Archives for posts with tag: there’s a verb involved

Actually, it’s not that bad, I just woke feeling cross. Most likely cause, based on the sort of out of sorts that I am, would be hormones. That seems unreasonable and frustrating from the perspective of being ‘post menopause’…but I just barely claimed that prize, and I know the machinery is still winding down. I made a point to handle things very frankly, as gently as I could, and in clear simple language and a mostly cheerful tone when my traveling partner inquired how I am doing this morning. It actually required considerable effort not to launch emotional weapons of mass distraction, and since the effort was successful, it was also entirely worthwhile. No hard feelings, everyone safe and cared for; I am taking the morning to care for me, quietly.

A quiet bit of writing often puts my head right on the nastiness day…when I have something I feel moved to say, or reflect on, or even simply when some interesting bit of word play is stuck in my recollection from my dreams, or from the prior day’s interactions with others. Today… I don’t feel very inspired, just very cranky. There’s really nothing amiss. I slept well. I woke on time and feeling reasonably comfortable physically. My coffee is hot and tasty. There’s nothing more than the usual things coming up in the work day ahead of me, as far as I know now. It’s a day. A Tuesday, actually. Dinner out, after work, and I’m looking forward to the outing. Still, for now I am rather cross with myself, and potentially inclined to blame the world. It doesn’t seem very fair, and it isn’t very pleasant.

Meditation does help. I still don’t relish company in this state, and I continue to pass the time quietly, keeping to myself without rancor; I enjoy solitude, more than a little, and it is ever so much harder to hurt people I love casually through my irritability when I give myself room to have that experience without forcing it on them, too. I take deep cleansing breaths, do some yoga, too, and flip through pleasant images – beautiful photographs of things, places, flowers… my own pictures. I have no idea why they delight me so, and I find myself wondering what power they hold that such is true, and could I ‘reinstall’ my memory from my photographs, if ever there were a need?

The colors of autumn.

The colors of autumn.

Although it is more challenging to go through the steps when I feel so raw and irritable, I find significant value in the practical exercises from Rick Hanson’sJust One Thing” and “Hardwiring Happiness” this morning. The difficulty is just going through the steps in an open and sincere way, without caving to cynicism, doubt, or letting the irritability that I feel undermine the simple goodness that exists in the world – it so often seems just out of reach when I am cross. There is value in making the effort. Each success, over time, results in improvements in my implicit memory – my default settings are becoming more positive, more content, and I am less prone to volatility. I sometimes find it emotionally painful to consider my prior perspective; the pain and discontent I endured as part of my everyday experience seems pretty horrific now. Noticing now, that I am noticing that, I take time to feel compassion for that hurt creature for a moment, and to accept that she is me, and understand that I’m not there now. No tears, just a moment of compassion, and recognition, even some gratitude for having the strength to go on long enough to find my way somewhere else in life.

Patterns exist. We have choices.

Patterns exist. We have choices.

The irritability begins to recede into the background, and slowly starts to dissipate. There was a time when that alone would seem so significant I’d rush into the world eager to restore contact, and find myself overwhelmed, unprepared, and not in the great shape I thought I was in. I would rush myself, mostly out of some sense of obligation to others. This morning, I take time to enjoy the improvement, without hurrying to the next thing, recognizing that I’m still dealing with the challenges, and being patient with myself. It’s a nice change to take care of me. It’s seems somewhat amusing that the irritability got my undivided attention so readily. As it recedes, I notice the headache and the nausea that seemed so unremarkable when I woke. This makes day 5 of something vaguely like morning sickness…and another reason I feel fairly certain the morning’s crankiness is likely due to hormones. The machinery is winding down. Sometimes that seems sad, this morning it simply is.

Today is a good day to take care of me with the same loving kindness and compassion I would show a partner, or lover, or friend – or human being. Today is a good day to accept my very best treatment from me – and from anyone else treating me well. Today is a good day to make a clear distinction between how I feel in the moment, and the actions I choose to take. Today is a good day to invest in a genuine smile, because smiling even feels good. Today is a good day to change the world.

