What You Damn, Damns You

Anger Meditation in Four Forms - Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

What you damn, damns you.

What you place in darkness, calls you to the darkness.

Paul Selig

Paul Selig was the guest on the podcast I was listening to as I drove home yesterday. At first I was skeptical. He was described as an author and “medium.” He talks about “channeling” these other voices and entities that tell him what to write in his books. Anytime I hear outlandish claims like this, my defenses immediately go up. My first instinct is: this is a charlatan, a grifter, a scam artist. I am angered at the audacity of some of these so called mystics and the way they blatantly take advantage of their trusting, if not na├»ve, followers.

After listening to him speak for awhile, I did hear a lot of interesting ideas. Whether or not he actually believes he is channeling spirits that tell him these things, I have no clue. However, a couple of the things he ended up saying really struck me. Particularly the quote I shared above: What you damn, damns you. What you place in darkness, calls you to the darkness. I even tried to look it up to see if this quote could be attributed to anyone else, but wasn’t able to find it anywhere. This actually makes me curious to read at least one of Paul Selig’s books, in case there are anymore insightful tidbits like this.

I wanted to talk about that quote today and dissect it a little bit. It reminds me a lot of the famous Buddha quote: Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I never really realized that this idea could be expanded to encompass practically all negative emotions. Often we lash out at the world around us, thinking subconsciously that our refusal to accept someone or something will help us maintain distance from it. But in fact, that hatred, that anger, that denial, that distaste, actually allows the very things we want to avoid to have more of an effect on us. It is equanimity toward all things that will set us free.

Take a moment to reflect on some of the things (or people) that you hate. How does thinking about these things feel in your body? Perhaps you notice a tightening in your chest, a narrowing of your eyes, growing tension in your shoulders. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s likely not pleasant. Now consider how these thoughts affect whatever it is you’re thinking about. I’m guessing it doesn’t affect it at all, right? So why do we continue to lower our own vibration for the sake of anger, hatred, etc.?

Sometimes it genuinely feels as though we have no choice. We’re made to feel these emotions. That’s how I thought about things for most of my life. And at times, it’s still hard to remember I have a choice. It definitely takes a lot of practice to resist that spark of fury when someone cuts you off in traffic or offends you in one way or another. I may not ever be able to eliminate these visceral reactions from my life completely. However, just reframing the way you see things is the first step. It makes a huge difference. I used to cling to my anger and avoidance. I claimed it as part of my identity even, defined myself not only by the things I loved but by the things I hated as well. It wasn’t just hard to let go, I didn’t want to let it go. These negative feelings felt important somehow.

Just noticing my own thought patterns and emotional reactions has made my life so much easier. While I’m not able to completely avoid getting angry or upset, it is a hell of a lot easier to calm myself back down and let those feelings flow through me without clinging onto them. Now I have much more energy to direct toward the things I love, the things I’m grateful for, the things that bring me peace and joy.

If you notice yourself ruminating about the things that irritate you today, try to remember that you are the only one being affected by these thoughts and feelings. Hating the slow driver in the left lane in front of you, doesn’t do anything to that driver. It doesn’t bother them, nor does it make them drive any faster. So why are you making the situation even more unpleasant by punishing yourself? Can you let it go? Do you feel resistant to letting it go? Can you get curious about why that is? Don’t be too hard on yourself if this is challenging at first. I still struggle with it all the time. The important thing is that you’re aware and you’re trying. That is something to be proud of.

The Importance of Boredom

As a child, I remember being bored A LOT. I would follow my mom around whining, “I’m booorredd” as I’m sure many of us did. Aside from TV, which was mostly full of adult shows or reruns of cartoons I had already seen so many times I could recite the dialogue along with the characters, there wasn’t really much you could do to mindlessly pass the time. I can’t imagine what it’s like for children growing up now. There must never be even a moments rest from constant stimulation, thousands of different types of content and entertainment all desperately trying to win your attention. They probably struggle to focus on important things, let along worry about being bored.

Running around like always the other day, I paused for a moment and wondered, “when was the last time I was truly bored?” I honestly can’t remember. Since I was a teenager, it seemed like I always had something to occupy my time. I suppose at a certain point, the little boredom that could survive the rapid advancements of technology was drown in drugs and alcohol. Now as an adult, I simply don’t feel like I have time to be bored. It feels like there is always something that needs to be done. There is never a lack of tedious chores to be tended to.

