Archives for posts with tag: the happiness trap

I woke up early. It makes sense. I went to bed early, too. I woke during the night. No surprise there, I often do. There’s no stress over any of that. My head is a jumble of random beginnings of thoughts seeking a narrative in which to play a role. My morning is a strange sequence of broken routines and randomness. I’m not concerned about that, either. Again and again, I pull myself back to this moment, here, now.

I sit down with my coffee, eventually, some two hours after waking (which is only one of many odd random bits of altered behavior that seems without cause or purpose).

The first track on my playlist right now is an old favorite. I want very much to play the bass line; I am not yet sufficiently skilled (and realistically, there is chance I never will be). I can try to play it, and fail. I could do that repeatedly. I could do that repeatedly until I am frustrated to the point of disliking what I am doing, although I am doing it because I enjoy it… a lot of people approaching learning something challenging in just that fashion.

I take another approach, instead of “trying”… I practice. That’s it. My approach to a lot of stuff I’m not good at, don’t yet know, haven’t yet found my way around, through, over, or into, or need to do and don’t quite “get”, yet. I practice. I practice the basic skills that would be required to do the thing. Too complicated? I break those things down further, to more elemental basics, until I can begin assembling simpler behavior or actions (or understandings) into more and more complex combinations, and – if all goes well – have learned to do the thing, have gained a new understanding, have completed some complicated task… whatever it is. Most things seem to work out pretty well this way, although it is not the fastest process by which to achieve success. It’s a bit like… a through hike on an unmarked trail, while all the way along observing what appears to be a freeway almost within reach, on the other side of a fence. I could waste time trying to reach that freeway, or I can walk on.

I still get where I’m going. That’s enough.

It may be an uphill climb, some days. I still practice taking time to enjoy the journey, and to look for beauty.

I enjoyed a strangely intimate and emotionally nurturing yesterday. I hung out with a dear friend of many years. We haven’t made time to hang out in about 4 years, and it was overdue, welcome, and comfortably intimate. She is someone I love, though we’ve never been lovers. We’re at very different places in life, and that has been an interesting characteristic of our friendship all along. She was the friend who said to me, so many years ago, “have you heard of ACT?”. Words that would later prove to be another piece to the puzzle of healing and learning to care for the woman in the mirror, because they would still be lingering in my consciousness on that grim December day when I began checking off my list of things to do before I would end my own life. That last item? Try therapy one more time. Her words were a hint at a new direction; “third wave cognitive behavior therapy”. There are several, some very rigid and formal, others less so.

Have we covered this before? Sure. It’s buried in the details, in much older posts. The eagerness of this new way to experience life, more authentically, with greater self-compassion, erupts in my words post after post after post. Life happens. I write about that too. Now and then I add something to The Reading List; my journey is paved with stepping-stones made of books, and practices, and the words of dear friends.

A current favorite track on my playlist feels timed for the moment. My heart fills with tenderness, and gratitude. I’m glad I stayed. Warm tears splash my glasses, and my shoulders shake with sobbing, and I’m just fucking crying now… I’m not unhappy. I’m relieved. I might have missed this precious moment right now. I might have missed yesterday… the lovely color work I got done on my hair… the phone call with my Traveling Partner later in the day… the conversations with friends. Fuck I am so glad I stayed around awhile longer… My heart aches with a powerful need to say “thank you” or.. “I’m sorry”… or… something.  There are literally no words for this strange strong emotion of thankfulness I feel that I chose to live. I’m okay with that too. I’m not afraid to feel.

Another good morning on which to begin again. I don’t know that I’ve done anything that changes the world, but so much as changed about the woman in the mirror. 🙂

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. 🙂

I am sipping my coffee, listening to the demands of crows beyond the open patio door. The aquarium, behind me here, trickles softly; I almost don’t hear it moment-to-moment, I am so used to the sound of it. The sound of distant traffic is a hushed murmur still farther beyond, and not a disruption of the still morning – although when I am most stressed out the sounds of humanity are more than I can bear, even at a distance. I sift through ideas, and notions, musing contentedly about this-n-that, unconcerned about the passage of time and the still blank page. There is no point hurrying life, really, is there? Eventually the passage of minutes will take me to the edge of some moment that requires action, but that is not now.

