Archives for posts with tag: healing through mindfulness

I finally gave in to sleep a little earlier than usual last night. I set my alarm for a couple of hours later than usual, ensuring that I would be up early enough for plans, and also able to fully relax and just sleep until I woke, knowing there was an alarm set. I didn’t expect to wake to the alarm – it would amount to 10 hours of sleep! lol

Then...night.

Then…night.

…The beeping of the alarm continued for sometime until I realized it was a real, actual, ongoing sound reaching me. I woke slowly, and without stress – or any particularly grogginess – and feeling very restored. (Go sleep!!) My first moments today have been quite delightful. I greeted myself in the mirror this morning with a rather astonishing spontaneous moment of contentment and calm joy. I found myself gazing upon this relaxed, beautiful, curvaceous woman – clearly adult, wearing it well, smiling softly, plump with sensuous curves – an odalisque, a goddess, a warrior, a sage, a woman. Damn. 🙂 A lovely moment of recognition, acknowledgement, and enjoyment – all from within – is an excellent way to begin a day and I strongly recommend it (your experience, and your results, may vary). I stretched, smiled at my reflection, and ran my hands over curves that defied a lifetime of dieting before I finally yielded to the inevitability of being beautifully curvy, and discovered the wonders of beauty’s variety and splendor – beautiful curves don’t stop strong lean athletic angles from being beautiful, too.  As with art – there are many sorts of beauty, all quite beautiful to someone.

I am sipping my coffee and enjoying being comfortable for the moment – whether I am actually having a rare pain-free day (or moment) or merely in a position in which my pain is eased is irrelevant right now; I am relaxed and feeling comfortable, and letting it be what it is. Seems worth enjoying for as long as it lasts. Enjoying what feels good is an excellent practice – simple, and of course, there are verbs involved. 🙂

A really first-rate practice I picked up a couple of years ago, and continue with even now, because it just matters that much day-to-day, is taking the time to genuinely enjoy the best moments life offers, however, humble, complicated, or fleeting. The ‘negative bias’ human primates are equipped with tends to color our implicit memory far beyond what we’re aware of – and that colors our entire experience. I don’t need to practice dwelling on some awkward or uncomfortable moment, I don’t have to practice going over a troubling bit of conversation in my mind a hundred times, or practice obsessing over some detail of mistreatment in the course of a lifetime; my primate brain will make sure I do these things without any prompting or practice by me. On the other side of things, so often the best bits are glossed over – they have much less ‘survival improvement potential’ to be gleaned from further review… but… when we rush past the wonders of life, the excitement of a romantic moment, or even a fleeting moment of self-approval reflected in the mirror, we continue to build and enhance only the negative bias in our implicit memory. The practice I learned to practice is to specifically and willfully take the time to savor and reflect on beautiful moments, great emotional experiences, wonders, joys, things of beauty, gratitude – all manner of pleasant, joyful, delightful things honestly. All of them. I take real time out of my day to focus on the good stuff, to relish it, to enjoy the thought and memory of it, to share it out loud as a storyteller – building on the positive in my implicit memory has been a large component of slowly shifting my background ‘ambient experience’ away from one heavily weighted toward stressful vigilance, fear, and frustration, and the avoidance and prevention of those experiences. (As it turns out, they are far easier to prevent when I’m not so focused on them as commonplace, too.) Try it – take a moment for you, and think over something wonderful that happened recently – big or small, doesn’t matter – and really recall it in detail, feel the good feelings, and imagine they are soaking through you as you consider this lovely moment. You probably won’t notice anything much except that it’s nice to think about something pleasant, and emotionally nurturing to appreciate our experience. It’s a practice; incremental change over time is a real outcome. 😉 I will observe that this is one of my most favorite practices, feels great to do, and… well… I am not very like the woman I was 3 years ago, and this practice is one of the more profound (if simple) changes I have made in that time.

