Archives for posts with tag: meditation

I’m sipping my coffee and thinking about my recent meltdown, and the later realization that it may have been connected in some way to the recent clutter-reducing destruction of many years of paper journals. After so many years of working to improve my emotional wellness and heal whatever I can of my PTSD, it took me by surprise to have such a bad episode so recently. I was completely taken by surprise – and frankly, that’s almost comical; intellectually, I know not to just “tick a box” and call myself “well”. Mental illness doesn’t work like that – it’s more a journey taken over time. A lifetime.

When I began talking it over with my therapist, it became pretty clear that the chaos and damage that surfaced in those painful moments sourced with some of my earliest adult trauma in my first marriage, and I know that that had its foundation in the childhood traumas that are older still. I was (and am still) dealing with the lasting effects of family violence. In the here-and-now, where such traumas are not part of my current experience, I was nonetheless “primed” for panic because the daily news is filled with stories of family violence, family killings, and domestic violence related femicides (I do my best to avoid reading those articles, but the headlines are everywhere).

Firstly, let’s just get this out of the way; don’t kill people you say you love. (This seems obvious…?) Don’t raise your hand in violence outside the explicit requirements of actual fucking warfare. Just… don’t. Violence is ugly, unnecessary, and the outcomes are unpleasant and often quite permanent. If you are an American in the United States, our social contract with each other states – in writing – that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are “inalienable rights”, and this means you are explicitly agreeing that these things are sacrosanct and not to be taken lightly. So… yeah. Don’t fucking kill people. Especially do not kill your fucking family. Jeez… who are we that this has to be said??

So, yeah. Here I am almost 60, and I am still dealing with the traumas inflicted on me as a child, and those inflicted on me as a young adult. We’re talking about horrors of many years ago… more than 30 years ago. Fucking hell. You’d think spending something like 30-40 years in therapy (on and off, and most recently a pretty consistent 10 years or so) would mean… no more chaos and damage. No more panic attacks. No more freak outs. No more tears.

It doesn’t work that way. It’s more like the crumpled paper analogy suggests (used as a lesson for anti-bullying, but quite relevant). The damage is done. The lasting outcomes are… lasting. The lost trust. The peculiar defensiveness. The hyper-vigilance. The thinking errors. Some of it can be corrected and eased over time… with practice. Some of it… maybe it’s always part of who we are as survivors. Scars that tell the tale.

Note: having been hurt doesn’t get us out from under our own obligation to be the best human being we know how to be. Being hurt is not an excuse for inflicting hurts on others. Just saying… adulting is hard.

I’m not sitting here feeling gloomy or tragic. I mean, fuck yes it’s a major bummer, and frustrating as shit… but… there’s hope for further improvement over time. I come back again and again to the tools that work, and to the lessons learned over time. I take a moment to reflect on how much progress has been made, and how much easier things actually are. So many new beginnings. The chaos and damage doesn’t tell the whole story, and living mired in my nightmares is no longer my way. That’s something. My results still vary. I still need practice practicing the practices that shore up my wellness and promote healing. That’s just real. It’s a commitment to healing – and to living well.

The harder part here may be balancing what I know through experience and study with what I achieve through my words and my actions – making the understanding a living experience isn’t an instant win. There are so many verbs involved. Try, fail, try again… repeat. Very human. (Don’t give up, just keep practicing and improve over time.) While I’m not personally to blame for the horrors or violence inflicted on me, I am personally responsible for those that I inflict on others subsequently – whatever the hurts that shaped me.

I sip my coffee enjoying the quiet time to reflect on the powerful impression trauma makes on our entire being, and the way it can shape who we become and color how we see the world around us. Worth a moment or two of self-reflection and I find myself wondering if it is too soon for another trip to the coast to watch the waves pound the beach on a stormy afternoon while thinking about the lasting effect of trauma, and how best to begin again? If not that, well then, it’s another work day, and other beginnings have my attention.

Another day, another new beginning. 🙂 Time to choose my adventure…

My Traveling Partner and I recently watched a video that made some bold claims about the “harms of mindfulness” as a “culture” or as a self-help service available for anyone… at a cost. I rather expected I’d disagree throughout; I’ve gotten a lot out of mindfulness practices. Instead, I found myself nodding along. See, here’s the thing, “mindfulness” practices really don’t need to cost a single cent. Google “mindfulness”, watch some unbranded professional quality “not selling you shit” content, and start practicing – it could be that simple, and that close to being wholly free. It gets expensive when you start adding on self-help “professionals”, new age “gurus”, spiritual “healers”, and their many mindfulness centers, methods, systems, and… fees. What’s so crazy to me is that in general, much of this seems to come out of a genuine interest in making mindfulness practices available for the betterment of people who are suffering. (Scammers will always do what scammers have always done; grab an idea, gloss it up with an emotionally engaging pitch, and start raking in the profits at the expense of many who can’t legitimately afford that.)

