Yesterday morning, my internet went out for a few hours. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. I live in a very rural area and when my internet goes out, it’s out. I can’t just use my phone data or walk to a restaurant or library with free wi-fi. I’m left in utter silence, cut off from the virtual world I’ve become so dependent on.
In these instances, it is really apparent how much I rely on the internet for everything. There isn’t a moment of my existence now that isn’t supplemented in some way by this technology. I am absolutely panic stricken when I see that little wi-fi symbol go dark. I am disturbed by how much it disturbs me. I feel an overwhelming wave of desperation as I try to think of some way to get back online. My mind races with thoughts of how I’ll make it through the next hour, the next day, god forbid the next week. Whenever this happens it is a huge wake-up call. I am unable to avoid the terrible truth that I have become horrified of being truly alone with myself.
Yesterday, I managed to avoid my usual meltdown and just get really curious about my fear. What was I so afraid of? Was I really incapable of getting through a day without lo-fi hip hop playing in the background and YouTube videos to watch while I go about my daily tasks? I tried to remember what my life was like before I even had access to a computer. I’m so grateful I at least had that experience for a good portion of my life. Otherwise I might not have believed it was possible to go without.
Even though my connection came back after only around four hours, I really feel that forced time apart from the world wide web was a blessing. I always say I’m going to try to take a break from screens and the internet for a day, but quickly come to find it nearly impossible to do. The only way I ever seem to manage it is when I have no other option. Being forced to face the eerie discomfort is truly a gift. It may sound silly, but I’m proud of myself for getting through it. I was submerged in the silence I’ve grown to fear, and I made it out unscathed. In fact I was even calmer and more grateful the rest of the day because of that quiet time of uncomfortable reflection.
How do you feel when you don’t have access to the internet? Does that even happen to people much at all anymore? How do you think this dependence on something so easily lost is going to affect humanity, especially the younger generations that have never known a time without it? I’d love to know if this is just a personal problem or something all of us have come to rely on to an unhealthy extent.
I'd love to know how others write
do they have a plan before
they put pen to paper or
place their fingers on the keys
do they know where they're going
as they embark upon this daily journey
For me writing is a chance encounter
with my secretive inner self
I never know what she has to say
until I sit down to listen
the conversation begins in silence
shyly unraveling in slow motion
Revelations of private wisdom
glimmering behind the veil
of the person I pretend to be
that funny feeling of never knowing
what's inside my own mind until
I give it space to surface
The stifling self-criticism that bars the door
to my still, secluded, subconscious sanctuary
tells me a masterpiece must have a plan
fills me with fear of wasting time translating
an underwhelming message
that doesn't matter
But conversations do not have blueprints
you can't predict which will change you
or save you suddenly from yourself
it's always worth it to take the risk
even if it's just for the pleasure
of having someone to talk to
So I faithfully open the door each morning
hoping that the artist within arrives
to tell me something beautiful
even though some days she stands me up
she is a busy woman after all
with lots of better things to do
Obligated to fight for change
I bared my bloodied heart
inside my clenched fist
I was always much better
at biting off heads than
biting my tongue
Staying silent feels like defeat
it feels like surrender is
the same as giving permission
having the privilege to turn my back
and shut my eyes to the horror
of a society sliding backwards
Abandoning my sisters
just because I am safe
but how can I kill myself
for a cause that can't be won
I'll only make things worse
Trying to make an impact
from a place of violence and hate
only serves to further salt the soil
beneath our bruised and tired feet
nothing good can be grown from
actions fueled by rage
It's best to hold back rather than
adding to the viscous chaos
my modest gift must be silence
sitting quietly to quell the storms
inside my own soul instead of
spewing more poison
Please forgive me
for long ago losing faith
in the human race
for not having the power
to protect anyone
Silence settles in my throat
a choking conviction that
coils around my vocal chords
a sickening, slithering sensation
A sacred connection
cruelly muffled by shame
the all consuming ocean
of not being enough
Set me free from the binding belief
that I am unworthy of witnessing
taking up spaces where
I have to earn my place, but haven't
Grant me the courage to exist
within this vast, incomprehensible world
to take what I need, what is offered to me
without guilt or apology
Give me permission to be present
to consume and create
and collect my share of love
from the universe
Silence is a special thing
a commodity that cannot be
boxed up in cardboard
and set on shelves for sale
Society only sees value
in the shape of dollar signs
