A Crisis Averted (Today's Moment of Gratitude)

My dog is much less anxious than I am, and his willingness to barge into situations head-on can get him into trouble. This past week was no exception as he managed to eat a few foreign objects and I was highly concerned he was going to have an intestinal blockage. Today, I got the best Valentine’s present ever when he passed the item about which I was most concerned through. I never expected to celebrate poop, but here we are!

The relief I felt as a potentially life-threatening situation coupled with thousands of dollars in costs faded from view was overwhelming bliss. It got me thinking, though, about how my mind works. I was left wondering whether part of the reason I am extremely anxious and frequently feel like I’m on the edge of disaster is because, when the storm clouds clear and the sun comes out, the physical response I feel negatively reinforces me to respond to the next threat in an equally overwhelmed manner.

I am much more punishment-averse than I am reinforcement-seeking, and this experience has given me possible insight into my internal experiences that might be maintaining that discrepancy. I’m curious what it would be like, the next time I am catastrophizing, to ask myself “how good will it feel when this situation is resolved and I don’t have to worry anymore?” I have no idea what I will actually be like when my own mortality comes to call, but I think it strikes me as the resolution of everything and I anticipate relief rather than anxiety might overtake me.

Perhaps my gratitude isn’t all feelings of joy because something good has occurred, but also the feeling of my body stepping out of fight and flight into a more peaceful state. I am so, so appreciative that my weekend might not be spent in the fullness of anxiety I had anticipated it being. What’s something you’ve felt relieved about lately? What is the balance for you of seeking rewards and trying to avert danger?

An Unexpected Kindness (Today's Moment of Gratitude)

I reflected yesterday on the topics of abundance, gratitude and contentment. A manifestation of gratitude on which I wanted to act was to create a new category of “Writing Everyday” which focuses exclusively on building my capacity for thankfulness. My task was made easier when a neighbor went out of their way to do something nice for me.

My day started off chaotically as the roads were covered in icy snow and I made it to work with literally a minute to spare (I am the sort of person who is fifteen minutes early to everything, so being on time stresses me out!). On top of that, I had to juggle managing multiple situations in the moment while being internally distracted by upcoming events. By the time I got home, physical labor like shoveling snow felt like it was only adding to my burden.

I shoveled a path for my dog and to the mailbox, and turned to the sidewalk, which I try to keep open. It was then that I noticed it was already neatly cleared, much more expertly than the job I normally do. I felt relief and gratitude sink into me, not only because I could spare my shoulder and back potential injury, but also because it meant that someone thought well of me and wanted to help me out.

I decided I don’t have to try to extrapolate lessons or think about ways in which I should have been kinder in the past. For today, I can simply rest in appreciation that a simple physical action by another lightened my load and made it easier for the good in me to shine. Thanks, anonymous stranger! What’s was the last unexpected kindness you received?

Welcoming Abundance (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I drew two cards today, one relating to casting a spell and the other connecting to allowing myself to hope. I decided to set “abundance” as my intention. I’ve lived my entire life with a mind to scarcity, pain, loss and lack, so considering riches, pleasure and prosperity does not come easily to me.

Where is there plenty?

Observing the areas of my life in which my supply outpaces my consumption should, theoretically, allow me to experience gratitude. Perhaps the action to underlay my intention should be to capture the moments of thankfulness I experience in a way that allows me to hold onto them more fully. They tend to feel very ephemeral, a morsel whose flavor has faded before I’ve finishing chewing it. I might add an additional “Writing Everyday” category specifically dedicated to recording the good experiences in my life.

What brings me pleasure?

My answer certainly feels base and silly, but, truthfully, food is probably my main reinforcer in life. It is unambiguous in its ability to improve my mood and to provide enjoyment. I like to cook, to ea and to watch shows of others cooking and eating.

The pleasure I anticipate in social interactions rarely comports with what I end up experiencing. Instead, spending time in nature genuinely lifts my spirits and elevates my mood. Spending time with my dog is also enjoyable.

wrestling with contentment

Even though I know what I like, I would not describe these experiences as leading to contentment. I do not know what it is like to rest in a place of contentment feels like as I’ve never stayed there for any length of time. Contentment, to me, is the intertwining of gratitude and pleasure, the sense that there is enough right now and that whatever it is, it will last.

If I’m not content with my life, the two paths that lay in front of me, the two paths I find meet me at every difficult moment, are to change my experience or to change my perception. I have been leaning more and more into attempting to change my perception as my attempts to change my experiences seem very much to lead in concentric circles, where I find myself in another layer of disappointment and failure.