In the past, boredom was something that was unavoidable. We had to find creative ways to entertain ourselves when these moments arose. It was also valuable time for our minds to rest and wander. In modern times, we don’t leave any time for “doing nothing.” Yet we know the mind is always doing something, so this time was actually worthwhile. Instead of exerting mountains of effort, focusing on completing tasks or solving problems, boredom is a chance for the mind to play. Letting the mind roam can lead to some incredible ideas! It is also a great chance for us to do some much needed self-reflection.

I used to think my memory was poor from all the marijuana I smoked as a teen/young adult. Now I wonder if it might also have something to do with how rarely I allow myself time to contemplate my day. It seems like a lot of this idle time I had as a child was spent thinking about things that had just happened, what I liked, what I didn’t like, what I hoped for, what I could do better, what I learned, what surprised me, confused me, etc. While this may have seemed like daydreaming at the time, looking back, I think it was more than that. Besides, I think wild daydreams have their own value.

Not only could the daydreams we have cultivate positive energy and emotions, they are also a wonderful way to practice our creativity. The art of imagination is being lost, I fear. It’s hard to allow ourselves to lean on our own mental creations when there are sooo many ideas already swirling around at our fingertips for us to reference. It’s much more work to take the time to come up with our own ideas. The temptation to find “inspiration” online before a creative endeavor is nearly irresistible.

There are so many books about visualization and how we can use it to benefit our lives. It seems to me like we were all practicing visualization when we would allow our minds to wander out of boredom. These moments of relaxed unguided thought were excellent ways to invite spontaneous inspiration and new ideas. It was a time for us to recenter and consider who we are, where we’re going, what we’re doing, and what our goals/dreams might be. Without these quiet moments with ourselves, many of us just continue barreling through life with not much of an intention or direction. Boredom was a chance to reevaluate and course correct.

At one time our challenge was trying to avoid boredom, it seems now it’s become the problem of how to allow ourselves to be bored. Definitely not as easy as it sounds. Although boredom is beneficial, it can also often be quite uncomfortable. Not only that, with so many different types of stimulation surrounding us at every moment, it can take a herculean effort to resist them all. More and more people seems to be setting aside time for themselves to meditate, but maybe it’s time we also try to set aside some moments in our day to be bored.

Twitter Shows Epidemic of School Boredom | The New Republic

Fire Element

As a kid, I was always really into things like horoscopes. I’m not sure I ever fully believed them, but I thought they were fun and I still do. I lost interest for a while as I got older, but became intrigued again during my yoga teacher training. One of the teachers at my studio does natal charts. Up until meeting her, I had no idea that horoscopes were so complex. I thought it was all based on your sun sign and nothing more. Once you add in all the other layers such as your moon, your rising, the different houses, etc. it can become a much fuller and more accurate picture of a person. There is still so much I don’t understand about it, but would love to learn.

Yesterday, just for fun I decided to try out one of those free natal charts online. I am honestly still surprised by how accurate it was. Not only did it shock me how well I saw myself reflected in the horoscope, but I was shocked because no matter what type of “test” I take, the result seems to remain consistent. There was an unbelievable similarity between what my natal chart said and what the results of my Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory said. And it wasn’t just mine. Both of these tests revealed similar things for my boyfriend as well.

One of the main things I have taken from these various tests is that of the four elements, I identify most with fire. I am filled with passion and conviction. I am easily angered and can come off as aggressive when speaking about something that means a lot to me. These are things that I’ve recognized in myself for a while now. The part I only connected to this recently is my constant desire and longing. I am always reaching, searching, consuming, feeding the fire inside me. Nothing is ever enough for me. I don’t know when to stop. I am constantly trying to fill myself with food, drinks, drugs, activities, etc. But instead of being filled, I burn right through it all. The fire inside simply glows brighter for a moment, then demands more.

I’m not quite sure what to do with this information. I’ve known for a long time that nothing external will ever be able to bring me lasting peace, happiness, or comfort. Still, that hasn’t kept me from trying to satisfy myself with whatever I can get my hands on. I suppose it’s always helpful to have more of an understanding about myself and why I am the way I am. It’s just my nature. There is nothing wrong with me. We all contain aspects of the four elements inside of us. I just need to practice getting in touch with the other three that are not as prominent inside of me. Then I will hopefully be able to feel more balanced and complete.

