quote by Gandhi, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It stayed in my head for a long time though, rolling around, challenging my concept of the world and what it means to be a part of it. It’s really difficult for me to express what exactly helped me to change the scope of my perception on these types of subjects. I vividly remember how I used to take such expressions: Nobody can hurt me without my permission? That’s bullshit! You’re saying not only have I been the victim of something awful and unfair, but also that it’s my fault for the suffering it’s caused me? It didn’t take much for me to feel attacked and misunderstood. I refused to take any of the responsibility for the ways I found myself feeling.

My inner enemy had so thoroughly convinced me that I was nothing more than a victim in this life that no matter what the world offered me, that was going to be my role in the story. So of course when I heard Gandhi’s quote, I played the part of the victim once again. How can you blame me for the awful way I feel? I was looking for someone to blame and nothing more, instead of seeing these words of wisdom from the perspective I do now. Again, I’m not sure how I finally made the shift, but eventually I realized that this quote was extremely empowering. It’s not about blame, it’s about power. Who do you place your power with? Is it the people around you, the random events in your life? Or is that power yours to do with as you see fit?

The enemy within us tries to convince us that we have no power, we are helpless pieces of a fucked up puzzle. The advocate within us understands that we actually have all the power. It doesn’t sell us the delusion that we can control the world around us, but it does show us that we don’t need to. The only power we need is the power to choose for ourselves how we want to interact with and conceptualize the world. That is the greatest power of all, and we all have it. It’s not the toxic kind of power that can be bought and sold and used as a weapon against others. It is a power far more personal and pure, a silent power that no one else can see, but has limitless potential.

Don’t allow that enemy inside your head to convince you to play the victim in your own story. You can be the hero. You can play any part you want to play. This is your story and no one else’s. Even being our own greatest enemy can be positive or negative. How do you want to view it? Woe is me mentality says: I’ll never be able to have success or happiness because I’ll never escape myself, and I’m the one holding me back. That’s the enemy talking. Our advocate, forever full of loving kindness, says: If I’m the only thing standing in my way, then I am completely capable of overcoming that. I am the master of my own destiny.

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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

More Than This

Like most people in my area, I was raised Christian, Methodist to be more specific. My family was never super religious or anything, but we did go to church every Sunday when I was little. As soon as I was old enough to question things, I did. When I found that none of the important questions I raised could be answered, I decided to cast aside these religious teachings and become an atheist.

Without really realizing it, I harbored a lot of pain and resentment toward religion after that. I spent a lot of time feeling superior to people that were still religious. I thought they were idiots, brainwashed, or at the very least painfully ignorant. Slowly I began to give up that anger though. While there are plenty of things I disagree with about a lot of religious teachings and organized religions, I don’t feel the need to fight against them or throw them out entirely anymore. I’m content to let others find comfort and meaning in life in whatever way they see fit.

My yoga journey has reawakened my interest in spirituality and the things we still don’t understand about this existence. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts addressing these fascinating subjects. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge and there is simply nothing better than learning something new that completely changes your perspective. I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot of those kinds of things in the last few days and I’d love to share a few of them with you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what we are. For most of my life, it seemed obvious. We are these physical bodies. We are matter moving through the world and when we die we’re dead. Our consciousness disappears. These bodies turn back to dust. A few things I’ve heard have led me to challenge that belief though. Did you know that what we consider to be our body is actually made up more of the empty space between/within atoms than the actual atoms? Not only that, when you only consider the cells our bodies are composed of, we are made up practically equally of germ/bacterial cells as we are human cells. How can that be?! It completely changes my conception of what it means to be me.

With those two things in mind, it seems like we should identify more with our consciousness and the energy inside of us than our physical bodies. But what exactly is that energy and where does it come from? I don’t pretend to know. But I have learned that our thoughts, feelings, words, and emotions are not as immaterial as I once thought. I may not have all the answers that I would like to have, and I may not ever have them, but I believe there is much more to existence than can currently be understood or explained by science. I no longer have the arrogance I once did. There is so much I don’t know. There is so much for me to learn and discover. And that’s okay. I am so excited to keep searching.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Staring Down Anxiety

Anxiety is a bully. It feeds off of the fear that it creates. The longer you avoid something because of anxiety the harder it becomes to face. Fear is a powerful motivator. It doesn’t really matter if the fear is rational or not. Sometimes anxiety and fear become inseparable. They swell and become monstrous in size, looming over us. We do our best to hide from them. But they are inside of us, so no matter how hard we try, how much we practice, there is nowhere safe to seal ourselves away.

