Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: mental health

No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners: New Read

How do I even begin to tell you, to explain what goes on in my head? You’ll think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. It’s true. I have a very hard time remembering things. How does that relate to the book No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners? You’ll see.

no-nonsense buddhism for beginners

I write things down a lot, lists of things I need to do, people I need to talk to. I make lists in retrospect as well, so that tomorrow I can look back and remember that I did that thing. I take screen shots of conversations and save them so that I don’t forget that someone loves me deeply. Playing cards with me is easy. You don’t ever need to worry about me seeing your cards. The moment I can’t see them anymore, I forget. Playing pinochle with my family was always hilarious because I have to put all my focus on remembering how many cards have been played. But that’s not really a big deal, right?

I know I’ve probably brought this up before but, there is a lot that I don’t remember about the books I’ve read shortly after I put them back on the shelf. I know I did read them because I wrote in the book. And there are some books that have stuck with me. I’ve read that I’m not alone there. Most people, when asked if they’ve read a certain book, can tell you yes or no, but then not be able to give the details about it. They just remember that they liked it or not. One of the reasons I write here is to put conscious effort into putting my thoughts in order and then keeping them to look back on. I remember more of what I talk about and/or explain than what I read.

What does that have to do with No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners?

I’ve been listening to Noah Rasheta’s podcast, Secular Buddhism, for several months. I like what he has to say. I feel like he explains the concepts in ways that are useful to me. But, in day-to-day interaction, I forget what I meant to remember. I keep trying to rewire the way I react to the world, remember that everything is connected, to take a breath and respond instead of reacting, to listen and watch the world around me, but I fail more often than not. It’s frustrating.

I bought his book because I thought having a physical book to flip through every day, instead of just listening once a week, would help cement the concepts into my mind so that I can use them. My goal is to read through it all once, and then go back and re-read each piece once a day, like a meditation practice.

Buddhist principles have helped my mental health tremendously this past year. I wish I had found it earlier in my life. It may have saved me a lot of heartache. This line is what keeps me on the path, “To be enlightened is to be liberated from our habitual reactivity, freed from our perceptions and ideas in order to see reality as it is without wanting it to be different.” That’s it! That’s what I want.

I’m a highly habitual person. I build up habits to keep order in my mind and make the world around me safe. Sometimes the habits aren’t helpful. I try to reassess my habits on a regular basis. I sit down with my notebook and write out my day, the things I do, and ask myself, “Is this serving me?” That’s easy to do with things like housework, exercise, and learning. But emotional habits are a whole other ballgame. Those are well engrained, and I’ve had a rough time changing them, no matter how badly I want to.

It’s like learning new eating habits. I start a new diet, get into it, really feel like I’m getting somewhere, and then BAM, a bad day, a party, a holiday, and I’m right back on the track of a poor diet filled with empty calories, loads of carbs, and plenty of alcohol. My body thanks me by feeling terrible, which makes me crave more “comfort” food, and I spiral down into “you suck” mode.

I have some pretty piss-poor relational habits that need to be resolved if I’m going to live well the next forty years. I’m trying so hard to change those habits in positive ways, but I keep forgetting the damn principles. Just like the game, when the cards are hidden from view, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I need reminders.

A few weeks ago, I was getting gas in town and across the island I saw a guy with a Buddhist mala prayer bead bracelet on. A light went on. The prayer beads are a reminder, each bead connects to the other to make a whole, just like we each connect to each other. They can also be a focus, moving along the chain and taking a breath, saying a mantra, or thinking a name, until you come back to the beginning.

Today, I ordered a set of wooden prayer beads. I’m hoping they’ll serve as a physical reminder that I’m changing. When I see them, I’ll remember my meditation, and (hopefully) pause to think a bit.

I’m about halfway through No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners already. I think keeping it close-by and ready for me to meditate on a page or two will help me build up these new habits. I’ll keep the beads with me as well and maybe, over time, my brain will connect the peace of what I read, my mediation, and the beads will serve to bring me back when I start to get lost.

I’ve written about my Buddhism journey many times before. Check out Zen Blogging: Writing to Learn? It’s one of my favorites. It’s also one that I have recently went back to and thought, “Wait…what? I’ve had this thought before?!” …sigh…

Mental Minimalism: Taking a Break

I went into my morning routine with a crummy attitude, set myself up for failure, and the surprisingly…I failed. Took a long shower, ate something tasty, had another cup of coffee, laughed with my husband, read an article. Had a thought…mental minimalism.

