Grounding Yourself

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I feel like the term “grounding” can often be overused and misinterpreted. So before I go on, I’d just like to explain what that word means to me. In my mind, feeling grounded is feeling present. It is feeling secure as well as emotionally, mentally, and physically stable. I’m not sure if that is the definition other people would use, but that’s what I think of when I think about being grounded. That’s what I am going for when I speak about grounding in my yoga classes.

It took me a long time to develop this understanding of the word though. At first it always seemed a bit abstract and unclear. In the beginning of my yoga journey I defaulted to taking this word more literally. Whenever I was told to ground in a yoga pose I would simply imagine the sensation of my feet, legs, hands, tailbone, etc. against the mat. I focused intently on what that connection felt like against each nerve ending. Visualizing grounding in this way for years eventually led me to connect that word with being present in my body in general. I think this is more what the term is getting at. Focusing on your connection to the earth or the mat is just one way of doing that.

You don’t have to focus on your physical connection to the ground to ground yourself. You just have to make an effort to focus on something happening in the present moment. I actually really like a grounding exercise that I learned from Better Call Sal on Netflix. There is a scene where Sal’s agoraphobic brother keeps reciting different details he notices around him. Such as: I see blue cloth. I feel cool air. I smell patchouli. I hear birds chirping. All of these sensations have the potential to create a grounding effect. The subject doesn’t matter. What’s important is to really focus your full attention on what you are sensing or feeling at that moment. You don’t necessarily have to speak these thoughts aloud, but I do find it’s helpful in order to maintain your complete attention.

I love the phrase “monkey mind” because I really think it’s a good representation of the way the mind seems to jump around endlessly from one thought to another. Sometimes it seems impossible to settle on a thought as simple as inhaling or exhaling. I like to imagine when my attempts at this focused attention are thwarted by my mind, that this monkey was about to be caught but becomes even more frantic at the last minute in order to escape. It takes a lot of practice and persistence to gain that monkey’s trust. You mustn’t get frustrated with it when it leaps away from your attempts at mindfulness. Keep trying. Keep coming back. Keep being nice to yourself. Keep offering yourself rewards for your efforts. Keep reenforcing those positive habits. Eventually you will be able to tame your monkey mind.

Grounding is a very important aspect of my yoga practice. In my opinion, anxiety is the polar opposite of feeling grounded. Anxiety feel shakey, unstable, scattered. When you are feeling anxious, practicing grounding exercises is an excellent way to help yourself feel better. That doesn’t make it easy however. An anxious mind makes for an especially crazed monkey. Anxiety is a natural response to danger in our environment, therefore even when unjustified, this anxiety demands our attention. To be able to ignore the discomfort it causes so easily could have been a death sentence were it another time in history. So be gentle with yourself. Even though it’s aggravating and inconvenient, anxiety is just your body’s way of trying to keep you safe. It takes a lot of consistent work to build enough trust with your body for it to believe the mind when it tells the body to let that stress go, that we are actually safe, that it’s tension and warnings are unnecessary.

The next time you notice yourself feeling uneasy or anxious try this. (I’m going to try too.) Say to yourself aloud, or silently in your head: Thank you, my lovely body for this warning, but I am okay. You don’t have to worry. This is a great way to lovingly acknowledge how you are feeling without resisting it, avoiding it, or becoming upset about it. Then in order to show your body that you are truly alright, find five things in your immediate surroundings that you can direct your focus towards. They could be one thing for each of the five senses, five things you can see, or whatever combination that works best for you. Try to breath deeply and remain in the present moment as you recite the details about a few things around you. Go slowly, really try to concentrate on each one. It may feel silly and weird at first, but I highly encourage you to try saying your list aloud at least once. Notice how verbalizing each detail feels different than when you simply say it in your head. Does it help you stay more focused, less focused, or something else? Does it make you feel more grounded, less grounded, or something else?