Overtime, what we practice regularly – whatever it is – becomes what we tend to do by default. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”  I first read that observation, myself, in Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson. It was one of those ‘light bulb moments’ for me, reading those words. A lot of things fell into place with reading those words, in that order, presented in the context of that book, at that time in my life, and I’ve held on to it through numerous small ups and downs, transitions, and changes. Very few things are easy or ‘over night’ or ‘like flipping a switch’ with regard to changing habits, programming, or long-standing behavior that once coped well for…something. I keep at it. Sometimes I feel discouraged, or fatigued, or frustrated. I experience doubt. I keep coming back to this idea that the neural plasticity that is such a big part of what makes me the adaptable being I am can be harnessed by will to make changes I want, not just changes along the way.

Reading the books does not create change. It is our actions that change us, even the action of thinking differently.

Reading the books does not create change. It is our actions that change us, even the action of thinking differently.

Some very worthy words.

Some very worthy words.

I continue to practice the things I learn that ‘work’, and by ‘work’ I mean that they are practices that improve my everyday experience of life, result in improved emotional resilience, perspective, and a high level of general contentment, and tend in general to improve what can be improved and don’t do any damage to me as a being or an organism. It does take practice, though. Practice is just what it sounds like, too; a verb. A repeated, continuing application of specific actions, at regular intervals, made with effort, and will, and continued in a deliberate way in spite of obstacles – a verb. Or several. The exercises in Just One Thing are more practical, and there’s less science. I keep practicing. Picking up Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, over the weekend, and finally taking a look inside was a really first-rate choice. Within the first page or two I had already highlighted some eye-opening paragraphs and turns of phrase that framed up reliably positive next steps in a powerful way.

“The brain is the organ that learns, so it is designed to be changed by your experiences.”

Or how about…

“Connected by the neural equivalent of a four-lane superhighway, your activated amygdala commanded your hippocampus to prioritize this stressful experience for storage, even marking new baby neurons to be, in effect, forever fearful. Vicious Circles Over time, negative experiences make the amygdala even more sensitive to the negative. This snowballing effect occurs because the cortisol that the amygdala signals the hypothalamus to call for enters the bloodstream and flows into your brain, where it stimulates and strengthens the amygdala. Now the alarm bell of your brain rings more easily and more loudly. Making matters worse, even after the danger has passed or turns out to be a false alarm, it takes many minutes to metabolize cortisol out of your body. For example, you may have had a close call while driving and still felt revved up and shaken twenty minutes later.”

Another important observation that got my attention, specifically regarding how PTSD ‘works’

“Implicit memory includes “procedural knowledge,” which is how to do things, from riding that bicycle to navigating a delicate conversation with a friend. It also contains your assumptions and expectations, emotional residues of lived experience, models of relationships, values and inclinations, and the whole inner atmosphere of your mind. It’s like a vast storehouse holding most of your inner strengths as well as most of your feelings of inadequacy, unfulfilled longings, defensiveness, and old pain. What gets put into this storehouse is the foundation of how you feel and function. Its contents usually have much more impact on your life than the contents of your explicit memory.”

I’m not finished with this one, yet. I’ll definitely read it a couple of times, and I’m already practicing many of the simple practices it outlines. Some were so obvious the first time they were described I couldn’t believe it hadn’t just occurred to me…to everyone…like the simple enough idea that lingering mindfully in a pleasant moment, really enjoying that experience with awareness and not rushing through to the next thing, makes the positive experience more important in our own recollection, giving it greater weight in who we are and how we experience our life. Powerful. It seems pretty obvious after thinking it over, that the content of our mind and thoughts will color how we experience everything. (Right? Sure. Of course.) How is it I didn’t take the next step without help and understand that focusing on trauma, on negativity, on the chaos and damage, to the point of making it the focus of my consciousness…makes it the focus of my consciousness. O_0 Well, okay, that actually seems easy enough to do something with… so, I have been. I’ve been taking time to really enjoy the small pleasant moments in life with real awareness and appreciation, for many seconds, even minutes, and letting the delights of my life seep into all the moments I have. It’s been, predictably enough, as obvious a success as the ideas seemed obvious themselves.

