I like a smooth, well-mapped, route when I travel from place to pace, it’s true. I don’t at all mind “a road less traveled” – I just prefer to use a map. lol The enormous emotional relief, for me, in beginning down the path of mindfulness, of improved self-awareness, of improved emotional self-sufficiency, has been largely due to the increased sensation that this journey can make some sense, can seem to follow some sort of map. Sort of. πŸ™‚ It’s a feeling of “safe travels” on life’s journey, for me.

…I’m less than ideally well-suited to unexpected drama, profound losses of perspective or resilience, or that emotional teeter-totter that gets slyly labeled “reactivity”. I falter. I panic. I want to run. Doesn’t matter if it’s my mess, or someone else’s. I really just don’t want to be part of it, and I begin to do a lot of emotional dog-paddling in life’s choppy waters, just trying to stay ahead of things, or smooth things over. I’d often rather just yield to whatever the chaos brings with it, accept and reject it, and fucking walk on. So often, it’s either my own mess to clean up and manage, or it belongs to someone dear to me, who has… for fuck’s sake… reached out to me (of all people) for help and support.

It was late last night before I’d self-soothed and medicated sufficiently to stop by brain spinning out of control on details that didn’t really belong directly to me, but touched my experience enough to be aggravating. I slept fitfully, once I was able to sleep at all, and my nightmares were not all that helpful toward sorting shit out. I was fairly grateful for the loud crashing noise on the roof over my bed, which woke me abruptly at 1:49 am. Heavy winds all day and into the night, really making a loud rushing and roaring noise, had been tossing the treetops back and forth for hours. Seconds after 1:48 am, I guess, a largish tree beyond the back fence couldn’t take it any longer and snapped just a couple feet up from the base. It hit the house and broke again, the top sliding down the roof into the neighbor’s yard, the mid-section crashing into the fence, and destroying a section of that, breaking again, and that piece falling sort of into my yard.

Well…shit. That’s not good…

Minutes later, we were all standing out there in the wind and rain, faces wearing looks of astonishment and relief. It could have been worse. In the darkness, the wind carried off any real sense of fear or anxiety, leaving behind only words of surprise, and cautious optimism. It would be hours before day light gave us a better look. Still, it was easy to tell it could have been much worse.

I went back to bed with that reminder in my mind; it could have been worse. So often in life this is true. lol

I woke to a lovely note from my Traveling Partner. I woke to no drama. I woke to peace and contentment. I woke to a large tree broken in pieces spread across the back yards, and a displaced squirrel looking up at me with a recognizable “wtf??” look. I smiled. I get it. I put out peanuts for the squirrels and made a cup of coffee for myself – and began again. πŸ™‚

It’s a Saturday morning. I am awake early. I make a delicious cup of coffee, and later a couple of eggs, prepared simply, with a bit of olive oil and some salt and pepper. I feel content and satisfied. I scroll through my feeds; too many memes and shares, not enough original content. I move on. I do some self-study on topics currently most interesting to me. I take time to meditate.

I feel good.

I think about these things before I sit down to write. I consider how routinely I “begin again” and how often I suggest it as a great practice, recognizing what I’m really saying is something as elementary as “don’t beat yourself up over that, just start over”, which is less succinct, and less likely to become clear programming. I find myself wondering if that’s really enough to be at all helpful for friends or readers who haven’t yet tried a new beginning in that sense that I mean, and don’t quite know what to do with that moment of transition between the end/consequence of the one moment, and the fresh-start newness of the next.

I drink my coffee and mull that over. Is it a complicated question? “How to Begin Again” doesn’t seem the sort of thing that would, generally, require explicit instruction… but… I already know I’m wrong about that, a lot. So…

  1. Step one, well, I guess something’s gotta end, or be completed, or fail horribly leaving us feeling wretched and lost, or at loose ends, or puzzled, or discontent, or… Yeah. I guess step one has to be the end of something or other. Let’s start there. πŸ™‚
  2. Now begin again.

Okay, okay. I’m being a smart ass, and a bit flippant, and maybe that’s not appropriate for you, in your circumstances, right at the moment? Got it. I’ll… begin again.

