Where Am I Trying To Go?

It’s hard to find a moment where I’m not rushing blindly into the next. As if there is some final destination that I’m frantic to reach. Without even realize it, I’ve spent half my life in fast forward. It just feels like the past and the future are somehow more tangible and quantifiable than the present moment ever can be. I’m afraid to rest here precisely because it is so fragile and fleeting. Fearful that if I live in this moment, I won’t have anything to show for it a few years from now. But focusing on an imaginary future can never serve me. The happiness I say I desire above all else, can only be found right here.

For someone who is so caught up in mental machinations, it’s extremely hard to settle into the simplicity of bodily sensation and experience. Language and logic cannot hold onto the slippery, ineffable value of being just as I am. The effort to try to make sense of everything pulls me out of every moment and places me in an artificial bubble of self-awareness, severed from the here and now unfolding before me. It feels foreign to forget myself in the soft feeling of fabric against sensitive skin. My mind has become so powerful and proficient at wrestling my other senses into stale submission. Finding myself suddenly surprised to scan my body and realize, once again, I’ve bitten my finger until its stinging and bleeding. How can I continuously be so cut off from the physical manifestation of me?

Never would I have imagined that one of my life’s greatest challenges could be participating in it. I’m much better at meticulous planning and pushing and pulling myself than planting my feet mindfully in front of me with every step. How bizarre it is to attempt to do nothing, and fail so reliably. Sitting on the bank of a river, utterly unable to keep myself from casting a line again and again. Not even noticing that I’ve been fishing, then suddenly coming back to reel my over eager hook back in for the thousandth time. Not even finishing setting my intention to be silent and settle into the stillness before realizing that damn bobber is already back on the surface of the water. The stamina of my persistence and patience needs to be built up, and that will take time. I’ve been strengthening my practice of falling into frustration these past 28 years. I must allow myself to surrender to the possibility it may take 28 years to rectify that habit.

It seemed simple and exciting when I first stumbled upon the ancient knowledge of yoga, mindfulness, and meditation and learned all that I truly desired was already mine. Little did I know that getting to a point where I was capable of granting myself permission to enjoy it would be a tremendously tedious and time-consuming trial. I must constantly remind myself that my repeatedly frustrated efforts, my failures, my relapses, my misdirections are all worth it. I want life to be easy, but I need it to be challenging so that I may learn and grow and develop into a being I can be proud of.

Every moment can be a celebration, a chance to be grateful, when I remember that I’ve already reached the destination I’ve been striving for. Every time I take a deep breath and notice the world around me is a victory. I won’t be discouraged by my many mistakes and missteps. They cannot spoil the joy contained within the rare moments where I manage to be fully present. Small successes still count. Whether I feel like I’m moving forward or backward, in the end I will always be right here. And right here is the only place I need to be.

Peripheral

Anxiety is living life in the periphery
a mind afraid to focus on direct experience
like eyes left straining into the blurry images
produced from the outer angles of sight

Endlessly missing the opportunity
to see what's right in front of me
distracted by the desperation to see it all
before making my next move

Walking blindly into the future
while believing there is some safety
in focusing all attention on the sidelines
absorbed by unclear, obscured visions

Mastering the practice of mindfulness
the ever evolving effort to stare straight ahead
being present with what's before me rather
than apparitions hovering just out of view

Keep walking faithfully forward
syncing each breath with firm steps
resting in the reality of perpetual uncertainty
softly savoring all the surprises of life

Allowing myself to become engrossed
in the ever unfolding mirage of right now
releasing all tight tendrils of assumed control
to be submerged in this moment

Deep Belly Breaths

The hardest part of yoga
is letting myself breathe
after 7 years of practice
it still feels impossible

I've heard that meditation
can turn toxic if you let yourself
spend it ruminating on the negative
listening to that hateful little voice inside

I don't know how to avoid
that sharp pang of self-criticism
and still breathe into my belly
to find deep, full, relaxed breaths

I've spent my whole life
disassociating from that area
avoiding myself even in the internal
mirror of my own self awareness