Break free of the sales pitch, the expensive retreats, and the costly subscription service. Just be. Breathe. Exhale. Relax. No, it’s not a cure for everything. Hell, it’s maybe not a “cure” for anything at all. Does it feel good? It can. Is it helpful? It may be – it is for me, personally.

Maybe you think you are “doing it wrong” and that’s why it “isn’t working” for you? What do you mean when you say “working for you”? If you think it is going to solve all of your challenges, stop you ever shedding a tear or feeling hurt or knocked down in life, you may want to reconsider what you expect of this simple humble healthy practice. Let it do what it can, and stop right there.

…I’m saying this because I have considered, now and then, the monetary potential in having a successful mindfulness blog…what would that take? What would it look like (for me)? I always come back to the place I started; I don’t have a hunger to make a profit on the suffering of folks who are struggling to find balance or peace. That just seems like a shitty thing to do (to me). I mean, seriously? I’d be writing anyway. I write. I’d be meditating anyway. It has worked for me. The concepts are not new, and aside from the price of a handful of books, they haven’t cost me anything much. Why wouldn’t I share my knowledge (whatever I’ve got) and my words freely? I’ve considered writing a book. If/when I take that step, sure, pay me. LOL Fair.

One thing I didn’t like about the video we watched was the way the content was written to explicitly mock certain concepts or exercises used in one program or another to teach mindfulness practices. I found that unnecessary, misleading, and in poor taste generally. (We live in a world that seems to place value on misleading words in poor taste that are not helpful or necessary… which sucks, but that’s a different bit of writing for another day, I suppose.) I’m thinking specifically about the “eating a raisin” exercise that appears in MSBR coursework and other places.

As for “doing it wrong”…? Are you?

Any comfy cushion will do.

Here’s the thing about the “eating a raisin” exercise (in my opinion) – it isn’t at all about the raisin. Nothing to do with raisins in any way. Choose your fruit. Choose whatever taste or sensation you care to explore more deeply. The exercise itself is about being present, aware, and engaged entirely with that sensory experience. That’s it. You could do it with… oh, say… a cup of coffee. (If you’re a regular reader, is it now dawning on you that perhaps my frequent starting point of observing that “I am sipping my coffee…” may have significance you didn’t previously realize?) Yep. I practice this exercise often – with my coffee – to become more engaged, more “grounded”, more present in my physical reality, more “awake and aware” – because I frankly need the fucking practice. I was irked that the content creator we were watching tear down the simple (and admittedly somewhat silly) “eat a raisin” practice missed the whole fucking point of the exercise.

…I did appreciate that the video was explicitly opposed to financially exploiting the emotional pain of people seeking solutions through mindfulness, though. Don’t spend money on free shit, people. You don’t have to put yourself through that. If you want professional mindfulness coaching and you have the money and are willing to spend it on that? Get a good therapist. Period. Pay for what has legitimate value. Want to take a luxury retreat and practice meditation and mindfulness? Book a comfortable hotel on the coast somewhere, and take yourself there and be mindful. Enjoy. It doesn’t need to cost thousands of dollars, have a “name brand guru” smiling on the brochure, or require a waiting list. lol Seriously. What did you think my “going coastal” adventure days were about? That’s me taking a “meditation retreat” more often than not. 🙂

Sufficiency. Perspective. Mindfulness. Wrapped up in a bow. 😀 Enjoy. Please don’t just give your hard-earned money to charlatans, fake gurus, or slick salespeople. It’s not necessary.

I take one last sip of my ill-chosen coffee. It has gone cold – a fitting fate for a lavender Americano (turns out I do not enjoy the flavor of lavender in my coffee as much as I enjoy the scent of it). I sit with the feeling of a quiet start to an ordinary day for a moment longer.

Now I begin again.

It’s been 10 years since I started this blog, and this journey. I mean, I suppose I could choose a lot of dates and say “I took my first step here”, but starting this blog and returning to therapy during a very dark time in my life was more significant than I knew at the time, and I’ve come farther, faster, I think, than I otherwise might have if I hadn’t taken those steps.

I lived in a different place, with different views.

10 years ago. I could measure that in jobs… it was 5 jobs ago. I could measure it in moves… it was 4 moves ago. I could count it off in hours, which is an impressive 87660. A little daunting if I think too long about how still needs doing. I could count it off in blog posts… 2512, an average of 20.9 per month, and more than 1 million words.