Perhaps a third option, one that I hesitate to settle for and am not sure I can do, is to accept that I am unlikely to feel content with my life. This does not line up with the idea of welcoming abundance, unless abundance is the space left by the lack of things I thought I needed to be happy. What does it mean to say, when I get to the end of my life, that I never found contentment but that I appreciated abundance when it came to me? That my life knew more pain, discomfort and lack than it did resources and plenty, but that I made do as best I could with what I had?

There are very brief moments, seconds really, where I see myself through another’s eyes and I know, in wordless thought, that I am a good person who is doing their best. My childhood trauma not only set me up to find scarcity in excess, but also to see myself as selfish and ungrateful, someone incapable of opening to the holy and the grace of life because of the despicable nature of my soul. This isn’t who exists when all the layers of who I am dissipate. I am in abundance and of abundance. I may not find contentment if I seek it through pleasure, but I can be content in who I am. From that place of knowing I’m enough, I have more than enough at my disposal to be enough in ways in which I need to be.

Are you content in your life? In who you are as a person? What brings you joy? What in your life fills you with gratitude?

Inspiration for Intuitive Cards (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I have been working on my In an Open Hand intuitive card deck for at least a year and a half now. It contains 64 cards, each with a different word and prompts for different parts of self for reflection. It is also split into seasons. I’ve finished the prompts for fall and winter, but have much left to do for spring and summer. I’ve been waiting impatiently for spring to be on the horizon so that I can get back to creating in this way again. As I wait for signs winter is lifting, I decided to spend some time reflecting on the process so far.

If you are interested in creating your own intuitive deck, here are a few tips and ideas about how you might go about doing so, based on what I’ve learned from my own experience:

  1. Decide on a few themes that have a numerical basis to them. For example, I’ve incorporated moon phases, seasons of the year, body systems and the like into my deck. This allowed me to create “suits” as well as types of cards within each suit. Doing this allows for a more intimate focus on a particular area of your inner world and can help to give you some direction.
  2. Consider the purpose you would like your deck to serve in your life and what you would like to learn from it. Intuitive to me speaks to exploring my internal experiences, but it might mean something else to you. What I love about making my own set of cards is that I am not conforming myself into someone else’s way of conceptualizing things but can be as free as my imagination will allow me to be.
  3. Do words or images speak more to your inner world and your intuition? If images are how you process, you may want to begin by creating the artwork for each card and then letting your ideas flow from there. I am much more comfortable with my writing skills, so I’ve started with laying out my ideas in language and am still working on finding a way to represent them visually.
  4. For which type of person do you want your deck to be accessible? As a non-binary person, I’ve been extremely frustrated by the strict gender binary most tarot and oracle cards incorporate, so it was important for me to find a way to represent my spirituality that would not reinforce the gender binary. Even if you are the only one who is going to use the cards you create, spend some time making sure you are welcoming all parts of self and not solely the ones with which you are most comfortable.
  5. Take your time. I have gotten a lot of fulfillment from having an ongoing creative project with no set end-date and a maximum amount of flexibility. I feel inspired by having something in my life that isn’t focused on deadlines, productivity, making an impression or fitting in. It is possible that you might start creating an intuitive deck and find yourself led in another creative direction. Be open to possibility.

If you have dedication to inner work and/or creativity, what wisdom or inspiration do you have to share? What word or image would feel appropriate to your day today? What does it mean to you to attend to your intuition?

Mindfulness in the Winter Sun (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I spent a short time in sitting meditation. I began by locating a window through which the afternoon sun was streaming. I sat cross-legged on the floor and, after closing my eyes, I centered myself on my breath. I took time to notice the pauses between each in-breath and out-breath.

My face felt warmed by the sunlight filtering through the window and I felt enlivened. I’d wrapped a warm robe around myself before starting the mediation, so “cozy” was a word that passed through my mind. There was little activity in the way of textures, noises or smells to distract me from the present. I felt drawn in by the light and wanted to rest in it.

I then brought my attention to my body, enlarging my sense of self to try to encompass as much of my physical frame as I was able to do. I felt a block when I got to my upper back, so I decided to move into a few yoga poses such as child’s pose at the end of the meditation session in order to release the tension I was experiencing in that area. I haven’t done this before but I like the idea of listening intuitively to my body during mindfulness and then responding accordingly.

Have you practiced mindfulness in various seasons and weather patterns? If so, which is your favorite? What pose might reflect what your body needs today?

Migraine Self-Care (In the Cards)

I’m on day 2 of a migraine. I decided to pull a card and happened upon one focused on feelings of coziness and comfort in the chill of winter. It felt appropriate to explore how my self-care might be tailored to my particular health needs today.