  1. Let’s go ahead and still start with something that ends. πŸ™‚ A circumstance, a moment, an experience – and hey, maybe that’s your “now”, right now, and it hasn’t ended yet, and you’re really quite unhappy and miserable and feeling beat down by life, or overcome by ennui or sorrow, or frustration… damn. That sucks. Let’s step 2 the hell out of that, shall we?
  2. Breathe. No kidding. Take a moment and just get some wholesome cleansing deep breaths. Let that other shit go, just for a moment or two at least? Surely that’s fine? It’s a choice. Take a moment for you, and just breathe.
  3. Even while allowing yourself to consider what has passed, whether success or failure, however miserable, worried, or anxious, please also work on letting go of your attachment to the specific outcome, and let go of any expectations you were holding on to. Let yourself have a clean slate on this – it’ll be okay to do that, I assure you. πŸ™‚ The map is not the world, and clinging to an understanding of an experience or circumstance can definitely color your future experience and decision-making.
  4. Go ahead and feel your feelings. Yep. Feel ’em. Emotions are not the bad guys here, and we can develop a less reactive, more awareness-based approach to our emotional life. Finding balance between emotion and reason is a very nice bonus to all this practicing. πŸ™‚
  5. Still breathing? You’ll want to keep that going, generally. πŸ™‚
  6. If you are wanting to literally re-start whatever you just failed at, now’s the time, perhaps, to consider what success really looks like – and maybe also ask yourself some questions about why you view it that way? Is that your own legitimate authentic honest assessment, or have you borrowed someone else’s opinion’s or values there? Please consider usingΒ  your own. πŸ™‚ (Much easier to succeed in life when you are pursuing your own goals.)
  7. Make a plan. Oh, I know – an ever-loving fuck-ton of you, out there, are not planners at all. I’m not saying a word about whether or not you execute a specific plan. I am most definitely suggesting that you still sketch out some sort of loose notion of what you want to get done, even if it’s only in your head, and even if you follow through completely differently. When we feel prepared, our stress level in life is generally lower. Just saying. Think it through. Consider your next steps, and your goal. Consider alternate outcomes – a lot of them. Be okay with as many of those as you are able to allow yourself to be. Consider how those alternate outcomes may also be quite okay, maybe in totally different ways. (Some people might call this “daydreaming”, but it can be done very productively.)
  8. Allow yourself to acknowledge what is and has gone well. Contemplate for some moments all manner of similar experiences or circumstances or events or relationships that have turned out quite well, based on your choices in the past. Consider them. Savor these memories of success and sort of “fill up your consciousness” with the things in life that you appreciate, and have turned out quite nicely.
  9. Still breathing? Don’t forget to breathe.
  10. Now’s the time. Whatever it is, take another lovely deep relaxed breath, recognize and enjoy your humanity, and be aware that through our challenges is our path to growth; we don’t learn much from our successes, or the easy wins in life. We don’t become stronger by way of experiences that don’t test our strength. We can’t fathom the depths of our capacity for joy or love without also experiencing the weight of our pain and sorrow.
  11. Ready? Do the thing. ❀ (All sorts of different steps and verbs go with this one, obviously. You get to choose those; that’s on you.)

I still think it’s fine to just… start with step 1 and finish with a step 2… but… I’ve been practicing for a while, and at this point, it does feel pretty natural to sort of cram all the rest of that between them. LOL

I smile and think about this journey of mine, and how far I’ve come from that hurt creature uncertain life is worth living… that was only… 5 years ago. The world isn’t really a “better place” than it was then, in most regards, and actually, it seems a bit worse, in a number of ways. Still… I feel better, about the world, about myself, about my life, about my ability to love and to heal and to nurture, and to make wise choices. I treat myself, generally, reliably well. I treat others better than I was ever able to before – or knew how to do. Strange to consider how all this progress has been built on so many small beginnings.

I’m always on and on about beginning again. (New beginnings are awesome, just as they are, so it makes a certain amount of sense to embrace the opportunity.) It’s not a matter of the clock hands moving a notch and calling it done, though, and I guess maybe it’s been awhile since I looked more closely at what I mean, myself, by “begin again”.

I mean, it’s mostly obvious, right? Isn’t it? …Isn’t it?

Is it?

Look, I fuck stuff up. I make mistakes. I succumb to my own bullshit. I overlook details that could give me clarity in a moment of confusion. I forget stuff. I get attached to an assumption or expectation, or cling to some pet idea, and find myself stressed out, feeling “attacked by life”, or just weird and broken. All of that and more. Each and every time I fall for my own nonsense, or overreact to some moment (or person), and every passing mood or moment – I have the chance to start over with that much more experience in life, that much more perspective built on that experience, and that much more real wisdom, built on perspective. Wow, right? I mean, fuck – every bad bit potentially builds a future of greater wisdom, balance, and resilience, if I view it from the perspective that I will have learned so much more, and be that much more able to make wise choices in life for having learned from my experience. That’s powerful. It implies, though, a missing step. I should clear that up…