Only on my back can I let myself
fully expand and take up space
with the help of gravity to hold me
and keep venomous thoughts at bay

How can I learn to love all of myself
when some parts cause me so much pain
this undercurrent of overwhelm at the idea
of accepting it's something I cannot change

Moving Forward

Stepping back
taking a moment
to savor and celebrate
the seemingly small
but utterly transformative
changes I have made

Silencing the voice
in my head that says
not good enough
long enough to recognize
that at least now
I can hear it

I cannot ask for more
in this very moment
than the subtle awareness
I've taken years to cultivate
the bliss that breaks over me
as I reflect on my progress

The first step has been achieved
I've made the space to witness
chain reactions that were once
overwhelmingly automatic
I watch them with interest
and deep curiosity

I cannot always stop myself
but just to see is a greater gift
than I've ever expected to receive
knowing what I need to do
visualizing the path to peace
is more than I had before

I cannot expect to rush this process
of compassion, patience, and healing
I have a lifetime to play with, ponder,
and polish this gentle, loving practice
as it continues to unravel and reveal
new complexities and insights each day

I am so excited to see where this 
ancient knowledge of spiritual wellness
will lead me as I stumble faithfully
forward into my own mysterious future
my heart overflows with gratitude
for the lessons I have gathered

So thankful for the wisdom passed down
from strangers in foreign lands
and long forgotten times 
for the outstretched hands of spirits
guiding me from beyond the grave
I will not squander their selfless generosity

I will make my ancestors proud
as I continue onward through the unknown
with a recklessly radiant open heart
and the fervent intention to heal
not only myself, but the wounds left open
by those who came before 

Deceptive Mental States

Every day I wake up I choose love, I choose light, and I try.

The Submarines – You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie

What are we supposed to do when we cannot trust our own minds? This is where I believe faith comes into even an atheist’s life. At least for me, this is where I try to practice faith. You might be asking, well why wouldn’t you trust your own mind in the first place? If you are one of the lucky few who have no mental illness, then you may never encounter this dilemma. However, for someone like me, who suffers from an anxiety disorder, there are many times I’m left unsure of whether something is a genuine concern or if I’m spiraling into delusional, distorted perceptions and over reacting. It can be extremely difficult to tell the difference. Not only that, even if I determine logically that I am being a bit dramatic, it doesn’t make it any easier to calm myself down emotionally or silence my racing thoughts.

This happens to a certain degree every single night. As the day dwindles away, my brain is running low on my natural mood stabilizing hormones and dopamine/serotonin stores. I am always at my lowest and most stressed in the evening hours when I am physically and mentally tired. Even though I am consciously aware of this skewed perception at the end of the day, I never fail to fall pray to the thoughts and worries that arise. I know that no matter how serious my problems appear at night, if I just allow myself to sleep on it, I’ll have a completely different and more balanced opinion and perspective come morning when I feel energized and refreshed again.

It’s important for us to pay attention to our moods and thoughts at different intervals of the day, month, and year. Eventually we may notice a pattern. For instance, as I mentioned, I feel more vulnerable to anxiety in the evenings. I also feel much more susceptible of falling into depression during the winter months. I become more irritable and emotional about a week before my period each month. Once we notice these factors and the way they affect our thought patterns and sensitivity, we can begin to acknowledge when we may not be in a great place to make big decisions or judge a problem or situation accurately. Then we can try to adjust our actions accordingly.

Now, I said try to adjust, because even once we notice and acknowledge these patterns, it’s not as easy as you might think to convince ourselves we’re being irrational in the moment. Last night I felt like the world was falling down around me. I couldn’t stop thinking about financial concerns. I was distraught about my elderly dog’s health. I was ruminating on the way the seemingly minuscule issues of today could potentially snowball into unavoidable catastrophes decades in the future. What if my parents die? How will I afford retirement? What if I develop health issues? Should I leave the job I love for a better paying one? What if that’s a mistake? All of these basically unanswerable questions were swirling around in my head demanding to be answered and planned for accordingly right now. All of these concerns felt terribly urgent despite the fact the day before they weren’t even on my radar.