If you are having trouble thinking of things to focus on, you can intentionally add a few things to your environment to help you. For instance, you can light a candle or some incense and focus on the smell. Focus on the flame flickering or the graceful spirals of the rising smoke. You might play some gentle, calming music that you enjoy. You might make yourself a cup of your favorite tea. You might put on a favorite article of clothing and pay attention to the way the material feels against your skin. You could even take a bath or wash your face and focus on the way the warm water and soap suds feel.

I genuinely hope that these suggestions and ideas will help those of you struggling with anxiety to find more ease throughout your day. I know that anxiety has the potential to be debilitating at times, and all of this is much easier said than done. Even so, if you only take away one thing from reading this let it be that you are worth it. You are worth the effort. You are worth all the practice that it takes to get you where you want to be. You deserve to live your life with happiness and ease. If nothing else, ground yourself in the certainty that these words are true.

You are worth it, my darlings.

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The Importance of Play

One of the things working with children has taught me, is just how important it is to make time for play. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Play is an essential part of leading a happy and fulfilling life. It seems like once we reach a certain age we think we are “too old” to be “wasting time” on such frivolous affairs. We can often even be mocked or looked down upon by those in our peer group or older generations for not “growing up” or “learning to act our age.” For some reason, as a society, it seems like we find unpleasant, but necessary tasks to be more worthy of our time than tasks that actually bring us enjoyment or pleasure. The irony is, when we are doing mundane “adult” things, it is ultimately to preserve and ensure our future happiness. So if happiness is the goal no matter what we’re doing, why always put it off in some distant future if we are capable of having simple pleasures right now as well?

I think one of the reasons a lot of adults tend to enjoy spending time with children even if they are not their own, is because they remind us how delightful it can be to play and pretend. Even just watching them do so can have a calming, pleasant effect on us. We are sometimes able to live vicariously through these children. As a child, I loved to play with little figurines and have pretend adventures and scenarios with them. Some days I would fill up the sink and they would have a “pool” day. Or we would go outside and they would go hiking or camping in the weeds. I’d collect small flowers and berries for them. These were some of the happiest times in my life. Back then, time didn’t matter. It hardly seemed to exist. I didn’t ask myself why I was doing the things I did. It didn’t matter. I was happy. Wasn’t that reason enough? Things seemed so much simpler back then.

I distinctly remember one day begging my mother to play with me. She did her best, but was mostly just watching me. I asked her why she wasn’t doing anything. She told me that she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do. She had actually forgotten how to play. I vividly remember the confusion and disbelief I felt at the time. How can you not know how to play? It made no sense, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed impossible that I could ever forget something like that. Yet here I am over a decade later with no idea how I occupied so much time with my make believe. It breaks my heart each time I sit down with the kids I work with at a doll house and struggle to come up with anything to do. I want to weep for that inner child that has become all but lost to me.

I’ve learned that play is something that takes practice. Thankfully I am surrounded by children every day that can help me with that practice. Just the other day a little 5-year-old boy and I played robbers together. He had us talk in deep, gravely voices as we planned our heist. Then we ran around the waiting room, laughing maniacally as we clutched our fake money. It was a great time. Even though it’s hard to have such boundless, imaginary play as an adult, I have still been trying to implement more creativity and structured play into my days. Playing for me now mostly includes casual video gaming and art.

Even though I acknowledge that this play is worthwhile, it is still hard for me to justify the time I spend on it (even though it isn’t much.) I am constantly giving myself chores to do before I feel alright allowing myself time to just enjoy and have fun. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the evening hours I’ve set aside for it, I am too exhausted, stressed, and listless to really even enjoy my playtime. Another problem I run into is getting too serious about whatever it is I’m doing. When I began drawing (and even writing) everyday, my only goal was to schedule time for myself to explore my creativity and just have fun. But now that these things have become a habit, I have been feeling a lot of pressure surrounding these activities. It has started to feel more like work than play.

