Anxiety As a Friend

Avoiding our emotion is an American past time. We pass this down from one generation to another, adding on layers of fear and shame as we go until not only are we afraid to cry or be nervous, but also afraid of the way others will judge us for feeling these ways. I learned the other day that other countries don’t have the same desperation to escape even mild sadness the way Americans do. There is much more complexity and grey area to the range of emotion overseas. Many countries have words about feelings that cannot even be accurately translated into English. The nuance simply doesn’t exist here.

It’s also interesting to consider the wise advice from centuries ago in the east, such as the idea that trying to avoid our suffering only causes us to suffer longer, is just now being proven by science. Unsurprisingly studies show that people that view most of the emotions besides happiness negatively are more likely to end up being unhappy. In other countries there is room in the language, in the culture, for happiness to reside alongside things like grief, sadness, anger, anxiety. We have convinced ourselves in this country that all these emotions are mutually exclusive.

One of my blog notes was listed as “writing about anxiety as a friend” for months now. After initially writing the idea down, each time I read it I was perplexed. What on earth could I have possibly meant by that? I find it humorous now that I remember my intention. It’s hard for me to even hold this perspective in my mind for too long. I have spent my whole life viewing my anxiety as the enemy, my kryptonite.

I’ve just started to give myself permission to look at it another way. If I imagine my anxiety as a separate entity, I am able to look at it more objectively, to offer it compassion instead of impatience and disdain. When I start to feel that tension building in my chest, pulling at me. I imagine instead a small child, maybe even myself as a child, tugging at me instead. “I’m scared,” she says. And instead of shaking her off roughly and pressing on or running away from her, my response is now to crouch down, to take her hands, to tell her it’s okay, we’re safe. It feels so good to just offer your emotions acknowledgement. To say to them: I see you. I hear you. Thank you. We’ll be alright.

For most of my life, my anxiety was a cue that it was time to start thinking about all the ways things could go wrong or all the reasons I am a broken person. I took it as a signal that something is wrong out in the world as well, that I should hide myself away. I’ve realized though that there are many other ways to interpret these uncomfortable emotions. Here’s a recent example of what I mean:

Yesterday my office was putting on a Halloween fundraiser. I was to attend to help out with selling raffle tickets and to stay afterward to clean up. Although I was excited, I was also anxious about this all week. I was worried about having such a busy Saturday, about whether or not I’d even be able to stay awake all night after waking up at 6AM. Now, while these were valid concerns, they weren’t things I could run away from or avoid. They were things I had to face. My anxiety wasn’t telling me that I would fail or that things would go badly, it was just saying “I’m scared.”

And it’s okay to be scared. Being scared doesn’t always mean that we should run away. Sometimes it is just a signal from our bodies that we need some extra love and reassurance. Let yourself know that you’ll be there, that’s you’ll be okay, no matter what the outcome. When I try to avoid my anxiety that dense little ball of tightness in my chest seems to become bigger and bigger until I can hardly breathe. It demands my attention, but I am doing everything in my power to look away. What a miraculous difference I feel when instead I turn toward that feeling. Just holding our emotions in awareness seems to let them relax.

It’s time for us to do the work to change our response to unpleasant emotions. Some day I hope that we can all see our emotions as an opportunity to offer ourselves kindness, instead of reasons to run away from ourselves. You don’t have to do anything in particular to offer kindness either. It’s whatever kindness looks like to you. How would you comfort that small girl on your sleeve? Maybe she needs a hug or a hot drink and some time to sit and breathe. Maybe she needs rest or a reward. There are countless ways for us to give ourselves loving kindness. In my experience, just having the intention of kindness is enough to make a world of difference. Even if that just looks like saying to yourself, “I don’t know how to make you feel better, but I want to. I love you. I’m here for you.”

Anxiety is not our enemy. Anxiety is a small friend, asking for support. Let’s practice offering it that support instead of neglect or displeasure. Anxiety is just a feeling, just a message from our bodies. We are the ones who have the power to interpret that message. We’ve been mistranslating it for so long, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to see it for what it really is. Anxiety is not a cue that you are in danger or damaged. It’s a cue that you are in need of tenderness and love in order to keep going. Things that we all need. Things that we can all easily learn to give to ourselves. Things that can help us associate anxiety with self care instead of fear. Tend to that little child inside of you today. Don’t turn away. She’s a friend.