so it's seen fit to fill
that sacred void with noise
The saddest thing is
this absence is not even noticed by most
it feels like good fortune
to never be forced to face ourselves
We pity the people of past generations
that had to make due with their own minds
to bear the boredom of still moments
and shake hands with silence every day
We've forgotten that space is necessary
for new thoughts to be born
for inspiration to strike us
and give birth to beautiful things
Silence has become unbearable
feared above all else
A sure sign that we desperately need
to be submerged in it
silencing the inner chatter
to hear the soft hum of celestial wisdom
lifting myself above the tumultuous tides
of my own mistaken mind
finding stillness in the radio static of consciousness
to tune in to the salient source of everything
surrendering the obsession for contemplating complex patterns
in favor of opening to the energy trying to be channeled in
life's challenge is a sweet irony
a call to remember what we are
amidst the chaos of time and space
to pause long enough to transcend them
humbling ourselves to the unknowable truth
to trust in forces we cannot control
to be guided by an unseen hand
down a foggy, confused path
learning to mirror the beauty of faith
reflected back in the eyes of the innocent
by the joyous confidence of children and small beings
with blindly open hearts
our trust will not be betrayed
only the temptation to doubt will mislead us
even so we are never lost
only learning new lessons
When was the last time I truly allowed myself to do nothing? Was there ever a moment that I’ve allowed myself that space, that freedom? No matter how busy I make myself day after day, year after year, I still go to sleep at night feeling like I’ve wasted so much time. I still wake up every morning with the pressure of thinking I’ve dwindled away all the days before. I keep myself in a flurry of frenzied thoughts and trailing to-do lists. I hold my breath as I rush around my home, my office, my head, trying frantically to get as much done as possible.
I tell myself that I’m trying to do extra work to create a bubble of free time for myself in the future, but that future moment never arrives. There is always something more that I could be doing. From time to time, I become so overwhelmed, so run down by my own errands that I have to stop and try to remember why I’m even doing any of this. I must have a good reason right? What was my ultimate goal again? What’s the point of all this work?
When I ask myself these questions, it’s hard to wrap my mind around the answer that always seems to come up. My only real goal, the thing that I’m struggling so desperately to achieve is just to be happy. I become so tangled in all the techniques I’ve piled on to my daily routine in order to facilitate a happy life, that I forget happiness is a choice. All I have to do is keep making that choice in every moment. These limits and restrictions and qualifications I put on my happiness are mine to hold on to or let go of as I wish. No amount of self-help or self-care rituals will generate happiness in my life. These things are just reminders, opportunities for me to give myself permission to experience the happiness that is already inside of me.
Despite all my years of yoga and meditation practice, I keep grasping and clawing at the world around me, at my external circumstances, trying to reach some perfect, organized, flawless outer condition in order to finally rest. I keep feeding myself a story that I know is a lie. I say, “In order to be happy, I must do this or achieve that or resolve all the problems in my life.” I place my happiness in some far off idealized future world that is intangible and unattainable. Then I beat myself up for not being able to reach it. “I’m a failure! I’m lazy! I’m not trying hard enough! I’m too easily overwhelmed! I’m too mentally ill to ever be happy!”
I allow my own inner voice to berate me and belittle me in ways that I would never allow anyone else to. I hardly even recognize the self-abuse I inflict every day. I place the aspirations of who I’d like to be off in the future and set up hurdles for myself to reach them. I make life more complicated, grave, and serious than it has to be. I tell myself to be calm and then pile on unrealistic tasks for myself to complete in order to permit a moment of relaxation. I tell myself to be happy while I rattle off endless criticisms of myself and everything in my life.
Life can be more simple and light-hearted if I only allow it to be. I don’t need to be or do anything in order to be happy or find peace. Those states are part of me. They are not dependent on anything outside of my head. I can go within and find peace, love, and happiness no matter where I am or what is going on in my life. They are not objects to be acquired out in the world. They are essential aspects of my nature. I generate them. I am them.
I am finally giving myself permission to stop regularly and ask, “what is it that I need right now?” and then simply allow myself to have it. Instead of withholding all of the compassion, understanding, and tenderness that I so desperately long for until I reach some distant abstract goal, I can give it to myself right now, this moment, every moment. I no longer require anything of myself in order to offer myself kindness. Real love is always unconditional. We merely clip it’s wings and distort it’s healing energy by placing qualifiers on it in any capacity.