With so many gamers now available to watch online, even my casual video games have started to feel like a burden rather than a joy. I can’t help watching others play and then comparing my progress in the game to theirs. I feel rushed, inadequate, unhappy with where I am. Even though I know it’s utterly ridiculous, I can’t seem to help feeling this way. Often times this feeling is so strong that I give up on the game all together. I hope that by continuing to challenge these feelings I will be able to overcome them little by little. I hope I will be able to transform this playtime into something similar to meditation. Rather than focus on how my art compares to other’s or how far behind I may be in a virtual world, I will keep working to focus on my breath, on the pleasure I feel in the moment.

Living in a society so focused on production and outcomes, it can be hard to find the value in simple experiences. What once were things I looked forward to have started to become things I feel anxious about. I feel pressured to make each drawing better than the last. I criticize myself for not being creative enough or improving fast enough or consistently enough. I feel like what I write is just rambling nonsense no one cares about. That my art isn’t worth showing anyone. But even if those things were true, it wouldn’t matter! I must keep repeating to myself that the point isn’t the final product, it’s the pleasure of the process. What I create or work on doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be good. As long as I’ve enjoyed the time I spent working on it, that is all that matters.

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Enjoy Where You Are

It seems like I spend a lot of my time worrying about the fact that I am still not where I want to be in my life. Sometimes it is nice to pause, to stop and remind myself that it’s okay for me to just be where I am right now. Otherwise I am going to continue missing out on a lot of the precious moments that are right in front of me. I know that I tend to struggle a lot with black and white thinking. That can make it hard for me to accept the fact that things don’t have to be perfectly in order for me to be happy. I don’t have to be perfect to be happy.

Happiness is not a reward that I have to put off until I reach certain goals. I don’t need a reason to be happy. Sometimes my “logical” mind tells me that everything has to have an immediate cause and effect relationship. I’ll make myself anxious about not having anything to do. I never allow myself to just be. And to take a few moments just to breathe and enjoy being alive. That is more than enough. I don’t need to deserve to be happy. I don’t need to earn it. Happiness and joy are the natural state of all living beings. We are made to experience pleasure and contentment. We were made for these experiences. They are the reason we are here.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with allowing myself to have time to play. I’ve been playing a new video game that I’ve really been enjoying. My only problem is that it’s hard to make much progress in my game when I only let myself play it for around one hour a day in the evening. I wake up and look forward to that hour all day, but then when it finally comes I feel so mentally exhausted and anxious that I’m tempted to skip it all together. Instead of just having fun and enjoying the fact that I enjoy playing that game, I browbeat myself in my head about it. I ask myself: what’s the point of this? Shouldn’t I be doing something else? Isn’t this essentially a waste of time? I really have to work on convincing myself that it’s okay to do something just because I like doing it. There doesn’t have to be any other reason.

Often I’ll blame my anxiety and discomfort on my surroundings or what happens to be going on during a particular day. Yet when I have a day off with nothing to do besides relax, I am just as anxious if not even more so! This shows me that there is no reason for me to make excuses about why I can’t be happy and enjoy my day. There will always be something to fixate on and be displeased by. I can let those things ruin every moment of my life, or I can choose to be happy and enjoy each day despite all of those things.

I am going to keep working on thoroughly enjoying and being fully present for each moment of this day, and the next, and the next. And even this work doesn’t have to be perfect. Life is messy and chaotic and confusing, but that is part of what makes it so interesting and beautiful and delightful. I am learning to accept the good and the bad, because ultimately they are complimentary to one another. Both are necessary and both circumstances give me something that I can choose to be grateful for. I am choosing gratitude.

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Fond Farewells

Today’s yoga class is the last one I’ll ever have the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite regular students. She is an older woman named Carol. I felt a strong connection to her right away and was always pleased to see she would basically only come to the studio on Saturdays for my class. We would always stay and chat for a few minutes after class about our practice or about politics. She was truly a delight. There was a palpable absence when she didn’t come to class.

