Archives for posts with tag: change your practices change your thinking

I was sipping my morning coffee in the dim of dawn, sun not yet peaking over the horizon. I was thinking about a friend who often seems to default to negative self-talk, and assumptions about others that are built on suspicion, fear, and mistrust. I know enough about my friend’s personal history to have some limited understanding why they would hold such a bleak perspective on life, relationships, and yes, even on the person in the mirror. I hold my friend in very high regard, and our mutual affection and appreciation has lasted many years…but even I am not immune to being the recipient of my friend’s mistrust, suspicion, and doubt.

My thoughts this morning, after recently having coffee together, were less about how uncomfortable it can feel to be viewed as an adversary, unexpectedly, and absent any input on my part to justify or support that view, and more about how unpleasant it must be to go through life that way, living in the context of some implicit certainty that everyone, eventually, is an enemy. It saddens me, and I struggle to balance my understanding and compassion with my feelings of helplessness and frustration – and lack of being understood clearly. My own communication challenges don’t make it easier. My own emotional baggage and personal history with relationships with other human primates don’t make it easier, either. I sipped my coffee, breathing, exhaling, relaxing, and consider my perspective, and where I can, also the perspective my friend expressed, with as much depth, and understanding, as I am able to do.

Perspective changes what we understand of the world.

I think back to articles I’ve read about mindfulness, and the handful of those that point out that undertaking a mindfulness practice can throw emotional health and balance into chaos for some people. I even accept that this is one of the potential experiences people may have; when we have adapted to darkness, the brightness of being flooded with light is not necessarily and immediately helpful, comfortable, or pleasant experience. Some of the things we keep to ourselves over a lifetime, dismissing our concerns, diminishing our sense of self, or building our narrative on a ton of self-serving made-up shit to compensate, perhaps, for the bleakness of our sense of doubt and futility, end up being powerful (and possibly successful) coping mechanisms for the hardest shit we don’t want to face – and having coped with, we don’t have to. Then along comes some “healthy” mindfulness practice that sounds awesome, that our friends are into, and we hop right into it, eager and enthusiastic… then, we find ourselves face to face with the darkness being dissipated by a light so bright we can’t see what it hides from us, and… we run, terrified and damaged, fearful of change, resisting what so bright a moment of illumination might really show us. After all, we’d coped with all that bullshit. We’d found a way. Now, here we are, facing our self, unexpectedly. Not always a pretty picture, and we’re not all ready for that.

Changing our own perspective doesn’t always feel comfortable. Whether or not “mindfulness” can be said to “work” is more than a little bit dependent on what we expect it to do, and whether that is what we actually want – or are ready for.

My friend and I talked about my journey, and theirs. We spoke of expectations, and of “reality”. My friend had, at one time, been a huge advocate for me finding my way to a more positive perspective on life. At that time, they seemed so unbelievably positive to me that it was hard to understand the thinking behind those words – wasn’t it a matter of “character” or personality? Wasn’t my personal history “real”, and sufficient to justify my chaos and damage… and negativity? Wasn’t my cynicism perfectly “reasonable”? Here I was sitting over coffee, after far too long out of touch, and I was the positive one, the contented one, the one bouncing back. My friend seemed overly negative, and out of touch with their own emotional experience, lacking in a certain authenticity and “presence”, that felt strangely dishonest and uncomfortable to me. The conversation came around to meditation, and mindfulness practices, generally. “All that’s bullshit,” my friend said firmly. “I tried that stuff back in the day, and it only made me cry a lot, and made me doubt my relationships.” I sat quietly listening (which can be difficult for me), then replied “What did your therapist say about that experience?” My friend answered abruptly, “I quit therapy. It was expensive, and kept making me doubt my place in the world, and my relationship with my partner.” She gestured vaguely, something like waving off that topic with her hand. “I didn’t need all that, I’m unhappy enough without help. Self-reflection bullshit just made me rethink everything. Who needs it?”

I keep turning the conversation over in my head, in the time since. So much of what she had shared seemed unhappy, and infused with a sense of having failed herself in some mysterious way, punctuated by occasionally accusations of some other person setting her up for failure. If she is so deeply unhappy in life, in her relationships, wouldn’t she expect self-reflection to hold up that mirror, and show her precisely that? Doesn’t that open the door to the potential that change could be made – chosen – and offer the chance to walk a different path?

No answers, this morning, really. Just questions, and self-reflection, and the illumination offered by shining a bright light into my own dark corners. There’s always an opportunity to begin again. 🙂 I am my own cartographer; I choose my path.