My original goal earlier this month was to sit here quietly every day for one hour, uninterrupted by the phone, and write anything that came to mind. If nothing came, I would just sit there with my laptop open to a blank page and stare out the window until the timer was up. Within a couple days though, that simple goal morphed into writing brilliance and posting on my blog every day as well. It didn’t feel good.

This morning, once I was interrupted by my company at the house and a text (because I forgot to turn my phone off), I lost my strong stride and got frustrated. Over the past couple of days, I had already begun to question what I was doing. This morning only confirmed my suspicions. This wasn’t going to be sustainable.

I need to rethink, refocus, and gain some perspective. Meditate on it a while and see if I can get a better picture of what the point of this blog is. What am I trying to do here? What am I offering to you? If I’m only writing for myself, why publish it at all? What if I really don’t have anything significant to add to the conversation in the world?

So many posts each week seem to just clutter up the place. In fact, this blog looks a lot like my mind if you could open it up and see all the rooms inside. My brain is like an open floorplan office space. Everyone loudly working on their own stuff, no boundaries, no privacy, no quiet time. Meetings in the middle, writers on one side, painters over there, and a construction crew adding on a balcony, all while someone else tries to make phone call in a corner. It’s a mess. Nothing gets done.

It’s time to do some decluttering and put what’s left in order, a little mental minimalism.

Today is my last day with a house full of people. I’m going to put away the writing and enjoy that moment. Tomorrow I’ll be driving to LA, then the weekend to rest a bit and think, and then a week with my mom. I won’t be posting here, but I’ll be back, and with some new floor plans for this metal office space.

“Always on the move.”

Self-Inflicted Stress Ramble

Prepare yourself for a self-inflicted stress ramble of a mildly epic proportion. Can you have something be “mildly epic?” Seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

Self-Inflicted Stress Visual Representation
A Drawing of My Mind

Stressing out. Too many things to do. Too many plans. Not enough time. Down time needs to be included. I can’t simply keep running from one thing to the next. Books to read, posts to write, housework to do. Grocery store, visit friends, hiking, shopping, hanging out. Cooking, talking, texts, articles to read. Yard work and laundry. TV shows. Sleep.

I have notes from my last three drives that I’d love to talk about. I’m thinking about a shift in my blog subjects. Reading a lot less. That is stress too, but I read to connect and hear other people’s stories when I’m alone. Jake is home. I want to focus there, while the real person is here. I know my time is short.

Mental health. Fun and interesting new discoveries I’ve made through a podcast and some Instagram posts, which I know are not real therapy. I need time to sit and process.

Looking at my week. Is posting daily an impossible task? I’m not sure where I’m going, what I’m going to do next. Do I need a plan? Or should I just go back to more journal like thoughts? SEO has hijacked my thinking and blocking my process.

More books on my TBR shelf. Ones I need to read, ones I think will help.

Phone calls, dishes, repairs to make. Craft projects and room rearranging. Road trips planned. Time away from home.

Time. There isn’t enough.

I’m looking for a meditation workbook/journal, one that will help me focus on self-love, a little help in the self-acceptance, letting go of expectations, and kind of thing to work on as a new piece of my morning routine. Any ideas?

I know it’s self-inflicted stress. I have no external authority or task masters. Something has to give and I have to choose it.

I’ll be back here. I promise. See you Monday.

Join Me in my Adventure to Wallow in Some Self Pity!

I think treating self pity as just another emotion to jump in and swim around in a while is a practice of good self care. Come on! It’ll be fun. Really!

Self pity medicine. Otter Pops for grown ups: Cosmopolitan Vodka Martini
These usually cheer me up on a warm afternoon!

“I had every intention of writing this morning, I swear, but here I am again with nothing to say. That’s a lie. I do have things to say, plenty of them. I’m just not sure how or, more importantly, why I should say them.”

Me this morning

Yeah, I’m pretty far out in the deep end these days. I just can’t seem to get a grip on it. I’m going to stick with the swimming pool analogy for a moment.

