Archives for posts with tag: the four agreements

I mean, seriously though? I could use a real break. A break from the pandemic, and all the inconveniences, hassles, and stress of it. A break from being on lockdown with the too-often-strained-by-circumstances companionship of my partner. A break from work. A break from housekeeping. A break from well-intended reminders and critical feedback of all kinds. A break from the noise and bother of “the world”. A break from strong emotion – mine, and everyone else’s, too. I’d like a real, proper, restful, wholly recharging, legitimate break, please.

…I am silently “screaming into the void” on this one. It’s not that the need for a restful break from whatever-the-fuck is unreasonable, it’s just that getting that break is entirely on me, myself. To make or find the time? That’s on me. To create the conditions? Again, all on me. To set and manage boundaries considerately and explicitly? Again, that’s mine to do for myself. I am certainly feeling the strain of prolonged fatigue and day-to-day frustrations with pandemic life, and occasionally very poor self-care.

I write a bunch more very specific, petty, cross, bad-tempered, resentful words about small, petty, trivial humans-being-human crap. I delete it. I write a bunch more and delete that too – not because the words hold no truths, but because the truths they appear to hold are filtered through so much baggage and bullshit that the actual worthwhile truths are hidden, and I need a break from that, too. I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I take a minute to look at things differently. I work on taking shit less personally, while also accepting that I have no control over how personally anyone else may take things, and being mindful that our individual experiences as individuals are quite separate, even as we’re “all in this together”. No two human beings ever really see the world quite the same way, and even in the moment, in a shared experience… and in a sense we each walk a very different path. Alone. That’s not a sorrowful thing, it’s just a thing. Maybe I can find my much-needed break somewhere within that understanding of separateness…

…I mean to say, maybe it’s not the circumstances weighing me down so much as my attachment to some element of them? A moment…and outcome… an expectation? Maybe a misplaced assumption? I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I let go of everything that is not this moment, now, me, here. This room. This text editor. This open window and the fence beyond, lit by the morning sunshine. Now.

I breathe, and focus on my breath. I let the slamming and banging of my partner doing housekeeping tasks on the other side of the house recede into the background, and listen to the sounds of rain falling through my headphones. I breathe and make room for gratitude – it’s no small thing to have a partner willing to do housekeeping, and eager to maintain a nice home, and good quality of life together. It’s helpful to have reminders on things I commonly forget or overlook, even though it can be uncomfortable, awkward, or embarrassing to need them. (It’s got to be uncomfortable to provide them, too.) I breathe and let go of baggage I’m lugging around that is to do with work; my last day is tomorrow. I let that go, too. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. I sit comfortably upright in my chair, and let my shoulders relax. The cold fresh air coming in through the open window already smells of spring. I breathe, inhaling deeply. I smile, exhaling my entire breath.

…These spreadsheets won’t update themselves. It’s already time to begin again.

*Moments later, my partner asks me to come take a look at what he’s gotten done. Spotless, beautifully organized kitchen, broad ready-to-go counter space for food prep. I feel appreciated and loved. He appears to have taken note of how I work in the kitchen, when I’m cooking, moving some things from one place to another, better-suited to my needs. I feel heard. I listen while he explains what the changes are, and why, and asks me to help out maintaining it and keeping things tidy. All reasonable. He asks that I explicitly ask for help if I am falling behind on housekeeping I expect to handle myself, and let him actually help me instead of trying to do it all. I suck at that – I want to do “all the things”, and demonstrate that I can… but who I am trying to prove that to? Is that even, ever, realistic? Doesn’t that approach also undermine our partnership by robbing him of the opportunity to work with me, alongside me, cooperatively? Together. It’s different than alone. lol I look around the kitchen again, and thank him for the work he’s done. I head back to the practical matter of work (as in “the job”) feeling very fortunate indeed…

I remind myself that “we don’t grow from comfortable situations”, but it feels hollow. Tears well up, and I grit my teeth and stifle them, frustrated, angry. With myself, mostly. With the circumstances, definitely. There’s too much good fortune in my experience right now for this bullshit, I tell myself, echoing something my partner said to me moments ago, from his own pissed off, frustrated perspective. The feeling of futility I am presently mired in is a painful challenge to overcome. It’s all too human. It’s also baggage, and bullshit, and probably almost entirely self-imposed, if I could get to a clear-headed place to examine it with less visceral emotional involvement.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