I’ve wasted so much time and effort trying to earn love, trying to earn happiness, when in reality, all I have to do is stop choking off these energies that are always naturally flowing within me. No matter how many times I affirm it to myself, it’s so hard to remember that when I find myself in a state of distress or despair, I don’t need to do anything or obtain something to “fix” it. All I’ve got to do is be there. Just allow myself to be there, with whatever is happening internally and externally. Just allow myself to feel what it’s like to exist in that moment, to breathe, to experience life.
It sounds so simple, so easy that it just can’t be true. It’s very hard to combat so many years of telling myself the answers are outside of me somewhere, that reaching milestones and goals will bestow the inner experience I am seeking. It’s a daily effort in mindfulness to pull myself back down to earth, back into my own body, and redirect my soul’s awareness to that deep, dark, smooth, cooling stillness that soothes all of life’s struggles. It’s always right there inside of me. It is me. If I can only be silent enough to hear it’s soft, kind, loving voice. That’s the me that I want to be. That’s the me that I really am. She’s always there waiting patiently for me to come home. That path home might be perilous and overgrown at the moment, but I know with time it will be worn down until one day I’ll be able to make that journey back to myself with ease.
Open eyes, another new day
the inky blackness
of a night not yet over
resisting each surrender
to the sun, just like me
The strained chorus of small voices
reminding me that I am needed
A sigh followed by a smile
signals the transition from a
warm cave of covers into the cold air
A fresh start, an empty vessel
eager to be filled again, but not just yet
The soft stillness of the mind in the morning
is something to be savored
as we make the descent from dreams to daylight.
Make an effort to linger here
as long as you can
Allow your mind to rest
in the spaces in between
That's where I'll be.
One high school memory that still haunts me to this day is from my junior year photography class. We were going on a field trip to the Andy Warhol museum. I never like Andy Warhol’s art. I still maintain that he’s not a good artist, he just became famous for being a weirdo that people were interested in. I kept professing these kind of sentiments and complaining that this was where we were going. Eventually my teacher cut me off. Irritated, he said, “Bite your tongue.” I felt so ashamed and honestly wished I would never have to speak again in that class. I wanted to disappear.
The reason this memory sticks with me is because it seems to mirror similar situations throughout my life. There have been many times when I’ve ended up embarrassing myself or making my own life more difficult because I seem to be unable to bite my tongue. It is usually when I am feeling angry or irritated about something. It is very hard for me to just let things go for some reason. I feel compelled to voice my displeasure. Loudly and whenever I get the chance.
For example, today I have to stay late a work for what seems like the thousandth time because of a particular CPS worker that likes to take advantage of my friend and coworker’s good nature. We will stay after hours to do emergency interviews. Sometimes a child is in immediate danger and it’s necessary that we talk to them as soon as possible so we can make sure they have somewhere safe to go. However, this CPS worker just uses the word “emergency” to manipulate and control us so that things work better for her schedule and deadlines.
The interviewer I work with is a very nice, easy-going man. To him it’s never a big deal and he takes pride in the fact that he never refuses to do an interview. He always says that I don’t have to stay and he can do it all himself, but it just wouldn’t feel right for me to let him do that. So here I am, stuck doing two interviews at 4:30-6 or 7 today when our office closes at 4. And surprise, surprise it couldn’t be further from an emergency. The children are completely safe.
My problem isn’t even that I have to stay late without pay (we are a very small non-profit that only gets paid for 40 hours each week no matter what), it’s that this horrible woman continues to take advantage of us for her own convenience. In my nearly two years with this organization, no other CPS worker has asked us to stay late. Not only that, but this specific worker does it practically every single time we get a call from her. It just makes me feel so furious that someone even has the nerve to do this continuously to such nice people like my coworkers.
On matters of injustice or unfairness, I have an especially difficult time biting my tongue. It’s one of the reasons I still struggle to do so when I hear idiotic comments about veganism. I get a familiar rumbling, hot sensation in my chest that causes viscous language to spew out of my mouth like a volcano. It never makes anything better though. The anger continues to build. Not only that but when I speak out I also start to pile on feelings of shame and self-hatred. I’m embarrassed by my uncontrollable outbursts, and by the way others look at me when they see me so angry.
I’ve always clung to the idea of operant conditioning and to the idea that staying quiet and complacent is the same as condoning a behavior. At least those are the reasons I give myself to rationalize my violent reactions to these types of situations. I feel it is my duty to do something, to protect myself and others from injustice or abuse. I feel very passionately about it. But I don’t want to feel this way when the result is that I become spiteful and vindictive. The outcome is never restoring justice, it simply ruins my day and possibly the image that others have of me as a person.