Emotions are like swimming pools. I have several and some of them have very deep ends, so deep you can have a good, high diving board. My pools have nice steps to get out at the shallow end, and some have ladders to climb out at the deep end. Some. There’s the trouble.

Some of those deeper pools are hard to get out of. You have to want to and have the strength to get out on your own or have a friend available to lend a hand. At the moment, I have none of those things, so I’ve decided to float a bit instead of struggle to tread water. I’m conserving my energy until I find a solution.

Besides, I kinda like here right now.

Yes, I’m well aware that everyone’s world has changed. I know everyone struggles. I’m not alone in anything here. But this story isn’t about everyone. It’s about this girl, so come swim with me!

Things I’m considering:

  1. Daily routines…boring…what can I do?
  2. Writing. Should I quit? No. Writing things like this helps me think. It’s word therapy.
  3. Blogging. What to do here? Posting every day is a lot. Maybe I should adjust that. Or maybe give up blogging all together?

Something that I’m pondering on:

A friend of mine just told me (this morning, no kidding), “No one is going to come knocking on your door and ask you to be friends.” I told him that I’d rather just stay locked in my house and yard.

That’s me in a nutshell. “Help! I’m in a nutshell! How did I get in here?!”

I’m just not sure where to go from here, so for now, I float and rest.

Going back to the post Why DO I write here anyway? was a good idea. This feeling of self pity is a recurring cycle of self-doubt. I’ll be back again…and in great numbers!

Knowing You Have Consciousness – What Awareness Really Is

Knowing Consciousness quote with book cover background.
Last post from this glorious little book!

“The Buddha is one awakened to identity not with the body but with the knower of the body, nor with the thought but the knower of the thoughts, that is to say, with consciousness; knowing, furthermore, that his value derives from his power to radiate consciousness – as the value of a lightbulb derives from its power to radiate light.”

Myths to Live By” by Joseph Campbell

You could have seen the “lightbulb” go on over my head when I read that sentence. It hit me that hard.

“Awareness” is quite the buzzword these days, but I don’t think it’s for the right reasons.

It’s more important to people to be “aware” of whatever atrocities they were told by their leaders they were supposed to be outraged by. It’s hip to be “aware” of what we do or do not possess, how we present ourselves, or what image we promote with our online presence, i.e., being sure we have a washable mask on when we take our selfies or putting a temporary frame around our social media profile declaring our political allegiances.

But is that the “awareness” that counts?

Personally, I think it’s far more important to be self-aware, not in a “Do I look fat in this outfit?” or “Does my comment come off as racist?” kind of way, but more like this description of the Buddha. We should become aware of our consciousness, that we are not a body or a thought, but that we have a body and thoughts.

When we achieve this kind of awareness, our demeanor changes. We radiate that consciousness toward the world around us. When we find the inner peace that comes from the awareness of our consciousness, we suddenly increase in value to this world. We are not simply decorating the space with our presence but creating more for the room and those within our reach.

A dead lightbulb, or one supplied with no power, does nothing but take up space. Add power and suddenly it lights up the room, illuminating what’s in and making life easier for everyone that can see it. That could be each and every one of us. When we find the thing that powers us, we add value to the world around us. That is what “awareness” really is, consciousness of who we are.

Want to read this book? You can get it on Amazon HERE.
Read more of my thoughts about quotes from this book:
Are Our Cultural Differences Becoming Less Important?
Women Are Equal in Nature and Need as Men, Not the “Same As”
Using Words: Is the Art of Communication Lost

Mental Health Opportunity?

“A well-managed breakdown can turn out to be a good thing. Try to see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to grow and learn about yourself.”

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Can we use a mental breakdown as an opportunity for growth?

Yeah! That’s the ticket! An opportunity!

I’m imagining Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live. Remember that skit?

Sometimes I swear I’m only lying to myself, trying to put a brave face or a good spin on terrible behavior. A meltdown is a meltdown and, dammit, at my age, shouldn’t I have already learned to keep my mouth shut and walk away?! I know better. I know better even as it’s happening. And yet, here I am again, losing my shit and taking everyone within earshot with me.

It’s just sad.

But…then again…don’t we all learn at our own pace? I am better today than I was in the past. Each time I live through a confrontation, I do learn something, and I respond better the next time. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Win or lose, climb or fall; since the day we were born, each time we interact with the world we learn a little more. Some of us are born farther ahead than others, some move more slowly, some gain ground more quickly, but we are all at least moving.