My writing stalls. My coffee just sits. There’s no eagerness to embrace the moment. No acceptance from with which to step forward, walk on, and begin again. I exist, presently, as a moment of pain. A living, breathing, emotional wound… but I’m not quite sure what this hurt is truly about, and so don’t know how to comfort myself or heal me. I think about my partner, doing his own best in another room. Cross words exchanged before we could even enjoy our coffee. I’m disappointed with myself for losing control; I know how much damage emotional volatility can do in a single moment. That delicate balance that is feeling the feelings while also holding oneself to a standard of appropriate behavior suitable for all circumstances, that lives my values moment to moment, in spite of whatever emotional storm is blowing in… is hard. It’s a feat that requires steady practice, and it has to matter… and, and this is the hardest bit, the win nearly always comes in spite of someone else’s volatility, turmoil, or provocation. It’s not enough to be steady, calm, and to listen deeply alone in a silent room. It’s about a practice that makes that possible in the face of someone else’s storm of emotion. My results definitely vary. This morning I failed utterly. I’d barely woken up. I honestly don’t even understand how or why everything went sideways so suddenly… nor do I think there is much value in troubleshooting that. It would be a distraction.

…From…? I don’t even know, right now. This headache is complicating my ability to think clearly and reason well.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

I’m annoyed with myself. That’s not helping. I said some ridiculous (and vile) things, and it’s not okay, and at some point, how much does an apology really help? I take a deep breath. The breath “timer” pulses on my desktop out of the corner of my eye. I don’t know how much it really helps. I’m so frustrated with some of the challenges I face each day… I keep expecting at some point any part of this will feel properly routine and effortless, but any amount of study makes it immediately clear that my results may “always” vary – for any practical definition of “always” – and some damage is lasting. Frustrating. (Incremental change over time is a real thing…but some increments are too small to see individually.)

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

I’m struggling to be positive. I look back on my own words – recent, and less so – and there is so much positivity reflected there. So much will. This morning, right now, I just feel… bleak and defeated. I struggle to find meaning. I find myself reliably “missing the point”. The promising morning ahead that I was facing so eagerly has morphed into something less enticing. I’m eager to see darkness return, to go back to bed, to start over tomorrow… on a work day. That saddens me, further, and I feel my hopefulness sort of just trickling away.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

It’s all very dramatic, is it not? Fucking hell. My head aches (partly from crying). “You’re creating this experience,” I remind myself. “Let it go,” I suggest, more helpfully than not (I hope). I feel a bit like a mechanic facing an easily repairable problem… without tools or parts to work with, and too stupid to look behind me to see that the tools are neatly laid out on my bench, with the parts ready to go. I suspect my partner feels a bit more like a parent in a grocery store trying to discreetly deal with a toddler having a screaming tantrum over something they can’t have; their love for their child is undiminished, but fucking hell – right now? Seriously? What a shitty experience all around. I could choose differently… couldn’t I?

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

Damn, I fucking failed hard this morning. My brain reaches for The Four Agreements, because… yeah… this could have gone a lot better, even if the only thing I’d done differently was these four things. For real. Not fancy.

Where this really started, back in 2010, and a moment of gratitude for the love of the man who shared it with me, then, and remains with me, still.

11 years is a long time to work on something without seeing lasting permanent verifiable results that have positive impact. If that were legitimately where I were standing this morning, feeling this despair become futility would make a lot of sense. That’s some real shit. BUT, and this is important (for me to observe and acknowledge, for myself), that’s not where I am standing this morning, at all. I take another deep breath and let it out as a loud sigh. Life is very different now than it was 11 years ago, this morning’s drama doesn’t even show on the same scale. Yes, I’ve still got challenges. Yes, the brain damage creates some headaches (literal and metaphorical) that continue to trouble me (and complicate my relationships). Yes, the PTSD complicates things rather a lot, and I utterly rely on every good health and emotional wellness practice I can master to maintain my balance day-to-day – and my results do still vary. I’m just saying, if you are mired in despair right now, feeling a profound sense of futility and hopelessness… I hope you take away from this reading the following things:

1. You are creating a large part of that experience, yourself, and you can choose to change it.

2. It won’t feel easy or comfortable to make changes, possibly ever.

3. What you practice you do become.

4. When you fail, however horribly, you can begin again.

Yeah, okay, I’ll be honest on that last one – there are no guarantees regarding the outcomes of new beginnings. I can begin again a million times, and likely will – it does not provide me any assurance that my relationships will be unaffected by my chaos and damage, or that every traveler on my path will choose to continue to travel with me. I’ve lost friends. Some I chose to let go, others turned away from me. Relationships come and go. People are human and it’s not fair or reasonable to expect they will endure our bullshit indefinitely, ever. So… the value in practicing the practices that allow me to become the woman I most want to be is in becoming the woman I most want to be. Period. End of goal-setting. Be a better human being, generally. Would I like to live that experience in the company of my current partner? Definitely. Do I have any guarantees? Nope. Not ever. Gotta just let that one go, too. There is a ton of work involved in lasting sustained love, and no guarantee of success. Definitely makes sense to treat each other well along the journey.