Thing happens. I learn from it. Life improves. Okay, sounds easy enough. Here’s the thing. The “begin again” piece falls between “I learn from it” and “life improves”, not immediately after “thing happens”. The critical piece is definitely the learning. Without that step, I just keep repeating “thing happens” over and over again, without change or progress – because I’ve clearly set myself up for it, with that passive voice, right there, in my own thinking, lurking in the background, waiting for me to experience a failure or setback – “thing happens” is expressed such that I can so easily overlook who, or what, happened it; I’ve left out my agency. “Learn from it” reliably brings my agency back to me, even in the most bleak and broken moments. It’s an important detail, most particularly because of how often my own choices are a distinct part of any moment of suffering. (And yes, this includes my fairly difficult day, and experience, yesterday.) The bit about beginning again is my reminder that taking what I’ve learned from each experience allows me to move forward in life choosing my words and actions quite differently, perhaps, and most definitely based on that refined understanding. Forward momentum. Growth and change. Choosing wisely.

So many verbs involved. I’m not saying this shit is easy. I am saying, maybe, that looking back on it, it feels somewhat less difficult than it may have felt in the moment. Not gonna lie, though, it’s been a difficult journey in spots. That’s what makes each new beginning its own tiny triumph, too. Each time I fall, each time I fail, each time I cry, each time things just don’t work out for some reason, I can take another look at things, learn a bit more from what I’ve been through (or put myself through), and make (new)(different)(other) choices that get a better result over time. It’s just fucking slow progress, so I’ll call that out right now. Change is. We become what we practice. There are verbs involved. We each walk our own hard mile. Everyone’s results vary. There are no shortcuts. Incremental progress built on experience and reflection is sort of slow. Hard to see in the moment, easy to spot looking back, after a while.

Be patient with yourself. (How many times have I looked myself in the mirror with that advice?) Things didn’t work out? Begin again. Each and every time you begin again, do your level best to be the human being you most want to be, yourself, for you, based on your own values. Your results will vary. That’s just real. So start over. Yes, again. I know. Omg – so many beginnings. It’s almost like… it’s a journey. Up a staircase. πŸ™‚ If you just stand there at the bottom, staring upward at all those god damned steps, it’s pretty massively overwhelming. So, just take one step. Give that some thought. Take another. Don’t be fixated on what’s at the top of the stairs, so much, and focus more on taking that next step. Consider your missteps, and maybe don’t do what didn’t work last time, when you take that next one. It’s honestly that simple, and it’s worth some repetition, and I found, for myself, that those two simple words communicated enough; begin again.

Oh, hey, look at the time! It’s a worthy moment for a beginning, on a Friday morning, and… as it happens… I’ve just now finished my coffee. πŸ˜‰

 

*Note and reminder and words of thanks; we’re not in this life alone, we’ve got help, if we choose to accept it. Yesterday evening, my Traveling Partner pointed out choices (of my own) and recent circumstances that were very likely to result in a difficult day (for me), which I had entirely forgotten could be significant. That bit of additional insight and perspective were helpful and grounding. Definitely don’t forget that you are not alone. πŸ™‚ Not really – there are millions of us on this mud ball. πŸ˜‰

It’s a cold evening, but I was shaking all over before I even got onto the elevator. “Shitty timing for this kind of bullshit”, I point out to myself not quite silently. The almost inaudible snarl of frustration, anxiety, and impotent rage seemed to set off the shaking, although it is more likely they have a shared cause; degraded emotional resilience, too much work, too little time, too much emotional investment, too little boundary-setting, and (I’m know I’m not alone in this) eventually it’s “all too much”. Hell, even the good stuff. This is the middle of that Venn diagram of crazy that a great many of us with anxiety issues, head trauma, PTSD, and a host of other physical, cognitive, or emotional challenges definitely do deal with on a regular basis (with or without support).

I arrive home still shaking all over. I managed the commute without losing my shit – or losing my nerve – although I quickly exited the worst of the stop & go nastiness and shitty human behavior by taking a longish (and apparently unpopular) detour through rural roads a bit out of my way. I can’t properly tell whether – or if – I am “tired”. I feel disconnected and surreal, and on top of the shaking, I feel very much on the edge of tears. This has to be addressed – and living alone, generally, means I can tackle this challenge without allowing myself to be distracted or derailed by instigating drama, or over-reacting to some unrelated small thing that can conveniently be blamed for what may (or may not) be pure chemistry.