What happened? What could I have done better if anything? And my favorite, can I just let this setback go this time instead of holding onto it like a heavy anchor?

Should I Stay or Go? – The Verdict

So my kind and wonderful reader, I hate to say it but I still don’t have an answer about social media. My thoughts over the past few weeks have sat firmly on, “If this is social, I’m not sure I enjoy it.” And if I’m not enjoying it and it doesn’t serve my life, what’s the point of being there? Would I keep going to a party filled with people that I don’t enjoy being around? Would I keep working at a job that brought me only stress and no income? Would I continue a relationship with a person that only made me cry?

Of course, I wouldn’t, but is that what social media is doing to me? No. In the past, the negatives were buried far beneath all the positives. Logging on each morning and scrolling through the “gossip pages” (that’s what we should really call it) brought me a bit of joy: my friend from high school got a new job, a cousin had a baby, my mom went fishing, etc. There was a bit of news from around the world. My writer group and my inspiration pages posted some tidbit of joy.

I’d share a piece of my life there as well and feel a connection with friends and family as we bonded over the jokes, photos, or articles we posted.

The negatives? You know what they are. A new medium always brings out the weird in some people. Social graces, manners, and rules of etiquette have to be reestablished. And there are always things that people share that you just didn’t want to know about them. It was easy to ignore the minor squabbles and navigate around the things I’d rather not discuss. “To each his own.” I’d think and move on.

This month, as we all are very well aware, has been different. Our lives have been abruptly changed by outside forces and we’ve all had to suddenly adjust. For me, the biggest hurdle hasn’t been the change in lifestyle but has more to do with dealing with people’s reactions online without the important benefit of physical and emotional context.

I’ll admit, which I really didn’t want to do and why I took a pause over the weekend to think about it, I’m struggling. I’m struggling to hold on to my compassion for others. I’m struggling not to withdraw and be fearful of others. I’m struggling not to lash out in my fear and anger.

Like someone threatened with drowning, I have to make a choice. Do I push people off my raft because I know they’ll pull me under? How do I stay alive without losing my humanity in the process? It sounds so overly dramatic but mental health is like that. No, I’m not threatened with immediate physical harm. There is no one with a gun pointed to my head or a mob at my door with a rope, but here I am with my heart rate up and my breathing rapid. Our minds are awesome and terrible things.

What’s your point, Michelle? Where are you going with this?

I’m getting to that. Hold your horses.

Human nature makes us do crazy, stupid, and terrible things to each other when we’re scared. I am human. I don’t want to add to the chaos, so I withdraw my participation. BUT, I also don’t want to withdraw my own point of view from the world outside my own four walls. I have joy and peace to share, experience and insight. I love my friends and family that I only see through social media. I love my readers, my fans, and my followers. You all add to my life in a very wonderful way. I don’t want to push you off my raft!

So what can I do? I’m still not really sure but I know what I’ll try. I’ll keep posting my joy and peace. I’ll continue to write and think and share what I’ve found and learned. I’ll allow you into my digital world to do the same as I want for myself, take what you want and pass on the rest.

“Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams to another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted with words half spoken
And thoughts unclear

What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain
Wind and water
Believe it if you need it
If you don’t, just pass it on

Sun and shower
Wind and rain
In and out the window
like a moth before a flame”

“Box of Rain” by The Grateful Dead

Our Time is Not Infinite – Go For a Walk

alberto-casetta-REKXJ7JhwiI-unsplash

Photo by Alberto Casetta on Unsplash

Most days, when my husband finishes work, we go for a walk. Sometimes it’s just down to the mailbox and back, a little more than a mile. Other days we feel like we should go farther and make the long loop around our block, about almost three miles. It’s good exercise for us, physically and mentally. Mentally is what I want to emphasize here. There’s nothing else to do but keep walking. We can’t read, check social media, do the dishes, or go out to the yard. We just walk and think which leads to talking.

The longer our walks, the deeper our conversations go, and sometimes there are long stretches of silence as we go along. After a longer bit of silence, my husband will say something like, “I’m thinking about water quality and beer flavor.” I laugh because he knows the quieter it gets, the more I wonder what’s up, and he always tries to make my life easier no matter what we are doing.