A few weeks ago I found out that she was moving back to her home state. I was quite sad knowing that soon I’d have to say goodbye to one of my students and a good friend. As I prepared my class for this week, I decided to design it specifically for Carol. At the end of practice she always works on her bakasana (crow pose) and urdhva dhanurasana (upward facing bow pose.) As a special treat for her I made the whole class a build up to get us ready for those exact poses. I was happy to talk with her after class to discover that she noticed and appreciated this gesture of mine. I also gave her a small farewell gift. I had planned to give her one of my many hag stones since they are supposed to be good luck. However, I forgot them when I left this morning. Fortunately, I had a lucky howlite crystal keychain I decided to give to her instead.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I am not very good with people. I’ve never really understood how to appropriately approach different social situations. So while these kind gestures may seem second nature to a lot of you reading this post, know that for me it took a great deal of consideration and effort. To be honest, I don’t really know if that was “normal” or not when saying goodbye to someone you care about. I often worry that I am being over the top. As I was contemplating what type of small gift I could give her, I even second guessed doing anything special at all. She is just someone I see once a week for an hour or so that I probably won’t ever see again. I’ve certainly parted from people that were more integral in my life with less fanfare, sometimes without as much as a goodbye. I noticed that I was asking myself if it was “worth it.”

Most people seem to interact with others in the way they do simply because it comes naturally. For me, each interaction requires a lot of thought and careful consideration. I spend my mental and emotional energy very sparingly. So when I thought about the fact that I would never see this person again, the cold, logical side of my brain told me it would be a waste to exert any energy making an effort for a relationship that was inevitably ending. Normally I will justify kind gestures by telling myself it will end up being a benefit to me in the future. Even though that may sound heartless and selfish, it’s just the way my brain works even when I do genuinely care about the person involved. It’s usually the only way I can keep myself from avoiding the interaction all together.

I decided to just ignore that icy, calculating side of myself this time though. I felt like I wanted to do something for Carol, so I did. It felt right, and that was enough. Then, as I saw how much my small gestures meant to her, as I saw her teary eyes above her mask as she thanked me for everything, I knew I made the right decision. It doesn’t matter if I don’t see or hear from her again. It doesn’t matter if ten years from now I don’t even remember she exists. Sometimes it’s okay to just be grateful for the fleeting moments in life. Today was about honoring the meaningful connection I made with another human being if only for a brief period in time.

I am always so focused on the future, that sometimes it can be hard for me to find value in the temporary. Yet, nothing lasts forever. Today was a reminder of that. It was a reminder that each moment must be appreciated for what it is, without worrying about what it could be or what it will mean for the future. Isn’t is good enough to be happy just for the sake of being happy? It doesn’t have to last indefinitely for it to mean something. There is truly a lesson in everything if you care to look for it. I am grateful for Carol and the many lessons I’ve learned thanks to having her in my life for the time that I did. I hope she has gained as much from our time together as I have.

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A Good Day to Have a Good Day

I’ve been allowing myself to get awfully frazzled and caught up on the little things the past few days. Only my second full week back in the office full time and I’ve already managed to start blaming my anxiety on being too busy. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly and easily I am able to forget that nothing was much different when I had more time at home. I felt just as anxious, perhaps even more so, because there were less distractions. I have trained my brain well. Unfortunately I’ve trained it to always be looking for danger and discomfort.

It feels like I am constantly checking to see if everything is okay. I keep asking myself, “Am I anxious right now? Can I handle this? What does the rest of my day hold that I need to prepare myself for?” I keep waiting and waiting for everything to be perfect as my life passes me by. I keep postponing my own happiness. I keep telling myself, “Not yet, not yet.” Once I get home, once it’s warmer out, once I get vacation time, etc. But even when those things happen, there is always something else that causes me to shift my timetable out farther into the future. This has been going on and on indefinitely for as long as I can remember.

