Let’s say you had an arm that you couldn’t control.
This out of control arm of yours is flailing around, impervious to all attempts to control it. The arm has a mind of it’s own as it makes messes and in general creates complexity in everything you do.
This arm of yours, is a real pain in the ass.
It’s hard to even drink a cup of coffee and enjoy it with this arm that jumps around at odd times and in unpredictable ways. If you know me, you know that if I am in a condition that would prevent me from injecting coffee that is a serious issue. My blood type is French Roast.
You would seek help for that wouldn’t you? You would go to whatever doctor, physical therapist or neurologist you could to get this fixed. How can you possibly even know which end is up as you clumsily try to manage daily living with this out of control appendage?
Undoubtedly there would exercises prescribed to you that would need to be done to manage this condition.
It would take work to manage this chronic condition so you could live with any kind of quality.
Makes ya wonder…
Why don’t we do these kinds of exercises for our brains?
Some of us do. I do and it vastly improved every aspect of my life, and maybe it will for you too. I offer this humble and poorly edited essay in the hopes that some of you who are kind enough to think my blog deserves attention may find it useful.
Without it, I never would have been able to unpeel decades of junk that I allowed my out of control monkey mind to heap upon me and make me lose track of my true, authentic self. Without this I would not have been able to throw off the external factors that created needless barriers between my own authenticity and the universe. I know so many people are suffering and don’t even know it, and until you can be kind to yourself, how can you possibly be as kind to others as our humanity desires us to be.
First a little story:
About 25 years or so ago, I was floundering in life. I had failed out of school. Underemployed. Directionless. Severely unhappy and self medicating by abusing alcohol. Making life mistake after life mistake. I hadn’t the first clue how to be an adult. ( I could write for days about why this was the case, I did do the work required to get my head around it but it’s not helpful to this story) I was self aware enough to know, that I was nowhere. But I made do , I internalized my struggles, I ignored my own true needs in favor of satisfying short term goals, ease and fun. I was having a hell of a time, but I was not my authentic me.
One day I was driving across town on a highway that cuts right through the city when I felt a severe shortness of breath. I felt dizzy. All my limbs ached. I had trouble seeing.
Thankfully I had the presence of mind to get off the highway and pull over someplace downtown. I got out of the car and was literally looking for a place to lie down and die. After a few minutes, but it seemed like an eternity at that time, it all cleared up. I was not having a heart attack. I was not going to die.
Turns out I was having a panic attack.
There would be others, some severe, some not so much, but each terrifying, because with each, until I realized I was having a panic attack, I was sure I was taking my last breaths.
A few years went by and took some self inventory. (I could bore you with that but you would have to buy me ice cream first.)
I wasn’t living, I was existing.
I wasn’t participating in life, I was just walking through it.
There was a period when I believed at the young age of 30 I had wasted my life and spent a year indulging in more alcohol abuse and more self loathing. I branded myself a loser (hint, there is no such thing) and was resigned to low wage employment to merely get by.
Ignoring every other interest and talent that had been bestowed upon me by the universe.
Then one day I realized I was nowhere.
I was lost.
I needed to get back to living and there was no time to waste.
I stopped drinking. I don’t know if I am an alcoholic and I don’t care really, the conclusion was the same.
I didn’t go to AA. I didn’t check into some rehab. I don’t have a sponsor.
I simply put it down, I was done with it and I haven’t been back for it in over twenty years and have no desire to do so.
Drinking was getting in the way of my being me. The authentic me. It was keeping me from observing myself and observing the world. I never went back.
Did I have a drinking problem? Sure. But more so, the drinking problem got in the way of my being able to fix the root cause of so many of my problems. I had a thinking problem.
Let me make a quick aside here. I am not, by any means, advocating for people to not drink. That is not my call, and I don’t judge. When I am out I am happy to be with you if you like to have a drink. I am happy to buy you one. I am happy to buy you a few! I am only saying I choose not to. Judgement is not my thing. I am only an expert at my own story.
I also decided that I was not going to beat myself up anymore about past failures, be they real or perceived. That was a huge decision and not one that came easily. I felt like I had wasted a decade, it’s hard to stop beating ourselves up, we are our own worst enemies. Forgiveness takes courage. For me it was harder to forgive myself than it was to stop drinking.
The choice to quit drinking, which was self destructive for me, allowed the clarity to see that not allowing myself to forgive, was also self destructive. Had I not made both choices I fully believe I would be dead by now.
The next step was to fix the thinking problem.
The mind is always at war with the person. When I say to myself “I am going to the gym after work” the first thing my mind does is try to roadblock me from doing it. This is clearly madness. The Y I go to is one mile up a hill from me. It couldn’t be closer right? But my mind will fight me with negativity, with worry about what else I SHOULD be doing besides taking care of me, followed by rationalizing not going at all. This internal conflict can be deafeaning.