“Now” is for hot coffee, birdsong, and words if I find them.

I have lived alone for a bit more than a month. Thinking about the date reminds me that I must pay the rent on my way to work…and that marijuana became legal in Oregon today. I’m not sure which is more directly relevant to me, today; I will spend the day at work, and certainly neither cannabis nor rent factor in that experience. It’ll be nice to come home to a home, though – so rent is clearly important. I’ll be coming home to cannabis as well, inasmuch as it remains the only medication that eases many of my PTSD symptoms, especially if I am in crisis. I don’t write much about it. I’m not sure I know how. I do know it works, and as of today being a consumer of cannabis is just a little bit less stressful in Oregon.

Worth paying for. The sticky note on the inside of my front door this morning says 'don't forget the rent!'

Worth paying for. The sticky note on the inside of my front door this morning says ‘don’t forget the rent!’

This morning I continue to experience a feeling that has been lingering in the background for a couple of days now; I feel a bit ‘over loaded’… or something. Maybe a bit distracted…by something…or something. I’m not sure quite what the feeling is, but I notice that what eases it most is solitude, and stillness. I get the solitude fairly easily by canceling plans and choosing to be alone. The stillness seems a tad more problematic, lately. The world throws distractions at me almost continuously, and I am again facing mindfulness as a beginner – perhaps I always must? No stereo this morning, or yesterday – I love music and dance, but those are not stillness. The last couple evenings I have struggled to choose wisely, often finding myself flipping on a video that I then do not actually watch, instead restlessly doing other things, and half listening to it. Sometimes I sit down to read, and manage a page or two before sleep finds me…or distraction pushes the book beyond reach and I pursue some other activity, but without real focus. I take steps to paint, and find myself hanging paintings instead, or only sketching rather distractedly.

I am frustrated in a small way by my lack of focus, but I don’t view it as any sort of personal failure or character flaw; more likely my broken brain is working on something I can’t quite get at directly, and the overwork in the background of my thinking fractures my conscious direction and intent. The stillness is needful, getting to it requires verbs, and more verbs after that – particularly some verbs that give every appearance of lacking actual action. Meditation. More meditation after I meditate, and perhaps, some more meditation after that. No, I’m not kidding, but I’m also not certain that I quite have the well-developed adult will and discipline to do this simple thing that I need for and from myself. I am a child. I am a beginner. I am unrealized potential. The choice is in front of me and there are most definitely verbs involved. There will be more practice. Everyday practice, every day.

I am not feeling critical of myself, and I am not disappointed with my choices thus far. I am keeping a lovely home for myself, and I have been enjoying cooking for one – and in some cases taking on some rather more complicated recipes that I might have, had I been concerned about the needs or expectations of others. It’s been fun playing house with myself. I tend my beautiful garden, and eat healthy food. I practice good practices and keep good company. I am enjoying my experience – but on another level I have been sort of ‘taking it easy’. There is more ‘work’ to be done sorting out the chaos and damage, and I have been, in a very real sense, taking a break from all that to settle in here, and get a feel for living solo. My recent level of distractibility – and willingness to be distracted – has been an emotional vacation of sorts. This morning I recognize it so clearly, and with the good-natured tolerance of any parent, I am ready to look into the face of the child within and remind her there is work to be done. There will be no shortage of healthy meals, good rest, excellent self-care, and fun – but there is a purpose to choosing this lifestyle that goes beyond contentment, and it is time to get back to work.

"The Shelf" - everything I need for being and becoming.

“The Shelf” – everything I need for being and becoming.

