Sometimes sickness is a blessing because it softens my sharp edges I can more easily surrender to what is My inner flame is subdued allowing me to offer gentle energy and loving kindness in place of judgement Finally an opportunity to slow down to enjoy giving myself comfort and care as I patiently nurse my tired inner child No longer able to resist much needed rest settling quietly into soft stillness I may like to stay here for a little while longer
Take the time to rest we can't always create things some days we just breathe
There is a stillness in the night that stops all thought I often wonder if it is supposed to feel so sweet as I slip underneath existence Each morning is an agony of renewed responsibility and expectation awaking to find myself again confined behind the same searching eyes within a cumbersome prison of flesh and bone Where is it exactly that we spend half our lives? why does my soul seem more suited to the ethereal landscapes of the unconscious? why has the waking world never seemed to hold me fully in its solid hand? I've always looked forward to the night to the moment I am swallowed up by the soft oblivion behind my eyelids even a dreamless inky darkness to me seems simply scrumptious I've rarely known the torment of an agitated, incomplete night's sleep I am equally a stranger to even a moment of conscious rest and repose I'm accustomed to black and white My soul is perpetually sleepy exhausted by the constant fires lit within the waking world It wants to dissipate under deep slumber to be scattered into stardust I can only hope that I'll be greeted by this same strange pleasure as I let go once more into my ultimate end and sink beneath those familiar, dark waters for one sublime and final time
I’ve noticed that a lot of people, including myself, that have tried breathing exercises or mindfulness practices come away from them feeling as though they don’t work. For a while it was a mystery to me why some yoga classes or meditations felt so much more healing than others. I realized that the practices that weren’t able to recenter me were more like going through the motions rather than truly being present. I may have been meditating but my mind was wandering and/or my breath was short and shallow the entire time. Sometimes the internal experience does not mirror the outward manifestation of mindfulness practices.
Some days you’ll find you are just not able to focus as easily as other days. However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t try breath work or yoga or that these practices don’t provide any benefit. One thing I’ve found that helps me stay in the moment if I find myself struggling is imagining I’m writing a story. When the mind is very busy, stopping all together can feel impossible. Instead, try to describe the tiny sensations, sights, sounds, feelings that are happening around you that you normally wouldn’t pay attention to.
For example, say you are taking a quiet moment to connect with the earth. Rather than merely trying to force your mind into focusing on the breath, start writing a mental story as if you are trying to explain everything you are experiencing in that moment to someone else. Are your feet in the grass? What does that feel like? Where is the sun in the sky? Is there a breeze blowing? What sounds are there around you? Be as descriptive as possible. If you find it hard to keep your mind on this task as well, you can even bring a notebook and physically write it out on a sheet of paper.
When you start to put seemingly bland or uneventful moments into words, you realize just how much is actually going on even in stillness that you might not have noticed before. I always find this practice very soothing and pleasurable. Even if it feels like you have no time or your mind couldn’t possibly stop racing, set a timer for just 1-5 minutes. It doesn’t take long for your to settle the mind and body. You may even find you enjoy it so much that you make a little more time than you thought you’d be able to devote to this little mental, emotional, spiritual break. And if not, be grateful that you at least gave yourself one minute to rest. You deserve it.
My inner child has been lighting up at the prospect of all the fun fall possibilities this year. I can’t remember a time when I felt this delighted by this season. Maybe it’s just something about being in your late 20s that makes you a sucker for pumpkin spice lattes, scarves, and watching the leaves change. My tendency is usually to dissect and scrutinize such an uncharacteristic feeling. It is quite unlike me to feel like celebrating rather than mourning the end of summer after all. However, this time I’m not going to let myself spoil my own fun by overanalyzing. I just want to be kind and allow myself to fully embrace and enjoy this strange experience. So here are a few of the ideas I’ve come up with about how to do that.