Self-Observation

My migraines vary in their quality, intensity and duration. My main triggers appear to be dramatic shifts in the weather, hormone changes and emotional stress. I believe the current one has been brought on primarily by feeling overwhelmed; this kind tends to last longer and sometimes only lift after I process a lot of trauma memories and emotions. Starting by observing my experience and being with myself in the midst of it redirects my focus from the symptoms and onto self-care.

Dim the lights

I once happened to have an eye exam scheduled while I was having a migraine, which quickly confirmed for me that I become quite sensitive to light when I’m having a migraine. I began the day by skipping my routine of opening the curtains in my living room. I’ve kept everything as dark as I can and this reduces my pain level.

modulate my pace

Exercise has a paradoxical relationship with migraines. It can serve as a trigger but is also useful to reduce the frequency of migraines. For myself, low-impact exercise, where I get my body moving but do not increase my pulse to its upper threshold, seems to provide me with more benefits than complications.

I also need to rest at times when I’m in an active migraine phase. Too much external stimuli, such as a crowded mall with lots of smells, sights and sounds, feels even more unbearable when I’m in pain. Slowing myself down but continuing a steady amount of activity at times tends to work best for me.

eat nourishing foods

One sign I’ve noticed a migraine might be starting soon is that I will have strong salt or sugar cravings and a much harder time avoiding junk food. I ate a large amount of sushi Friday night which I think preemptively upped my salt level and warded off the worst of the cravings, although I then ate much more homemade food than I intended yesterday. Today, I accidentally made a super-spicy tofu dish, which I had to eat very slowly because my mouth was on fire. I found some research stating migraines are triggered by spicy foods and others noting spicy foods help to mitigate the symptoms of migraines; in either case, eating it certainly cleared out my sinuses quite effectively! Overall, doing as much as I can to eat homemade real food seems to be a way to keep my migraine symptoms from getting worse.

At times, extremely cold drinks that cause a “brain freeze” help to temporarily relieve my migraine pain when nothing else will. Apparently the blood vessels and nerves related to brain freezes may also come into play with cluster headaches and migraines, so perhaps inducing the phenomenon interrupts the headache. I may round out my diet for the day with a homemade ice-cold smoothie and see if I can replicate this person’s success.

If you suffer from migraines, which types of self-care do you find most useful? Like me, do you concentrate on trying to reduce the pain you are experiencing, or are there other priorities on which you find it more helpful to concentrate? Are there any foods or beverages that assist you the most in coping?

Birdsong in Winter (Today's Simple Pleasure)

My day began by realizing I’d slept in until it was quite sunny outside. This made me happy as I felt I’d finally gotten a good night’s rest. As my dog and I walked outside in the rising sun, I heard birdsong cascading up and down the tree branches. There were at least two songbirds in chorus with one another. I felt my heart soaring and my inner well of strength filling; as I wrote recently, there is more beauty than pain in the world. For every dark moment, a candle burns, casting light beyond its wick into its surroundings.

My experiences in life have left me a vocal witness to suffering whenever I encounter it. I cannot look away and pretend all is well. But, in the same moment, I can find the flower peaking through the snow. I don’t need hope that things will get better. Rather, I need acknowledgement that, in the midst of despair, there is a space of honoring and being-with and a space of joy. When life completely devastates me, the trauma-voice in my head has one mantra “make it stop.” I don’t have the ability to end every negative encounter, but I do have the capacity to stand up for myself as I validate my own perceptions and to find the places where light streams through and the birds burst into song.

The Interior of Loneliness (Today's Daily Remembrance)

It feels like my life is somewhat imploding currently, mostly due to ongoing problems at my job. I’ve written about feeling as though I can’t avoid the inevitable collapse of my defenses and strategies for avoiding a breakdown. Today, I went to my primary care doctor and spent half the time crying about the state of affairs in which I find myself. Where I ended up at was articulating how little social capital I feel that I possess–how few people and related resources I have when the chips are down. I’m both lonely and alone.

My loneliness is not rooted in feeling a lack of feeling deeply connected, rather, it is more foundational to what it means to be a “social animal” as humans are. In other lives, I would have been cast out of the tribe or burned as a witch or left without a defender when the enemy arrived. I’m an outsider not the 80’s teen movie version where the outsiders join up and rebel, but in a way that leaves me truly isolated. In my weakest moments, I wish I’d been born with less capacity for insight and self-reflection, because I think my ability to recognize how differently others hold intimacy as compared to how I do makes what I lack all the more painful. I’m missing both the ability to feel safeness within closeness as well as the ability to receive what others offer in terms of intimacy.