The good news is just like a schoolyard bully, anxiety is easy to defeat. Bullies rule by fear more than might. Standing up to them is all that we really need to do. When we experience anxiety, the body is on high alert. It is telling us to get the fuck out of there. It feels like we will certainly die if we do not somehow escape the situation and the emotions we are feeling. Thankfully, there is still some part of us that knows this is untrue, that these feelings are unfounded.

When we listen to our anxious feelings we are reinforcing the brain’s believe that this fear response was correct. The good news is we don’t have to listen to our anxiety. It feels counterintuitive. Centuries of evolution have programed us to heed these warning signals from inside. Luckily we are intelligent enough to outwit our instincts. Don’t allow your anxiety to bully you anymore. Here’s a little meditation I am working on to help me stand up to my anxiety.

Face Your Fears Meditation

  • Take a deep breath and notice what anxiety feels like in your body. Do you feel tense? Numb? Energized? Do a full body scan and take note of any places you can feel nervous energy in your physical body.
  • Now start to take more deep, conscious breaths. Inhaling for a count of four. Hold for four. Exhale for four. Hold for four. Repeat this cycle a few times.
  • As the nervous system begins to relax, try to release any tense areas you identified earlier.
  • Let the breath return to its natural rhythm as you turn your thoughts to whatever is making you anxious.
  • Visualize yourself accomplishing or overcoming whatever it is you’re anxious about, experience the positive emotions of your success in your body.
  • Imagine what it feels like to be powerful, confident, brave.
  • Imagine how good it will feel to face your fears and overcome your anxious feelings.
  • Repeat to yourself softly, “I am brave. I am brave. I am brave.”
  • Now imagine it has already been done. Your anxiety vanquished, it evaporates.

Feel free to use, edit, or tweak this meditation any way you see fit. If the suggested mantra feels a bit empty or corny to you, pick one that resonates with you more. If that particular form of pranayama doesn’t suit you, incorporate another such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath.) The words and breath you use in a meditation aren’t necessarily important. The most important thing is the emotions you draw forth. If the words courage or bravery don’t make you feel anything, instead you could try to imagine a time when you felt brave or imagine what it would feel like in the future.

At the end of the day, anxiety can only win if we let it. I know you are strong enough to face your anxiety and overcome it. It may never go away, but we can learn how to work with it instead of against it. We get to decide how we perceive this life. For so long now I’ve chosen to view my anxiety as a burden, something that constricts me and holds me back from living the life I want. But I don’t have to look at it that way. Instead, I am going to use my anxiety to my advantage. I don’t have to feel ashamed that things that are easy for others may be quite difficult for me. Each challenge I face, however small, is a gift. It is a chance to step into my own power. It is a chance to believe in myself. It’s an opportunity for triumph, an opportunity to be brave.

Inhale Courage Exhale Fear. Inspiration Support Saying, Motivational Quote.  Modern Calligraphy In Floral Wreath Frame. Stock Vector - Illustration of  concern, panic: 119681270

Channeling Your Inner Child

I saw a post on Tumblr the other day that said: I think the key to a happy life as an adult woman is to channel your inner weird little girl and make her happy. There is so much truth behind those words. Without realizing it, I have been doing exactly that. By setting goals for myself to write and draw everyday, I am actually giving myself permission to enjoy the hobbies I use to enjoy as a young girl. For as long as I can remember I loved to create through these two mediums of artist expression.

Even though I have already been unwittingly following the advice of that post, doing it with a conscious intention of taking care of that strange little girl inside me, makes it feel all the more special and rewarding. At some point as I began to grow up, I started to need a reason behind everything that I did. Which seems strange to me, given that ultimately nothing really matters except what you decide matters. Did I have a reason to play Pokémon and Hamtaro for hours? Was there a good reason for printing out stacks upon stacks of Sailor Moon pictures I found online to color? Was there a purpose to all of the magical time I spent playing outside in nature with my sister and friends? Were these experiences any less important, any less meaningful, because I didn’t have a direct, practical goal in mind?