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My Values

I’ve never really taken the time to sit down and really think about what my values are in life. I have always been a very passionate, outspoken person when it comes to my opinions and beliefs though. Today I wanted to get more clear about what exactly it is that matters to me, so that I can better embody and serve those things every day. I’d like to come up with five values to always keep close to my heart as I move through this world.

1. Justice

When I think about values, justice is the first thing that comes to mind. I have always been unable to tolerate injustice. I guess I never really grew out of that phase of childhood where you constantly scream, “It’s not fair!” I’ve learned that life isn’t fair, but that never stopped me from wondering indignantly, why not? I used to be a very patriotic child as well. I was so proud to live in a country which I had been taught valued justice and freedom above all else. When I came to find that actually wasn’t quite an accurate portrayal of America, my patriotism faded, but I held fast to those ideals. Justice is even one of the reasons that I am a vegan. Not only is it horrendously cruel and idiotic to treat animals and the planet the way we do, it is also extremely unjust for us to place our species above all other beings.

1. Non-violence

My next value is one that comes from the Yamas in Yoga philosophy. Non-violence goes farther than simply not physically fighting people. Violence can exist even in small actions. Our words can be violent, the way we treat our bodies, buying animal products, etc. I’m still learning every day how I can better embody the essence of peace and compassion in everything I do.

3. Nature

I’m not quite sure what constitutes a “value,” but for my purposes, I’d also like to include nature among mine. The natural world is the most beautiful, precious thing that has ever or will ever exist. I was lucky enough to grow up with dense woods and a stream practically in my backyard. The happiest moments in my life have all been enjoyed outside among the lush green abundance of this living, breathing world. I believe this is also a dying world due to human interference, but nonetheless I hope to honor and protect it as much as I can while I’m here. I’d at least like to do as little harm as possible. I know I still have a long way to go in this regard. Perhaps one day I will proudly include myself as part of the zero waste community.

4. Creativity

Creativity has always been one of my greatest joys. I have loved to draw, write, and make things from the moment I learned how. There is something so miraculous in the act of making something from nothing. Our ability to imagine and create such a myriad of different things is maybe the only thing I do marvel at about humanity. It is possibly our one redeeming factor. Not only do I love to create, I love to watch others create as well. Few things get me more excited and interested than seeing what other people are able to come up with. It is like being able to see a glimpse of that person’s inner world. I love to be surprised at the fascinating things others make that I would never have thought of. It is such a shame to me to know that some people go their whole lives believing they “aren’t creative.” I believe that everyone is creative by default. Society has unfortunately led us to believe that we must be exceptional at things like drawing, painting, or writing in order to do those things at all. I love to encourage the kids I work with to keep creating even if they feel they aren’t “good at it.” Creativity is about self-expression and enjoyment, not talent.

5. Knowledge

The fifth and final value I want to talk about today is knowledge. Learning and intelligence are two of the most important things in my life. I am always eager to gather more knowledge for myself. I truly believe that the more we know the better, as individuals and as a society. One of my favorite things to do is read. It’s amazing how much I am able to learn and discover from books whether they be fiction or nonfiction. It is also a delight to share any new information I happen to gain with others. It’s unbelievable that no matter how much knowledge I accumulate, there is still an unlimited supply of new things to learn.

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For now, these are the five values that I want to focus on. I am hopeful that know that I’ve written them down, I may be able to be more mindful of them as I go about my day. What are your values and why? Do you think you are living by those values? Why or why not? How might you better adhere to your own values in your every day life? Let me know! I would love to hear what kinds of things are most important to you.

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How I Was Raised

When I was little, my sister and I were both amazingly advanced for our ages. We were quick witted, intelligent, and talented even when we were in preschool. It’s strange to look back and realize that. Especially now that I’m working with children everyday. I finally understand the excitement I’d often see in the adults around me as a child. No matter how you come into contact with a gifted child, even if you have no real connection to them, it is still an incredibly invigorating thing to behold. I’ve met quite a few children of all different ages who’ve stood out to me and everyone I work with. We all still remember them and reminisce about them occasionally. It’s wild to imagine that I was once one of those kinds of kids. Perhaps that’s how my second grade teacher managed to remember me when she saw me working in a grocery store so many years later.