Let me be clear for a moment, really frank with you; I’m not promoting any practice I practice, or treatment method, or means of [emotionally] getting ahead in life for my own financial gain. (Not yet, anyway… lol) Most of these practices are not of my own creation. My reading list (see up there at the top, or in the ‘menu’ drop down?) has the source for most of them. In this particular case, several sources recommend savoring pleasant moments in some form or another – I practice it as a practice. You can find it, and many other great practices, more clearly explained and with references cited (yep, there’s science on this stuff), in The Happiness Trap, Tiny Buddha, Hardwiring Happiness, or Get Some Headspace. All fantastic starting points for improving one’s outlook on life or self.  I’m not pushing you – I’m just saying, I think you’re [probably] awesome [definitely human!] and I am eager for you to enjoy everything about living your life. (Almost exactly what I said to the woman in the mirror, more than 3 years ago – a lot more than three years, really – it took awhile to get to this morning, and a wonderful moment with the woman in the mirror.)

🙂

My coffee this morning is tasty, well-made by a woman who really cares about me, and whose company and turn-of-mind (and phrase) I genuinely enjoy. The day seems to unfold ahead of me pleasantly, without anxiety, or pressure, well-planned and comfortable; learning not to over-commit myself has been another good way of taking care of me.

Distractions and obstacles take a lot of forms... I'm fortunate when the path is obvious. :-)

Distractions and obstacles take a lot of forms… I’m fortunate when the path is obvious. 🙂

Today is a good day to practice practices that have taken me so far – so far. Today is a good day to smile at strangers – aren’t they people, too? Today is a good day to be patient with myself, and with my companions on this strange projectile hurtling through time and space. Today is a good day to enjoy the journey, and stay on the path. 🙂

There are things that are easy. Well…I mean…aside from me. Easy, I mean. 😉

I’m in a comfortably good mood, and enjoying the positive items in my Facebook feed; today is a spectacularly good day for my feed, and definitely worth enjoying. Then there’s the lovely autumn afternoon…sunny, mild, and festive with fall color.  The work day ended in a good way. I’m not in more pain than I can manage, and I am comfortable. My anxiety dissipated at some point, although I am not sure quite when. In general, it’s a pleasant evening – and I have cold pizza for dinner, which is one of my favorite foods.

There have been times when things have gone wrong, and it’s just lasted and lasted – days, weeks, worse – that’s rarely my experience these days, and I’ll say straight up that even though I still struggle with my chaos and damage, still feel frustrated to stumble on some broken bit unexpectedly, still mourn what isn’t when I could do better to enjoy what it is – it’s all so much better now, than it has been in the past. There have been no huge grandiose ‘changed overnight’ big deal improvements that suddenly ‘made everything okay’, and I don’t expect there will be. It’s all been small things, a bit at a time, some forward momentum, and moment to stumble, progress over days and weeks, then a really shitty day or two that messes with my mind and leaves me feeling uncertain and insecure.  The progress is real, though, and incremental change over time is a thing that has immense power to improve my experience – not just my experience in some one small circumstance, but even in my relationships, my self-talk, how things feel and look and taste, and how I enjoy my life from moment to moment, all alone. So worth it. Just saying.

One sunrise of many.

One sunrise of many.

Please take care of you. You matter. Keep practicing. Fall down. Begin again. I know you’ve got this. 🙂

The week ended on an odd disconnected low note that felt quite abysmal out of context. In the context of the experience of my week, it still felt pretty bleak and more than a little overwhelming, however well I handled things moment by moment. I spent most of the week facing my biggest fears, my hardest challenges, my most extreme stressors – and sure, here I am, on the other side, and I am okay.

Stormy skies have their own beauty.

Just a picture of a stormy sky without context.

See, perspective matters, and in the context of ‘all that is’ none of it was a big deal at all. Much scarier things happened in the world than having to deal with my healthcare provider over-charging me on my prescriptions. My emotional volatility and life satisfaction issues are not global concerns, and as challenges go…yeah. Small stuff. It’s highly unlikely that having workmen in to replace my windows would even register on a scale of ‘all the world’s stressors’. I have ached with loneliness and feelings of displacement and disconnection. I have wrestled with fear and doubt. I have endured repressed panic for hours. I have wept. That’s all just me. I’m still here, and I’m okay. The world continues to turn. More important things happen every day.