Child Adult Holding Hands - Public Policy Institute of California

Perspective

Scientists are discovering new things about outer space every day. Recently they’ve even been able to look outside of our solar system and find other planets. With at least 100 billion stars within the Milky Way Galaxy alone, that means there are potentially a billion or more planets capable of sustaining life just like our Earth. Not to mention that there are billions more galaxies in the universe. It’s hard to even conceptualize just how much life may be out there that we don’t know about.

When I was confronted with this information, I started to get really curious about just how much I don’t know about existence. We tend to live our lives with the assumption that we know all of the information we need to to make accurate predictions and life decisions. Sometimes I am even paralyzed by my need to collect all the information before making a choice. Realizing that I’ll never be able to know everything takes a bit of that pressure off. It also helps me let go of my fears and worries about things going on on the other side of the world. It’s not that it doesn’t matter. I’m sure what happens on these other planets throughout our universe matters too, but that doesn’t mean I need to concern myself with it.

It’s important for us to realize that the events we know about don’t even come close to the information we could potentially know. So it’s okay to narrow your scope. We don’t need to know everything. What’s best is for us to each focus on our own small community first. It used to make me anxious to consider not staying updated on foreign affairs and global politics. Eventually I’ve come to realize that exposing myself to the weight of the world, is only hurting my ability to help. I become overwhelmed. I don’t know where to start. I feel hopelessly incompetent to make a significant difference in the world. With all of these serious issues looming over our world, it feels pointless to do something so small as community service in my small area. After all, what will that matter in the grand scheme of things?

There’s the problem. Focusing too much on the “grand scheme” leaves us feeling helplessly overwhelmed. We lose sight of the significance of doing what we can for our own communities in light of the endless global issues happening every day. But here in our own communities is the place that all those bigger issues can start to be addressed. We may not be able to end world hunger, but we can support our local soup kitchen, and that matters. We may not be able to influence global politics, but we can have an impact on what goes on in our home town. Maybe we can’t end homelessness, but you can offer food, money, and kindness to the unhoused man you pass by on the corner every day. We get so caught up in changing the world that we forget the power we have to change individual lives, and that’s just as good. If everyone did what they could for their own village, town, or city, those small acts would create a ripple effect, eventually changing the world.

You may be thinking, well everyone won’t try to create positive change in their own community, so why bother? This is the argument I get against veganism all the time. We won’t be able to end animal agriculture, so I might as well keep eating meat. I definitely get the thought process behind this response. However, it’s never been a good enough reason for me not to try. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Sure maybe all that comes of your efforts is that one person has a good day. Maybe my veganism only spares one single animal from slaughter. That’s still better than nothing. That’s still enough for me. That’s still worth it. At the end of the day I still know that I’ve tried my best. We can’t control what others do, but we can control what we do and hope that our example may inspire others to join us. And that’s how every big change was started, just one person doing what they believe is right, regardless of what the rest of the world does or doesn’t do in response.

If you still find yourself feeling hopeless, consider this. Even if we end suffering on our planet, there are potentially billions and billions of other planets still struggling with similar problems. Does that make the progress we’ve made irrelevant? Of course not! So why should we belittle our local impact simply because it won’t change the entire world? Sometimes widening our perspective is just what we need to realize it’s okay to narrow our focus. Just do what you can, and don’t worry about the rest. Let the other pieces fall where they may. You’ll at least know that your piece is being taken care of.

Our Milky Way galaxy is on collision course with nearby Andromeda galaxy -  Tech Explorist

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.

AI Algorithm Enhances Brain Stimulation Devices Used for Treatment

Midnight Mass

Will 'Midnight Mass' Get a Season 2? Plus: Where Was the Show Filmed?

If you haven’t watched the new series, Midnight Mass, on Netflix, I highly recommend that you do so. My coworkers have been recommending it to me all week, and now I’m hooked. No lie, this show is captivating as hell. There are so many layers. My favorite part is the philosophical discussions and sermons that take place in every episode.

I find this show super interesting given my history with religion. And that’s the part I really wanna dig into today. I was raised religious, Methodist to be precise. I always enjoyed religion as a child. I liked singing in church and how nice our original pastor was. I liked believing there was order to the universe and that there was some all-powerful, all-loving God watching over me, taking care of me. However, when I abandoned my religion, I did so violently. I was so angry, at my parents, at churches, at the world, at a God I no longer believed in. I felt betrayed, manipulated, lied to. In the years that followed my transition to atheism, I was quite militantly against all religion. I hoped to destroy it once and for all. I hoped someday humanity would be liberated from these toxic ideas and organizations.