I take another breath. I sip my cold coffee. I think about The Four Agreements. When I am “impeccable with my word” I refrain from saying vile upsetting shit when I’m angry, because I’m committed to truth and working to keep my raw emotions separate from the words I say about my experience. That would have been an improvement this morning. When I avoid taking things personally, I am less likely to escalate emotionally when my partner is frustrated with me, or when I am frustrated with him. That would have been super useful this morning. I could certainly use more practice there. When I avoid making assumptions, it opens to door to listening more deeply, and requires me to ask clarifying questions, and leaves room in my awareness to appreciate my partner’s affection for me, in spite of his emotional experience in the moment. It would have been very helpful this morning to have refrained from making assumptions about my partner’s thinking, and to have given him a chance to share it in words. I suppose all these things are true for both of us, really. Good practices often work that way. I’d love to insist I was doing my best, this morning…that is, after all, the fourth agreement referenced in The Four Agreements… but… was I really? Pre-coffee? Less than an hour after waking? I give that a “maybe”, and a very frank admission that it’s quite likely I could have done better by being more willful, more present, and by taking my own bullshit less fucking personally, myself. So… Yeah. I could have done nothing more/better/differently than to have practiced the 4 simple practices outlined in The Four Agreements, and the morning would likely have gone very very differently. Maybe it wouldn’t have… but… did I really give it a chance? I see room for improvement.

…Breathe… Exhale… Relax…

I’m not in this relationship alone. That’s true. We’re in this together – and we’re each also having our own experience. We’ve each got our own personal demons. Our own chaos and damage. Our own trauma to heal. Our own baggage to lug around. Our own intolerable bullshit that we’re both each working individually to resolve or to master. It’s very human. It’s not about fault or blame, though, and it’s not about who is guilty or wrong, or who said what to whom… there’s little value in that. I can’t really work on anyone’s issues but my own, though, so I sit down and reflect on what I can do, what I can change, and how I can be the best version of this particular human being that I happen to be. Love asks us to unpack our own baggage.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

…Begin again.

I’m sipping my Sunday morning coffee in solitude. Best that I do so. I’m in a lot of pain after a long walk on a windy winter beach, yesterday, which, while it provided wonderful time to reflect and listen to my own thoughts, was also physically taxing. I’m definitely glad I wore base layers, too; it was chilly!!

Windy, rainy, cold, and the tide coming in. There’s no stopping the tide.

Things went seriously sideways Friday night, and Saturday’s walk on the beach was moody and bleak. It felt wholly necessary, but there was little joy in the moment. This saddens me, even now. It is, at this point, just something I’m adding to the recollection. I breathe, exhale, and let that go.

…I got some great pictures…

Friday might not have turned into the emotional shitstorm it did if I had been paying more attention… or… if I were altogether someone else, I suppose. My Traveling Partner woke in pain Friday morning, and was in an absolutely foul mood as a result (not unlike where I find myself this morning). He made a point of saying so, and was very kind and careful in our interactions all day, although he was cross and irritable. I finally ended my work day and … the whole delicate considerate assembled-with-care framework crumbled. I’m still sipping my first coffee, right now, this morning, and my brain is not yet entirely “on line”; I struggle to recall specifically what went wrong. Something I said, or my reaction to something he said, and suddenly we were lobbing raw emotions at each other in the form of angry words. I wept. We took turns shouting. We both ended up triggered – and triggering each other – and just fucking mired in our individual pain and heartache. To call it “unpleasant” seems insufficient. To make more of it than that seems simultaneously disrespectful of any underlying legitimate concerns that ought be addressed with love and consideration – but also seems likely to elevate those painful hours to something more important than what they were. Chaos fueled by emotions. Emotions that had less to do with the moments we found ourselves in than other moments, in other relationships, that left us scarred. Both unpleasant and unfair. How is it “unfair”? Isn’t it always unfair to ask love to sweep up the mess left behind by circumstances that had little, if any, actual love in them?

Friday morning became a painting, instead of an argument. 8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas, untitled.