How did this turn into a book report? It wasn’t intended to be. These are books that have made a real difference for me, though, bringing light to the darkness, and showing me some better ways of being. That’s a pretty big deal at 51, and looking back on some of what I have endured. Sharing it may be useful for someone else…although, perhaps if I’d been ready sooner, I’d have found my way here one way or another…

Today is a good day to make an effort to be who I most want to be. Today is a good effort to smile and share the journey. Today is a good day to change the world from within. Today is a good day.

I slept poorly. I woke several times, restless and fearful, then later, angry. I struggled with nightmares. I felt too hot, sometimes, others too cold. I woke at 3:20 am, utterly awake, with ancient rage riding shotgun, feeling raw and emotionally volatile. I fussed restlessly through seemingly endless minutes of ‘trying’ to meditate. It didn’t feel effective, or worthwhile, and I gave up when my frustration with myself began to exceed the intensity of the emotions I woke with. I’ve come far enough along this path to recognize, and accept, that I might have a better experience, sooner, were I to choose to commit to the moment, and allow myself to begin to calm, truly, through meditation. There’s a verb there. I know it.

I’m not exactly best friends with my anger. Hell, I don’t think Anger and I can even have a civil discussion over coffee, just yet. My head aches from resisting it. My Anger launches a salvo of nerd quotes relevant to futility at me, from within. Oh yeah. Thanks, Brain. I wasn’t amused by “Resistance is Futile”, and frankly the material just got stale from there. This is a challenging emotional precipice for me. Teetering between the potential for unexpected rage, and unexpected tears…just waiting for someone to come along and flip that coin.

Did I mention the headache?

Which comes first, the drama or the fucked up sleep? Does it matter? One pushes the other, turn them around and the effect is quite the same; one pushing the other. Bitter damaged angry bits of self fight for a voice. Humor and cynicism occasionally pull into the lead with some comic relief. Take every tortured Super Hero, ever, portrayed as screaming, twisted, going through some powerful change… this morning it feels like that on the inside; some ferocious moment of tremendous growth and progress, imminent, painful, resisted…only to see the Hero, in the end, yield to their true nature. God damn it, when do I yield? When do I declare myself victorious in the face of my vanquished demons? When is ‘enough’? Who am I, and am I worthy?

Where the hell do all these tears come from?

I was not going to write this morning. I finished a favorite book… it was still brutally early when I had. I tried writing a tender email to the partner I lean on most for emotional support…words upon words, so many… when I found myself observing, in text, that the words themselves seemed ineffective, superfluous, and not actually helpful, I tried again. I eventually just scrapped the attempt. What would be the point? Communication? Of what? With what goal? I ‘officially let it go’…but here I am. Struggling with myself before dawn.

Let’s look at this again… I woke early, from a restless uncomfortable night. I have the luxury of spending much of that time in meditation, and some of it reading for pleasure. It’s quiet time, invested in me. My latte is exceptional this morning, and aside from the headache, my body feels pretty okay today – not much pain. I have a high-speed internet connection, and a warm secure place to live. My family is safe at home, sleeping, and the world (near by) is quiet. I have time and space to write, and the respect of my partners who know that I need it.

“Gratitude is the opposite of Anger.” Timber Hawkeye (among others)

I’m grateful the winter snow has mostly melted away, although the beauty of it was also quite wonderful. I’m grateful to have good coffee in the morning, and hot running water. I’m grateful that I can count on the good company of friends, and that I have a job I love. I’m grateful for so many opportunities to grow, and become the woman I most want to be. I’m grateful that I can recognize choice, and opportunities. I’m grateful for language, both spoken and written. I’m grateful for Love, and that wonderful quality it has to overlook bullshit.

I’m tired. It was a challenging, distressful night. This headache hasn’t let up, yet, but it likely will. For now, I’ve gotten past the anger I woke with, and that feels very good – and I still have time to settle down and meditate. The day is just beginning, and I yield to the moment, and all the possibilities it holds.

One small crocus getting a head start on spring.

One small crocus getting a head start on spring.

Strange, beautiful, wonderful day; sights and tastes and conversations with strangers, and after all of it, I find myself at home, secure and comfortable, safe from the world – and from myself, which is a new thing to explore.