My first post was just an brief introduction. My second? It was about perspective. 10 years later to the day, and I’m still writing about how much perspective matters, and how to shift it in a more positive direction.

The first book my new therapist recommended to me, and an important step on a profoundly healing journey.

10 years ago I started reading, and building my reading list. I turned 50. I started keeping an aquarium (which I kept going until just last year). I began an intensely creative period as an artist. I bought new hiking boots and started walking a lot more, and I started making solo trips to the coast to make time for healthy self-reflection.

The beginnings of a piece on the theme of perspective.

I was in a rough place emotionally when I started this blog 10 years ago. At the same time I started this blog, I started an art project on the theme of perspective and experience, and the subjective nature of memory vs lived experience. I used two large glass containers, and into one I dropped dark stones, black glass “pebbles” and mementos of sorrow or grief, and small amounts of black glitter representative of darker moods. Into the other, I dropped light colored glass “pebbles”, glow glitter, and things reminiscent of joy and day-to-day moments of pleasure. Not so much “good vs bad” as pleasant vs unpleasant. I wanted to gauge “how bad is it really?” in some visible way. I kept it going until I was ready to create “Perspective” on canvas, some 6 months later.

“Perspective” acrylic mixed-media on canvas, 16″ x 36″, 2013

As difficult as my day-to-day experience sometimes felt, and as much as I often struggled with my experience, emotions, or circumstances, it was clear that even with “my thumb on the scale”, things were more often pleasant than unpleasant. The ratio wasn’t even close. There was more light than darkness, more joy than pain – and this is true even now. (I say that because it’s been quite a difficult morning and was a weirdly challenging weekend emotionally, and I’m definitely feeling that.) This particular art project opened my eyes to the importance of perspective in building and maintaining good mental and emotional health; if my lived experience felt unpleasant but was objectively better than I was feeling it to be, I figured there had to be a way to correct for that. I mean… I wear glasses because I’m near-sighted. What could I be doing to correct my sense of perspective on my own life? This became an important focus for me from then on.

…As it turns out, there are a number of different ways to gain or restore perspective… You could read Viktor Frankl… or take up meditation… or get therapy… I did all those things and found them each helpful in their own way. There are a lot of other things a person can do to shift perspective.

This morning I am sipping my coffee and thinking about the weird weekend from the perspective of having had a restless night, and being abruptly wakened (too early) by my Traveling Partner’s frustrated plea that I please work in the office today so he could get some sleep, himself. (I don’t doubt my snoring was keeping him awake, which sucks, and my office is adjacent to our bedroom and this manual keyboard is noisy, and my typing tends to reflect my emotions… I get it.) I was seriously looking forward to working from home this morning. I wasn’t set up to leave for the office at all. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant “wake up call”. I didn’t sleep well, myself so I just got up immediately, dressed, and “left for work” – hours before my work day even begins. I thought about just parking somewhere and napping in the car. I wasn’t actually properly awake when I left the house and possibly should not even have been driving (I was pretty groggy, hadn’t yet had my coffee, and was functioning on “auto pilot”, and feeling hurt to be asked to leave). I was feeling pretty “unwelcome in my life” – which is a shitty perspective to take on one’s own experience, honestly, and skewed hard away from the demonstrably positive real life experience I actually live day-to-day. I started the morning moody and emotional, and vexed with my partner. Bleh. I feel rather fortunate that I happened upon the awareness that this blog is now 10 years old, almost to the day (yesterday was the actual date of my actual first post). It’s given me new perspective on my perspective and a chance to write about perspective, generally, which tends to shift my focus from my own perspective to… perspective as its own thing. lol

The tl;dr is that perspective matters – and you can change yours. (Your results may vary.)

…I’m not “in a better mood” or any more well-rested than I would have been without the opportunity to reflect on and write about perspective, but it is much harder to just wallow in a shitty mood over the crappy start to my day once I take the time to slow down and reflect on some positives. I feel myself starting to let that shit go.

The weekend was actually pretty wonderful. We got some things done. Celebrated some achievements. Loved each other thoroughly. We also found ourselves dealing with a couple unexpected moments of strife. Predictable. Human primates are emotional creatures, and barely domesticated. I try not to get hung up on those, although now and then such moments find me reconsidering my life choices, if only for a moment. :-\

I stare into my coffee lost in my thoughts. Often.

10 years. This year I’ll be 60. Another opportunity to begin again.

I am awake. No reason. I crashed hard, earlier. My Traveling Partner called it a night a short time later. We enjoyed quite a lovely day together. An auspicious start to the new year.