Perhaps this resistance to doing anything without a clear purpose is merely an excuse, a lingering symptom of mild depression. After all, what better reason is there than to make yourself happy? Sometimes it feels as though I’ve forgotten how to make myself happy, how to enjoy my life from one moment to the next. Only once I’ve begun a project, given myself the time to lose myself in it, do I feel true joy and freedom. It’s taking that first step that is always so very difficult. For example, most days I simply dread the idea of beginning my yoga and meditation practice. I contemplate cutting it short every time. But when I actually sit down and begin, it always becomes the very best part of my day. Despite this, that initial dread never seems to go away.

For a lot of my life, I relied on inspiration to spur me onward. Without it, I felt like there was no way I could continue with anything I was doing. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that most of the time that inspiration follows rather than precedes my actions. Most days I have no idea what I want to write about when I sit down to begin. I never know what to draw in the evenings. Yet I’ve learned that if I just force myself to start, I can surprise myself with what I’m able to create. I think that is what art is all about, surprising ourselves. Most of my best creations were not the result of careful planning and intention. They were spontaneous accidents that allowed me to unconsciously share a piece of myself with the world that I didn’t even know was mine to share.

So when I’m struggling with that stubborn resistance before beginning something, I’ve found it very helpful to remind myself that this is a gift for my inner child. It’s almost like the joy you get from playing with a child, in fact. As an adult, you may not be very interested in the game itself at first, but to see the happiness and pleasure in that innocent little face makes it worthwhile. It makes me so happy inside to imagine my younger self in my place, happily typing away, working hard on stories that will never be published or even read by others. To imagine that little girl I once was drawing anime without a care in the world, her excitement at how good we’ve gotten at it.

Channeling my inner child is one of the best ways for me to remember how to be in the present moment. It reminds me how to enjoy for enjoyment’s sake. I am so grateful for the children I get to meet everyday at work. Their lighthearted energy has been a great help to me as I work to reconnect with the child within myself. I am able to see myself in them and remember what it was like to be the age they are now. They inspire me to keep the child in me alive, to keep her happy, to keep her close. It’s definitely something worth practicing.

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Self Distortion

I was reminded again yesterday, that I really have a warped perception of myself. I genuinely have no idea how other people see me. One of the detectives I work with was excited to show me a YouTube channel he found. He said that the girl on this channel looked exactly like me. I am always extremely nervous when someone tells me they found someone that looks like me. Usually it is very flattering, but being someone that has an eating disorder, this is a great way to trigger me. Not that anyone has ever compared me to anyone heavy, but once I was compared to someone on Instagram that wasn’t exactly how I wanted to see myself. I was upset about that one for days.

Luckily this time the YouTuber in question was drop-dead gorgeous. She had an alternative look and long, beautiful, black hair. I still never know how to respond when someone approaches me with something like this, but overall I was very happy. Even though I do not see the resemblance at all. It’s interesting to contemplate the disconnect between the way others see me and the way I see myself. I used to glance at strangers and try to find someone I thought had a similar body type and build so that I could see how I must look to others. Eventually I gave up on this because it only upset me. I would be interested to see if the people I thought were built similar to me would be the people those around me would pick as well. I once even found a website where you could enter your height and weight and it would produce pictures of other people with the same dimensions. That one fucked me up for weeks. Even though the images produced could vary wildly, I always assumed I was closer to the less pleasing photos, rather than the women that looked like models at my height and weight.

My sister always used to tell me that I had body dysmorphia. Basically, that’s a mental disorder where you have an extremely altered perception of your physical appearance, usually focusing in on one aspect of yourself like your nose or your ears or your weight to hyper-fixate on. Part of me has always really wanted to believe she was right, but then a larger part of me always says, “well if that’s true you’re acknowledging that you aren’t as fat as you think you are, which is obviously ridiculous.” However in recent years, I’ve come to mostly accept that label even though I’ve never been formally diagnosed. (As you can tell I’m one of those four year psych degree people that loves to self-diagnose: autism, eating disorder, body dysmorphia, generalized anxiety, feel free to roll your eyes.) Anyway, I now view body dysmorphia as just a label that explains that I don’t know what a really look like. It’s as if I am always looking at myself in a funhouse mirror. My self-perception has a tendency to vary immensely from one day to the next, one moment to the next. And of course I always identify with the least flattering reflections most of all.