Yesterday was strained and awkward. This morning I woke up in pain, and found myself saying so, much in the same manner that he had on Friday morning. A cold chill rolls up my spine, and my mouth goes dry, and my anxiety spikes over fear that today will be another Friday, and end poorly. I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I do it again. Then another breath. Followed by another. I keep at the breathing until the hinted-at-future-but-not-now feelings of anxiety recede. I definitely don’t need to invite or cultivate that shit.

I sit with my coffee this morning, thinking about my walk, my work, my relationships… I consider how my TBI affects the way I communicate, not just the part where I talk (a lot), or interrupt (too much), but also the part that is the step beyond listening; my ability to make sense of what I am hearing, and to correctly reply to what has actually been said. I do pretty well, generally, but… when I am tired, or in pain, or distracted, I’m not just “less good at that”, I’m pretty horrible – and when I look at that, and also consider the “performance pressure” I tend to feel that pushes me to answer any question very quickly, I see how easily this can go very wrong, leaving someone trying to have a conversation with me feeling perhaps I am not listening at all. It’s rough. It can go a bit like this:

“Did you hear from your friend about that painting?” someone asks.

“No.” I say, “Well, they texted me. I didn’t feel up to talking right then, so I said I would call back today after work,” I add, followed by “They did say they really like the painting, in their message to me.”

(no shit, a real conversation I had)

So… yeah. What the hell?? When I see it written down, I totally get why that would be not just incredibly frustrating to wade through to get a simple “Yes, they liked it.” It also tends to seem potentially … dishonest? Misleading? Manipulative? Crafty? Vague? Withholding? Dissembling? A whole bunch of adjectives could apply. It’s not actually about any of that, though. I started answering the question I was asked before I actually understood the question at all. Along the way, my brain mixed up “hear from” with “speak to” – similar but quite different – and entirely missed the point of the fucking question until I’d provided a bunch of utterly unsolicited other information. So… slow down? Fuck yes. Easy, right? Well… maybe? It’ll take practice. I’ll say very bluntly that I’ve had “reply immediately” literally beaten into me (first marriage was a domestic violence nightmare I’m lucky to have survived). It’s hard to change behaviors that were heavily reinforced with violence or trauma. It takes more work and practice and commitment and awareness and encouragement and kindness and support than I can describe. It can be done. My results vary, though, and every failure is heart-breaking for at least a moment of pure distilled disappointment with myself.

…This isn’t “all about me” though. This particular challenge is very specifically the sort that commonly affects the people interacting with me, most. I’m kind, honest, open, and well-intentioned, but I’ve also got PTSD… and I’ve got brain damage. That’s going to present a combinations of characteristics some people just aren’t going to be willing to deal with long-term. So far my Traveling Partner still chooses to share this complicated journey with me. I’m very fortunate, and very grateful. I know it isn’t easy.

Caution.

So, yesterday, I walked on the beach alone, reflecting on my challenges, my abilities, love, and life, and work, and gave some thought to life’s curriculum on the topics of boundaries, and of communication. I was missing my partner long before I noticed my knees were aching, and headed home when the rain began to fall heavily.

I find myself, now, bringing my thinking “back to basics”: breathing, listening deeply, my “Big 5” relationship values (Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, Openness), and the book my own beloved recommended to me, early in our relationship…

It’s hard to go wrong with good basics…

Yep. I am re-reading The Four Agreements, again. Sometimes beginning again is simply a step forward, with new thinking. Sometimes beginning again means a new commitment to something that is proven to work well, when applied consistently. Now there is a day ahead of me… I see sunshine through the window shade. The aquarium needs maintenance. There is housework to be done. In spite of aching knees, I’d enjoy a walk in the forest, now that the storm damage from the recent ice storm is cleared away. All of that, and Love to nurture besides… looks like a busy day ahead.

…I guess it’s time to begin again…

I slept poorly. I slept very little. I woke to the alarm, set for the latest acceptable time to wake before a work day. I made coffee…

…Pretty much all down hill from there, so far. “It is what it is.” I’m in pain. I’m slowed way down with fatigue. I’m cross… with pretty much the world, and everything in it. I’m easily frustrated. Easily angered.

…Did I mention the crossness?

I sat down to work with zero enthusiasm. It’s a very human experience. I’m glad the week is at its end; I’m over it, for sure.

Nothing much sounds any good right now. No solutions that I could consider seem worth considering. If it were solely my own choice, I’d log into a video game and kill monsters for a while, because honestly, that’s what I want to do more than anything else right now; kill monsters. Monster-slaying being generally discouraged “in real life” (most particularly considering by far the vast majority of the monsters most of us face will be in human form, and that would be murder, which is totally not allowed), video games are the near-at-hand proxy.