No idea why I am awake right now. I am not even sleepy, for the moment. I read awhile. Do some yoga. Meditate. Still not sleepy. I lay quietly with my thoughts. There’s no stress or anxiety. I will probably read awhile longer and try to sleep again a bit later.

…What a nice day… my mind begins to wander, thoughts becoming more surreal as I start to drift off…

I’ve got a cup of coffee and an open water bottle next to me. The morning began earlier than I expected; the heat in this hotel room came on, I rolled over in bed thinking nothing of it, then woke to a sneezing fit. Well, damn. I’m awake. I did make a half-hearted attempt to continue to sleep, but it didn’t work out and I finally just got up and made this cup of coffee. It’s not a great cup of coffee, it’s just definitely coffee. lol

…A little later this morning, I’ll shower, dress, pack, load the car, and head home…

The sun is not yet up. The holiday lights on the pier that juts out from the restaurant next door are still lit. In spite of the darkness, it’s clear from the street lights up the block reflecting back from the pavement that it has been raining. I yawn and sip my coffee, staring at this blank page until I finally begin with a common starting point: an observation about this moment, and my coffee. lol

Same view, different night.

I consider going back to bed…but I’m not actually sleepy, just a bit groggy, and also in pain. My osteoarthritis doesn’t care for weather that is both chilly and also rainy. I take my pain medication with my morning coffee, figuring it’s early enough for it to fully kick in long before I’m driving. I sip my coffee – it’s honestly pretty bad (instant), but just drinkable enough to still be called “coffee”. I find myself wondering how much longer coffee will even be available as an easy-to-buy beverage…

Did I get what I needed out of the weekend? I came seeking two things: sufficient quiet to hear myself think, and time & distance to get used to my new medication without the constant stress of also meeting someone else’s expectations and needs moment-to-moment. I mostly got what I needed. My solitude was interrupted with conversational moments over chat with my partner; he misses me, and I did not set any sort of “no contact/offline” boundary – I knew he had things going on he might want to communicate or talk about or share. There was also the call from the bank, pretty routine and nothing to be massively stressed out about, though I have experienced an unnecessary amount of anxiety over it, simply because it brushes past ancient trauma from my first marriage. In all cases, these interruptions in my solitude were very practical opportunities to practice some practices, and that’s how I took them. No resentment or agita. “Mission accomplished” then, I guess. Good enough. 🙂

I listen to the heater fan running. It mingles with the higher pitches of my tinnitus. There’s another noise in the background with a cycle that differs, setting it a bit apart… the mini-fridge? I think so. An alarm goes off in an adjacent room. 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning? The alarm is quickly silenced and there are no sounds of movement. I smile to myself, recalling times I’ve overlooked shutting off an alarm on a day I could have slept in. I sip my coffee, taking a moment simply to exist in this quiet early morning space. The world beyond the glass door to the balcony is very dark, but I’ve got an inside light on, so… yeah. I do like watching daybreak become dawn, so I switch off the light in the room. It’s too early for that to matter much; it’s just still quite dark. LOL

My phone pings me softly about my morning medication. The intent of the alarm set for each individual medication is as a training tool, not a permanent solution. I am succeeding at rebuilding my timing and habits for taking each one with the correct timing each day (both individually and relative to each other). I feel a small moment of accomplishment every time my phone asks me if I want to cancel the alarm for the day, before it goes off, and I can “say yes” (because I’ve already taken that one); I know it means I’m learning my new timing. Eventually, I’ll cancel each alarm one by one as it becomes clearly unnecessary to have them. 😀

It’s now been almost 3 weeks for the change to my thyroid medication and the addition of the beta blocker. It’s been two weeks since I added the anxiolytic. Everything feels pretty “normal” now – a new normal, with more energy and less anxiety. Nice. Was this short getaway worth it? Yeah. Definitely. I was feeling pretty raw and aggravated, and it was all me and shit I needed to sort out for myself. My partner doesn’t benefit from having to endure that needlessly. I got home in a much better state-of-mind than the one I was in when I got here “days ago”.

I “got my steps in” on this trip – walked a bit more than 13 miles over two days. I got plenty of sleep, too. I wrote. Meditated. Reflected on this-n-that. I read not one word of Proust, and very little of anything else. Though I started reading a couple times, I generally ended up lost in thought, or taking more pictures of the view. I took quite a few pictures – I hope one or two of them are good. 😀

All that’s left is a bit of coffee sipping and waiting on the dawn (I don’t feel inclined to rush home such that driving in the dark is necessary, and I don’t prefer it). So yeah… this adventure wraps up nicely with a few words and this cup of (fairly bad)(instant) coffee. It’s a good moment to begin again.