The weirdest thing for me about all of this is the fact that I had no idea that I stood out when I was younger. Especially considering I was always comparing myself to my sister who was also very gifted, but had a few years on me as well. I do remember a couple teachers making a fuss over me. I think my first grade teacher even asked me if I would show my drawings to her parents when they came one day. I obviously can’t be sure, but I think one of the main reasons I never paid much attention to the compliments of these people was due to the indifference of my own family. That in addition to never measuring up to my sister, left me always feeling inferior no matter how great my personal accomplishments really were.

My mother’s lack of enthusiasm and praise for anything I did is one of the reasons I grew to resent her in my teenage years. How could she respond to my achievements so callously? Once I began to realize just how much potential I had as a young child, it really stung to know she didn’t encourage and compliment me more. I even began to believe that it was because she didn’t really love me very much. Despite the attention I always received from the other adults in my life and even my peers, it was never able to replace the recognition I longed for from my own mother. I believe this has greatly contributed to my current inability to acknowledge my own successes and talents.

I’ve brought this up to my mother in the past. I should have known she had only the best intentions at heart. Nearly everything she did as a mother was carefully calculated. Unlike most parents, she actually read parenting books and did a lot of research on the best ways to raise a child before she had my sister and I. Unfortunately given the time period, there was quite a bit of bad advice in those books back then. I’m not sure if she read this particular idea in her books, but it does seem to make logical sense either way. She told me that the reason she didn’t lavish my sister and I with praise over our amazing talents was because she thought it would make us conceited and full of ourselves. She didn’t want us to become little brats. I can definitely see how that might have been the result. So now I can’t say whether or not I’d have changed my childhood if I could or not.

This example is just one of the many reasons I would never want to have children. It seems that no matter what route you take in raising them, there will be some unintended negative consequences. My mother also always provided everything I needed. She took care of everything for me. At first this seems like she was being a perfect parent. However, the end result was actually that I feel completely incapable of doing most things for myself. Whereas my friend’s mother was a mess. She ended up having to take on a lot of the responsibility of raising herself and her younger siblings. But a childhood like that actually made her a much more competent and self assured adult. There is simply no way to not make mistakes when raising a child. You are going to fuck them up in one way or another regardless of how hard you try not to.

I may not be able to change the past, but I am still able to learn from it. Maybe I do feel like I’m never good enough because of the way my mother chose to raise me. I don’t blame her for that. She did the best she could and overall she did a pretty amazing job, in my opinion. All I can do now is try to tend to the child that still resides within me. I don’t need the approval and acknowledgement of others, even my own mother, to feel worthy of my place in this world. I am good enough just as I am, regardless of how I measure up to those around me. I can give myself the recognition I once so desired to receive from my mom. I may not be the gifted child I once was, I may not stand out much at all anymore, but I am still an incredible, unique, masterpiece. There has never been, nor will there ever be someone quite like me. The things I create and contribute to this world matter. I have the ability to add love, beauty, laughter, and joy to this world in a way that only I can. And I don’t need anyone else’s permission to do so.

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Shades of Grey

It’s getting to the point where I’ve written every day for so many days that I can’t remember if I’ve talked about something before or not. However, I don’t really care enough to sift through all of my old posts to find out. So if I have started to repeat myself occasionally, I apologize. That being said, I’ve been thinking a lot about that black and white thinking I know I’ve mentioned before. This is a quality of mine that has in some ways been instrumental in determining my path in life. I’m not sure that I would have become a vegan or have the courage to stand up for what I believe in with as much passion as I do now without seeing the world primarily in black and white.

Some things are wrong. Some things are right. Some things are good. Some things are bad. This narrow frame of view is somewhat childish. Most people come to understand that very few things in this world actually fit into those parameters. The majority of life falls into that broad area in between, that grey area. While intellectually I recognize this, I still can’t help but reflexively place things into my black and white boxes. It is as if my mind doesn’t have a space for the many shades of grey. Rather than letting anything rest there, I feel many things, people, and actions constantly oscillate back and forth between good and bad, right and wrong. Which, as you can probably imagine, is quite mentally exhausting and emotionally confusing.

It has always been hard for me to reconcile the different aspects of people into a cohesive whole, a realistic image of a person in my mind. Instead I find myself idolizing someone one moment, then condemning them the next. This, understandably, makes all of my relationships quite difficult. I may feel undying love and admiration for someone, placing them up on an impossible pedestal, then feel utterly tricked and betrayed when they don’t live up to that unrealistic image. And even though I recognize this, I can’t seem to help it.

