Energy Balancing Body Scan (Today's Daily Presence)

Today I am feeling highly energized with nowhere to direct my anxieties. It is raining out so my daily run isn’t going to happen, but I needed a way to better balance what I’m feeling as well as to reconnect with my sense of my body. I brought myself into present moment awareness with a visual and breathing-centered meditation.

The meditation practice in which I engaged has a relationship with a Tibetan Buddhist practice I learned several years ago, but I have unfortunately lost my knowledge of its name and origins in the time since. If you know what I’m referencing, please let me know in the comments!

I started by imagining my body’s stale, negative energy gathering in the form of grey smoke in my fingers, toes and edges of my head. As I took deep breaths, I saw it moving towards the center of my body, and, in breathing out a deep breath through my mouth, saw it release and float away. I repeated this process, noticing and concentrating on areas of my body which felt compressed, tight or stuck. I imagined a negative pressure developing, drawing out the trapped energy to itself where it could be exhaled. I saw my body lengthening and loosening as this occurred.

I then moved into a state of reception, where I breathed in clear, healing energy and transmitted it from the core of my body down my torso, into my fingers and toes. It also coursed from my neck into the reaches of my head and ears. As I inhaled, the energy woke up areas that felt tired, warming those that needed to be warmed, and cooling those that felt inflamed.

I then engaged in stretching exercises to further open and release as well as soothe and calm my body. There was more of a sense of a need to balance than I have had in the past. With being on T, I finally feel that I have enough energy, which is a totally new experience to me. Determining how to keep it flowing without spilling over is still a series of trial and error.

If you try the meditation, what was your experience with it? Is it easier to send out spent energy or to draw in renewed energy? How does your body balance?

"Don't Worry, Everything Will Be Okay": An Insidious Form of Denial

I wrote yesterday about feeling that my energy was misdirected by trying to warn people who are complacent about the coming (or already arrived, depending where you live) pandemic. It got me thinking more broadly of how people respond to my fears and ways that I have come to discern between people who listen deeply and honestly and those who deflect. I’ve described both stances below (there are of course way-stops between these approaches and times we might use one or the other depending on our energy level) as well as ideas for self-care if you are an anxious person.

“It’ll be fine”

I have a standard retort for people who tell me my worries are unfounded: how do you know? Unless they are a trained expert in the area, at which time I will defer to their judgment, someone telling me I’m “worrying about nothing” gives me far more insight into the nature of their character than it does into the rationality of my anxiety. I definitely believe that some people operate from a default of denial–nothing is real unless it is affecting them personally. They obfuscate and deflect legitimate concerns because these anxieties hint at the fact that the world can be an unjust, unfair and brutal place. If it isn’t happening to them, it can’t be happening.

Yes, those of us with heightened anxiety can easily overestimate the potential likelihood of a danger occurring, but we can also spot trouble before it arrives. I contingency-plan with the best of them and, because of my efforts, I steer clear of certain issues into which others move without pausing. Holding back “I told you so” strains my throat when I notice my unheeded warnings coming true again and again. Attempting to protect one’s self by denying reality has as many consequences, if not more, than wasted worry.

“I have my doubts, but we’ll face it together”

Responding to someone who lapses into extreme anxiety does not mean engaging in panic yourself or denying your read on the situation. Rather, it is perfectly fine to share fact-based evidence that might help to mitigate some of their concerns, especially if you ask permission first. This is where I have would-be comforters lapped; I can quickly absorb a tremendous amount of factual information, so I am ready to go with the latest scientific statistics and projections while they share three-week old data they heard on a podcast. On the other end of the spectrum, anxieties that have little basis in reality might be easier to counter with science, but the people who struggle with them might also be less receptive to scientific reasoning.

To me, the best way to support someone who you might view as “fear-mongering” or overly worried is to establish what your objective take on the situation is, and to then focus most of your energy on the trust you have in both the other person as well as in your relationship. When I share my pandemic prep with people IRL, I wish at least one person would say something along the lines of “well, I know who to ask if I decide to prepare a list of items.” The most I’ve gotten so far was someone declaring they would come to my place if the shit hit the fan, which only angered me at their callousness. If you can connect to the person and let them know that you appreciate their forward-thinking nature, even if you believe it to be too trigger-happy, as well as let them know you will be there to help them cope if or when the situation fully develops, it may help them come down from flight or fight into a more productive, problem-solving state. Scared people make rash decisions; prep for an event such as a pandemic requires a rational response, not a panic-stricken hoarding of toilet paper.