I suspect that my sudden urgent desire to organize the books on my book shelves was fueled, in part, by my recognition that it is time to get back to the demanding work at hand of healing, and nurturing this broken brain, and this fractured soul. The shelf nearest me while I write holds all the most critical [to me] reference material on which I rely for information regarding my brain injury, mindfulness practices, cognition, language, and relationship building (with self and others). No book ‘makes the shelf’ unless it proves itself worthy – otherwise, there is plenty of room on other shelves along the wall. My kindle also has ‘the shelf’; a collection of similarly prized and limited tomes, some of which are duplicated in real books in my library, others which I could not so easily afford to own in any format besides digital. (Some of the science books are quite expensive.) I am ready. I am capable. The trick, of course, is that there is only ever ‘now’ during which I can work on me, effectively. 🙂

The sweet fruit of commitment, will, and action await me.

The sweet fruit of commitment, will, and action await me.

It is a lovely summer. I have everything I truly need (and more). I am safe in my home and free to pursue any endeavor I care to. I have ‘now’, and I have all the words in the world. I have any measure of stillness I am capable of embracing, and sustaining. Today is a very good day to get back to work on this amazing project I call ‘me’.

 

My sleep this past few days hasn’t been great. It’s been restful enough, which is sufficient, but it has been interrupted, each night, with periods of wakefulness of varied length, sometimes resulting in actually getting up, puttering around the house quietly, or writing. Last night I woke, at 2:33 am, and after meditation didn’t return me to dreamland, I got up, had a cup of tea, touched up a couple of the new paintings, and went back to bed. I never really went back to sleep, but found letting my consciousness wander in and out of brief dreams adequately restful. By 4:42 am all I could think about was having a cup of coffee, and got up ahead of the alarm.

The solitude doesn’t cause me any stress. I enjoy it a great deal. My recent camping trip, too, it was the solitude – when I had it – that seemed to meet my needs. On that occasion my usually-at-home partner had expressed concern that I might not enjoy being alone out there in the trees and assured me I could ‘call any time and get picked up’. I remember being quite astonished, and as the conversation continued, it was clear that somehow my partner didn’t ‘know me’ on the matter of solitude – and we’d been living together for some time. She directed my attention to that first month or so we all lived together, and the occasion that she and my traveling partner had gone to San Francisco for a couple of days, shortly before or after New Year’s Day, as I recall.  I had a bad time of things and was mid-freak out, when they called to inquire if I would mind if they came home early – out of boredom.

Moving along past ‘how does someone find boredom in San Francisco?’ to the point I’m actually getting to… We really are each having our own experience. My partner stored the recollection of those events as somehow indicating I had difficulty being alone. My own perspective is very different, because I was there. I desperately needed the comfort of solitude on that occasion. We’d all recently moved in together. All my routines and habits were completely disrupted and I wasn’t sleeping much. My PTSD had flared up partly due to the disruption of the move, partly due to finding out about my TBI – and what a big deal that has actually been all along – and partly due to the heinous gang rape in New Delhi that December that set the media on fire with some unstated competition to report as many rapes as possible, in as much graphic detail as culturally permitted; I could not escape my own history and I was in incredible emotional pain and feeling suicidal despair. As if that weren’t enough, the emotional volatility in the household in general resulted in receiving no emotional support for the state I found myself in, no one to talk to, and lacking any tools to really do anything about it. I was at the breaking point of what limited emotional resilience I had to work with. They went on their trip. I found myself alone ‘at home’ in what was at that time still ‘a strange house’ – everything in disarray from the work of moving two additional adult humans and all their accessories into space fully occupied by one. In the moment they departed, I took a deep cleansing breath and began to relax. It didn’t last. In the next moment, it was clear that I didn’t know how to operate the stereo. Or the video. At the time I didn’t have a laptop of my own, and couldn’t access the household network. My phone wouldn’t connect to the internet over wi-fi, and I couldn’t recall the password. The frustration of not being able to simply turn on some music launched me into a private emotional hell built on the hysteria and pain of a lifetime of chaos and damage, and lit like a bonfire soaked in gasoline with that tiny match of pure frustration, and the shame of being utterly incompetent at 49. I spent the next 24 hours in tears, aside from a couple of hours of fitful napping.  I soon found I didn’t know where much of anything actually was – including most of my own stuff, and didn’t know how to work the alarm system in a house I just moved into. For hours I stalked through the house screaming at myself, crying, storming with frustrated child like rage… because I couldn’t find a pen, to write with. I felt trapped, and frightened.