I don’t want today to be just another day I spend looking forward to allowing myself to be happy someday. Today is already a perfectly good day to be happy. There is nothing stopping me besides myself. So here it is, this is me giving myself permission to thoroughly enjoy myself today. No matter what happens. No matter what may go wrong. No matter what chores or errands I have in the future. Today I am just going to focus on today. I am healthy. My body feels good. I am awake and energized. I have every reason to celebrate this amazing life I’ve been given to enjoy. There is no reason good enough to justify withholding your own happiness.

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Coming Back Home

This life is so beautiful. It’s amazing how easily I am able to forget that. I always get caught up in the little things. For me it’s always been easier to worry endlessly than to pause and enjoy the present moment. But of all the suffering I’ve experienced in my life, I’ve been the source of the vast majority of it. It is hard to accept that and not condemn myself for it. It’s actually a great gift to realize that strange fact. Because it means that I can also be the end of all of this suffering. I just have to keep reminding myself, especially when it’s hard.

I just have to remember that this life is so much bigger than all of my petty little problems. What an insane, incredible, amazing thing it is that I exist at all! That there is so much right in front of me to enjoy, to be grateful for. This miraculous body that I inhabit, this home that shelters me, safe and warm with my loved ones, the ability to breathe the air, to feel soft pleasant textures against my skin. I am happy. I am free. I am alive. Right here, right now. Life is good.

Under all of my anxiety lies the fear that one day I won’t be able to take it anymore. I’m afraid that all of these tiny worries will pile up around me until I can no longer bear it, that I will somehow be consumed. But I don’t give myself enough credit. I am far more powerful than I realize most days. Sometimes I am tempted to allow my worst fears to become reality, just so that I can show myself that I will still be okay. When the darkest moments come, it is the smallest things that save me. Everything that I truly need is within me, it is me.

This breath, this deep, intangible, limitless love that I hold inside, nothing can take that away from me. It is forever mine. These things are always here for me. There is an immense power that emanates from my soul. A power that I can connect with whenever I need to. A power that I don’t use often enough. But nevertheless it doesn’t leave me, even when it remains dormant.

On days like today, when I stop and really contemplate existence, I want to laugh hysterically at the beautiful absurdity of it all. I want to cry from sheer, inexpressible joy. I want to shout thank you, thank you to whatever it is that has allowed this all to be possible. I want to take my anxious mind into my arms and coo to it softly, “don’t be so silly, there is no need to be afraid, I love you, I am here for you, everything is alright, it has always been alright, it will always be alright, trust me, dear one, shush now, I’ve got you.”

What more could I possibly want? What else could I even have asked for? This life, this world, it is all so beautiful. It is absolutely perfect. Even the messy parts, even the scary parts, they are all gorgeous and necessary to create the fullness that is this existence. I am so lucky. I am so grateful that I get to be a part of this. My heart feels so full. It is overflowing. I want to fill every empty space with warmth and love and light. I want to give and give until there is nothing left of me but pure glistening bliss.

When I begin to feel like I am fraying at the edges, like I won’t be able to hold myself together, I want to read this and remember that I never have to fear coming apart, because I am already a part of all that there is. I am forever whole and complete and at one with everything. I don’t need to cut out the bits of me that feel afraid or anxious or upset, those parts of me are fine just the way they are. There is nothing wrong with them. There is nothing to fix. When they start to feel too heavy, all I need to do is put them down for a while. All I need to do is image whatever it is I’d like to be feeling instead. “Not anxious” isn’t something that my heart can understand clearly enough to provide for me. Rather I should ask it for joy or love or comfort or peace. These are things that the heart remembers well. I am always capable of returning to these emotions. Because they are my natural state.

