Don't get distracted, keep coming back this lesson is liquid and illusive lost inside days of fruitless fixation zeroing in on all the wrong things Butting my head against the same walls when all I need to do is look around me the world opens up in a shimmering instant as soon as I manage to turn my intention Tied down by brittle twine I've been taught to believe is somehow stronger than my ability to break free but I am much more than I who I used to be I am capable of change, of lifting my own spirit I won't be discouraged by tedious repetition I am learning how to forgive as I practice wading through the heavy water of self-doubt to remember what matters most Misled into chasing joy in all the wrong places this stillness, this silence, these small moments are easy to overlook, but all that I need don't get frustrated, keep coming back
I often find myself at conflict with a lot of the messaging in the spiritual wellness or yoga communities. I don’t know if people have been on their own personal journey’s so long they’ve forgotten what it was like in the beginning, or if people simply aren’t suffering from mental illness the way I and many others are. Either way, these communities, despite perhaps having the best intentions, tend to overlook how hard it can truly be to move into a better headspace.
Constantly hearing things like, “just choose to be happy” or “do these practices and you’ll inevitably feel better” can be a little dismissive and hurtful. Especially when you really believe it’s that easy. Not talking about what hard work yoga and mindfulness truly are is a dis-service to so many people. It leads to toxic positivity, imposter syndrome, spiritual bypassing, and/or giving up on yourself all together.
It’s so important that we all remember that everyone’s journey will be different and take a different amount of time. After having a personal practice for over 12 years, I find myself wondering why I’m not “better” yet. I ask myself what is wrong with me when I notice myself perpetually backsliding into old familiar habits of negative self-talk and mindless action. It becomes a cycle of perceiving that I’m not kind or compassionate enough to myself, then beating myself up for not being where I want to be. It’s unbelievably frustrating. I keep asking myself, if we can all choose happiness in moments of anger or despair, why can’t I? Why am I still struggling?
Only recently have I come to realize that it’s much more complex than just choosing another way of being. We do all have choices, but those choices look very different for all of us. Someone who has been practicing self-hatred or even self-harm for years cannot just go to yoga everyday and decide to be happy and love themselves. It may take them the rest of their life to even come close to that goal, despite diligent, consistent effort. And that’s okay.
When you are confronted with a situation that generally makes your angry, the choice to simply let it go and be happy may truly not be available to you in that moment. Maybe your choice today is just noticing your anger, or your grief, or your nervous energy, or whatever is coming up. Maybe you can choose to sit with those feelings and allow them to be there. And maybe you will spend years practicing that noticing and allowing, without feeling able to choose a different feeling state. And that is okay. Healing is not a race, and the more your try to rush yourself, the less you will actually be able to heal.
Today I invite you to take a look at your own practice, especially if you’re someone who has tried and given it up as a lost cause. Are you putting yourself on a timeline? Are you criticizing yourself for not making progress as quickly and easily as others may seem to be? Are you losing faith in yourself after falling back into harmful habits time and time again? Have you given up on yourself? Take a moment to forgive yourself for having a different path than everyone else. Take a moment to acknowledge how hard it can be to try to heal, and thank yourself for making any effort at all. You’re doing just fine. Give yourself as much time as you need. You’re exactly where you need to be.
If trying harder doesn’t work, try softer
The Search for Novelty
In my endless, possibly misguided quest, to diagnose my own mental ailments, I’ve now stumbled into the realm of ADHD Pinterest. Although it’s difficult to distinguish between autism and ADHD symptoms because many are so similar and often these two overlap or co-occur. As it stands right now, I honestly think I have both. If I could afford it or even had access to a mental evaluation I’d love to have one done. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with internet memes to diagnose myself with for the time being.
Anyway, my newfound knowledge about ADHD has helped me realize my brain’s need for novelty. I can be completely engrossed in a new hobby or interest at first. I could spent every hour of every day learning about it or practicing it, but then without fail, I lose all interest after the initial magic of the “shiny new toy” wears off. This used to cause me a considerable amount of distress. I felt like a failure, unable to stick with anything for any significant amount of time. I would avoid committing to things even if I was obsessed because I knew that feeling would inevitably wear off and I would abandon whatever project or goal I had set. Then I would spent months feeling anxious and guilty about quitting.