I’m not dissing myself here; my feelings matter to me. My experience matters to me, too. Walking home last night from a ‘team building’ happy hour event with my peer group from work I started turning things over in my head differently. I didn’t feel any better – I don’t know that I ‘feel better’ now*. I did turn a corner on how I view things, and the context I am putting around my experience. It hasn’t been an ordinary week at all. I already know how much I value a certain measure of constancy in my environment; how could I be surprised to feel so disrupted when I have had to move all sorts of things away from all the windows, take down (and put up) the curtains and blinds, deal with power outages, water shut-offs, and gaping holes in my home while windows were replaced. My patio garden is in total disarray for the 3rd time this week. Plans to hang out with my partner were postponed one day, moved to another day, and somehow never quite felt deeply connected and truly shared – I was already struggling. As the week progressed I have felt increasingly burdened by stress and upheaval, without recognizing the increasing cumulative impact soon enough to get ahead of it, and by Thursday evening it was clear that I was teetering on the edge of being in crisis.

Friday (last night), walking home from a ‘team building’ happy hour with my peer group from work and feeling bleak, run down, and disconnected, I let my feelings cross my consciousness like clouds: crying when tears came, wiping them away when they stopped, and generally not taking my feelings personally. I had a Beatles song stuck in my head, “Fixing a Hole” and I was trying to ‘feel hopeful’. Practicing specific cognitive practices sometimes helps. I took a couple pictures along the way, hoping to refocus my attention and engage myself differently.

Changing my perspective often has the power to... change my perspective.

Changing my perspective often has the power to… change my perspective.

I found myself thinking about minds, holes, cognition, and what I know of our collective ideas about sanity and wholeness. I recalled a scene from Babylon 5, and thought too, about memory and how what I am recalling – whether thoughts or feelings – colors my experience now. Still feeling pretty down, but finding the living metaphor of walking a distance to be soothing on a number of levels, I walked on pretty energetically – feeling, if not ‘well’, or content, or happy, at least purposeful. I picked at the small emotional sores left behind by the turmoil of the week: my partner commenting on the weight I’ve clearly gained, the disarray in my home from having to move things away from windows, the struggle to find day-to-day sexual satisfaction, the market closing, the trees about to be cut down – and as I did the tears came pouring down. In my thoughts I felt myself, childlike and lost, whimpering wordlessly “I just want to fill this fucking hole in my heart…”

I love my brain. The adult within me, the experienced world-wise, educated woman of 52 stepped forward from the shadows of the chaos and damage with a comforting reminder – from South Park. Right. “Who isn’t filling a fucking hole?” I took a deep breath. And another. I kept walking. Things seemed more practical and manageable from the perspective of being human. “This shit’s not rocket science.” True – and it isn’t math. Living life in this fragile vessel is so much less simple and predictable than math. It’s not easily ‘solved’ with engineering. It’s messy, and often seems quite complicated. Sometimes it’s disturbing, and unsatisfying. Every day can’t be the best day – and that’s even true of entire weeks.

I got home to a quiet house and a note from the management that all the trees in front of the building will be cut down. I closed the door behind me, slid to the floor, back against the door, and wept. When the tears stopped, I picked myself up with a sigh, wiped the tears off my face, and did what I knew had to be done; I took care of me. Calories – limited and healthy – yoga, meditation, a shower. I shut down all the connections to the world, and finished the evening quietly. I downloaded a video game I have been curious about, knowing that novelty and engaging my brain’s learning circuitry can go a long way to improve my outlook on life.

I slept well, and I slept in. Today is a new day, and it’s a weekend. I canceled plans with my partner, knowing I am a wreck; we don’t really enjoy that about me, when it comes up. This is a weekend to take care of me, restore order where disorder has crept in, catch up on the laundry, on my studies, on my writing…and maybe head to the trees for a long hike to enjoy the colors of autumn and the crisp morning air. I remind myself that even a year ago, a week like this one would have had a different outcome, and been more profoundly disturbed and disturbing. There’s no ‘quick fix’. There are verbs involved. Incremental change over time does happen – and it’s enough. 🙂

Life's challenges aren't personal. Today, I'll take another breath - and begin again.