Mental Self-Care for the anxious

If you are reading this as a highly anxious person yourself, here are some practical steps you can take if you are facing a situation that seems to concern only you and in response to which you are being told you are over-reacting.

1. If possible, consult the experts. Nothing is worse in my mind in regards to anxiety than getting riled up by people who have an agenda to push or those who base their ideas on fantasy. Find the scientifically-accurate experts who do not stand to benefit in a substantial way from peoples’ responses, and listen to them. In regards to the pandemic specifically, this is the person to whom I’m listening (as well as reading research as it is published).

2. Share your concerns judiciously. Even if your anxieties are pushing at you, decide whether the person to whom you want to speak is likely, based on past experiences, to listen carefully or to simply dismiss you. If someone acts as though you are completely irrational, consider whether there might be other people in your life that would be more open to hearing what you have to say.

3. Before taking any practical steps, if possible, make a list of items you might acquire or plans you might enact, and then wait at least 24 hours (or a good night of sleep minimum) before you follow through on what you are considering. I have worked myself up in recent days into wanting to buy an oxygen concentrator and a large solar power station. Because I slowed myself down, I realized the oxygen concentrator’s cons outweighed its possible benefits, and that I would face serious security issues with a solar setup as it would have to be placed in front of my house and would therefore be highly tempting for someone to steal if we actually end up in a situation where it would need to be deployed. By slowing myself down, I resisted panic-buying and have been able to better use my resources.

4. At the end of the day, remember that we all die, some of us in unexpected ways. I keep this truth in my mind not to feel depressed but to boost my feelings of acceptance of my life situation. When we run out of practice steps in handling a crisis, coming to terms with the reality of it can, at least for me, open internal space for contemplation and grace, rather than a raging “there has to be a way” as the elements consume.

5. Remember you are likely not as alone as you might feel you are. There is a limit of rational action that I can take at this point, and, as terrifying as it is to me, I find myself coming to a growing knowledge that I might have to *shudder* cooperate with my neighbors if things go really side-ways. In modern Western societies like the one I inhabit, there is a particular sense of individualism where people may literally never speak with or help out their next-door neighbors, not because they hate each other but because they are able to sort their lives in a way that does not necessitate such interactions. I am not so naive to think that my federal government will do anything useful, but I have a bit of trust in my local officials to try to mitigate disaster and in myself to work with others as needed. Scarcity can promote selfishness but it can also promote sharing; I hope that the latter is what rises to the surface in the areas where people are struggling right now.

In conclusion, a person’s level of anxiety is not the best marker of their capacity for acting in a rational way. People can under-react just as much as they over-react and can respond too slowly to a crisis as well as too early or without justification. If you are highly anxious as I am, my advice is to reserve your time and energy for acting with as much objective reason as you can, with the support of people who know what they are talking about because of their education and experience, as well as those in your life who offer a caring, gentle presence when your anxiety gets the best of you. Please share how you care for yourself as an anxious person!

Energy Drained and Recharged (In the Cards)

I am not someone who thinks of my life experiences as a universal force teaching me lessons, but I do like to reflect on what I encounter and to question my assumptions and the paradigm underneath which I am operating. Several events as of late have left me asking two questions: 1) what’s the best use of my energy if I hope to better the world in my own small way? and 2) what do I do with my anxiety about the current state of affairs? The conclusion I’m coming to is that there are people with whom my interaction is a squandered resource, but also that my anxiety might be useful in directing my energy productively. (Side note: none of my reflection here relates to my blog but rather to IRL conversations as well as posts on other social media sites).

In the past, if someone did not take what I had to say seriously, it would leave me questioning the veracity of the knowledge or experience I was sharing. I’ve come to see, though, that people often dismiss that with which they do not want to grapple. It is much easier to act like someone is over-reacting or too sensitive than it is to take their concerns, even if they do not match what you’ve experienced, as valid.