…I’ll take a moment to point out that I don’t harp on good self-care because I stroll around modeling the very best self-care, smug in my cared-for-ness of self. I spend a lot of time talking about it because I spend a lot of time considering (and practicing) it – because I need the practice badly, because I am fairly bad at good self-care. So. Moving on.

I feel emotionally safer once I get home. I know the shaking won’t stop until the needs are met. So… what needs? Does this have to degrade into a full-blown meltdown with a screaming tantrum…? Because… I hate those. Uncomfortable. Harder to bounce back from. I nearly always come down with some terrible ailment a day or two later. Fuck that shit. I can do better… can’t I? I like to think I can. I yearn for the truth of it to feel more obvious in some visceral way right now. Like anyone else, my anxiety whispers terrible things to me in the background, and it is hard to hold onto all of the things I have learned about self-care, and growth, and perspective, and balance, and…

…And I’m so human. Fucking hell.

In the meantime, I do things. Self-care can be broken down into a series of small tasks, and observations which lead to other small tasks, until the moment has passed and I am once again “okay right now” – because, for real, I am actually okay right now. I’m not injured. I’m not suffering any externally inflicted physical or emotional wound in this moment. I’m… just here. Shaking. Feeling emotionally overwhelmed and on the edge of a tantrum. I feel… over extended. I feel… un-cared for… by me. Well that sucks. I move around the house completing small tasks… First things first, I hang up my keys and my work badge, and differentiate the moment from the work day. I adjust the thermostat and lighting. I take off my boots. I medicate. I tidy up what little disorder there is, in the kitchen, and assemble a meal that I can just stuff into the oven and forget until it is ready, then make a small snack, aware that I missed lunch and have been surviving on my morning coffee all day.

…”surviving on my morning coffee all day”… Well, shit. Okay, that’s probably part of it, for sure. I pause for a quick moment to appreciate that I started dinner, and had that needed handful of calories, before I was fully aware that I’d missed a meal, and that my blood sugar could be very low. That’s progress, and worth celebrating. I let myself smile about that; it’s a choice, and it feels a little forced. “Thanks for trying”, I silent congratulate myself on the effort.

I know that through writing I often gain some perspective, and I know meditation helps. I allow myself to recognize some poor self-care decision-making of recent days… weeks? Months. Shit. Okay, so… I’ve hit a wall. I get it. I sigh and sit down at my desk to write a bit. Meditation is very difficult when I’m shaking like this, and because meditation can sometimes also be very emotional or cathartic, I put that aside for now (with a lot of uncomfortable awareness that I’ve been less dedicated that I know I need to for my best emotional wellness), promising I’ll do that after dinner. I open my email, and notice a shipped item for my Traveling Partner and forward it with a message. His appreciative reply is welcome right now. His reminder about other things I have promised to get done is less welcome, but possibly necessary. I try to balance the shaking with my gratitude, and hope to find myself more able than not, shortly.

My brain attacks with me an unexpected volley of bullshit; the realization that although I mentioned that I needed to take some time to take care of myself before moving on to other tasks, my partner didn’t ask me how I am, or if I am okay… It slams me (emotionally) in the chest, and I feel breathless, and further overwhelmed. My intellect (and a commitment to non-attachment, and perspective) hits back with a skillful (and timely) reminder that connectivity on his end is generally pretty shitty and he may also be busy, and quite possibly hasn’t even seen that message yet – we don’t make the mistake of treating messaging as “obviously real-time” communication, because it is not. There are far too many things that can interfere with the immediacy of seemingly real-time remote digital communications that assuming digital communication is truly reliably real-time is a great way to face a shitload of unnecessary anxiety and insecurity, most especially in moments of anxiety and insecurity. I breathe through that one, and move on to the next.

I haven’t had it like this in a long while. I know it will pass. I’ve got good steps to manage it with. For now, it is a very physical experience. I start dealing with all that first, because often that’s enough. (Thus changing up the thermostat, lighting, and getting dinner started, first thing.)

My brain flashes forward to a vision of tempting sweet relief in the form of the thought of just… “walking away from all of it”… throwing my gear into the car, taking whatever cash on hand I’ve got, filling the gas tank, and… driving far far away from all the fucking anxiety, and stress, and bullshit, and insecurity, and learned helplessness, and unexpected aggression, and sadness, and disappointment, and financial challenges, and uncertainty about the future in my elder years… Fuck that sounds so… tempting… Like… very tempting…miles of open highway in some remote place putting distance between me and… yeah… me. (note: it doesn’t work like that)

…except…

…I’d also be walking away from everything else – all the good stuff, and yeah, even right now, I can allow myself to be aware that there is also a lot of good stuff. (There are verbs involved, and it is a difficult choice.) More good than not, actually. I’d be walking away from a great partnership, a lovely little place I live right now, so many friends who cherish me, a relative lifetime of things and objects that I love, the playful squirrels on my desk, the gas fireplace… yeah. Everything. All of it. Thinking of that, the anxiety surges again, determined to best me on a cold autumn night, as the evening light fades.