It’s been building for a couple of days, this strange juxtaposition of new learning and new experiences, this willingness to let go and allow life to unfold, fearlessly. I am unconcerned with whether it ‘is real’ or if it will last longer than now. It’s now. I am here, in this precious lovely moment, after this delightful day, and it feels so effortless to contemplate the quiet of evening ahead. This is nice. I hope to repeat it (the feeling, in general, I mean – the moment has been enough on its own, and unrepeatable).

Today I awoke at an odd time, later than usual, but ahead of the alarm – itself set for an out of the ordinary time of morning. My routine was in tatters before I ever woke, and knowing that when I descended into sleep the night before, I woke unconcerned about it.  I made two lattes, and enjoyed a morning of intimate, gentle conversation with a partner already awake for the day, and left with a smile near to the time I needed to, imprecise and free from chronological bondage, to catch the train to an appointment. A hair cut, and a manicure later, I headed for my last errand, thoroughly enjoying the day and feeling very pampered.

Today the world felt filled with possibilities.

Today the world felt filled with possibilities.

What made today so rare, so extraordinary? Well, for one thing, the sun shined like …well… something brilliant and without adequate words. I enjoyed all manner of odd experiences along the path of my day-that-routine-forgot. My morning was unscripted. My haircut is different – on a whim. I got my nails done somewhere I’d never been. I had a bite of breakfast at an odd little stand-up cafe wedged among the food carts; it was very early and I munched my breakfast sandwich standing alongside a small throng of ‘the unwashed masses’ panhandling for a shot at a sandwich. It was a very good sandwich, and the conversation wasn’t bad, either.   I had a maple cinnamon latte at a cafe obviously frequented by artists – I’d never been there, but the conversations swirling around me in the background were a giveaway. Later, as I headed home, I saw a SuperHero cross the street, quite properly, at the cross walk and head into a small pharmacy. I wasn’t surprised, which did surprise me. A block or two along the way, I spotted another, then another SuperHero – tights, spandex, cape, all of it.  I don’t always think to question the extraordinary. This was definitely one of those times. It was many miles and minutes later before I thought to wonder – SuperHeroes? Why were there SuperHeroes?

I was offered an earnest moment of self-awareness and perspective, along with the fun of the day.  To reach my last destination, I walked across the Burnside bridge.

The least interesting view of the Burnside bridge.

The least interesting view of the Burnside bridge.

To do so, I had to carefully make my way through huddled groups, tribes, clans, of homeless people finding what comfort they can, where they are permitted to do so. Years ago, I’d have felt invisible passing between and around them, camouflaged by my own indifference to their privation, and mine. More recently, I might have averted my eyes, instead, hoping to avoid interaction, and allow what little dignity I had to offer through my lack of observation. Today I felt humbled; aware that I’d just had my hair and nails done, a recent shower in a safe and secure home of my own, an exceptional cup of coffee and a nutritious breakfast, and very aware of what a privilege that actually is.

Not generally SuperHeroes, but mathematically likely they may be, sometimes.

Not generally SuperHeroes, but mathematically likely they may be, sometimes.

On the train home, I continued my reading (Buddha’s Brain). The books about mindfulness are piling up. Some take a practical perspective. Some take a poetic tone. Some are quite spiritual, but striving to distance themselves from religion. Others are about the science. I am still a student, of life, of love – of mindfulness. I still have PTSD. I am still a survivor of trauma, and of a brain injury. I’m still headed for menopause.  While those things are parts of my experience I’m willing to identify as ‘facts’, I am also no longer utterly dominated by them. I’m learning. I’m studying. Bit by bit, I seem to be gaining on real wellness and balance. I hope I never find myself taking them for granted when I have them – and it does look like ‘when’ now, more than ‘if’. I wish I could share it. It’s all in print, in every one of these books. Each book telling the tale in a slightly different way, with different words, and different authors of different traditions and styles of communication. It’s all there, though. Mindfulness. Meditation. Practice.

Practice.

Practice.

Practice.

It’s not about ‘practice makes perfect’. There is no perfect. No need of perfect. There is only practice. A bit at a time I am catching on to the idea that the journey itself is the thing to attend to.

Along the way, more practice.

Along the way, more practice.

Today, I face the world with a beginner’s mind. Today I am compassionate. Today I am tender. Today I am changing the world.  Here it comes.