…I’ve got work…

Yeah. So. I’m in a shit mood, and I’m in pain, and I’d very much like to be left entirely alone right now. The world intrudes. Every minute I have to interact with another person, right now, is an irritant. I’d just fucking go back to bed, if that were an option. Hell, I don’t even want to be around me, right now. Not fun. Less than my ideal best self, for real, y’all.

Work is work. I remind myself I get paid for being a reasonable facsimile of my most professional “best self” for the purposes of completing the work day (and week). I eye my calendar with distaste. Meetings. With people. I look them over with care. Who am I having to meet with? Can it be rescheduled without consequences that ripple into the weeks ahead? Can the underlying need be met without having a meeting at all? Was I invited to meetings I don’t need to be part of? Are there optional meetings that I can simply opt out of without concern? I reschedule what I can. I opt out of those that I don’t need to be part of or have no obligations to. The day still looks unpleasantly full. I frown at my calendar. I frown at my coffee. I frown at the shade still drawn, obscuring the sky beyond the window.

I sip my cold coffee, and allow work to distract me from being pissed off about having to work “on such a completely shit day” (it isn’t, actually). I take a deep breath with each new interaction with a colleague, making a point of being “pleasantly neutral” as much as I can be, seeking to avoid reactions that become over-reactions. Bad moods can be “contagious”. I’d like to avoid sharing this around.

My head aches with fighting off tears; there is no room on my calendar for crying, today. My back aches from the general nuisances of aging, and my arthritis. My cold coffee is gone. Finished. Consumed. I’d like to have another, but don’t really want to interact with my Traveling Partner. (Yep, I’m in that shitty of a mood, this morning, and disinclined to “make shit worse”.) I’ve forgotten my water bottle, too. So… it’s just me and the work in front of me, in this quiet room, alone.

…Looks like I’ll just have to begin again…

This morning is a good one for reminders to the woman in the mirror.

Still, and again. The very best practices work that way.

I’m inclined to do some re-reading and additional study this week. There are a handful of “maps” in my reading list that seem to lead me along my path very skillfully, and “The Four Agreements” is definitely one of those. The basics are so… basic. Seriously. This morning, I’m resting my practices on #2 “Don’t take anything personally” and numbers 3 & 4 seem wise, as well. Handy. I mean seriously, life, love, and even moments of apparent conflict are not “about me”, probably mostly at all. This morning has felt very much like the sort of morning on which I could so easily take shit personally that isn’t personal, follow that up with a few incorrect assumptions, and end up having a shit day, end-to-end. Not interested.

My sleep was interrupted by restlessness and physical pain. I woke once and stood out on the deck looking at the moon for a few minutes before returning to bed, and to sleep. The nearly full moon shined down on the forest beyond the deck so brightly, I thought there was a flood light on somewhere. lol

Moonlight and solitude in the wee hours.

I spent some moments in the darkness, looking at the stars, and reflecting on my life. Nothing much came of it, other than eventual sleepiness, which was sort of the point in the first place.

I finish my now-cold coffee, and look over the work day ahead of me. I consider how I can be my best self, right now, and also steadily become that woman I want most to be… sometimes it feels like a tall ask. I remind myself to narrow my focus, and be mindful that what others want, need, or expect of me isn’t a firm foundation on which to build my best self. I take a breath, and exhale slowly, and again after that. I rather like (and appreciate) the woman I am, right now, in this moment, on this day. Could I “do more/better”? Quite likely, yes, sure. That’s part of the point, too. I remind myself to be kind in difficult moments – not because it is expected or demanded of me, but rather because it is a quality I value, myself. I remind myself to listen deeply, because I very much want people speaking with me to feel heard – as I want from others, when I am myself speaking. I remind myself to be compassionate, because I value compassion. I remind myself to live up to my word, and to speak gently; there are too many harsh words out there in the world, already. Who I am, myself, is one thing that really is “about me” – and belongs to me, entirely. There are a lot of choices, and verbs, and opportunities to embrace qualities I value, personally, myself – because that is how I see myself. I know my results will vary, and even that isn’t something to take personally. It’s a journey. There are steps, and forward momentum, and incremental change over time. I become what I practice – so clearly, practicing those qualities that matter most to me, is the way forward to becoming the woman (and human being) I most want to be. 🙂

…And, yeah, it’s time to begin again.