At the same time, there has to be a common base of knowledge from which everyone is working, or else people are counting in different numerical bases. I work from a scientific perspective and have had it up to here with people who believe, for instance, that drinking bleach (only a slight exaggeration) is a cure-all. It is not worth it, in my personal life, for me to try to convince people to care when we can’t agree on what the basic problems in the world today are.

As I’m living out this awareness, I keep coming to a point where I think “I could respond and explain myself again, but this isn’t worth my energy.” This is a new experience for me as I used to feel like silence was complicity if someone disagreed with me and I didn’t reassert what I know to be true, but I now know that if a person can’t take in what I’ve said, I stand to gain little by continuing to engage with them. The energy I’m bringing feels very masculine, like a “good enough, moving on” rather than a communal, connected “let’s dig in and work through this together” stance. I am tired, though, of giving mental space to people who create actual harm in the world through their anti-science and ill-informed actions. I’d rather focus on those who can be convinced to care and to act, who are open to listening and exploring their biases, as I am with them.

I’m currently convinced we are facing a global pandemic, and I don’t know what to do with the hours of research I’ve accumulated on the topic. The few people IRL to which I’ve spoken don’t even know what I’m referencing and I got no response when I sounded the warning on social media. Either I’m too anxious and I will have wasted some money stocking up on supplies, or, more or less, my worst fears will come true and “I told you so” will be a sentiment I’ll need to work on squashing. I want to have grace for people who come late to acknowledging danger and harm; I think this is where the energy reserves I withhold from them when they ignore science initially need to be used. I also need to focus on self-care and self-sufficiency in a sustainable way so that I am there for those who might panic as reality sets in.

I have never seen the evolutionary quandary anxiety disorders present so clearly as I do now. Were I living in a small group of hunter/gatherers, I’d be the person constantly testing the wind and sensing the slightest tremor in the earth. Most of my warnings wouldn’t bear out, so people might tune me out. But, when true danger arrived, I’d be the person packed and ready to go while others danced. Constant anxiety does have a survival benefit, but it alienates as much as it helps. By redirecting my energy away from people who will ignore potential calamity until death is at their doorstep, I can improve my contribution to society.

What behaviors in others tempt you into squandering your energy? Where do you fall on the “we’re all going to die now” to “everything is okay, forever” scale of anxiety? Do you see any advantages to your anxiety, if you are a highly anxious person?

A Splash of Color (Today's Simple Pleasure)

After a difficult week, I treated myself to a bouquet of orange tulips today. It got rather smashed in my grocery cart and I felt a resonance with the juxtaposition of harm alongside brightness. Aside from the anticipation of fully experiencing their beauty when they open, I am appreciative of the hint of spring weather they offer. What has warmed your day? What is your favorite flower?

A Half-Formed Image (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I got a new phone today after cracking the screen on my old one. It took a solid hour to transfer my data from the old to the new, during which I felt an odd sensation of in-between. It was difficult to not have everything settled and set the way I like it. It made me consider other instances of neither here or there and how they affect me.

I love to travel but am happiest in the planning for rather than the doing. I like to, from the comforts of home, imagine where I could go and what I could do. I think it is a sense of all possible futures sitting before me. Once the journey begins, the possible comes a singular reality and the magic tends to fade.

As far as visual imagery is concerned, I think the moments between leaving and arriving are a half-finished drawing with the outline partially sketched. Sufficient information exists to allow me to see what it will become, but I am left without the sense of completion a final image produces.

It is actually the collapsing of the possible into the probable that feels the most constricting to me. It is helpful to consider that erasers and new sheets of paper exist. Maybe the journey has way-stops and interludes I could not anticipate and the final lines look nothing like what I’m anticipating they will. I live in both deep terror and profound craving of the unknown, the blank page, and only a fleeting sense of relief at the finalized etching, what it was. I want to grow in appreciation for what is becoming as the image comes into relief.

Running with My Dog (Today's Simple Pleasure)

It is only since starting T that I’ve had any desire to go for a run. I’ve met people who talk about running as stress relief and their remarks have, until recently, baffled me. Normally, I get winded very quickly and do not have enough stamina to run any distance, but I’ve been so wound up as of late that it felt like running was the only way through my feelings. I used a running leash for my dog and we took off!