1. Try a Homemade Seasonal Drink
While I do already have my pumpkin spice oat milk creamer in the fridge, I was craving something even more autumn inspired. Even though I’ve only ever had hot apple cider like once in my life, I really loved it. I didn’t really want to buy a whole jug of apple cider for just me though, so I looked online to see if there was some kind of alternative I could try. I stumbled upon this recipe for an apple cider vinegar drink instead. It’s very simple. I already had all the ingredients on hand. And it is quite yummy and hit that hot apple cider spot quite nicely.
2. Movie Night
Even if you live alone like me, there is nothing like snuggling up on the couch to watch a spooky, fall themed movie. Yesterday for the first time in years, I allowed myself to just lie in bed all afternoon and enjoy my day off. It was truly delightful. If you’re looking to get into the fall spirit, I’d definitely recommend making some popcorn (or maybe even roasted pumpkin seeds), grabbing your favorite, most comfortable blanket, perhaps enlisting the company of a furbaby or two, and settling in for a private little movie marathon, the cheesier the better.
3. Take a Walk
Autumn is the ideal season for long, introspective strolls. There is something so indescribably satisfying about hearing the crunchy sound of leaves beneath your feet. While I love the summer heat for walking my dog just as much, it’s even better when there is a crisp wind giving me a reason to quicken my step. Rather than sweating bullets, the soft sun peaking through the trees makes everything glow and gently warms me as I walk. Not to mention there is that perfect cozy feeling when you make it back inside.
I’ve never been big about seasonal decorations. I’ll put up a tree and a few other things for Christmas, but that’s usually it. However, I’ve had the urge to purchase all those cute little fall decorations this year. I’ve even saved a couple of the pattypan squashes I’ve grown that look particularly like mini pumpkins. I can’t help but smile when I see their plump little presence on my kitchen table. Instead of asking myself, “What’s the point?” as I usually do, I’m not going to question my strange desire to spruce up my home with corny little doodads.
As I’ve already mentioned, there is a certain special quality about the fall and winter months that are perfect for solitude and introspection. It even seems like introverts tend to like these colder seasons more for this very reason. Light a candle, make yourself a warm cup of tea, coffee, cider or whatever suits your fancy, and write a few pages in your favorite notebook. Stream of consciousness will work just fine, but you can also look up some fall themed journaling prompts if you want to get extra festive.
I hope you’re all having as scrumptious of a fall infatuation as me this year. Let me know what your favorite ways to enjoy this season are. I’d love to get some new ideas since this is the first year I’ve really felt in the mood to celebrate and go all out.
Self-help books, new age rituals, skill building, knowledge gathering, psychoanalysis, deep introspection. These things have stood as guiding pillars in my life. I ended up majoring in psychology, not because I had any idea of how to turn that into a career, but because it utterly fascinated me. I couldn’t get enough of the things I was learning in my classes. I never had to study. My brain naturally absorbed and integrated every scrap of knowledge I was given in those four years of riveting education.
The pursuit of knowledge never needed to have a higher purpose for me. It was an end in and of itself. I LOVE learning, especially about the mind, my own mind more specifically. I am truly blessed with this passion for academia. Learning is a hobby that can never get old. There are a limitless amount of things to study. Learning something new never fails to light me up inside and send me into that blissful flow state. The rest of the world falls away as I become engrossed in new knowledge and sharing that knowledge with anyone and everyone who will listen.
Society has a way of twisting my intentions though. I get bogged down with the motivations of humanity as a collective, or at least what the media portrays as our motivations. Everything we do as a species seems to be directed at some ultimate end goal, whether that be a physical reward like wealth or simply becoming “better” in one way or another. We lose the moment in our fixation on the ending. Sometimes I have to stop myself and ask, “Wait, why am I doing this again?” Any answer besides “I enjoy doing it” fills me with a dreaded sense of obligation, yet just doing something for pleasure can overwhelm me with existential doubt. “What’s the point then?” As if any point besides pleasure and happiness could make an activity matter more.
When I get too caught up in focusing on outcomes or “bettering myself” through my personal pursuits, I eventually get burnt out and want to give up on everything. It really wears you down mentally to spend every day trying to reach some self-growth goal, implying who and where you are right now isn’t good enough. I never seem to reach whatever goal I’m aiming at, not that I’d be any happier if I did, because what then? No, the real purpose is found in the experiences themselves, in the very act of growing.