The human mind is constantly flailing and acting up, much like that crazy arm and who can blame it? Everywhere we go we are bombarded with information and messages. Our phones are beeping with alerts, our highways have digital billboards with rotating messages. Our TVs have hundreds of choices. I personally have two e-mail accounts. Our brains get so much STUFF inputted to them it’s no wonder they go crazy like that flailing arm.
Lucky for us we have the tools to control our out of control brains and the tools don’t cost a cent.
For me, the only tool that allowed me to see the world clearly and allowed me to replace destructive goals with goals of relentless kindness, relentless positivity and relentless love, is meditation. Since I have started my daily meditation practice I have not had a single panic attack. Not one.
I learned my practice fittingly enough, from a yoga instructor I am grateful to have met, and he was nice enough to give me a simple print out to use as a reminder on the basics of this practice and I share it here with you, below. Consider the steps a simple framework. As your own practice takes fight you will find nuances that serve you, and that is beautiful.
Some things to keep in mind:
- There is no wrong way to do this. You can’t get it wrong.
- You will find it more effective, the more often you do it and with longer duration. I find there is a sweet spot after about 40 minutes or so.
- It is impossible to “clear your mind” that is not the work you are doing. The work is controlling your mind and going back to the breathing focus.
- Meditation is not passive, it is an active exercise.
- The method I describe here is not the only way, you may find a way that works better for you.
Dan Harris, The host of ABC’s Nightline, tells a similar story about his path to mindfulness in his book 10% Happier – How I Tamed The Voice In My Head and Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge. The book is a good one, and speaks of a path to meditation and wellness that resonates with my own path, and I’m glad Mr Harris found peace without losing his “edge” but for me, I don’t want, nor do I need an “edge” and if I cast off a need for such edginess, can I achieve more than his 10%? I already have and it was astonishingly easy. Let all that negativity go. I wanted to stand with arms wide open to the world, not all wrapped up.
Science(remember when we had science in this country?) even confirms the benefit of meditation’s ability to literally rewire ones brain.
Children come to us full of positivity and discovery by default. Open to all. No prejudices, looking for joy, creating laughter and happiness. How do we get so messed up when our default setting is joy? I’m not saying we have to give up our experience, our heartbreak, but to learn to manage it and not let it weigh upon us is a gift, but it takes some work.
If you get half the benefit out of this rambling essay, that I got out of making these changes and cementing them to be a genuine way of life, you will know what I learned. Relentless kindness, relentless positivity and relentless love, it’s all attainable, we can be as happy as our children, if we just get out of our own way.
Below is the meditation primer the yogi gave me. I hope you find it helpful .
I firmly believe we in this county we are in the midst of a positivity revolution. I will write about that later on, but without an awakening to my authentic self, I never would have been able to see it. I share all this personal stuff with you in the hope that in your journey you can be conscious of it too. Positivity and joy are within our control, we can choose them, and its so easy to do so when we take out the junk that our mind collects. The self criticism, the anger, the regret. Focus on the now. Be here now, be only here now and be happy now. Deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.
Because of all these things I am a far different person than I was 25 years ago. I am grateful I had people to push me in the right directions. This path is so easy even I could do it.
- Quietest room you can find.
- Free of distration.
- Silence phones, heaters, blowers, ticking clocks. Remove as much ambient noise as you can.
- Use a silent timer. (I use Insight Timer from the Apple App Store)
- Straight spine, chin tucked.
- Relax face, jaw, tongue. Relax any unneeded muscle tension anywhere.
- Rest hands in lap. Breathe through your nose.
- Eyes half open/half closed. If eyes close sleeping and dreaming occur.
- Gaze, don’t stare, at point on the floor, wall, candle or flower.
- Focus all attention on your belly where breath moves in and out. Notice the belly rising and falling.
- Notice the breath moving in and out through the nose.
- All effort is directed at remaining as still as possible. No fidgeting.
- The more still the body, the more still the mind.
- Feel yourself sink, and settle into the chair, or however you have sat yourself.
Breath Counting ~
- Begin the sound of “one….” silently in your mind with the inhale.
- Continue sound of “one….” throughout entire inhale and exhale.
- Draw the sound of “one….” out: “Wooooooooooonnnnnneeeeee….” for the length of the breath.
- Same with “two….” (“Twooooooooooooooooo….”) up through “five”.
- Return to “one…”
- Notice the subtle pint where inhale becomes exhale.
- Notice the natural pause at the end of the exhale. Occupy this empty moment with no thought.
- Feel breath moving in and out of nostrils. Hear the sound of breath.
- Imagine the breath as a slowly revolving wheel, or an undulating wave.
- When the count is lost to thought, gently return to “one….” without judging yourself.
- Return as often as needed. Never judge performance.
- On difficult day you may only be able to get through “one….” over and over.
- Notice thought. Return to breath counting.
- Notice Daydreaming. Return to breath counting.
- Notice fantasy, worry, memories, planning, rehearsing. Return to breath counting.
- Do not attach to thoughts. (“I’ll think that later. I’m here, now, for non-thinking”)
- Allow thought to pass, like clouds in the sky.
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