Tears come to my eyes. The Evening Light will fade, eventually… we are mortal creatures….

I breathe. Another breath. Another. I feel the temperature of the house warming up. I feel the positive effect of the quick snack of a hard-boiled egg start to kick in. I feel less distracted by hunger, too, after the big glass of water I had. Less agitated because I finally actually noticed that I really had to pee…. like… seriously. I have a nasty headache – had I already noticed that before? I’m pretty sure I did not. I start to feel calmer. The shaking begins to subside.

This is a process. This journey is not over. There are steps (so many) and practices (omg, sooo many) and there are verbs involved (and tasks to complete). My results vary.

I’m not writing this out in real-time to cause you stress, or rouse your empathy, sympathy, or impulse to provide nurturing. It’s more about “being here”, myself, when life isn’t going smoothly – because if I’m only here when all is well, what real opportunity is there to grow – or share that growth? If my perspective comes across as eternally sunny, and you only ever read my words when I am well and whole and merry, what value is there for you if you are mired in struggle, frustrated, alone, and terrified that nothing will ever get better? So. Here I am, down in this shit, doing my best. Practicing practices – many of which were completely new for me such a short time ago – doing my best with the tools at hand. Maybe I succeed, maybe I fail? Maybe I’ll spend the night weeping, or fearful? Hyperventilating in the darkness? Screaming nightmares? I know one thing I can count on doing – I will begin again. πŸ™‚

Round 1 ends. It’s time to practice good self-care. It’s time to begin again.

…Again.

 

Sipping coffee, thinking about self-care, reflecting on visits with friends and weekends when my Traveling Partner is here at home. I smile, a deep, lasting, crease-this-face-permanently sort of smile when I think about his time here in terms of his being “here at home”. Damn, that feels nice. πŸ™‚

Words matter. Our narrative matters (to us). How we phrase things, the context in which we put things, the assumptions we allow to live in our thinking – all of that matters, because all of it colors our day-to-day experience over time. We’ve got so much control over that it can literally change our experience of living our lives to change the way we understand and think about pieces of that experience – even without changing the underlying facts of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Interesting. Promising.

I enjoy a few minutes of conversation, mixed in with my morning writing. I lose the flow of my thoughts, while gaining a feeling of being connected, supported, understood, recognized, and well-regarded. It’s hard to call that a poor trade-off. πŸ™‚

It’s the winter holiday season. There’s a lot going on right now. I meditate more, and more often, but easily lose track of basic self-care practices (including meditation) in the excitement of time spent with loved ones, the busy-ness of the season, the flurry of social events, and yeah – colored lights reflected off of ornaments and objects that I only see for this handful of weeks, each year. lol It’s an important time to also keep self-care well-managed; mistakes in this area can result in all manner of weird holiday drama (that is actually so very common). It’s easy to overlook ourselves in the rush to do things for others; taking care of ourselves, though, fuels our ability to care for others.

Hey, reminder, in case anyone’s forgotten, the self-care I’m referring to when I say “caring for ourselves” is not about buying ourselves things, keeping things for ourselves, getting loaded on exotic intoxicants, or selfishly hoarding time, goods, money, or our presence. I’m talking about getting the rest we need, taking care of our basic hygiene skillfully, eating nutritionally dense calorie appropriate meals, taking medication on time, and creating an emotionally nurturing internal world view that is so inclusive we are even able to love and appreciate that human being in the mirror, while also extending our compassion, empathy, and kindness to others. Fuck. That’s a lot to take in.

Are you taking care of yourself? Drinking enough water? Getting enough rest? Spending some time walking in the sunshine and fresh air? Eating healthy meals prepared from safe, nutritious ingredients? Laughing? Enjoying the company of those dear to you? Limiting your work hours so that you also enjoy some leisure? Seriously – someone cares about you (and, one of those someone’s is ideally you, I’m just saying…) so take care. Please. πŸ™‚

Oh, hey, will you look at the time? Already time to begin again. I’ll start with self-care. Will you? (Please?)