Now that I know doing new things, or doing old things in a new and interesting way is what keeps me focused, I have a better chance of keeping myself happy and engaged in the tasks I want to perform or the goals I set for myself. It’s no easy feat to come up with ways to keep changing up my routine though. My autistic traits make me crave consistency, which is at odds with the need for novelty. I get very anxious at the idea of changing up a habit, even once it has become tedious and unpleasant. It takes a lot of mental effort to think of how I can alter my routines in a way that is small enough so it doesn’t overwhelm me with anxiety, but big enough to help me maintain interest.
So far, I’ve only seemed to make progress with this in the realm of my physical fitness. After over a decade of working out, I can get really frustrated and bored doing the same things every day, even if they are always a somewhat different HIIT workout. The one thing that I’ve found to help me stay motivated and excited to workout is having a clear goal in mind. Now before this, while my workouts would change periodically, my goal was always the same: lose weight and/or build muscle. These goals were far too vague and also, for me personally, deeply frustrating and unsatisfying as no matter how hard I try, I can never seem to do either of them to any noticeable degree.
If you’re someone like me who may have ADHD and/or someone who just has trouble staying interested in a regular workout routine, I would suggest picking a goal more fun and specific than losing weight. Something that you can measure without risking tipping over the edge into unhealthy body image and eating habits as I have in the past. Lately when I workout, I try to work towards gaining a new ability through my physical fitness journey. For instance, I want to be able to do a handstand one day in my yoga practice. There are a plethora of exercises I can incorporate into my workouts to build up the necessary strength and balance to achieve that. Doing a handstand is a goal that is fun and feels worthwhile for it’s own sake.
Another goal I’ve had since I found out about the exercise, is being able to do a pistol squat. Essentially this is lowering down into an extremely deep, low squat with only one leg, then raising yourself back up into a standing position. I really never thought I would be able to do that, but for a few months, I’ve added in a lot of pistol squat prep exercises into my weekly leg workout. Today, I am proud to say, I managed to do three sets of six reps of pistol squats on each leg! I was so overwhelmed with happiness. It’s the first time I’ve had that much fun in my morning workout for awhile. They may not have been perfect, but I can’t wait to get better and better at them.
At least as far as physical fitness goes, this strategy seems able to provide an endless supply of novelty. I can keep building on my physical ability more and more over time. Once I’m able to hold a handstand with a wall behind me in case I fall, I’ll work on doing it without a wall, then I’ll work on lifting up into a handstand, then handstand pushups, then handstand to crow pose, etc. I can’t wait to see what this body of mine may be capable of one day. Now if I can only find a way to implement this same principle of finding consistent novelty into my other passions and pursuits. Let me know if you have any ideas or suggests or if you struggle with this quest for novelty as well.
the body loves me even when I don't love it this animal spirit inside is fighting tirelessly to keep me alive Intricate networks of blood vessels and veins muscles and sinews and breathing stardust cleverly conspiring to keep me safe I poison its efforts with casual harm cutting and gagging and straining its limits imperfection is not justification for punishment blinded to the enormous, exhausting efforts of a body trying its very best This quivering creature that cradles my soul only craving compassion and care the bare minimum of reciprocation for non-stop, selfless service offered in a myriad of unnoticed ways I cannot fault it for not following vanity and dangling me just above death to fit in a smaller dress it doesn't understand that desire true love is keeping me healthy The fierce physical innocence of this form continues to create blood and breath and bone to buoy me forward in this life without thanks the precious animal that is also me doesn't deserve such callous disregard The mind and the body are wards of one another it's time my mental faculties begin carrying their own weight in the ways of consistent loving-kindness for this creature doing the best it can
Energy stirring at the base of the spine the hot embers of who I hoped to be coiled serpent left sleeping give me the tools to seduce it and draw it out of stillness Release vitality into my veins and place my heart in the hearth of purpose fluttering bird beneath my breast, take flight turn me from torturous distraction light me up with internal intention Sizzling stimulation of skin and bone the rising tide of the mighty sea inside spilling over into external existence self-sustained wheels of spinning fire propel me forward with focus Let me overcome the illusion that my energy is limited befriending the deep source settled beneath the murky water of this mysterious earthly form
Tips If You Struggle with Staying Present
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.