At that point in my journey, I knew nothing of stillness. I didn’t understand meditation – my only experience with it was intended to increase focus and concentration, not build awareness and mindfulness, and it hadn’t done anything whatever to address the needs of my heart. I had no way to move past my rage. I was trapped. Desperate. Unwilling to reach out for help – because not only did I not know where to turn, I lacked conviction that any help was even possible.

When they arrived home, prematurely, I was relieved.  There was music. There was order. Things could be found. I didn’t understand at the time that my partners – neither of whom has been with me more than a small number of years – didn’t understand what was going on with me. (The weeks that followed developed in a painful way for many reasons. I went from ‘feeling suicidal’ to sitting down and planning things out, and making a list of ‘loose ends’ that needed to be wrapped up ‘before I left’.  Their emotional experiences with me over issues that developed around differences in communication styles and practices resulted in behavior that I try to avoid thinking about these days, it was that damaging and hurtful. I was battling coming to terms with my TBI, and doing so mostly without any help or support beyond a casual occasional brush off intended to reassure me that ‘it doesn’t matter’, and prevented further conversation about a topic that was uncomfortable for them, too.)

What got lost in all that was what was up with me, why, and some really important things about my experience, and who I am. I enjoy solitude. I don’t enjoy frustration. More importantly? I am the sum of all my experiences and choices – not just the ones any one friend or loved one has been around for.  Looking back it is more obvious, at least to me, but as with any small review mirror – I am the only one who sees that view.

Today, as I look ahead into a future that doesn’t yet exist, and enjoy the stillness of a quiet morning of solitude, I gently explore that past hurt in my rear view mirror. Something to share, a matter of perspective, a past moment that so clearly illustrates that however close we are as people, whatever our intimate relationship with each other, however connected we are, our perspective and understanding is filtered through our own experiences, our own choices; we create our view of the world using our own limited understanding of events and people. We don’t just create our own narrative, we create the narrative we use to understand others, too, and sometimes without getting input from the main character of the tale. A poor strategy for compassion, or understanding. The Four Agreements nails this one too, with “Don’t Take Anything Personally” and “Don’t Make Assumptions”.

So basic.

So basic.

Today is a good day to ask caring questions. Today is a good day to be compassionate. Today is a good day to recognize we are each having our own experience. Today is a good day to remember that investing in joy and contentment requires acts of will, and choices. Today is a good day to change the world.

“I don’t want to change who I am!”  An interesting quote that recently got my attention.

Why, yes, I think I shall...

Why, yes, I think I shall…

Really? Don’t want to enjoy new experiences? Don’t want to meet some specific person: a celebrity, an artist, a musician, an intellectual notable in your field of interest, and have a potentially life or perspective changing conversation? Don’t want to live a more contented, happier life? You’ve achieved all you can, met all your goals, gone everywhere, seen everything? You have answered all of life’s questions – or at least those that matter to you? You grok all, and have fulfilled your life’s purpose? You are entirely finished with personal growth because you are exactly and precisely in all respects 100% the person you most want to be, fully aware, and ideally empowered in your experience, confident, and self-assured, secure and content?

This was a big step...