As that fiery passion of youth begins to fade within me, I no longer hold a torch for atheism. I still don’t believe in God, but being atheist isn’t such an important part of my identity anymore. I could care less if other people believe or not. I don’t have any interest or energy left for fighting a futile battle against religions that have existed for far longer than I have. Also, I’m sure that even if they were to disappear tomorrow people would just find new reasons and justifications for the awful things we do to one another, new things to fear, new ways to suffer.

After allowing that rage to cool within me for a few years, I am now able to look at religion through a completely new lens, a lens of fascination. What the hell is all of this? Where did these religions come from? Why do they all say the same things at their core? What core truths may be hidden amongst the convoluted writings of ancient times? How did we come to these truths as a species? So many questions that I no longer feel a visceral repulsion toward. I no longer feel threatened or afraid. I can look at these bizarre beliefs with a calm, open heart and a curious mind, while still standing firm in my own beliefs (which I’m sure are bizarre in their own way.)

There are two important realizations that Midnight Mass has presented me with. The first is what I mentioned earlier, that all religions (even non-religions) seem to believe a lot of the same things when you cut through all of the fluff. Two characters were having a conversation about death in the show, one religious, one an atheist. I was actually brought to tears by the beauty of what each said on the subject. Ultimately both believed the same thing: Death is a union with all there is, a dissolution of the self. Death is peace and love and never being alone again. An end to all suffering. What a beautiful thought. The details may be different, but the essence, the sentiment is the same. For some reason, I was so comforted by this idea. That no matter who you are or what you believe happens after you die, the consensus seems to be that it is nothing bad, nothing to fear. (Not that any of us can really know.)

The second thing Midnight Mass emphasized to me is that you can make religious texts say anything you want them to say. *Spoiler Alert* This show absolutely stunned me by connecting the ideas in the Bible with the mythology of vampires! The stunning part was just how easily these two things were able to be aligned. Drinking blood, eternal life, resurrection, etc. Even direct quotes from the bible can easily be read in this light. I thought this was a brilliant way to show that we can interpret “the word of God” to support whatever we like. But the power of perspective and interpretation are not confined to the pages of religious texts.

We see the same types of wildly different interpretations today in the media and even with scientific research. Regardless of what you set out to prove, you will find “credible” sources to back you up. And your opponents can just as easily find sources that say the opposite. The aspects of reality that once seemed so concrete are now becoming blurred at the edges, abstract, arbitrary, subjective. It’s kind of scary, but it’s also amazing to witness. There is a level of chaos and misunderstanding in our society today that I didn’t think possible.

I’m not quite sure what the overall theme or message of this post is exactly. I suppose I just wanted to share some of what’s been on my mind lately. I am grateful and humbled by the vast changes that have taken place within my own consciousness during the last decade. What a gift it is to be freed from that burden of fear and hatred toward such a huge part of the world around me. What a joy it is to have the peace of mind to explore what was once a trigger for me. I can’t wait to keep changing and exploring and learning and growing. There is never a dull moment in the fantastical, baffling world we live in.

Health, Illness, & Impermanence

You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.

Achaan Chaa

If you are someone who is healthy and able bodied like me, take a moment to reflect on that fact. Even if you suffer from mental or physical illness or you are differently abled, consider all that you body is able to do for you every day. Most of us live our lives without ever thinking much about our health, until that health is threatened or lost. In the last two years, the Covid-19 Pandemic has brought health, as well as illness, to the forefront of our collective awareness. Now more than ever in my lifetime, I have been faced with the reality of uncertainty and impermanence.

Even now, it’s easy to imagine I will somehow be immune to things like serious illness, accidental bodily harm, aging, or death. Although, logically, I know these things can affect anyone at anytime, I can’t manage to wrap my head around that fact. I have been privileged so far in life. I’ve always had relatively good health. I was born healthy. I’ve never had to be admitted to the hospital. I’ve never even broken a bone! At worst, I’ve suffered strep throat, stomach bugs, and cuts and scrapes. I have all of my senses. I have all of my limbs.