It is no wonder that I get tired, that I feel exhausted with living sometimes. It takes a lot of energy to keep myself so far away from my very essence, to deny myself so often. It’s as if I am using all my strength to hold a door closed inside of me. Behind that door lies this unending love and happiness that is my true nature. That beautiful, bubbling light that we are made of. An energy that is beyond logic, beyond reason, beyond definition, beyond even consciousness. I don’t need to understand it. I don’t need to search for it. I am it. It is me. I am the answer. I am the joy and the love and the safety that I seek. And it’s okay if in an hour I’ve forgotten once again. Because this is where I will always inevitably return. I can come back again and again, as many times as I need to. This light within me will always be here waiting.

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Sitting In the Sun

I can only hope to some day find the same satisfaction of a cat lying in sunbeams as they pour through the window. Even my dog, sweet little oddball that she is, loves basking in that warm glow. They always look so peaceful. You can almost see them savoring each delicious moment as they doze on the edge of consciousness. Perfectly peaceful. Precious angels. If only they could tell me their secret to serenity.

The closest I ever came to this simple bliss was one summer evening at the peak of an acid trip. I forget what my companion was doing at the time. They must have been absorbed in something inside that didn’t interest me. I had decided to go outside just as evening was giving way into another luscious, humid summer night. Summer nights are my favorite. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps they remind me of being a kid, watching fireworks on the 4th or catching lightning bugs with my sister and grandma. Or maybe it’s my teen years, sneaking out to meet friends, having midnight swims, trying my first cigarette as the rain drizzled down lazily, drinking by a fire in a friend’s backyard. There was always a certain excitement saturating summer nights, a sense of danger and adventure. Hedonism and recklessness and youth.

As the sun’s warmth still lingered in the soft air, I went out to use my newly set-up trampoline. I’m certain I would have appeared insane if anyone had been around to witness the sight. A young woman in her mid twenties, alone, at night, laughing her head off while jumping on a trampoline. I have no idea how long I was on that thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt like a kid again, with all the innocence and sheer joy I once knew.

When I finally got tired of that, I got down and sat breathless on my back porch under the stars. I think back to that moment a lot. Ever since I learned about yoga philosophy, I can’t help but think about it when I trip. It’s always funny to me how simple and true it all feels when I’m in that altered state. I see it all so clearly. It feels like I’ll be able to keep that insight and inner peace with me when I wake up the next morning, but of course I never can.

This evening as I sat there alone, I felt more alive and safe than I ever have before or since. I breathed in the thick air of that summer night slowly and deeply. Enjoying every subtlety of this slight movement as the air passed through my nostrils and expanded my abdomen. Feeling this oxygen infusing me with precious life. In that moment I knew everything I needed to know. There was no grasping or worrying or fear. I was truly at peace with myself and the universe. I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be. I knew that I was one with everything around me. That this whole universe was a part of me and I a part of it. I felt the lines of the self blurring into eternity. Anything that I could ever need or want was already a part of me. It was all so beautiful. I could have sat there, utterly content, forever. Everything is as it should be. Never had these words felt so poignant and true.

If nothing else this experience stands as an example of the power of perspective. Nothing has changed since then except my state of mind. Things that felt so simple then have reassumed their complex and elusive nature. That peace that felt ever-present now escapes me. Even the memory can’t compare to the perfect state I was in that night. My brief moment in the sun has now passed. Yet still, the residue of that moment lingers within me.

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Setting Aside Time to Savor

Since the beginning of December, I have been slowing chipping away at cleaning and organizing that needed done around my home. I made a long list and spaced each task out so that I would only have one reasonable thing to do each day instead of trying to do too much and getting overwhelmed like I usually do. I had my doubts that I would actually follow through with any of it though.

After over a month and a half of diligent efforts, I am happy to say that I completed everything on my list as of yesterday! My last task was one I was dreading having to do. I needed to paint over this atrocious wallpaper my grandmother had up around the ceiling border in the kitchen. I knew it would probably be a huge mess and take a long time. Not to mention I had no idea if the results would even be worth it. But knowing it was my final task, I went about it with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.