Our long walks give us time to think and to explore ideas, talk about the kids, what we’re reading, things that have happened during the day. We always feel closer when we walk often.

It’s just the two of us walking now, but we’ve been walking since the kids were little. When we were home, we’d walk to the park or down the street to Disneyland. We’d walk on our vacations and camping trips, covering miles of trails and RV park roads. When we lived in the city, we’d take our tent trailer out to the desert and camp in the wilderness. We’d take long walks away from camp, as far as little legs would go, take a break and then circle back. The kids always led the way out, BB guns and canteens strapped to their backs, and then dragged behind us on the way back.

Discussions abounded on those walkabouts, even when they were little. We’d talk about what we saw on the trail, what we had to eat, and where we were going next. Sometimes big questions would come up. And we’d have lots of time to think and answer, think again, and ask more questions. There’s just something special about walking together that lends itself to serious connection with your fellow walkers. No matter how mundane the location, you’re on an adventure, a quest. And the time together is never wasted.

I specifically remember one walk when it was just my sons and me out in the desert. We decided to stay an extra couple of days instead of coming home in traffic on Sunday afternoon. My husband worked from home and we had a decent internet connection at camp, so he worked from the trailer while the boys and I played. Early in the morning, he had driven us far back into the hills where the old mines were and left us to spend the day walking back so he could work in peace. We had a backpack of snacks, water, and emergency supplies, and the boys were thrilled to try leading me back to camp.

As we walked, we pointed things out, investigated interesting rock formations, and took pictures of critters we found. They climbed a hill together and planted a “flag” at the top, an old bandana they had in the backpack. We took breaks, sitting in sandy washes in the shade of a large creosote or rock face. And we talked. This one was very special though. This time my eight-year-old son asked me questions about God and we spent most of the walk exchanging ideas. It was incredible.

I’ll never forget it. We caught site of camp when we came to the crest of the hill, four hours of walking and exploring coming to a close, when my son stops and looks at me, “You know mom, you should be a pastor or something. When you talk about God, I feel it. It makes me want to know more.” My heart just about exploded. Unsolicited praise from your children is like nothing else in this world.

Long drives have always had a similar effect on us as long walks, a chance to be quiet and think and to talk in ways we never seem to have when we’re at home. We don’t listen to the radio, but we do listen to music. There are several whole albums we have to hear on every trip over an hour-long, because that’s how you’re supposed to hear them, not in pieces on the radio, so they insist. We hold our thoughts until a break between songs and are sure to hit pause when we have to bring up a subject for general discussion. Drives to amusement parks, homeschool events, and family parties, road trips, and shopping excursions were filled with deep philosophical conversations. Ok, not really! Sometimes they got deep, many times, but usually, it was about something funny they’d seen or what they wanted to do tomorrow. But the more we drove, the deeper the conversations got.

I find myself driving alone more often now and I listen to podcasts instead of albums. I frequently find myself wanting to pause and discuss what I just heard with my family, but they aren’t there. I keep a notebook in the car now so I can write down my ideas for later because I swear I’m forgetting things more now that I have to hold on to an idea longer instead of blurting it out for immediate discussion. I learn and digest information best when I can talk about it out loud with others. Maybe it’s good exercise for me to hold on to it, let it ruminate and then discuss it later. It’s something I do have to work on these days.

Yesterday, my grown son wanted me to go with him to the city to go shopping. He could have gone without me. I had lots of other things to do besides sit in the car for two hours. We had a date though, and I felt like he really needed me to go, to show him I was still here when he needed me. I’m glad I did. My youngest isn’t much of a sharer of feelings and ideas. He’s a private man and keeps his thoughts close. But on this drive, he opened up and I listened. He talked about his first love and breakup, career plans, his college classes, life goals, and religion. I gave my two cents like I did when he was younger, but mostly I listened to my now-grown son show me exactly how smart and mature he has grown to be. I was in awe and I’m proud to have been invited in.

Why am I going on about this? Because conversation is important and to have a good conversation, we need to make space for it in our lives. We didn’t plan on taking long walks and drives with our kids so that they would have the time and space to talk, it just happened. I slowly became aware of what was happening as the kids grew and realized only recently, now that they are grown and moving out into their own lives, how special that time was and still is.