The deceptive part about anxiety is that it does serve a real, evolutionary purpose. Stress feels urgent and important because in our past as a species, it was. We weren’t made to be able to ignore these mental signals. It wasn’t an option to distract ourselves or even simply sit in our anxious discomfort when it was a life or death situation. Back then, we really did need to act immediately in order to survive. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it seems impossible to talk yourself down from these mental states. Your brain and body aren’t broken. They are simply doing what they were designed to do to protect you. It just doesn’t exactly transfer over well to our modern, often long-term, problems.

This is where faith comes in for me. I don’t exactly know what I am putting my faith in exactly. Maybe I am just having faith in myself. After all, how many millions of times have I felt like I was going to burst into flames if I didn’t solve all of my problems immediately, only to realize it wasn’t that bad the next morning? How many times have I feared I wouldn’t be able to cope with a worst case scenario, only to discover I’m much stronger than I ever believed I could be when I actually have to face one? I’ve made it this far. I have to believe in myself and trust that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to handle it somehow, even if I don’t know the exact details in this moment.

It’s may be hard, but in the moments when we find ourselves most likely overreacting or stuck in a distorted perception of ourselves or the situation at hand, we must practice faith. Just try to notice how your body feels instead of trying to “fix” everything so you feel better. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders. Give yourself a massage or activate a few acupressure points. Notice when you get tangled in your thinking mind and gently draw yourself back to the physical sensations in your body. Your brain is most likely telling you: You can’t just breathe. It’s not safe to allow these feelings. We have to do something! Don’t let these worries dissipate. They are too important. Notice whatever inner dialogue that arises to try to convince you of the urgency of the moment. Say to yourself: I know these thoughts feel really big and important right now. But I also know I am not at my best mental state to judge that at the moment. I’ve felt this way many times before. I trust that, just as it was those times, everything is going to be okay. I am okay. I am safe. I have faith in my future self and his/her/their ability to handle each issue as it presents itself. I don’t need to be prepared for every eventuality before it arises.

You’ve got this. I believe in you.

Keep Calm and Take the Anxiety Test! - My Mental Health

Talent & Creativity

The older I get the more saddened I am by how few people seem to have their own artistic or creative hobbies. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard people admitting with downcast eyes that they “can’t sing.” Even I struggle with the idea of dancing in front of anyone else, and until recently even when I’m alone. I don’t remember where I heard this, but I’ll never forget it because it made such an impression on me. A reporter went to a tribal community for a documentary. The tribe was having a festival of sorts and wanted the reporter to join them as they sang. When he told the leader that he couldn’t sing, they stared at him perplexed. This was such a strange concept to them that at first they assumed me meant he was physically incapable of singing. It hadn’t occurred to them that what he really meant was, I’m not a good enough singer.

As children we didn’t stop ourselves from doing things because we weren’t as good as celebrities or others in our lives. Kids sing and dance and draw and create endlessly. It’s one of the most special parts of human nature. Somewhere along the line, we became ashamed though. We’ve gotten it into our heads that we don’t deserve to spend time and energy on these things unless we are “talented.” (Whatever that means.) So often when I show other people my drawings they respond with, “wow, I wish I could draw.” Sometimes they’ll even recount to me how much they loved to draw as a child. This is so heartbreaking to me, partially because I understand the feeling.

My sister is a wonderful artist. At the height of her painting career, I had already moved away from drawing, but certainly wouldn’t have felt it worthwhile anymore comparing myself to her artwork. Eventually she stopped painting all together though for another reason entirely. Her reason wasn’t that she wasn’t good enough, it was because she couldn’t make a living painting. This is the other side of the same problem. We either think we aren’t good enough, or that it isn’t worth it if we aren’t able to monetize our work. I have to suspect that our capitalistic culture is to blame for these absurd notions we all seem to share.