It actually didn’t end up taking as long as I’d thought. And it’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do for a room. Now I am even more determined to convince my father to let me paint the wood paneling around the house white as well. But I digress. The point is, I only spent a few seconds admiring my work before my mind was already racing off to what else there was left to do.

I never seem to allow myself any time to just enjoy what I’ve accomplished. I am always looking towards the future. And that can be exciting, but ultimately when that anticipated future arrives, I only acknowledge it briefly before looking forward to something else. I’ve never been able to truly savor what I have or where I am in the moment.

I’m kind of at a loss when it comes to what to do about this. I have gotten so used to most of my pleasure coming from the excitement of expecting things in the future. When I can’t think of anything I have to look forward to, that’s when I really get anxious and depressed. Even though at any given moment, there is so much all around me that I could be happy about and be enjoying.

Even within the span of a single day, I am always thinking a few steps ahead of myself. I look forward to my coffee, then slurp it down mindlessly. I look forward to my daily drawing, then get anxious when I pick up the pen. I look forward to dinner, then inhale it in only a few minutes while distracting myself with Netflix. No wonder I am always so anxious. I have been living in the future for so long.

I am present and peaceful when I meditate and do my yoga everyday, but that is only a small fragment of my life. I want to allow that presence to slowly bleed out into the rest of my life as well. I want to allow myself time to be proud of my accomplishments and savor my hard work. I want to enjoy where I am right now. Because, all things considered, it is a pretty wonderful place to be.

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Future Worries

Last night as I was falling asleep, I couldn’t stop worrying about something that, depending on the state of the pandemic this summer, may or may not happen in July. Even though that’s nearly half a year away, I was sick with anxiety about it. I couldn’t relax.

However, in the middle of my worrying, I had a realization. Why was a worried? Presumably because I feared being anxious or uncomfortable in this future situation. Yet by pre-emptively worrying about it months ahead of time, not only would that not change the reality of the situation when it finally arrived, but would ensure I was anxious and uncomfortable in this very moment as well. Fixating on the past or the future does nothing but steal the peace we could find in the present.

This train of thought led me to also understand that there will always be a time in the future to worry about. Or a memory to miss from the past for that matter. If we don’t teach ourselves to prioritize and be mindful of the present moment, that anxiety, that sadness, will always remain.

Peace is only to be had in the present. It is always here waiting for us, waiting within us. Why waste it? Difficult times are sure to loom on the horizon. But there is nothing to be done about them until they arrive. I always feel like if I don’t worry about things before they happen, then I won’t be prepared when they do. But even I know that is ludicrous. Anxiety and worry do not make you more prepared. They just extend your suffering. To truly prepare, it would be best to stay grounded in the present. To allow myself time for peace and rest, so that I may face the future when it comes with strength and confidence and a firm connection to that peaceful place within myself. Besides, who knows who I will be, where I will be, when that future does finally arrive? I will not be the person I am today, the person I am right now. I must have faith that whoever I have become by then will be ready.

So I will let the future come in its own time. There will be plenty of time to agonize over it when it arrives if I still feel the need to. In the meantime, I am going to practice learning how to more fully enjoy the present. I am going to give my brain a new system to follow. Whenever I notice myself becoming distraught over something yet to come, I will practice pivoting away from those thoughts. I’ll ask myself: How does it feel to exist in this body right now? Do I feel heavy? Light? Is there tension in my jaw? My shoulders? Can I release it? Can I relax into this body? What is my breath like? Short and fast? Long and deep? How does it feel to breathe all the way down into my belly? How does it feel to pause between inhales and exhales? Can I feel my heart beating steadily in my chest? Can I hear it pumping away? Can I feel gratitude for these things I so often take for granted? Can I remember that the future is not guaranteed? Yet I have this precious moment in the palm of my hands. What a crime it would be to waste it.