Life’s challenges aren’t personal. Today, I’ll take another breath – and begin again.

*By the time I finished writing this post, I definitely find that I do feel better. 🙂

There are no shortcuts available in life, not really; everything that feels like a successful shortcut is probably a lack of understanding of the options available in the first place. Just go with me on this one, and also accept that we’re each making the rules – and drawing the map, and writing the narrative – as we go along on this journey. I’m pretty sure of myself on this point, which does nothing to validate whether I am correct, it just speaks to whether I am likely to be acting on these assumptions (and I am).

No shortcuts – there are verbs involved, and I don’t use all of them equally easily. When I allow others to dictate to me which verbs are available in the first place, and set limits on how and when I can use them, it can definitely feel liberating – and like a shortcut – to use a verb not on the ‘official list’. 🙂

Another reminder – to me, myself, but here if you need it – we’re all making this up as we go along; mistakes, successes, highlights, bloopers, heartfelt emotions, embarrassing moments, every bit of every detail resting on the foundation we give it. If I choose to build my experience on negative self-talk, boosting the volume on negative bias, and allowing my fears and doubts to lead the way on this journey it will be a very different one than it tends to be when I choose differently. It can be so incredibly difficult to remember this in a difficult moment. Like last night.

Perspective over coffee.

Perspective over coffee.

A simple errand taking advantage of a special offered to military veterans turned into an exercise in frustration that began with the heat of the day, and the inconvenience of the destination. Problematic circumstances complicated things; I left the office later than I needed to, traffic was much worse than anticipated and the public transit system was facing serious delays. When I reached my destination, still feeling positive, although rather tired and in a lot of pain, I found myself faced with business practices that put me at a disadvantage, and I came face to face with my arch-nemesis Frustration. (I’ve mentioned it before, but if you’re new here… I’m seriously not wired for frustration, and it’s a problem. My disinhibiting TBI and the common human experience of frustration do not play nicely together.)

I managed my emotions pretty comfortably for the circumstances. Although I walked away feeling on the edge of tears, I managed to hold things together and do the adult thing courteously. Trembling and in a lot of pain, I headed back into the heat and made my way home feeling more frustrated than I needed to (the errand wasn’t essential – part of the frustration, actually, was the wasted time), and more pissed off than felt comfortable. I could see how the scenario would likely play out. I’d hold back tears, gritting my teeth all the way home, rationalizing the experience and dismissing my emotions until I felt like I wasn’t being heard, and I would begin feeling disconnected from my experience, and once sufficiently overwhelmed by my utter disregard for my own feelings, I would likely crumble – perhaps in the shower – and cry for a long time until I was exhausted from that, collapsing into an unsatisfying sleep plagued by nightmares of futility and helplessness… Only… I do have choices…

In my darkest moments, I find value in asking myself 'dark relative to what?'

In my darkest moments, I find value in asking myself ‘dark relative to what?’ It helps to let small stuff stay small.

I figured I’d try some of the new things I put so much practice into, instead of re-hashing the same old emotional shit storm, and blowing the entire evening. On the way home I emailed my traveling partner (who is out-of-town for the weekend) and shared the experience in simple terms. I was honest about my feelings without projecting the experience into his. I owned up to feeling angry in simple terms, and didn’t make it personal (it’s just an emotion). I kept it simple, and didn’t ask for help, or encroach on his time – there wasn’t anything to do about it, and already the experience was in the past. I made a decision not to continue to do business there, myself – I didn’t feel valued as a consumer, and the business is not conveniently located, so that’s an easy win for me, and I felt ‘heard’ (by me), cared for (by me), respected (by me) and supported (by me). I got home and made choices that looked like shortcuts (like nutritious calories fast, rather than a long cooking process for a hot meal), but were really only different choices, ones that maximized my ability to continue to treat myself well, in the shorter amount of time available. Later in the evening, my traveling partner followed up with a phone call, hearing me, caring for me, and showing his support, too. No tears. No tantrums. No drama. No exhausted restless night. No nightmares. Practice, and good self-care for the win. 🙂

Perspective is a really big deal - we see what we are looking at. Limiting our vision, limits our options.