It seems like going for a walk with a friend might be an extravagance. There’s so much housework to do. It may seem like walking around the neighborhood with our loved ones is silly. Driving to a special store or small museum in the next town might feel like a waste of gas. We’ve been there, done that, and we see those people all the time. It’s not about the walk, the place, or the coffee, though. It’s about making a space for conversation to happen. It’s about connecting with people.

We’re all busy. The house is full of distractions. There’s so much at work to do. When we die, or when our loved ones go before us, will be satisfied that the laundry was done or that project was completed? Or will be happy that we got to really know our parents, our children, and our spouses. Will we sigh and say as we die, “Well, at least the kitchen cabinets are clean!” or will be gratified to know that our closest friends really know how we feel?

We can’t force the connection. We can’t tell everyone, “Today we will all talk to each other.” Or simply make a rule, “There are no smartphones or tablets allowed on this drive!” But we can make consistent safe space for our friends and family to reach out and talk. We can plan walks at the park. We can ask if they’d like to go with you. We can make lunch and coffee dates and keep them. And we can spend that time listening, asking questions, telling our stories, and allowing for the connection to happen or not.

It’s up to you. No one gets out of here alive and our time is limited. Spend it wisely.

You Can’t Just Dance Till You Drop

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Photo by Emmanuel on Unsplash

I know I’m dating myself here but my best friend and I used to go dancing every weekend and not the kind you’re thinking of. It was the 90’s and (to us) country music was the thing and clubs that catered to line dancing, two-steps, and waltzes were in abundance. There were three right in my neighborhood. We’d show up right as the place opened and stay until they played the last song.

Two single girls on the prowl for young men? Looking for love? Or at least someone to take us out to dinner once in a while, someone we didn’t meet at work, someone not involved in the entertainment business at all? Not really. In reality, all we were looking for was to dance all night long with someone that knew how and that was generally the older, mostly married men, that were mostly interested in the same thing. I’m not saying we didn’t find a little love along the way but it wasn’t the driving force behind the activity!

Every Friday night went the same way. We’d arrive early and head straight to the bar for a shot of whiskey and a beer each. I’d buy the first round and she’d buy the second, then we’d take our beers to a spot we had scoped out by the dance floor. The reason we arrived right as they opened and not later in the evening when the place really filled up? There were dance instructors out on the floor for the first hour! We were not great dancers, to say the least, and could use all the help we could get. Line dancing was great mostly because we didn’t need a partner and it gave us the chance to warm up without looking like wallflowers. The whiskey gave us courage, the line dancing gave us confidence, and within a few songs, we had partners lined up for two-steps, cowboy cha-cha’s, and waltzes.

The music built up faster and louder as the night progressed and quieted back down during the slow songs. Sometimes we were right at the top of the wave, dancing our hearts out when the music would change and we’d reluctantly exit the floor. It was a forced rest, an instilled break from the pace, that we used to our advantage, in the form of rest and bathroom breaks, and the bar’s since we tended to buy more drinks when the music slowed down. Besides, a slow dance with a strong partner was a great break in the evening too. You don’t want to break your stride completely, just change up the pace and rest a bit so that the night lasts longer.

By the last dance and closing time, we were always exhausted and happily played out. Like kids on their way home from Disneyland, we rode that high all week at work until the next weekend rolled around.

Those night club dancing days are long past but they came to mind over the last few weeks of holiday preparation and execution. As I rushed from one event to another, one completed shopping list, one more baking day, one more quick run to the grocery store, I realized how busy I had become. By the time Christmas was over I longed for a break in the music, for a slow song to come on and push me off the dance floor for a bathroom break and a cold beer. And then I got one.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is notoriously slow. It’s that “nowhere” feeling that you’re not sure what to do with. This year I decided to use it to my advantage and relax a bit, but plans were inevitably made and the pace slackened a bit but did not slow to a crawl as I had hoped. I made a promise to myself to slow down again this week and I’ve already had to reluctantly say no to invitations, twice. I want to keep dancing, but my body says I need a break and without a good DJ to force the issue, I have to slow the beat myself or pay the consequences.