Where Am I Trying To Go?
It’s hard to find a moment where I’m not rushing blindly into the next. As if there is some final destination that I’m frantic to reach. Without even realize it, I’ve spent half my life in fast forward. It just feels like the past and the future are somehow more tangible and quantifiable than the present moment ever can be. I’m afraid to rest here precisely because it is so fragile and fleeting. Fearful that if I live in this moment, I won’t have anything to show for it a few years from now. But focusing on an imaginary future can never serve me. The happiness I say I desire above all else, can only be found right here.
For someone who is so caught up in mental machinations, it’s extremely hard to settle into the simplicity of bodily sensation and experience. Language and logic cannot hold onto the slippery, ineffable value of being just as I am. The effort to try to make sense of everything pulls me out of every moment and places me in an artificial bubble of self-awareness, severed from the here and now unfolding before me. It feels foreign to forget myself in the soft feeling of fabric against sensitive skin. My mind has become so powerful and proficient at wrestling my other senses into stale submission. Finding myself suddenly surprised to scan my body and realize, once again, I’ve bitten my finger until its stinging and bleeding. How can I continuously be so cut off from the physical manifestation of me?
Never would I have imagined that one of my life’s greatest challenges could be participating in it. I’m much better at meticulous planning and pushing and pulling myself than planting my feet mindfully in front of me with every step. How bizarre it is to attempt to do nothing, and fail so reliably. Sitting on the bank of a river, utterly unable to keep myself from casting a line again and again. Not even noticing that I’ve been fishing, then suddenly coming back to reel my over eager hook back in for the thousandth time. Not even finishing setting my intention to be silent and settle into the stillness before realizing that damn bobber is already back on the surface of the water. The stamina of my persistence and patience needs to be built up, and that will take time. I’ve been strengthening my practice of falling into frustration these past 28 years. I must allow myself to surrender to the possibility it may take 28 years to rectify that habit.
It seemed simple and exciting when I first stumbled upon the ancient knowledge of yoga, mindfulness, and meditation and learned all that I truly desired was already mine. Little did I know that getting to a point where I was capable of granting myself permission to enjoy it would be a tremendously tedious and time-consuming trial. I must constantly remind myself that my repeatedly frustrated efforts, my failures, my relapses, my misdirections are all worth it. I want life to be easy, but I need it to be challenging so that I may learn and grow and develop into a being I can be proud of.
Every moment can be a celebration, a chance to be grateful, when I remember that I’ve already reached the destination I’ve been striving for. Every time I take a deep breath and notice the world around me is a victory. I won’t be discouraged by my many mistakes and missteps. They cannot spoil the joy contained within the rare moments where I manage to be fully present. Small successes still count. Whether I feel like I’m moving forward or backward, in the end I will always be right here. And right here is the only place I need to be.
Come Back to the Breath
The last week has really shaken me up. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the ability to be able to easily fall asleep and stay asleep my entire life. There have only been a handful of times where this hasn’t been the case. This past week is one of those times. As soon as my brain comes back on line, the normal stillness and sense of ease has been replaced with racing thoughts that send me immediately into a state of panic. It feels too dangerous to fall back asleep. These fear addled thoughts demand my attention.
Somewhere in my half conscious state in the early hours of this morning, a realization struck me. Anxiety feels urgent. It feels like whatever the fear is focusing on is something that needs to be addressed ASAP. The sickening tension in all of my muscles, my short, quick, shallow breaths, these are all things that my mind tells me are a product of impending peril. I have to fix the thoughts to feel better. So I spend countless hours ruminating on unknown eventualities, trying to determine some perfect solution. Agonizing over my inability to do so. Will I feel like this forever?