When days like today happen, I have been trying very hard to use them as an opportunity for personal growth. These are the moments that I’ll need to utilize in order to begin to create new, more healthy, productive, socially acceptable pathways in my brain. It’s never easy. I still get caught up in brooding over all the reasons that I shouldn’t be put in this situation, finding fault, blaming others, and coming up with ways to make these things stop happening, or at the very least to get revenge. I feel a great resistance bubbling up inside when I try to transition away from these thoughts to more positive ones. Something inside of me is always dragging its feet, insisting that if I allow myself to be okay with this, it will happen even more, and the injustice will continue to expand and grow larger. Part of me still tends to believe that’s true, but even so, I’m missing the point. Does it even matter if these things happen to me more if they no longer produce such toxic emotions?
I am trying to stay curious. Rather than getting wrapped up in the spiral of self-justifications, I ask myself, “Why is this so hard for me? What is it that keeps me from letting this go? Wouldn’t I rather be happy than right?” That’s really what it comes down to, that last question. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that being happy is better than being the smartest person in the room or being right or even having control. When I start feeling like I am helpless and powerless in a situation that is out of my control, I just need to remind myself that I am always in control. Maybe not when it comes to what happens to me, but I get to decide how I react to those things. That is what is truly important.
As I continue on with this unbearably long day, I am going to choose to focus on all of the things I have to be grateful for instead of the few small irritations that I have to put up with occasionally. I love my job. I love the people I work with. I love (most) of the people in the other organizations we work with. I can get away with coming in 15 minutes late everyday. I can leave early another day since I’ll be staying over tonight. I got to work from home for nearly a year. My job is usually easy and not stressful. Yesterday I got to spend the whole day at the office chatting with my lovely work friends. We even got lunch delivered to us from Panera thanks to one of the board members. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of this place, even if that means learning how to bite my tongue sometimes. This is a valuable skill, one I genuinely want to learn. So I should also be grateful for these opportunities to practice it.
I have been feeling really drained and stressed out lately. I feel like the weeks have been flying by without leaving me any time to do the things I need to do. It seems like I have an ever increasing list of chores, but less and less time to take care of them. Whenever things start feeling frantic like this, I tend to lean on self-medication hard. I start to use marijuana, kratom, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. as a crutch to get me through the day. Inevitably these things become less and less effective as time goes on. And when that starts to happen, the panic sets in.
There is so often this lingering sense of fear that looms around me. It is an ever-present unease, a whisper in my ear, telling me I need to go, run, flee, get away somehow. From what? I couldn’t say. To where? I don’t know. Yet this feeling is powerful, it waits for those moments of weakness and overwhelms me. It is momentarily placated when I am able to “escape” my own mind for awhile with some substance or another. But as I’ve said, that is only a highly unhealthy, temporary fix at best.
While I was meditating today, I came back to a realization that I’ve had a few times before. Even though I was pressed for time and could only sit for 5 minutes today, it was enough for a few moments of profound healing. Just like always, I felt a lot of resistance to the stillness at first. It never ceases to amaze me just how hard it actually is to just breathe. Once I allowed myself to surrender and drop into the soothing rhythm of my own breath, I found so much peace within that was waiting for me. Everything always seems so simple in those moments, so clear.
I remembered that I already have everything that I need inside of me. I don’t need any chemicals or substances to calm me down. All I need is this breath. I have the power to go within whenever the outside world becomes to much. I can go to that silent, still, safe place. A place that is even deeper than the constant noise inside my head. My own private sanctuary where I can heal and stay as long as I like. All I’ve got to do is give myself permission to go there. To let go of all of the things that are weighing me down. It may not be as easy as it sounds, but it is possible.
Short meditations like today’s remind me that even a few minutes can make a huge difference. It isn’t always necessary to set aside a half an hour or more for meditation. There is always time to center and ground yourself in the breath. Even if it’s just a minute, even if it’s just three deep breaths. Anything is better than nothing at all. And I don’t need to limit myself to practicing once a day. This isn’t just something to check off of a list. Meditation is a tool that I can utilize in my most difficult moments. It is also something I can do when I want to savor a particularly good one. There is really no limit to the potential of this mindfulness practice. I would like to learn to integrate it more into my day to day existence. It isn’t simply a healthy activity like daily exercise. It is a way of life, it is taping into that deep peace and wisdom that we all have inside of us. It is an opportunity to drink from that bottomless well of energy within.
Everything is going to be alright. You have everything that you need. You are more powerful than you know. You are the love, you are the peace, that you seek. Just breathe.