My dog is a Yorkie, so he is not built for endurance. He got worn out before I did which let me feel like I was “winning” our race (he would definitely best me in a sprint, however!). I slowed down for him and enjoyed the feeling of my legs in flight. I did still have a bit of discomfort in my upper chest where my lungs and/or blood vessels constricted, but it wasn’t as bad as it used to be. Given that there is still snow on the ground and it is below freezing, I feel that my pup and I have lots of nice runs ahead of us in the coming months.

What’s your favorite stress relief when you are angry and/or feel that you have excessive energy to burn? If you run, what season and location do you prefer? Do you run with your pet?

Owning My Depth

I’m definitely in a mood today after the experience I’d predicted might lead to marginalization and transphobia did not let me down in its vexations. I’m not certain as how much my perceptions of others are accurate right now and how much they are colored by a T-inspired blunted depression, but I feel as though, much of the time, I am surrounded by shallow people. People who are flippant and who, although they are capable of being loving and caring to those who are like them, do not concern themselves with the needs of those whom society pushes to its fringes. Indeed, they are the ones, through their complicity and outright discrimination, who encourage the different to be viewed as deviant.

I’m as flawed as the next person, as self-centered and self-righteous as anyone you’ll meet, but I know it. I do not deny the bitter, the ugly and the hating parts of who I am. I may struggle at times to rein them in and to befriend them, but I’ve explored the cracks between the veneer of civility I wear when I feel like being “nice.” I check my assumptions and examine my motivations for areas of bias. I have blessed to know a few people who have depth not only in the integrity of their character but also their willingness to acknowledge where they lack character.

I don’t know how to relate to people who are shallow, especially when I think they are causing harm by their un-examined way of gliding obliviously through life. It isn’t that I take the ignorance that they spew personally, it is that I view them as, at the end of the day, a bad person. A person who denies and invalidates the suffering of others and who refuses to listen or change when they are told their actions are harmful is not merely misguided or incompetent. They are willfully making the world a worse place and I find accepting that they are able to do so unchecked to be an injustice.

Perhaps all I can do right now is to focus on the persuadable, those who are interested in exploring their own inner assumptions, and to know that, because they can potentially do better and do good, they are worthy of much more of my attention and focus than are those who show no interest in being challenged. There are lost causes when it comes to addressing privilege. To the lost causes, I can try to stand up to them in group contexts and to mitigate the harm they cause. It is likely, if I sit with it long enough, I will come to know that my willingness to write someone off and declare them “cancelled” reveals not only the shallowness of their character, but also an uncharted territory of inner contempt I hold into which wells of compassion may need to soak.

How do you handle responding to people you perceive to be shallow, if that is a characterization you hold of them? How do you stand up to injustice? How do you come to know your own assumptions and biases?

Hard-Won Praise (Today's Simple Pleasure)

How do you show up in the world? What is it about you that makes you most proud? Where have you shown growth?

Self-affirmations can sometimes read, to me, as statements of unchecked privilege when people praise themselves for blessings of genetics and a secure upbringing. I wanted to focus on the ways in which I can find pride in myself not solely for what I have but also for what I’ve overcome to get where I am in my life. I believe that the deepest gifts we have to offer others are often those we’ve had to unearth and restore.

Self-affirmations

  1. I feel appreciation for my willingness and skill at engaging in self-reflection, and I recognize the privilege that being able to have time to ponder as well as to attend therapy consistently has afforded me in relation to this skill.
  2. I value that I am willing to question the unconscious assumptions others make and to stand up to them when they are acting in biased ways.
  3. I like that I am highly independent and self-sufficient, in part as a result of my experiences of trauma and that I am capable of learning many skills on my own.
  4. I value my intellectual curiosity and insatiable appetite for information. I realize that obtaining higher education granted me ways in which I can access resources that might not be readily apparent or accessible to everyone.
  5. I am grateful for my tenacity and persistence. I recognize that others have nudged me onward in ways I often overlook.