In the middle of this cycle as I tossed and turned in my bed earlier, a had a glimpse of important insight. These thoughts are not directly causing these physical feelings. No, they are influencing my breath. My erratic breathing is causing these unbearable sensations in my body. I don’t need to fix the thoughts. They can stay exactly as they are, utterly unsolved and unsolvable. All I have to do is consciously come back to my breath. No matter what my mind is telling me, if I can slow down my breathing and extend my exhales, I’m going to feel better.
After just a few short moments of trying this out, I was asleep again, peaceful and safe. One of the most difficult aspects of anxiety for me is being able to convince myself that it’s okay to let it be there. Usually it compounds indefinitely as I try desperately to “fix” whatever it is that is causing my anxiety. But some fears can’t be fixed. Some nights I’m fixated on the fact that I and everyone I love will die one day. There is no mental contortion that I could create to make this okay. My brain begins to panic even more when I can’t come up with a way to eradicate the fear. The important thing is to remind myself that I don’t have to have answers for all of my anxious thoughts. In fact, trying to “fix it” just feeds them.
The breath is where my true power lies. It is the anchor tethering me to the present, the only moment worth living in. Even in the case where I genuinely would benefit from forming an action plan, I can only do that in the present. And I can only do that well from a calm frame of mind. If you’re someone that suffers from severe and chronic anxiety like me, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you don’t have to battle your fearful thoughts. Practice letting them be. Just come back to your breath. The proof that the thoughts themselves are not the problem will become evident when you realize by slowing down and deepening the breath you’ve returned to a calmer state.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe I could ever feel better when my fear seems so big and important. It feels like I can’t breathe because this heavy weight of my (sometimes legitimate) fear is pressing me into the dust. In reality, it’s the opposite. Or I suppose it’s rather a feedback loop. I’m afraid so my breath becomes shallow. My shallow breathing makes my sympathetic nervous system take over, and the cycle continues to intensify. The key is in realizing where my control truly lies. I can’t control my thoughts. I can’t control the external world with all its unknown variables and potential dangers. What I can control, if I choose to do so, is my breath. This is my power to break the cycle of distress.
If your thoughts try to tell you that you shouldn’t calm down because you NEED to be alarmed by these fears and address them, just gently remind yourself that if these fears are truly issues that need to be tended to, you can still do that from a state of calm. In fact, you will be better at coming up with a plan once you’ve settled your body and mind anyway. So just breathe. As long as you’re breathing everything is going to be okay.
Deep Belly Breaths
The hardest part of yoga is letting myself breathe after 7 years of practice it still feels impossible I've heard that meditation can turn toxic if you let yourself spend it ruminating on the negative listening to that hateful little voice inside I don't know how to avoid that sharp pang of self-criticism and still breathe into my belly to find deep, full, relaxed breaths I've spent my whole life disassociating from that area avoiding myself even in the internal mirror of my own self awareness Only on my back can I let myself fully expand and take up space with the help of gravity to hold me and keep venomous thoughts at bay How can I learn to love all of myself when some parts cause me so much pain this undercurrent of overwhelm at the idea of accepting it's something I cannot change
Stepping back taking a moment to savor and celebrate the seemingly small but utterly transformative changes I have made Silencing the voice in my head that says not good enough long enough to recognize that at least now I can hear it I cannot ask for more in this very moment than the subtle awareness I've taken years to cultivate the bliss that breaks over me as I reflect on my progress The first step has been achieved I've made the space to witness chain reactions that were once overwhelmingly automatic I watch them with interest and deep curiosity I cannot always stop myself but just to see is a greater gift than I've ever expected to receive knowing what I need to do visualizing the path to peace is more than I had before I cannot expect to rush this process of compassion, patience, and healing I have a lifetime to play with, ponder, and polish this gentle, loving practice as it continues to unravel and reveal new complexities and insights each day I am so excited to see where this ancient knowledge of spiritual wellness will lead me as I stumble faithfully forward into my own mysterious future my heart overflows with gratitude for the lessons I have gathered So thankful for the wisdom passed down from strangers in foreign lands and long forgotten times for the outstretched hands of spirits guiding me from beyond the grave I will not squander their selfless generosity I will make my ancestors proud as I continue onward through the unknown with a recklessly radiant open heart and the fervent intention to heal not only myself, but the wounds left open by those who came before