I sit here under a Magnolia tree amidst a day of disappointments and what seems like a lot of wasted time. Some days, things just don’t pan out.
It’s a gorgeous day. The pollen has subsided, and we are in that seasonal sweet spot when the humidity is relatively modest and the temps are bearable. There’s a slightly damp breeze, and rain in the not-immediate vicinity. It almost feels like being near the ocean.
Seems like it should be ideal. However, my central nervous system has other ideas. Since I awoke I have vacillated between dreadful lethargy and amped-up overstimulation and anxiety. At times, barely able to keep my eyes open and formulate coherent sentences. This, interspersed with moments of racing heart, blurry vision, cold, clammy hands and a tight chest. Cortisol floods my body for no particular reason, which then leaves me with a searing headache, sore joints and sour stomach. All on such a beautiful day.
Life doesn’t make sense like that. It’s an ongoing vacillation of pleasure and pain. Boredom and excitation. It’s uncomfortable when our bodies don’t respond to those stimuli in expected ways.
Example 1: I get straight A’s in my grad program. My brain and nervous system should reward me for that behavior and I should feel elated. It doesn’t and I don’t.
Example 2: I walk into an atrium with only a few people and no one I even must talk to. My nervous system responds like I’m going into hand-to-hand combat with a Nazi juggernaut and I’m probably going to face certain death.
Uh, hey body…that’s not necessary but thanks for all the adrenaline, I guess.
So, in my constant search for some existential meaning, I’m confounded because the things that cue most people internally are a little bit haywire in me. So, being relatively intelligent, I get to think about everything in great detail while experiencing the world in heightened sensory fashion, and get very little pleasure out of any of it. Hmm…
I can’t cognate my way out of this one. Believe me, I’ve been working diligently on that since I knew I could choose my thoughts.
I’m going to have to figure out how to change my hardwiring…and that’s no small challenge.
It is nothing short of an act of bravery to allow yourself to be seen by another. Whether it is a friendly-confidant, a significant other, or a professional counselor. Allowing yourself to be at that place where you admit to another human being that “things could be going better”.
We don’t get to that place overnight. It’s not an Amazon-style, two day jaunt into the clutches of psychological disaster. No, these things take time to develop. These things take layers of stress, internalization, and pinpricks to our sense of self to get to the point where they emerge into conscious awareness. Often we won’t be the first to notice how dramatically our life is being affected. Sometimes it takes that other to give us a nudge toward seeking to be seen, or heard.
Sometimes, all it takes is that unexpected phone call, or that random insensitive text to push our brains past the point of coping, and into the state of self-protection. Unfortunately, self-protection is often demeaning and unsightly. It is at this point of self-protective, and often self-destructive behavior and thought patterns that people seek some kind of help. Help is good. Help is important.
Seeking help is nothing short of an act of bravery and psychological fortitude. Need help? Get help. It’s not weak.
I’ve begun a new habit when I wake in the morning. I wake and thank. The first thing I do when I rejoin the waking world is begin with a session of gratitude. Big things, little things, silly things. Anything. I focus all of my energies on that which I enjoy and those things I cherish in my existence. The tone that I set for my day is one of positivity, gratitude, and a readiness for more wonderful things to come my way the rest of the day.
Words mean so much.
I’m in a graduate counseling class in which we are learning to lead different types of groups. The experiential component of this course involves us both leading and being a member of a group throughout the term. It has been a wonderful and eye-opening experience. I have learned about myself and about how others approach the world and themselves. The sense of safety and belonging of a trusting group of peers is hard to match.
At the end of class each week, the classmates that were observing the group chime in on what they observed and give feedback. Tonight, and on other occasions, the sweet souls in my class have said such meaningful and kind things about what they observe me doing and saying as a group member and leader.
It has taken over three decades, but I am now able to take a compliment…and actually believe it. I’m also more accepting of constructive criticism. Perhaps it comes from years of tempering my perfectionist tendencies, or from arduous self-work and diligent mindfulness exercises. Whatever the impetus, goodness it feels good to hear the sweet words of another human and accept them–without reservation, without judgement, just acceptance.
I will eternally be indebted to this group of classmates for their kind words, generous disclosure of their feelings, and their shared participation in this journey towards something greater. We are expanding as professionals and individuals, but none of it is done in isolation.
And that my friends is the lesson I have learned. True self-work, for me, cannot be accomplished in isolation. My soul yearns for connection–to be seen, to be heard. Anxiety and self-doubt cannot win.
In my life, I have stumbled upon the inner beast of self-doubt, calling it out of the shadows and exposing it to the examining light of non-judgemental inquiry–and what have I found? That beast I have been careful to avoid is no beast at all, he is a child, he is Me, and he only wants to be seen. Heard. Known. Fear is an illusion, it is only the lack of awareness of the ever-present Love that is available inside, often pushed into the shadows of our subconscious and neglected. Love is a child, and this child is waiting to play.
Buddhism is religion based in action rather than belief. It is practical rather than intellectual, as is reflected in the metaphor the Buddha used of the man shot by an arrow. Humanity is like the man, wounded by an arrow, and the arrow is dukkha. Intellectual pursuits over practical application would be akin to hesitating to withdraw the arrow before you find out what kind of wood it was made out of, who shot the arrow, and at what angle the arrow entered your body. What matters most in that moment is getting medical help—the healing dharma found through meditation, not philosophical speculation.
These past few weeks have seen many long nights. My sleep schedule is…well, isn’t. It’s quite sporadic. And while I know that this has potentially poor outcomes for my health, I keep pressing on. Why? Because it is only for a season. Mrs. Meander and I throw this phrase around a lot in our home. “It’s only for a season.”
It’s worth it. It’s valuable. It’s an experience.
But my saving grace amidst all these changes has been my inner sanctuary. That place I can go to in spite of demands, noise, disturbances. It’s my home. It’s the reason people practice mindfulness. It’s my inner Buddha.
Speaking of Buddha, that was one smart fellow.
Stop chasing things, quit obsessing about outcomes, pay attention.
This world has a bountiful wealth of experiences to be had, but we can prevent ourselves form truly enjoying it all if we allow our run-away minds to taint the simple experience of being.
Just be with the experiences.
To fully experience each moment as it is, withholding (or at least recognizing) the inner critic that wants to make assessments of everything. Observe the voice. It’s just a voice. It’s not really even your true voice. It’s the mind processing, remembering, trying to make meaning. Take control.
It’s worth it, I think.