This was a big step…

Everything we do changes ‘who we are’. So… what does someone who says “I don’t want to change who I am!” really mean by that? What do they mean by ‘who I am’? What immutable qualities of self exist that they are so terrified change will cost them their entire identity?

I am a student of life.

I am a student of life.

I’m not being mean, snide, dismissive, flippant, smug, or superior – I am puzzled. I have said those words, although it seems now it was some lifetime ago, in another place, in a very different context, and with a very limited understanding of what ‘self’ may be. I even meant it, at the time, in a wholly sincere way, feeling very threatened that I might somehow sacrifice my existence as a being to make even one more change to ‘my self’, however small.

At this point, that seems a very odd position to take, having finished a year of nearly continuous growth and change, and finding myself – from my own perspective – to be, still, entirely me. lol.

This matters more than I understood when I started.

This matters more than I understood when I started.

What does ‘Who am I?’ mean, as a question, and when I answer that question with a statement of ‘who I am’, what does that ‘mean’ for me, or convey to others? Are the qualities we associate with “I am…” statements actually definitive of who we are as beings? I am learning that when I define myself, I am also placing limits on my choices, and potentially accepting a much more restrictive experience – filled with things and qualities I may reject because I ‘am not’ those. How do I choose which qualities I have or am, and which I lack, or am not? When I set my jaw and insist on being an unchanging self, immutable, inflexible, and unbreakable, without accountability or responsibility for the qualities I accept as defining me – don’t I also stall any chance at growth, progress, and learning in every area of my experience? How would I reconcile such a thing against the obvious existence of change, itself? Or…do we get to dictate how much we are willing to change, on what axis, to what degree of magnitude, and with regard to what characteristics? Is it that easy? We do have a lot of room to ‘customize’ who we are, through our choices. If we can ‘customize’ who we are (and oh, yes, we can)… doesn’t that take away the option of saying “I don’t want to change who I am!” – unless we are indeed exactly and precisely the person we most want to be, in every respect? And if we are that person, (fulfilled, content, satisfied with our sense of self…) and yet our relationships are confrontational, hurtful, contentious, unsatisfying, joyless, or unhappy in a long-term everyday way… are we saying that the responsibility for growth and change rests solely with our partner(s), and that we have no obligation to examine our own nature, choices, and character? That seems a tad lopsided,  and not reciprocal… it also doesn’t sound like something I’d expect to hear from a human being who had achieved all their goals, is precisely the person they most want to be, fulfilled, content, and satisfied with themselves, at all. Are we saying we prefer to exist in problematic, painful, or unsatisfying relationships, because that is preferable to change? Or that if change requires our willful constructive decision-making and action, that we’re just not interested? There is a missing piece here. Like assembling a jigsaw puzzle from which some practical joker removed a handful of unrelated pieces, I find myself frustrated, and unsure that I can ‘complete this picture’ at all easily, but I continue to fuss with it restlessly, needing the satisfaction of solving the puzzle.

There's even science about change, and self...

There’s even science about change, and self…

I write through the lens and filters of my own experience. I’m a student of life, and have my own baggage, my own biases, my own expectations of life, love and the world. Change is. I don’t realistically see a way around that. Fight it or embrace it – we have little control over the existence of change. If my choices and the changes associated with them are so powerful as to be the difference between happy/unhappy, content/discontent, positive/negative, considerate/inconsiderate, or success/failure, and growth/stagnation – why would I ever make willful choices to be unhappy, discontent, negative, stuck, inconsiderate… or any of a very long list of things that suck in life? If I were suffering something that unpleasant, painful, causes me to suffer, feels bad, or takes my experience in an unpleasant direction – and have a choice to do differently, or have a different experience – why would I not make the choices to enjoy my life, more? It’s a question.

...I've come so far...

…I’ve come so far…

I’m still more about questions than answers. This is a lot of words, on a quiet day. Today is a good day to be the change I wish to see, in my self. How else?

It can be as simple as this.

It can be as simple as this.