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Time to Surrender

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed since I began meditating is the importance of the length of time set aside for it. I began with a timer set for 15 minutes. I kept my meditations limited to that amount of time for years. Every now and then I would do 20 minutes. Never longer. When I’m running short on time, I’ll just sit for 5 minutes. However, this short of a meditation feels more like going through the motions to check off a box than actually being meditative.

It’s fascinating how terrifying the idea of sitting in silence with yourself can be. There are many days when I would be anxious at the prospect of beginning a simple 15 minute session. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but knowing I’d be alone with myself with no distractions was daunting. I knew the time could fly by or seem like an eternity. Most times I would feel myself relaxing into the meditation just as the time was up. Reluctantly letting my eyes open to continue on with my day.

Over a year ago, I finally worked up the courage to set a goal of daily 30 minute meditations for myself. 15 minutes just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I knew I needed to push myself to sit for longer if I really wanted to see a difference in my mental state. At first it was ridiculously difficult to commit to this length of time. It seemed so long. I felt afraid I wouldn’t be able to justify “wasting” this amount of time everyday “doing nothing.” Yet it quickly became one of my favorite parts of the day.

I’ve learned quite a bit from this decision to extend my meditation sessions. One of the most important things I particularly noticed from being too busy to sit for more than 5 minutes a day this past week is how important it is to set aside a significant amount of time. After such a long time sitting in meditation for 30 minutes every day, 5 minutes felt like a joke. It didn’t feel like I came anywhere close to a meditative state. My mind was racing the entire time. Wondering how close I was to being finished. Planning out my to-do list for the day. Running over earlier conversations in my head. At most I only achieved a few brief moments of actual concentration and mindfulness.

I want to be clear, though, I am not discrediting starting out with a short amount of time like this as an introduction to meditation. In the beginning even 5 minutes can feel scary and challenging. It’s a good way to begin integrating a meditation practice into your daily routine. And it will still make a difference. However, if you’ve been meditating for awhile already, I highly recommend trying to lengthen your sessions.

It may seem difficult at first, but I guarantee it’s worth it. When you have a long period of time to meditate, there is a different atmosphere. It seems less possible to just run out the clock by allowing your mind to run wild for a few minutes. Half-heartedly trying to reign it back in. Instead you are forced to face your fear, your anxiety, yourself.

At first my mind tries all it’s normal tricks. Attempting to escape or convince me to give up, worrying about how much time is left, dreading that time, trying to latch onto distractions, resisting. However, while this stage may consume the entire meditation when only given 5 minutes, it will eventually subside if given the more time. Eventually the mind has to accept the reality that there is nowhere to go. Eventually it accepts that the only thing to do is to surrender.

And what a beautiful feeling it is when you finally soften into that total surrender. There is nothing better. This is where the true meditation begins. Often my body will even begin to buzz and feel blurred around the edges. Just breathing feels so good. Feeling what it’s truly like to just exist. Realizing that it’s okay to surrender. Realizing there is in fact peace afterwards. Accepting that it’s okay to merely be.

Now, I still have a long way to go with my meditations. There are still plenty of days where I’ll doze off or still manage to get lost in thought the entire time. But it’s always worth it for those few moments of bliss I’ve found. Often when I notice myself finding that peace, I’ll remind myself: This is always here. This is inside of me. I can come back here, to this inner peace, whenever I need to. It is always with me. It is me.

Many times now instead of feeling anxious to begin my meditation, I’ll feel anxious as my body begins to sense my time is almost up. The last few moments are often spent fighting with my desire to cling to that internal bliss. I hope to one day soon begin giving myself even more time every day for meditation. I can only imagine what new insights, what new depths, are still waiting to be discovered within. I sincerely hope you’ll decide to give yourself the chance to discover your own. Give yourself the gift of time. Time to surrender. Time to just be. I promise you it’s not a waste. It may even find it’s the most important time you have during the day. You may find that it is the best gift you can give yourself. A true act of self-love. You deserve it.

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