I’m still chuckling about getting all the way to work yesterday without realizing I had forgotten my phone. 🙂 You know what? I totally survived it, and there was honestly no actual stress involved. lol It was interesting how wholly unprepared for the morning I actually was, yesterday, though. I’m not sure why… I didn’t feel particularly groggy, or tired. I bumbled about my morning routine fairly unconvincingly, as though it were all new, or maybe… an afterthought. All good. The day happened, without regard to my readiness for it. 😀

Here it is another one. Good cup of coffee. Good night of rest. I feel comfortable, and from the vantage point of just waking, not in much pain. Nice. Good start to the day.

I get lost in my thoughts for a few minutes, staring into the pre-dawn darkness beyond the window of my studio, drinking coffee. This is not wasted time. It is time spent in a contented reverie, relaxed, calm, and present. I smile, partly because the smile feels good, and partly because this moment feels a bit like an achievement. No anxiety. No doubt. No seething unsettled unsatisfied rage. Just a woman, a moment, and a cup of coffee in the morning. This moment feels like a destination arrived at. My smile deepens in a moment of self-directed encouragement and quiet joy.

Sufficiency. Contentment. Perspective. These can be built, worked at, and nurtured, so much more easily than one can “chase happiness”. Having built them over time, I find them a durable foundation to explore joy, to find “ease”, and to experience fearless presence in my own experience. A worthy journey, thus far. I enjoy the morning’s wee quiet celebration.

I think ahead. I can’t see beyond the “fog of the unknown” future ahead of me, not really. I trim away expectations, and regularly check my assumptions, looking for hints that I have mislead myself, and making corrections before fanciful self-deceits can sabotage my experience. Gently vigilant. Still so human. I’m not even frustrated by that. Not this morning. Not over this good cup of coffee, in this pleasant moment. I laugh at myself joyfully, for no real “reason”.

Without warning, in an instant… and we can only be prepared for so much.

Emotional resilience is that quality which allows us to “fill our tanks”, or build a healthy foundation, to be emotionally able to withstand life’s unexpected moments, occasional crisis or trauma, and to bounce back with our sense of self and general “wholeness” intact. It’s that resilience that allows us to hear the sound of a glass door unexpectedly shatter, breaking the peace of a work morning into countless fragments, broken, chaotic, and then from that wreckage, to retrieve a perfectly excellent day of work, and life, and love. I happen across the photograph, and recall the moment that I heard the “crack!” of that door, a corridor away, as it yielded to some force of physics. I’d already forgotten about it, and in a moment when I later walked past the shattered door, my eye saw only the beauty of the patterns of the fractured glass. Having forgotten my phone, I asked someone else if I could use their phone to photograph it… which created a joyful space for a conversation about art, and life. It’s rare that the woman in the mirror gets to be the artist she is, in the place she works for a living. It was quite wonderful, and somewhat distracting, and I finish my coffee pondering the happy coincidence that I had forgotten my phone. That worked out nicely. 🙂 I was present – for all the moments.

Later, after I returned home, my Traveling Partner and I relaxed and enjoyed our shared evening. My phone was still forgotten on the charger. I was still present, enjoying the moments my partner and I share. Quite delightful. I hope I learned some things… It’s already time to begin again. 🙂

Whether 2019 was a good year for you or a seemingly endless series of trials and hardships, it is almost over. A brand new year will unfold ahead of us, and we’ll experience a new sequence of events, in order, by day and date, moment by moment, and subsequently, about 365 days farther along still, the survivors will be beginning yet again. So it goes.

2019 has been an interesting year. I don’t guess there’s any point to breaking it down in further detail; we were all there, each with our own perspective, our own “highlights reel”, our own chaos and damage. We all, generally, did our best with what we had as resources to work with, and our limited knowledge yielded results that varied. Mistakes were made. Some regrettable words were spoken. We didn’t always make our best choices. No gods here… and yet… we each have that divine spark within ourselves, and a chance at greatness. We get so many opportunities to do better, to be that person we most want to be. 🙂 And here it is, a solidly excellent time to begin again…

…Realistically, most of us will make grand plans build on visions of change, our inspiration and motivation both pinned to a date on the calendar. :-\ How well we do, how close we come to achieving our goals, relies heavily on what we’ve already done to ready ourselves for change, and the long journey in pursuit of our dreams. What have you been practicing? Do you have the resilience to pick yourself up and begin again…and again… and again… and again… until you succeed? Even the practices take practice – how much more practice is involved once you’ve built all those healthy practices? Yep. More.