Even though I’ve been making a point to write and draw every single day for over a year now, I am still constantly battling my own self-doubt. There are definitely far more days where I create something I deem mediocre than days where I impress myself, but it’s important to remember that each of those days holds the same value. Art and creativity aren’t about being superior to others or making money. These endeavors are not limited to an exalted few. They are an essential aspect of human nature. We were made to create. There is no such thing as “talented” or “untalented.” It’s all a matter of perspective. The more you practice, the better you will inevitably become, but even that isn’t my point. My point is that it doesn’t matter.

Whether you believe what you create is “good” or not, keep creating! Art isn’t about comparison and metrics and measurements. We all contain a deep well of creative energy that we allow to stagnate from disuse. And if you find yourself still shaking your head thinking “I’m just not creative” imagine a crayon drawing given to you by a child. I feel most of us have had this experience or at least can imagine it. When I got a bit older, I thought adults must have just pretended to like my pathetic scribbles and misshapen forms. However, now as an adult myself, who is often the proud recipient of such art, I understand that my parents and teachers really did love what I created all those years ago. Art has the power to make people happy, to make you happy, if you let it. And it has nothing to do with how professional or perfect it is. Art is about who made it, not the final product.

I always think back to a little character my friend drew a few years ago while we were playing a game. She never does anything creative anymore, although she used to draw just as much as I did when we were kids. She was embarrassed to reveal this little doodle to me, but even all these years later, I think back on it and smile. It was so incredibly adorable (yet so far away from what she was “supposed” to draw for the game.) It brought me so much joy. It wasn’t just the drawing itself either. It was the fact that this wonderfully unique little creature had come out of the mind of my dear friend. Anything creative is a glimpse into the private mind of the creator, and that is where its value truly lies.

The saddest part of this whole cultural predicament is that our deeply ingrained beliefs about productivity, creativity, and talent leave a lot of us disillusioned with art all together. I want to say, if you like doing something, do it, whether you’re “good” at it or not. But that isn’t enough. The joy of creating has been tainted by these critical thoughts, so much so that I lot of us don’t enjoy creative pursuits. After all why would you enjoy something that makes you feel inferior and “untalented”? For this reason, I would encourage everyone to make an effort to integrate more creative hobbies into their daily routine, whether you think you’ll enjoy it or not. Just do it as an experiment. You may surprise yourself. At the very least, you’ll be giving your right brain some much needed exercise.

3 Common Fallacies About Creativity

Get Excited About Being Kind to Yourself

A few days ago, I woke up feeling sluggish and sick. My stomach was tight. I felt queasy. I wanted to throw up. This is not the first time I’ve woken up in this awful condition. In fact it’s been happening more and more frequently in the last few months. It was getting to the point that I would worry as I went to bed whether or not I’d have to push through this discomfort as I got ready for work the next morning.

It wasn’t as though I didn’t know why this was happening. The discomfort I was experiencing was indigestion from stuffing my face immediately before falling asleep. I knew that this wasn’t in my own best interest for many reasons apart from the physical symptoms I would occasionally experience the following morning. I was becoming particularly worried about this unfortunate habit after learning more about my gut microbiome and the fact that the body is not intended to be digesting food while we sleep.

For some reason, on this particular occasion I finally decided enough was enough. I was going to make sure that I showed myself the respect and kindness I deserved. No more waking up sick when I was able to prevent it. It certainly wasn’t worth it. I didn’t even get much enjoyment out of my little late night mini binges. It was just a habit that formed in the aftermath of the uglier stages of my eating disorder. Perhaps a necessary stepping-stone at one time, but now I was ready to do better.

Part of me is always extremely fearful when I set an intention to alter my eating habits. The whole topic is tinged with toxic thoughts for me. Yet this time it felt slightly different. This was perhaps one of the only times that I was changing my eating habits for my own wellbeing, not as a weight loss tactic. I really tried to steer clear of thoughts about this causing me to eat less or lose weight from not eating so late at night. I reminded myself that these things were not important to me. This change was about being kind to myself, not “self improvement.”