Perspective is a really big deal – we see what we are looking at. Limiting our vision, limits our options.

Last night could have gone so differently. I’m taking time over my coffee this morning to consider how differently, and why it went so well. Choices matter. I have so much power to change my experience, right in the moment. Emotions are powerful, so much so that they don’t always lead well. Reason has her place in life. I didn’t understand how much less tug of war there is between emotion and reason in a life built on mindful practices, and good self-care. It’s not the sort of thing that’s easy to explain in words. The unfortunate commercialization of mindfulness tends to promote these ideas in a way that suggests a fad…there are so many voices being raised that shout into the wind about the value of being mindful, the din sort of fades into the background. That’s unfortunate because nothing has worked for me as well as practicing mindfulness, practicing meditation, practicing good basic self-care…all completely free, available for the taking literally anywhere, and effective on an order of magnitude that makes monetization irresistible for the business savvy primate looking to stand on a taller pile of bananas. It happens to me too…I get excited about how well this is going for me, and I share eagerly, and then wonder…can I profit from the sharing as well as from the practicing? The answer is, I think, actually ‘no’ [for me] – and not because it isn’t possible to make money selling mindfulness to people (who perhaps don’t realize they can get there for free) – it’s totally possible to do that (just Google mindfulness, you’ll see).

The mindfulness being sold commercially isn’t that thing that is working so well for me; it’s a product that looks very similar, packaged and marketed for appeal, that has some potential to put real people on a more mindful path, potentially, with practice. There are verbs involved, though, and paying the money doesn’t change the need to actually practice.  There’s the disconnect; when we buy a product we’re rarely expecting to also do the work. We bought it, shouldn’t we have it? Mindfulness very definitely doesn’t work that way; no amount of money spent reduces the amount of practice required. While I could profit from selling a mindfulness product of some kind… it wouldn’t truly be this thing that has done so much to improve my own experience; that’s not for sale, and I also can’t withhold it from you. Mindfulness is free for the taking – it just requires practice. 🙂

Finding the lasting value in perspective and good practices.

Finding the lasting value in perspective and good practices.

I will admit that once it was clear that practicing mindfulness was easing my day-to-day symptoms, and potentially even improving my wellness, I bought a few books (more than a few) and read a lot about this experience, this path, these practices; educating myself was  worthy, and I was admittedly still looking for ‘shortcuts’. Where some new ‘shortcut’ seemed to be working out well, it was a matter of honest practice, an effort of will and intent with a lot of verbs involved, and had I known where to look, the information was available for free all along. I’m just saying – it’s the practicing, and you can do this – your choices, your intent, your will, your vision… your life. This isn’t about ‘being right’ about mindfulness, for me. I’m not making any rules for you, or ‘showing you the way’ – I’m just practicing, taking care of me, and sharing my experience is one practice I use, for me, to maintain perspective, build resilience, and tidy up some of this chaos and damage.

Perspective is a big deal; the spiders in life are not actually as big as they sometimes look.

The spiders in life are not actually as big as they sometimes look.

I remember being ‘lost in the wilderness’ with my PTSD, desperate for any voice of hope, no idea where to turn, what questions to ask, or what books to read, and feeling so lost. I write hoping my words can be a lighthouse in the stormy darkness of some heart, now that I know it is possible to reach a safe harbor, within. (With the challenges I have with my TBI, that heart is often my own – I come back often to these words.) Still…I guess what I’m saying is that the practice is still your own, whatever you choose to practice. I’m not really interested in selling you on these ideas, I’m just living my life, and sharing some small piece of my experience along the way. It’s still my perspective. Your results may vary. 🙂

Today is a good day to begin again. Head where you are headed. Be who you most want to be. Walk your path eyes wide to wonder and delight, and if you fall, fail, miss, slip, or pause… just begin again. Lead with love; it’s a good place to start.

I am sipping my coffee after a very good night’s sleep, and waking with relative ease to the sound of the alarm. I am in pain this morning, and so stiff that I’m more than a little grateful that my bed doesn’t rest on the floor – how would I get up? Sometime after the shower that eases some of the stiffness, and the yoga that moves that process along, and the meditation that insulates my nervous system and emotions from the battering the world may (or may not) deliver later, I am sipping my coffee and letting my mind coast…

Humble beginnings; the herbs in my garden have the power to change an entire meal.

