The Rush to React

Nothing is ever as pressing as the one who’s pressing would like you to believe. And I am content to walk a little slower, because there’s nowhere that I really need to be.

The Difference in the Shades – Bright Eyes

The sensation of being rushed or in a hurry has been chasing me around for years now. I don’t remember how or when it began, but that fluttering, panicked sensation in my chest seems to always be with me. I start jerking myself violent forward through my day from the moment I wake up. The last few days I’ve been lingering for just a few minutes in bed after my alarm sounds to caress and snuggle my sweet animal children, and it’s been amazing to see just how much my mind tries to resist that and tell me I don’t have time for something so precious and worthwhile. My consciousness leaps straight from the peaceful oblivion of sleep to a three-alarm fire of strict routines and to-do lists in an instant.

While I particularly struggle with giving myself the time to just live and experience the life around me without frantically lining everything up for the next moment, I think a lot of other people have this same problem. Sometimes waiting feels as frightening as death itself. If someone makes a comment, if I get an email, if I’m invited to do something, or even have an idea I feel compelled to focus my entire attention toward responding or taking immediate action. It feels strange just to remind myself that I don’t have to react. Certainly not immediately, but often times, not at all.

It’s easier to see the error in this way of living when I watch those closest to me. It’s painful to watch someone continue to leap into awful decisions just because they feel they have to pick from the ones in front of them in each moment, that waiting is not an option. When you find yourself in a situation where both paths laid out before you are unappealing, it’s okay to decide not to choose either one and wait for other opportunities to present themselves. There is so much value in waiting, in stillness, in just observing, in watching patiently, mindfully. In a world where only bold, immediate action is given any acknowledgment, we are quickly losing sight of the quiet talent of simply being.

Even when the external world isn’t keeping us busy with stimuli to force a fast response, our inner world is. I make my emotional experiences so much more painful by feeling the need to do something about them. When I’m sad, I intensify that despair by trying to claw my way out of that feeling in any way that I can. When I’m anxious, I compound that frenzied energy by running from it, wondering about it, and trying to “fix” it. Even happiness sets me off on a quest to somehow bottle it and ensure that it stays with me, rather than just giving myself permission to enjoy it while it lasts.

Our emotions are often helpful, valuable cues. Even so that doesn’t mean they always require intervention or conscious direction. Emotions and internal experiences or mental states are there to be noticed and observed. Sometimes it helps me to pretend I am just a passive observer watching the external and internal events in this life. Then I don’t feel so much pressure to get involved with every little thing. I become aware of the benefit of simply watching everything unfold with openness and curiosity.

There is nothing wrong with slowing down and giving yourself space to experience whatever comes in the moment. This moment, no matter what it holds, is the only place we’re meant to be. Don’t miss the beauty of it, the uniqueness of it, by trying to get to the next moment faster. This moment is where your whole life is happening, take the time to notice it, savor it, enjoy it with playfulness and curiosity. There is nowhere else that you need to be.

The Absolute Absurdity of Living in Space

With the Earth, our environment and ecosystems, collapsing and crumbling away beneath our feet the obvious solutions and the urgency of implementing them have gone largely unacknowledged by the vast majority of the human race. No one seems interested in resolving the problem or undoing the damage that our species has caused. (Not that we have enough time now anyway.) No, instead people are entirely focused on the idiotic idea of moving society into space permanently.

It is absolutely surreal to see just how many people are giddy with excitement about the Elon Musks of the world burning up our extremely limited resources to jerk themselves off through space travel. Why the fuck was Jezz Bezos wearing a god damn cowboy hat for his purposeless rocket launch? It’s like I’m living in some kind of bizarre dream where I’m the only one with any concerns about the absurdity of all this.

It has never made sense to me why everyone seems to be obsessed with outer space and space travel. Sure it’s neat to wonder what might be out there. Surely somewhere, light years away, far past our current technology’s ability to travel, something is out there. However, the fact remains that we have no ability to know that and won’t for the foreseeable future. If we had matters handled on our own planet and were living in some kind of utopia, I think space travel would be an intriguing and worthwhile investment of our time and money.

I’m not arguing that it isn’t interesting to think about or that there isn’t a great potential for exploration and discovery in that final frontier. What I am saying is that at this moment, with the dire consequences of man-made climate change looming just beyond our doorsteps, who the hell cares about space? It’s utterly irrelevant. Our continued attempts to send out rockets and satellites is not only worthless, it is exacerbating our impending doom here on Earth, by burning obscene amounts of fossil fuels.