With this loving kindness in my heart, I have been following through with my new goal for the past few days. To my surprise, it has been a lot easier than I anticipated. It has even helped me get back into mindful eating again. Food is not a reward, nor is withholding it a punishment. Eating is just a normal part of my day, something natural that helps me make my body and mind a more comfortable place to be, like going to the bathroom.

The best part of this change in my routine, apart from feeling light and energized when I wake up, is all the extra time it allows me to have in the evening. Now instead of spending the whole day looking forward to a meal, I look forward to my cozy, contented, full bellied self-care afterward. My favorite part of the last few days has been making a cup of tea, smoking a bong, and reading a book as I cuddle up with my furry babies in my extra comfy Christmas hygeekrog. I can’t imagine anything more pleasant, except perhaps sharing this space with my partner as well.

The best way to make new healthy habits is to focus on the real reason that we want to change. Even if our goal was weight loss, behind that goal is still the thought that this will make us happy. So skip the middle man and just make the goal being happy right from the start. And what is the surest way to make ourselves happy? It certainly isn’t making strict rules and beating ourselves up for not meeting our own expectations. All we need to do to make ourselves happy is to act from a place of love and compassion, to offer ourselves unconditional acceptance, love, and forgiveness. With this driving us, any new habit can become something we look forward to rather than something that causes us grief.

Space to Witness

One of the most common misconceptions I encounter when it comes to meditation is that the goal is to “clear your mind.” Not gonna lie, I thought this was the purpose for the longest time myself. Yet this is a very unfortunate misunderstanding that can cause people to give up on the practice all together. It seems like an impossible goal, and that’s because it is. Our minds are meant to always be thinking. We should be grateful for that fact and all that our brains do for us in every moment. There is no way for us to completely turn off our inner thoughts. And there is no need to. Meditation is not about doing that at all.

There are many different forms of meditation, but to my knowledge, none of them have the intention of emptying your mind of all thought. Meditation is about focus. It is training our brains to pay attention. The object of that focus really doesn’t matter. Regardless of what you choose, the intention is to keep bringing your mind back to that object. And I say bringing your mind back because it is inevitably going to wander and stray from your point of focus, especially if you are just beginning your practice. Our job while meditating isn’t to criticize or judge ourselves when we notice this wandering. It’s just to notice. That’s it. Our minds are our most powerful muscles, and just as other muscles need training and exercise to become stronger, so do our minds.

Sounds easy enough right? Well, I’ve always found one of the most fascinating parts of meditation to be just how difficult that really is. Doing nothing should be a simple task, but when you actually try to do it, you realize just how conditioned we are to always be doing or at least planning something. You realize how oddly uncomfortable it is to do nothing. You start to see all the ways your mind and body want to rebel against it. And while it does get easier with regular practice, there will always be days where it feels like the first time all over again. Those days that you find the hardest are the most important of all.

The hard days give us the opportunity to witness how we treat ourselves, how we speak to ourselves when things don’t go the way we want them to. Even though the brain may revert to it’s favorite hurtful comments, this might be the first time you’ve ever been present enough to really notice what those are. There are a few reflexive phrases my brain likes to throw out that, until I began meditating, I had no idea I was even saying to myself, let alone how often. It makes me think of that common school yard taunt: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. You can tell how dated that saying is, because now we have learned that words can hurt us too, even the words we say to ourselves. In fact, the way we speak to ourselves may matter most of all. Because these are often the words we take as gospel truth and believe without question.

While meditation alone does not necessarily help us to reframe this negative self-talk, being aware of that internal dialogue is the first step in doing so. The longer I practice meditation, the quicker I am to realize when I am being cruel to myself. Whereas before I either didn’t notice at all or felt too enmeshed in those painful feelings to extricate myself from them, now it is as if I can take a step outside of myself even in intense moments. The benefit of that space is that I am able to use it to choose a different path.