For example, when I began my daily practice of drawing during the pandemic, my intention was clear. I like to draw. It makes me happy. It helps me connect with my inner child and reminds me of those carefree days of doodling in my school notebooks or sketching manga with my best friend. That was it. Pure and simple. And it did bring me so much joy. Without trying to, I saw myself getting better and better. I didn’t care how my art stood up against the art of others, or what I was going to “do” with all these images. I found innocent satisfaction in the miracle of the mind and body’s ability to improve at anything that you choose to practice.
After such a long time doing this, however, I began to forget what the purpose was. Instead of wanting to draw everyday, instead of it being a time of rest and relaxation, it became a duty, just another chore, something I had to do. I started getting stressed about not somehow making money off of my work. I got jealous and disheartened rather than inspired by the work of others. I was distraught and frustrated at my lack of progress. I felt stagnant and full of self-criticism and self-doubt.
I am writing all of this down as a reminder of the remedy, if and when this cycle should unravel again. The first thing I need to allow myself to do is TAKE A BREAK. Not drawing for a few days, a few weeks, even a few months, does not mean I will never draw again. It just means I need a break to give myself the space to want to draw again. Forcing myself to do it under some assumption I have to keep practicing to get better makes no sense when the point isn’t to get better, it’s to have fun. Getting better is just part of that fun, but is meaningless on its own.
The second step after a reasonable break, is to try something new. I cannot express the joy I have rediscovered through this step. Trying something new is a great way to shake myself out of stagnation in anything, but especially art. Not only do I have to focus more, it breaks me free from my strict expectations. Whatever I create doesn’t have to be the best thing I’ve done. It doesn’t have to top yesterday. I feel mentally accepting of the fact that I won’t be incredible at what I’m doing. It’s the first time I’ve even tried! When I do something new or in a different way than usual, I escape the fear of failure, while also opening up the possibility of surprising myself with success.
I think most of us end up running our lives entirely on autopilot. Then we wonder why we are so unhappy. I’ve come to realize, without changing anything externally, I can completely shift my experience of daily life by just shifting and/or re-centering myself on my intention. Sure, I enjoy doing things that largely fall under the umbrella of “self-improvement,” but that doesn’t mean I do them because I’m not good enough, or because happiness lies at some personal perfection finish line. I like getting better, not because I’m “better” at the end, but because it’s fun to play with that edge of your own ability. It’s exciting to see what I’m able to do whether that be mentally or physically.
So, future Rachel, if you’re reading this, don’t forget! Whether in art or anything else you choose to do, happiness and purpose are not to be found in results. The joy and the meaning are inside the very moments of creation, of learning. You don’t have to know the ending. All you have to do is follow the feeling. The feeling of curiosity, of playfulness, or even the feeling of laziness when you need a rest from it all. No final product matters if you have to be consistently miserable to get there.
Waking to the sound of rain a song of rest outside my window sanctuary of subdued sunshine a signal to soften and slow down Dewey refuge from frantic movement rejuvenation released from the sky deflating this bloated baggage of worry replaced with soothing streams of surrender Tender tones of grey and blue wrapping me in sacred stillness permission to let go and listen the soft drumbeat of water on leaves Muffled birdsongs through the mist relentless ethereal cadence of crickets full bodied accompaniment to life's chorus syncopated splashes contributed by clouds Damp doves drying in tree branches the whole world holding it's breath absorbing this gift of liquid life relinquished awe-inspiring cycle of earth's abundance Savoring the simple gifts of nature the last few decades of clean water overcome with sheer gratitude for deep exhales punctuated by raindrops
I can feel myself getting frustrated again. Picking at all of my perceived imperfections. Comparing myself to everyone I see, and feeling like I come up short. This cycle has become so familiar, but it doesn’t get any easier with repetition. One week I’ll feel good, motivated, like I’m making progress. Then the next I’ll feel utterly desperate about the futility of all the work I do for personal growth and self improvement. It’s particularly pronounced when it comes to my life-long struggle with body image.