I’ve been isolated and sheltered from the harsh realities of illness. I was too young to comprehend my grandfather dying of heart disease. My grandmother died quickly without much distress or struggle from cancer a few years ago. Other than that and the death of a handful of pets, suffering, sickness, and death haven’t yet touched my life. Because of this, I have been able to live oblivious to these painful experiences for the majority of my life. This has allowed me to disassociate from many of the darker aspects of living. However, I know no one will make it through there entire life unscathed. I think it’s important for me to face what I’ve managed to avoid for so long.

Most of the time, I insulate myself with reassurances such as a healthy lifestyle and “good” genetics. Rarely do I ever acknowledge that those things only get you so far. We feel shocked and unnerved when we hear stories about random accidents causing severe injury or death. We are horrified and fascinated by sudden diseases, infections, or afflictions that seem to have no clear cause or no way to predict. We have immense sympathy, but somehow still think, “Well, that could never happen to me.” Deep down we all know that every day, every moment is a roll of the dice.

I’m not trying to be a downer or a pessimist. I’m not saying that we should always be obsessing over the possibility of misfortune. What I am saying is that we should never lose sight of how impermanent this life is. The quote at the beginning of this post is an excellent way for us to conceptualize this. Imagine that everything you have is “already broken.” Then we will not be as shocked or devastated when it does eventually break. It is also a reminder to treat all of the amazing things in this life, including our incredible bodies, with tenderness and gratitude.

When we hold in our awareness the truth of impermanence, illness, and death, it allows us to more fully appreciate the good fortune we are enjoying right now. Yes, suffering will reach us all in our lives, but today we are alive! What a blessing to wake up and enjoy moving through the world with this strong, healthy, able body. What a precious miracle it is to be free from chronic pain or illness. Thinking of things in this way, realizing that we ourselves are “already broken” makes these moments that would normally be taken for granted, something to be overwhelmingly grateful for. Let’s make a practice of savoring these simple moments so that when the time comes we are able to let go with grace and equanimity.

How Meditation Can Help Manage Illness | Everyday Health

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.

Martha Beck: Ways You're Sabotaging Yourself

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

Making the “Right” Choice

No matter the scenario before me, I find myself stressing over making the “right” decision. Even seemingly simple choices are blown way out of proportion. Should I take a walk or not take a walk? Should I order take out tonight or cook? Should I clean today or tomorrow? When you break life down into these small decisions, it can become overwhelming quite quickly.

It appears as though everyone around me is moving through life intuitively, with confidence in their decisions. Even big life-changing decisions like leaving a job, getting married, having a baby, going back to school. I guess it’s not fair to say these are easy situations for others to navigate. Maybe they are just as tangled up inside as I am. I just only end up seeing the final result. Still these decisions are made firmly, as if they truly know it will be the right one. When it comes to big decisions in my own life, I can’t say I’ve ever even made one. Looking back most major life-changing decisions were made for me like getting a scholarship to college. Or I just find myself gently pushed into one like when I decided to do yoga teacher training with a friend from work.

It feels like all this time I have just been allowing life to happen to me, rather than playing an active role in directing my own experience. I guess I’ve always felt safer not being in control of these things. I’d rather feel like a victim than feel at fault. Perhaps one of the reasons it’s so hard for me to make decisions is because I know how hard I am going to be on myself if I make the “wrong” one.

I go through each day in a precise set of activities. Even though it might be nice to break away from my normal routine once in a while, I’m always too afraid. It’s not even so much about the tasks themselves, like I once thought. It’s more about not having to contemplate what to do next. When I have a schedule to follow, that takes away a lot of the decisions I’d have to make in a day. Take away the routine and I feel like I’m at sea, drowning in an ocean of possibilities.

The real issue here is thinking that there is a “right” decision to be made at all. Especially about such insignificant choices like whether to go for a walk or not. Rather than just thinking, “Oh, a walk would be nice” and going, or, “Eh, I don’t feel like going for a walk today,” and letting it go, I agonize over whether or not I should. I use up so much mental energy arguing and debating with myself about the smallest things.

I take life, and all the decisions that comprise it, far too seriously. I blow each little moment way out of proportion. Most of the thoughts I suffer over for hours or even days, won’t make a difference in the long run. It’s like I have this delusion if I can choose what to do with each second of my life perfectly, all my problems will go away. I know that isn’t true though. There is no perfect answer. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices. There is just me and what I want. And maybe the problem is I don’t know what that is. Or maybe the problem is I’m always looking for problems, so that’s what I find.