It can be really nice to be reminded that other people view me differently than the way I view myself. It’s honestly hard to believe. I can’t help but wonder if they are just lying to me or attempting to flatter me for some unknown reason. Oh, the inner ramblings of a mentally ill mind. It makes it quite difficult to know what’s real and what’s not. At the end of the day, I try to let all of this nonsensical pondering go completely. After all, it doesn’t really matter what I look like. One day whatever looks I have now will fade away. I will become shriveled, wrinkled, and grey. And I don’t want to have placed all of my value and self-worth in a youthful appearance. There is so much more to life than what you look like.

It does raise the question of how others perceive the rest of me. I don’t think my self-perception is much better when it comes to my character or personality. I really couldn’t say what words other people might use to describe me. Perhaps I should make a point to start asking them, letting them know before hand that I want their honest opinion no matter what. I can’t even image what kinds of words they might use to describe me to be honest. But I am so curious, because those are the perceptions that really matter in the end. However, even with these descriptions I am so much quicker to believe anything negative about myself than anything positive. When someone says nice things about me, it can make me feel uncomfortable, even guilty. I think, “Oh no, I have somehow tricked them into thinking better of me than they should. They are going to be so upset if they ever find out who I truly am.” I know these thoughts may seem ridiculous, but they come up more than I’d like to admit.

The sad thing is, that none of these opinions or perceptions of other people are what’s important. Because ultimately it’s my own self-perception that matters most. Sadly it is also the least flattering perception I’ve encountered. I’m hopeful that maybe learning to trust the perceptions other people have of me will give me the confidence to start to see myself differently.

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Perception & Mental Illness

I went to visit my mom yesterday. We had planned to do taxes, but I told her that I might end up being too anxious to actually get very far. I explained to her how I’d been feeling: racing thoughts, worrying about everything big and small, present and future, feeling rushed, feeling like I’m going to forget something important, etc. My mom seems almost relieved when I tell her these things. Not that she is glad I’m feeling this way, but just knowing that I understand the way she feels.

She tells me that she has felt that way her whole life, overwhelmed with anxiety. But I suppose she wasn’t overwhelmed exactly. She put herself through college, had a career that she excelled in, raised a family, all while paying her bills and taking care of household chores. I often think about this and feel amazed. I can’t imagine having to deal with the shit I put her through as the parent, with this level of mental disfunction. It seems like I would most certainly go mad.

It seems like the only difference between her anxiety and mine, is that I have almost immediately identified and classified it as a disorder. My mom on the other hand was raised in a much less psychologically aware time. Nothing ever led her to believe that what she was experiencing was anything abnormal. It still seems kind of funny from my point of view, but she tells me she just thought everyone felt like she did growing up.

It’s so interesting to think about what a huge difference just that small distinction can make in a life. Two people living with the same level of anxiety, only one knows that there is something wrong, while the other thinks it’s normal to feel this way. Maybe I wouldn’t suffer as much as I do if i wasn’t also piling on more anxiety about being “broken” or “messed up.” At times it seems like a lot of my stress comes from desperately looking for a way to stop or prevent these anxious feelings from happening.

My mom didn’t have this added level of distress. She just carried on with her life despite these feelings. It would almost be a comfort to think that it was normal and everyone around me also struggled with these same feelings. To believe that even with this inner anxiety others managed to do great things and lead happy, peaceful, successful lives. Instead I spend the majority of my time trying to “fix” myself. Resigning myself to mediocrity due to my psychological limitations.

I’ve been thinking once again about starting therapy. I know there are tools that I could learn to help me cope. Even that idea “to cope” implies that these feelings won’t ever go away. I can’t evict this anxiety from my mind. All I can hope to do is learn how to make peace with it, to accept it as a part of me, to stop fighting it. My mom’s life is an excellent example that it is possible. I can live with my anxiety instead of constantly struggling to push it away.

I’ve always been grateful that I live in a time where psychology is widely accepted and understood by the general population. I’ve always loved to learn about the mind and all of it’s different disorders. I feel my peers are able to sympathize with and understand me better than they would have in older generations. But at the same time, I know knowledge and awareness don’t necessarily produce more happiness. Maybe I would have been happier not knowing all the details. Ignorance truly can be bliss.

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