This coming year, I plan on making a more conscious effort to take those breaks from the dance floor. I plan on looking at my calendar and blocking off work times, play times, and nothing times. Those nothing times must remain sacred if I’m going to have more productive work and play times. I have built a habit of dancing until I drop, which may have been feasible when I was younger, but these days is getting harder and harder to maintain. Building in breaks, time to stay home and literally do nothing but relax with a good movie or a book, is something I have to do to maintain my health and stay productive. The old way of just working until I felt overwhelmed and then dumping everything, even the things I loved most, has never been healthy and it tends to ruin relationships. Time to build some new, more effective habits. Busy doesn’t mean productive. And taking a rest is not an option, it’s a mandate.

Without a good DJ, the music only gets louder and faster until the bar goes broke from lack of sales, exhaustion sets in, and everyone goes home early. Be your own DJ. Build your own volume and pace, bring it back down, build it up again, and know when it’s time shut it down and clean up for the next event.

Pick a Fear! Any Fear!

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Photo by Sergi Viladesau on Unsplash

A magician playing the game of “guess my card” is what I think of when I think to work on my fears.

I know. Everyone faces fear at some point in their lives. Some of us live with it daily. What mine? Ridiculous, to be completely honest. Generally, my mind is filled with “What if?” questions that can never be answered. The ones that everyone tells everyone else to ignore. I try to put them out of my head and live in the moment I’m in, but they creep back in again, along with wondering what would happen if we all paid a little more attention to the potential consequences of our actions instead. Wouldn’t it make the world just a little nicer? I mean, if other people paid more attention to what they were doing and how it could affect the people around them, maybe I wouldn’t have so much to worry about, damn it!

Sometimes I worry about the bigger things. Things like, am I raising my kids to be civilized and responsible adults? Will they grow up and be independent, decent people? If I make the choice to buy a new car, will I be able to afford it a year from now? Can I juggle my relationships in a way that makes us all happier and healthier people, or am I ruining the lives of those around me?

Then there are the silly things that I get stuck on. If I go to the grocery store today, will I just have to go again tomorrow? What if I start buying more things online? Am I bothering the person driving behind me with my slow-ass VW? Should I call my friend and bother her or let her come to me if she needs help? Should I stay or should I go now? …starts singing in her head…

It becomes overwhelming at times, but it passes pretty quickly. I’ve learned to take a break when I begin to feel the creeping sensation of anxiety. I sit alone and meditate or go for a long walk to clear my head. Talking about it helps too. Walking and spilling out all the bullshit ideas to someone who won’t take any of it too seriously and won’t tell me that I overthink things helps me more than anything else.

I can’t just shove it all aside and ignore it or quietly allow all the negativity to release into thin air. It’s just not helpful to me. Those things eventually float back down and attach themselves to my psyche like I’m a magnet for my ugliest thoughts. Not until I voice them do they begin to dissipate and dissolve. In my head and unspoken, they swirl around and build on each other like a snowball rolling downhill. Voiced into the world, these crappy ideas just can’t hold their shape and are crushed by the positive reality around them, vanquished.

So what can I do to create a safe space to release this negative energy without destroying those around me and ruining any sense of peace in my relationships? Two things. The first is to write it out. I type it out in my journal or open up a notebook and get a pen. Pen and paper is my preferred method. I draw pictures, spell out elaborate curse words in bold letters, express all the things I want to say to everyone I want to say it to in the worst ways, without regard for anyone’s feelings or well-being. These paper journals may terrify someone some day. I have plans to put them in a box with an explanation on the lid, so that if I die suddenly, no one will come across that ugliness and wonder what went wrong. This therapeutic writing helps a lot, most of the time. But sometimes I need more.

My second, and most favored, form of release is to walk and talk with a safe person. That’s usually my sweet husband. When I’m walking and talking the words and ideas aren’t nearly as harsh as when I write them. Something about the physical exertion helps tame them. I talk out all the things that weigh on me and he listens and walks beside me. Rarely does he try to fix it for me or express concern for my sanity. He just listens. And I feel lighter at every step. It feels much like a miracle. By the time we get back, my mood has improved, nothing seems so terrible and impossible anymore. We get a drink of water, relax into the couch or porch chairs, rest up a bit, and then continue with our day in peace.

How do you deal with fear? Do you release it into the wild? Suppress it? Reason it away? Or do you give into it and decide fear is there to warn you of danger and avoid what it is your fear most?

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