Despite my best efforts to avoid the triggering, toxic images I used to purposely flood myself with online, somehow they’ve started creeping back in again. Perfect little vegan fitness models and casual yogis. It’s bad enough that they have bodies I could only dream of, but it stings in an especially painful way when I see just how much MORE work I put in for so much less satisfying and aesthetically pleasing results. I know I have a distorted view of my appearance to some extent. And I don’t think I look bad. But after years of diligent, intense, advanced exercise routines, I expected to actually look like someone who prioritizes fitness in their life. Not just someone who works out for 20 minutes once or twice a week.
Even when I’ve felt for years like I couldn’t possibly do any more exercise in a day, I’ve slowly added on more and more things. It never makes any significant or noticeable change though! All it does is make me feel obligated to continue at this more draining routine for fear I’ll somehow gain weight if I stop, even though I didn’t lose any when I started. I’ve recognized for a long time now that this is an extremely unhealthy mindset that impacts my self-esteem, my physical health, and my social life. Still I feel helpless to change it. My fear of looking worse than I do now is all-consuming. I feel resigned to this unsustainable, ever increasing physical workload that will never do anything for me besides keep me where I already am. A place that does not even bring me satisfaction or happiness. It’s no longer about progress, it’s about avoiding an even more pronounced level of self-hatred and disgust.
One thing I have been trying to convince myself of, is the importance of slowing things down/lessening my reps and speed in order to focus on truly good, mindful form and activating the right muscles when I’m moving. Logically I do believe this would be more beneficial. But that disordered, self-hating, fearful side of my brain panics at the thought. But what if I slow down and gain weight? What if I can’t pick it back up again? What if I do go back to what I’m doing now, but am stuck with whatever weight I may put on forever?! It’s these unhealthy thoughts that keep me from changing anything despite my dissatisfaction with my results or lack-there-of.
In the last ten or more years, I’ve never allowed myself a proper “rest” day from exercise. There have only been a handful of days I haven’t worked out, but even those days are not true rest because I workout extra the days before and after to “make up for it.” My ego takes some form of pride in this fact, while also cursing all the people I see taking regular rest days multiple times a week and looking 50x better than I ever have. I’ve just been believing that there is something wrong with me. Their bodies just work better than mine does somehow. Surely if I took rest days, I’d have made even less progress.
I’m beginning to finally open myself up to the possibility that isn’t the case. I was already toying with the concept of rest being valuable and important so that my muscles actually get a chance to heal and build themselves up stronger. I don’t really notice myself gaining muscle mass or strength with the way I’m doing things now. I basically stay where I am. In addition to that, I’ve been reading a lot about the effects of cortisol and weight gain.
I assume I have ridiculously high levels of cortisol in my body at all times, just based on my stress level. What I didn’t realize is that this may not be solely due to my anxiety disorder. Exercise naturally raises cortisol levels, which isn’t a problem in moderation and can even be beneficial. However, excessive exercise can lead to unhealthy levels of cortisol. I don’t think it’s up for debate whether the amount of exercise I’ve been subjecting myself to for the past ten years is “excessive” or not. Have I been shooting myself in the foot this entire time?
It seems too good to be true to imagine that I could do less and have the same or an even better body. My self-flagellating mind simply cannot accept that possibility. Then again, working harder hasn’t seemed to work out at all the way I thought it would. Maybe I really am doing myself a disservice by pushing myself so much. What if I was able to do less, better quality exercise, enjoy my workouts again, have more free-time, feel less tired and stressed, AND look/feel better in my body? It’s so difficult for me to contemplate, let alone begin to test.
I know if I really want things to change in my life and in my body, I’ve got to actually start doing things differently. One of the big road blocks in my way is the fact that to truly know if the changes I implement are working, I need to see where I am right now and monitor that moving forward. It’s so unbearable for me to weigh myself or, god forbid, take photos or measurements. *shudder* But I’m afraid if I don’t, I’ll be too afraid to change anything because I might gain weight without realizing it. Dear god, I need a therapist so badly. Unfortunately I live in the greatest country on earth and that isn’t a feasible option for someone working full-time in the MENTAL HEALTH INDUSTRY!