Some of you might already be thinking, “But we’ve got to do these things so that we can live in space or on Mars once our planet has become uninhabitable.” Guess what? That’s fucking stupid. And perhaps even more importantly, impossible. Sure, if we had unlimited time and resources, I’m positive humanity would be able to live in space or on other planets. The hard truth that no one seems to be aware of or able to accept is: WE DON’T HAVE THAT KIND OF TIME.

I get so frustrated when I hear people discuss climate disasters and societal collapse as if it is a distant possibility that their grandchildren might have to deal with one day. What the absolute fuck is anyone even talking about? WAKE UP. WE are going to be the ones facing these things in just a few decades, if that. We’re are beginning to face them even now. And it’s only going to continue to get worse and accelerate as we proceed to ignore/compound the problem.

The last thing I’ll say is this: Say I concede to these irrational and unbelievable ideas that the human species will be able to completely migrate into space or Mars or whatever before we all die here on the Earth we’ve destroyed. There we are, sending off the last pieces of humanity into the cosmos as our Earth burns behind us, do you really think we’d be able to mentally and emotionally cope? I for one, will lie down and die with this planet, before I abandon it on a rocket ship.

WE ARE PART OF THE EARTH. Our outright denial of this fact is what got us to the destruction of the natural world in the first place, and it is what continues to keep us from doing what needs to be done to save it. As much as our species likes to pretend that we are separate from or even above other life forms, the Earth, and nature, it’s simply not true. We are inextricably intertwined with this environment that has always been our home. We are already collectively suffering from the comparatively mild separation our modern technologies have resulted in. Does no one else notice the correlation between humanity’s rapid self-isolation from the natural world and the dramatic increase in mental illness and dissatisfaction/frustration with life?

Whether you believe in divine intention or natural selection, we were made for this planet. Our very essence has been meticulously woven to thrive in these environments over billions of years. Isn’t anyone even going to consider the long-term effects of living apart from the Earth??? Haven’t we already learned enough times how even something seemingly innocuous that is contrary to our natural lives becomes corrosive to us eventually? Forgetting the mental/emotional toll, we already know the serious physical ailments that result from relatively short amounts of time spend beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

I don’t know. I guess I’m just inconsolable on this topic. It is unimaginably disheartening to see just how little most of the world cares about the Earth. To even consider leaving it seems horrific and unacceptable to me, let alone being excited about it as most people seem to be. Not to mention the absolute disregard we humans have for all the other forms of life we are willing to let perish in our wake. It’s disgusting. It’s obscene. It’s unconscionable. I have never been more ashamed to call myself a human being.

Burning Planet Earth - Carbon Tracker Initiative

Space to Witness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Not Your Thoughts

Since I was in high school or maybe even younger, I developed a somewhat strange way of thinking that was comforting. A duality seemed to exist in me at will, and I would imagine my physical body as a cute helpless animal that my mind had to care for. It allowed me to feel compassion for myself. I had the tendency to be quite critical and cruel to myself, but thinking in this way helped me to be kinder and more loving when I was feeling devastated or overwhelmed.

More recently, however, a third part of me has begun to emerge in this strange mental play as well. The seed of this idea was planted by something I read once. I have no idea where, but I’m certain I did not come up with it. As you may have already guessed by the title of this post, the idea was you are not your thoughts. Even while we are thinking, there is somehow also a separate awareness of those thoughts. We aren’t those thoughts, we are the observers of our thoughts. I like to image this is what in yoga is often referred to as the higher self.

This realization has completely transformed the way I see myself. I see my consciousness as something almost apart from and deeper than both my mind and body. This view gives me space from my experiences. It’s as if my consciousness exists outside of my physical body. This physical body also affects the way my conscious is able to manifest mentally. The chemicals that control the way my brain is able to function are affected by so many different factors from my genetics to the things I do and experience each day. But I am not my anxiety. I am not my anger or my doubt or my shame. I am able to observe my body and mind’s experience of these things now from a distance with curiosity and compassion. This space keeps me from getting caught in a torrent of negative thoughts and overwhelming emotions. I just observe in stillness and let it settle. And it will always settle if you don’t keep stirring it up.

Maybe this idea is new to some of you. If so, I hope that you play with it in your own lives. I am still learning to utilize this mindfulness every day, but it has helped me more than I could have imagined. My wish is that by sharing what I’ve learned in a new way, it may also help others.

Observe in stillness.