This exercise felt meaningful to me. Contextualizing what I appreciate about myself in terms of my privilege and background helps me to feel that who I am is not only a reflection of my inner work but is also the product of time, place, circumstance and socialization. I didn’t become who I am on my own; I struggle with externalizing the causes of my bad traits and taking all the credit for the good ones. Pride and gratitude are interwoven in a way I don’t think I realized they were.

Please share any self-affirmations you would like to in the comments!

A photograph of a small journal into which a colored pencil drawing of a sunflower-like image has been sketched.

Draw Anything (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I have been so blocked when it comes to drawing these past few months. When my perception of external threat reaches a certain level, as it has at my job, I shut off from my creative energies in a futile attempt to protect the hopeful and joyful parts of self from harm. My viewpoint of the world being bleak and lacking pleasure is no doubt related to this inner exile.

So, for today, I pulled out a small sketchbook in which I’d created several drawings last year. I was stunned to notice there were several images I had little memory of creating, which tracks with the internal separateness I experience. I decided to put as little pressure on myself as possible and to draw a sunflower. Upon making this decision, I immediately felt overwhelmed by the prospect of accuracy and the need to research how to create a sunflower. I almost gave up before deciding realism wasn’t my goal and that I could draw an image that had the essence of a sunflower even if it didn’t accurately reflect what it would look like.

The experience of drawing itself followed a familiar pattern. I spent several minutes in a blissful state, happy I had finally cracked open a sketchbook and was “being creative” at last. I felt relaxed and peaceful. Soon enough, however, once I’d made the decisions needed for how to finish my drawing and switched into filling in the petals, my mindset changed. I suspect that this was because the decision-making part of my brain, the prefrontal cortex, was no longer required as the central player, and I likely transitioned to relaying on the “muscle memory” part of the brain, my cerebellum, to complete the task at hand. Doing so meant that my thinker (prefrontal cortex) was back to having free reign to ruminated and stress out about upcoming events.

There is an obligation coming up this week where I may experience transphobia. I found myself worried that I was embedding anxiety into my drawing in that, when I look at it, all I will think about is (possible) harm. I have serious weirdness with both holding onto peaceful mental images and with creating them, and this small encounter may offer me a few insights as to why this could be happening. The moment of change today seemed to be when I lost my ability to be mindfully present with what I was doing.

Art is not always pleasant and it does not always make me feel better. I am so grateful that I am learning this lesson on my own rather than trying to go to art therapy and giving up after the first session because I think it didn’t “help.” It takes a disproportionate amount of energy and effort for me to engage in it as something in the process gives free reign for my inner torment to rise up. The threats I perceive from the outside do not fade from view when I’m being creative, if anything, they take shape and become manifest. This doesn’t mean I should avoid art, but rather, that it may be a way to confront my fears rather than to escape them.

Are you mindfully aware of yourself when you are creating visual (or other) art? What is the relationship between your emotions and your artwork? What helps you overcome blocks in your ability to create?

Tarot by Candlelight (In the Cards)

Today I lit several candles and drew cards from the Dreams of Gaia deck. The themes of the cards I selected were to plant seeds of spirituality. I consider my spirituality to be inclusive of mindfulness and nature, with an openness to considering inner wisdom, collective interweaving and the Unknown. A web search revealed that there are apparently others who consider themselves to be agnostic Pagans, so that may be another label that would fit for me.

It is far too easy for me to lose myself in a sense of isolation and to forget the minuteness of my life on a cosmic scale. Something about seeking what the cards reveal in a darkened room helped me to reconnect with the sense of mystery that the analytic nature of my mind can dismiss. I would like to more fully integrate my practice of spirituality into my everyday life in a way that transforms the labor I have to perform from merely putting in time into an outflow of the deeper sense of meaning I, at times, know exists.

The seeds I would like to plant would be to widen my perspective. I would like to be with myself in difficult moments and, in this being-with, to know that whatever my experience may be, there is compassion for it outside of the boundaries of who I am. Perhaps that is another label that the cards draw me to in considering my spirituality, one who seeks compassion. What physical practices, such as lighting a candle, set the scene for you when you delve into your spirituality? What are ways in which you integrate spiritual practices into your daily life?