My sheer ability to ramble on for so long about this topic is evidence that there is a problem. I want to follow that little spark of excitement and curiosity that tells me to switch things up. I know it’s worth it. I know it would be good for me mentally at the very least. I wrote something that struck me as profound last night while I was journaling: Fear is a powerful motivator. I am just afraid of the wrong things.
that flutter in my chest never seems to settle eyes fixed on the future never find rest there is always something else looming just over the horizon a new fear always forms to take its place perching itself on my racing heart safety and peace permanently out of reach forever pushed back anxiety is a moving target that always promises you "just one more bull's eye and I'll be gone" no matter how many times I fall for this lie I'll believe it again tomorrow because it's so tempting to think that this will go away that if I can adjust my life just right I'll be able to rest
Coasting on momentum for such a long time, makes the idea of stopping a daunting one. One of the reasons I’m so fearful of allowing myself a moment to rest is because I worry that I’ll like resting so much, that I’ll never do anything again. Instead I keep white-knuckling my way through life hoping that somehow the tension will eventually break and things will get easier. My intuition for when to go inward and when to express myself creatively has gone dormant long ago. Now it’s hard to even tell what I’m feeling or need from day to day. I no longer trust myself. I have turned my back on my body’s wisdom.
Western society is so focused on outward expressions of productivity and progress. We have completely devalued and cast aside the inherent worth of rest, introspection, and mental/emotional/spiritual growth. I’ve been sensing the need to go in a different direction with my life for quite a while now. My daily pursuits no longer bring me the joy and sense of fulfillment that they once did. Still I continue to cling to them, walking swiftly farther down the wrong path, and then wondering why I haven’t discovered the new direction I’ve been searching for.
You can’t explore your other options and reassess things while simultaneously barreling ahead with your current routines. Especially when those routines are as time consuming as mine are. There needs to be stillness, quiet, and rest for you to gain new perspective and insight. Even if it feels like it or looks like it from the outside, slowing down and even stopping completely is not lazy, unproductive, or a waste of time. Come to think of it, what’s even wrong with giving yourself permission to be lazy and unproductive every now and then anyway? Moments spent “wasting time” can often transform into some of our most precious, playful memories. Whether or not something is a “waste” is all based on what you place value on. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Despite all of the endless examples presented to me constantly in nature, my human arrogance insists that the cyclical nature of things does not apply to me. As a species we’ve become so separated from the nature ebb and flow of activity and rest that we forget the importance of both. Now the setting sun no longer commands rest, the seasons have no hold on our ambitious routines. Even if we only cared about productivity and working hard, it would still be more beneficial for us to also take moments to relax and do nothing.
Forcing myself to do the same mentally and physically demanding tasks day in and day out, it’s no wonder that my inspiration and motivation have bottomed out. Nothing lasts forever, even our internal stores of energy and creativity have a limit when we never allow them to naturally be replenished. I hardly remember what it feels like to be bored. Maybe that should be my goal one day, to remember what it feels like to be so idle that I’m bored.
Having scheduled out every minute of every day of my life for years now, you’d think it would be easy enough to include a few days here and there to rest. Wouldn’t that be so nice? Wouldn’t that be such a loving treat to give to myself? Part of me is excited at the idea. Strangely, at the same time, I feel a deep fear rising up as well. In my desperation to avoid that fear, that voice in my head that says “you don’t deserve it” or “everything will fall apart if you stop to rest” is so powerful that I continue to push myself even though I’ve gone far past my limit. It’s high time that I acknowledge the fact that I can’t keep running forever. I can choose to face this fear and show myself that it is just a phantom. It will evaporate into dust in the shadow of my courage and loving awareness.
As winter shrinks back and the warmth of spring begins to thaw the frozen earth, I want to make sure I am able to pause and witness it. It’s been a hard year and I’m always so happy step our from the cold dark months to emerge again into the sunshine. This month, I am going to schedule at least one day to do absolutely nothing. I need to refill my cup. It’s long overdue.