What’s the problem with being indecisive anyway? I can choose how I frame even this dilemma. I could take pride in this “flaw.” I’m quite careful and conscientious. These are excellent qualities. I want to make the most of this precious time I’ve been given. I don’t want to be wasteful with a single second. I am insightful and capable of self-reflection. Already, this mental shift has put me in a better mood. Now instead of feeling afraid and broken, I feel happy and proud to be the way that I am.

It’s so easy for me to look outside of myself for answers. I feel like in order to be happy or to love myself, I’ve got to change something outside of me, like the situation or my behavior. That’s always just another distraction though. I don’t need to change anything external to be happy. All I’ve got to do is give myself the space to find different perspectives of the same “problem.”

When I find myself sweating the small stuff today, I’m going to return to one of my favorite mantras: Can I love myself even though…? Can I love myself regardless of whether or not I go for a walk today? Certainly. Can I love myself even though I have a tendency to choose the path of least resistance and default to routine? Absolutely. Can I love myself even though I often take life too seriously? Of course. Can I love myself even though I spend so much time worrying about making the “right” decision. Yes I can. And that’s all that really matters.

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.

Types of Adversity: Six Examples & How to Overcome Them • Andrew Roche

Can I Love Myself Even Though…

My new favorite mantra is, “can I love myself even though…” I fill in the blank with whatever I’m struggling with or judging myself for at the time. It has been a huge shift in perspective for me. It gives me that perspective which allows me to refocus and consider what the goal of this life truly is. Even though it’s extremely hard for me, my main goal in life is to love myself and others and be a positive force in the world. Love is the greatest gift that we have been given, and there is no greater way to express our gratitude for this miraculous capacity for love than to let that love light shine bright enough to encompass our whole being and those around us. It’s more fun to imagine life as a game than a test. It’s not a game of aggression and struggle against forces trying to destroy us either. It’s a casual game like the ones I enjoy most of all. It’s simply about exploring, being curious, and having fun, seeing what wonderous things we can create along the way.

It’s easy to become distracted by all the negatives we’ve been conditioned, and to a certain extent, designed to focus our attention on. We are constantly trying to find happiness and self-acceptance by changing external circumstances. If only I was skinnier. If only I was smarter. If only I was less anxious. If only, if only, if only. Now when I notice myself getting upset about these rather trivial imperfections, I’ll say to myself, “can I love myself even though I’m imperfect?” Then I listen to that opening feeling in my heart answering back with a resounding, emphatic, “YES!” If my initial reaction is a stubborn “no”, (as it sometimes is) then I’ll ask myself to give it a try anyway. I’ll look at it as a challenge to work with and overcome. It doesn’t have to be so serious. It’s all a part of the game. Looking at it this way keeps me from judging myself for judging myself, which is obviously counterproductive. Instead I become curious and excited to tackle this new challenge.

We are all born full of love and acceptance. I see the truth of this in the faces of the children I work with every day. It’s only as we grow older that we begin to close our hearts to the world and to ourselves out of fear. And when you stop and think about it, this fear or anxiety we feel is an instinctual act of self love. We have these feelings so that we are able to recognize danger and protect ourselves. You aren’t broken. You mind and body are just doing their best to keep you safe. It’s up to us to use our higher consciousness to teach our minds and bodies that it’s okay to relax. The more we practice opening again, the easier it becomes. Sometimes when I’m having a particularly difficult time, I’ll remind myself of that. Even though it seems impossible to practice self love and self care right now, I know that it will only get easier and easier if I keep trying anyway, if I forgive myself for all the hiccups and hard days along the way.

This mantra doesn’t always have to be directed at self-criticism either. For example, sometimes I get overwhelmed with how much I want to do around my house. In that scenario, I’ll ask myself, “can I love myself even though my house is a bit messy or not exactly the way I’d like it to be?” Then rather than ruminating on all I’ve got to do, I’ll instead focus my energy on the fact that I can love myself anyway. It really takes a lot of the pressure off and reminds me of what’s truly important.

As you go through your day today, I encourage you to try this mantra out for yourself. Notice how different our “problems” feel after reaffirming our love for ourselves. When we give ourselves the love we seek, everything else starts to feel a little less important, less scary, less urgent. There is nothing for us to fear, no suffering that can touch us, when we truly practice self love and self compassion each and every day, when we love ourselves even though…

Self Love with ADHD: The Big Heart Approach