Humble beginnings; the herbs in my garden have the power to change an entire meal.

I find myself considering how often the movies deliver to us a Hero (or more rarely a Heroine) who is somehow ‘The One’ – the only being in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills and a dash of good fortune and great sidekicks. They rarely seem aware they are The One. It takes persuasion, convincing, sometimes even force to get them to understand that ‘everything’ depends on them. Heroes are humble like that. At some point in any good tale, the Hero has some sort of awakening moment, at which point he (or she) recognizes ‘the truth of it’ and goes forth to save the day – with some luck, and the help of their trusty sidekicks. Most of us have a sidekick or two in life, someone – a friend, a family member, a work buddy, a lover – who is reliably ‘there for us’ when we need emotional support. Most often, we (and by we I mean ‘me’) don’t seem aware that we’re the hero of the story…that we are, in our own narrative, The One. So far so good in hero territory, I suppose…only…where’s that moment of awakening, when we each take on the world – or at least our own circumstances – and solve the puzzle, master the challenge, clear the hurdle, or conquer our foe? There’s a metaphor here, but there is also something very directly real and true in it. We do well to be our own heroes, and to embrace our opportunity to be The One in our own experience.

Remember Keanu Reeves, in The Matrix, that moment where he begins to do his virtual training in the matrix, learning to fight, to fly, all that? When did you last take your own education so seriously that you plugged into a machine and just went for it – for hours, or days, or years if it takes that? (It’s those damned verbs, again!) How much time do you put into becoming the person you most want to be, investing  your will in that endeavor with mindful deliberately chosen actions? I know I could do more, myself, and within the thoughts I find the questions that light the way along the path ahead.

Be ‘The One’. Be ‘The One’? What does that even mean, really? I hear it, and I feel a certain implicit understanding of the thing…but that’s hardly enough to manifest a change, is it? Being ‘The One’ in my own narrative, the hero of my own experience, implies that I value myself as worthy – even in my humblest bumbling and fumbling and inept moments, even as I learn things I didn’t know previously, even as I swing and miss, even as I try – when I meant to do. Being ‘The One’ in my own story means trusting the hero to save the day – all the while aware that I am my own hero, and saving the day clearly means there will be verbs involved, and as in any exciting hero’s tale, I will likely get it wrong once or twice, bring my world to the brink of disaster perhaps, but always finding my way at the last minute. Or something very like that.

Isn’t it okay to grow and learn and change? Isn’t incremental change over time part of the process of healing and growth? How much more easily will I make progress if I am seeing myself as the hero of the story – and actively investing in my further growth, trusting that the journey will take me where I most need to go, and accepting my missteps along with my great triumphs as being part of the experience all along? Yes, it is okay – totally okay. I know the truth of it, even as I struggle sometimes with the reality of how many damned verbs really are involved, and how relentlessly continuous the journey can sometimes feel. Being ‘The One’ has immense power to heal and transform and bring change…but there’s rarely a great prophet around to tell us who we are when we most need to hear it – making us, once again, ‘The One’ – the one with the message to the woman in the mirror.

A beautiful sunset, a cherished experience.

A beautiful sunset, a cherished experience.

I enjoyed last evening in the company of a friend. The conversation went a lot of places, and as with some friends more than others, the conversation was fairly ‘deep’. I woke this morning from dreams filled with reminders of things said, feeling inspired, and experiencing a deeper understanding of what being ‘The One’ in my own experience may require of me in will, and in action. I’m not likely to save New York City from disaster…or to save the world from alien invaders…but I very easily could be ‘The One’ who saves the day – my day – probably from me. 🙂

I take a moment, sipping my coffee, to appreciate how many times friends become sidekicks when I most need one, and how often sidekicks turn out to be great prophets revealing that particular truth I most need to hear. Today is a good day to be grateful for the connections I share with people – we are each so very human, each having our own experience – each the hero of our own adventure story – it’s quite wonderful when we connect, overlap, share the moment – and save the world.