Now rather than piling on insults when I’m already having a bad day or have made a mistake, it’s easier for me to offer myself understanding and compassion instead of criticism. A lot of the repeated commentary inside my head is downright shocking to me when I examine it. There are so many deeply held unconscious beliefs I’ve been holding onto for years that when I lay them out in front of me seem absolutely awful. Meditation hasn’t stopped these thoughts from coming up, but it has helped me catch them when they do. And that alone has made a tremendous difference in my day to day life.

So while meditation is not what a lot of people imagine it to be at first. It is still one of the most valuable practices that I’ve incorporated into my life. It has allowed me to begin to heal in ways that I never thought possible. It has allowed me the space to craft an entirely new relationship with myself, which in turn helps me strengthen the relationships I have with other people in my life. It is one of the most beautiful gifts that we can choose to give ourselves each and every day.

Just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation can improve verbal learning and  memory processes, study finds

Anxiety From the Outside

Even though mental illnesses are be discussed more and more openly, and average people have a better understanding of them than they once did, it is still hard to tell if someone without mental illness really “gets” the struggles faced by those who do. I still remember talking to a client of mine and explaining to him the way my anxiety used to make it impossible for me to talk to people even in the most innocuous circumstances. His own brother was the same way and I was explaining to him that it wasn’t just an excuse for being anti-social as he suspected. Even after hearing my story, he seemed skeptical and unable to wrap his mind around what I was telling him.

Since that day, I’ve become more and more concerned with the way others may interpret my behavior. With both my social work career and my yoga teaching, there are expectations that I am unable to meet even after years of practice. My yoga studio constantly urges me to walk around the room more, watch my students more closely, offer adjustments, etc. The child advocacy center where I work, encourages me to stay in the waiting room with the kids and family the entire time that they are hear not just at the beginning and end of their appointment. Neither of these tasks seems too daunting. Even when I contemplate the idea myself, it seems doable.

However, even with the best intentions going in, I can never manage to do as well as I hope. In the moment, my fear takes hold of me. Nothing besides avoiding the situation seems to matter at all to me at that point. I would do anything to just escape, regardless of the consequences. And usually, I give in to that fear and fall into my usual pattern. I’m not sure even the possibility of losing my position all together would be enough to rival the fear of the action itself.

Not only does this constant internal battle make me feel guilty, like I’m not serving my students and clients well enough, it also makes me wonder what my coworkers think about it. I’ve expressed to them that the reason I resist their advice is because of my anxiety. Even so, I don’t know if they are able to fully comprehend what I mean. I am afraid that, like my former client and his brother, they think I am just making excuses to get out of doing my job. To a certain extent, I even feel like it’s an excuse. But it’s not an excuse to avoid working, or because I don’t care, it’s an excuse to avoid paralyzing fear. I would happily do ten times the amount of paperwork if it allowed me to have less interaction with people. It’s not that I’m lazy and don’t want to do work. I’m just afraid. I’m afraid to the extent that sometimes it really does feel like I am unable to do what is expected of me.

Because I have lived with this anxiety my entire life, it makes perfect sense to me when I see someone else avoiding a task that to others seems simple. But I also see the way others judge them for that avoidance. People who have not experienced this irrational anxiety just can’t comprehend how it feels. Which is why I always go out of my way to accommodate people I meet who are clearly socially anxious. For instance, I have a neighbor that never looks at me or waves or says hi even though we pass each other quite regularly. I know that most people would be offended by that and think he is a rude person. But I find him endearing because I know how he feels. Honestly, I wish more people were like him. It’s a huge energetic effort for me to smile and wave and make small talk with neighbors every time I leave my house.

I understand why these behaviors seem odd and uncaring from the outside. I don’t expect people to be able to understand something so illogical if they’ve never experienced it. I just hope that the people in my life understand that, even when it might not look like it, I really am trying my best. Making a phone call or siting with someone for an hour might seem extremely easy to most people, but just know that there are a lot of us that find it comparable to walking a tight rope or holding a python. Imagine if you had to face your greatest fear each and every day. It’s exhausting at best, and traumatizing at worst. So please try to be patient with us. We really are trying.

Fear vs. Phobia: What's the Difference? | The Recovery Village