I’m not saying any of this to be discouraging. Just pointing out what has become so obvious; there are a ton of verbs involved, and results may vary. 🙂 It always looks easier in the commercials. 😉

…Still, if you want it so badly that you’re willing to do the work, the practice, the repetition, the continued attempts after multiple failures, rebuilding yourself in the image you have chosen… you’ll totally get there. Time is a factor. Will is a factor. You only have so much of either. Choose wisely… and good luck. I mean that quite sincerely; you have my well-wishes that the year to come takes you directly to the places you most want to be in life. There is going to be quite a bit of effort involved, no reason to pile discouragement on top of anticipated effort. You’ve got this, if you want to work for it. 🙂

…Probably. I mean… realistically, it’s not 100% of always entirely in our own hands, how things turn out in life. I’ve got to at least acknowledge that, right? Still… most of the journey, as we make our way, is within our hands to some extent (even how we deal with obstacles on our path). “Choose wisely” seems like good practical advice. I’d add “don’t take anything personally” to that, and maybe follow up with a reminder that “life is what we make of it”, although that last, while true in large part, is not very helpful when things are going poorly, at all. I’m just saying, we each have choices (so many!). Make some.

Later I’ll head to the office, to work one of two remaining work shifts in 2019. I’ll run an errand. Get some things done. The clock will continue to tick toward 2020. What a complex experience this year has been. I sip my coffee and give the year some thought, adding context here and there, dredging up delightful memories, wracking my consciousness with some that are less idyllic or joyful – still real, still part of my journey. I smile; so many of these memories were made with the help of my Traveling Partner, part of a shared journey of love – I’m grateful for that, and feeling fairly fortunate.

I hear my partner wake, beyond the door to my studio. Coffee together in the morning? Yes, please! It’s a lovely way to begin again. 🙂

Busy and stressed out? Frustrated and overwhelmed? Strafed by chaos, and drama? Buried in details and back-logged to do lists? Yeah, I get there, too. 🙂 Not very often anymore. Not this morning.

I’ve done a lot of “letting go” of things (and relationships) that don’t work, that cause me pain, that seem to be built on endless struggle and frustration, without any “return on investment” – my investment being, in this case, my time, and presence. It’s not easy to let go. Sometimes I have yearned to hold on, pointlessly, to my own disadvantage and sorrow. It took practice. It still does. 🙂

Take a breath and float. Happiness is really really difficult, if I focus on that. Building contentment has proven to be a lasting path to that elusive goal, and honestly – it’s way easier. 🙂 I’m happy more often. I struggle less.

…It still takes practice. So worth it.

Last night I got the sleep I needed so badly. This morning? It’s enough. 🙂

What about you? What is “enough” – are you already “there”? Do you spend time allowing yourself to specifically, explicitly, frankly, savor and enjoy it? Another worthy endeavor. 😀

I smile and sip my coffee. Nice morning. Nothing fancy, just a pleasant one. I make room in the morning to really enjoy those pleasant qualities without looking ahead to the work day, or borrowing from past pain to shape my experience. I enjoy some music. I enjoy my coffee. I breathe, exhale, relax – and get ready to begin again. 🙂

 

I am relaxing over one final coffee for today. (More after this time of day reliably disturbs my sleep later on, so, generally, noon is my cut off for coffee unless I am planning to “make a night of it” for some event or activity.) I am feeling content and thoughtful.

I took my first Qigong class today. The main focus was on some basics: “four count breathing”, “horse stance”, and a very slow walking meditation. It was fun, comfortable, challenging without being frustrating, and “harder than it looks” to do quite correctly – which means room to grow and push myself. 🙂 It seems a good fit for my needs, generally. I’m pretty eager to make it a practice; that was sort of the entire point of undertaking today’s exploratory lesson, at all. 🙂

How is it I’m feeling sleepy? lol I also feel, generally, pretty well-rested.

Change is work. Sometimes it’s physical labor, sometimes just cognitive effort, but regardless; changing requires some verbs, and verbs require effort, and effort amounts to work. 🙂 We become what we practice, whether by force of will or happenstance. Each time I’ve undertaken some specific change, and followed through on my intentions with actual effort and commitment, doing so has changed me. We become what we practice. Our practices change our thinking, as well as our physical selves.

Where will your path take you?

I hear from my Traveling Partner, off somewhere or another, doing his thing, living his life, enjoying the day. I smile when I think about him. It’s a sunny day at the end of summer, neither hot nor cold, with a soft breeze that touches my skin quite gently. A good day for leisure, for contemplation, for gardening, for housekeeping, for errands, for exercise, for hiking, for napping… just generally a pleasant day. I finish off my coffee with an enthusiastic commitment to enjoy it fully.

…And now? Why, yet another beginning, most likely. I could begin laundry, or begin the dishwasher’s wash cycle, or begin tidying up the container garden for autumn, or begin studying a new language, or begin reading a new book, or begin work on a new canvas. I could also use this moment to resume something – a new beginning on existing endeavors is still a new beginning. There’s pretty nearly always some convenient way to step forward into a new moment, energized, renewed, and ready to move on with things, generally. This seems the sort of moment for it…

My coffee is finished. It’s time to begin again. 🙂