Even my self-image suffers from these extremes of perception. However, usually when it comes to myself I remain pretty consistently in the “bad,” “not good enough,” “broken” box. I focus on my faults and flaws while dismissing or diminishing anything positive about myself. Lately, I’ve even been feeling guilty about my posts on this blog. I feel like I’ve been playing a dastardly trick on everyone who follows me. I want to write about love and gratitude and yoga and self-improvement, but every time I do, I feel like a phony. “I’m not good enough to speak on these things,” I tell myself. I feel like a hypocrite for the things I write because I, myself, can’t embody those ideals fully in every moment. I’m not entirely perfect, therefore I must be utterly terrible.

Even though I know it’s ridiculous, it’s the way I feel most of the time. I feel like I am missing out on so much in life by being unable to accept all the shades of grey for what they are. Instead I find myself keeping a mental tally. If someone or something has more “bad” qualities than “good”, into the “bad” box it goes and vice versa. Anything close to true neutral flip-flops between the two endlessly rather than being allowed to remain in the middle.

As I’ve gotten older it’s become easier to recognize, but no easier to adjust. I know that this is possibly a symptom of an autistic brain, but I wonder if there is anything I can do to create space in my mind for the grey areas. Am I truly incapable of this type of comprehension? Perhaps there are some types of exercises or therapy that would help with this issue. In the meantime I guess I’ll just have to keep reminding myself that good people can do bad things. Bad people can do good things. No one is truly “good” or “bad” at all. Including me. We are all just doing the best that we can. And we are all constantly changing. I don’t need to label everyone and everything, I just need to allow them to be what they are. Even if that happens to be something I don’t fully understand.

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Biting Your Nose to Spite Your Face

Yesterday we had an unexpected situation at work which I knew may mean I’d have to stay a little late. I was immediately furious. Running through my head all the reasons that this was unfair and blaming different people. I even noticed myself resolving to be unpleasant and visibly pissed for the remainder of the day.

This is a reoccurring phenomenon in my life that I can trace back all the way into my childhood. Things don’t go exactly as I’ve planned so I decide to be upset and feel sorry for myself/get angry with others. Luckily my yoga practice and mindfulness exercises have given me the ability (sometimes) to take a step back in those situations and look at myself.

Why was I even so upset? I didn’t have any plans last night. It didn’t really matter if I was a little late getting home. And if I genuinely was unable to stay, my coworkers would have happily covered for me. Besides, as a social worker, I would be staying late to help someone who is vulnerable and in need. Would getting angry and holding onto that anger as long as possible make anything better?

My rigid sense of fairness and justice even when it comes to small things shouts out: You have a right to be angry! It’s the principle of the matter! You can’t allow it! And maybe it’s right to some extent. I do have the right to be angry. My coworker can be a tad overzealous and inconsiderate from time to time, but his heart is in the right place, and no real harm was done after all. Even if I have the right to be angry, that doesn’t mean I have to be. I can choose to be flexible and allow for things to not go as planned every now and then.

Rather than wasting those moments trying to spite everyone around me with a salty attitude to accentuate my displeasure (as a child might), I can let it go. I can be grateful for these moments. Because they are a chance for me to learn and grow as a person. They are a chance for me to rise to meet a personal challenge within myself, a chance to practice surrender.

I know that this won’t be the last time I have a day like this. It’s not like I haven’t realized all of this before. Yet that never seems to stop my automatic reaction that I have unwittingly carved into my neural pathways. That spark of anger ignites so quickly. It swallows my better judgement, and it is so hard to snuff out as reflexive thoughts feed the flames in a frenzy. My higher self can’t help but become lost in all the smoke.

However, my hope is that the more chances I have to practice and the more often I use those chances for self reflection, the easier it will become to choose surrender. The easier it will become to tame that self-righteous, indignant flame within me. I’ve got to give myself credit for making it to where I am now though. Before I never would have even considered that I had any other option than to become angry. I felt that was the only logical response. I felt forced into not only a less than ideal situation, but an unpleasant emotional space as well.

I see now that this is how we create our own suffering. My discomfort can be immediately halved. I may not be able to control the world around me. Unexpected things will keep happening to me. But I get to choose how I respond to those things. And that makes me feel free.