Today, I have no solutions and no advice to myself or anyone like me. I don’t know how to fix it and I felt insulted and misunderstood when my doctor pushed medicine to “reduce stress.” As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a pill to allow a person to love and be loved; it’s rooted in attachment and hard to change. I guess as we approach a day of which I’m not very found, I will have to content myself in knowing that my loneliness and alienation are real, they have consequences in my life and that all I can offer myself is compassion in sitting with the difficulty of those emotions. Do you relate to any of the thoughts and feelings I’ve shared? If so, what has helped you feel compassion for yourself in this space?

Room for Growth

I am following up my recent post about how to know whether each person’s full humanity is being recognized in a relationship. Today, I’m focusing on my own weak spots in living up to what I wrote. The list from my previous post is below.

“If your full humanity is being recognized in a relationship, you will be:

  • considered as a whole person, not as a representative of one aspect of your identity
  • expected to own your mistakes and to make concrete steps to improve
  • welcomed as you are
  • able to set appropriate boundaries, saying yes and no according to your preferences
  • only responsible for managing your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors
  • able to make your own decisions
  • allowed to consider the compatibility of each person’s needs, desires and wishes
  • taken seriously when you share that something offended you
  • offered love, affection and trust without having to earn them
  • apologized to when someone’s actions harm you
  • allowed to express your needs, desires and wishes without being shamed or mocked
  • given space if you ask for it
  • present with each part of yourself
  • encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace
  • built up, cheered for, and supported.”

Offerings of acceptance

“Welcomed as you are” is a struggle for me in my personal relationships. In professional relationships where I have authority over someone, I strive to my fullest capacity to be open-minded, non-judgmental and to find something good in everyone I meet. Outside of the structure of this context, I tend to focus on potential red flags, signs of abusive tendencies and to assess on a continual basis how likely my boundaries will be repeatedly tested in a relationship. In other words, I center my attention on self-protection and compatibility. I would like to better trust myself to be able to adjust how close I am to someone in the context of information I learn in the future, rather than to take every questionable situation and elevate it into “and we’re done” before I have a full assessment of how things might go.

Unearned trust

I am not certain as to my capacity at “offering love, affection and trust without having to earn them.” I am not overly transactional in my relationships (for example, I don’t give gifts or act with generosity with the expectation that it is returned in kind), but I do open up incrementally as I build trust with someone. I also think that I am prone to withdrawing if I feel hurt and could fairly be accused of “abandoning” people, although my perspective is that we each need to be responsible for handling our own emotions rather than expecting someone else to resolve difficult feelings for us. I suppose my evaluation of this capacity would be that I am alright with where I am at on it, but I think there have been others in my life who would report me as being limited in intimacy and closeness.

Change on your own time frame

I am not very good at making sure those in my life are “encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace.” I want results and I want them now! My lovely brain is highly skilled at instantly peering, with accuracy, into another’s weaknesses and then developing, without intention, a multi-step plan for how they can better their life. I have advice overflowing and have had to do a lot of work to contain my desires to share it when it is not solicited. I’ve been reinforced many times as to the fact that the assessments I make are on-target and insightful, so I feel confident that my wisdom isn’t merely a projection of my own unconscious issues. I own my shit and I work on myself constantly; my desire to help others do the same is both a reflection of my dedication to inner work and of my intolerance for a lack of insight.

But, and the pause matters here, I am not in charge of anyone’s life besides my own. I do not get to decide how, when or where someone comes to a reckoning with who they are and the impact of their actions, especially when they do not have a direct effect on me. My insight may not be what the person needs at that moment in time, especially if they are upset. Often, offering empathy clears space for objectivity and analysis, but being “rational” doesn’t always allow for an emotional connection. I feel frustrated that people I care about have to help me learn this lesson on a repeated basis, but it also allows me to circle back to considering compatibility. I do best with those who appreciate my clear-sighted way of looking at the world, rather than with those who only want “emotional support” and who do not move from a place of coping emotionally to working on solving what can be solved in their life situation. There is a fine balance to be struck in this area and I hope, with time, to get better at finding it.

If you care to, please share which of the aspects of my list you find to be most challenging at embracing, and where you might go with it.

Ear Massage (Today's Daily Presence)

For today’s Daily Presence, I am learning and practicing ear self-massage techniques. As a person diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, auditory processing disorder, Eustachian tube dysfunction, tinnitus and TMJ at various points in my adult life, this area of my body has dealt with a lot of strain and discomfort. As of late, my body’s latest “trick” is to turn one part of my left ear scarlet red out of nowhere, with a corresponding warm sensation, so the issues I have seem to be getting worse rather than better. I suspect that my botched root canal over five years ago was a major contributor to many of these ailments, as several of the issues are primarily or exclusively on the same side as the tooth I had to have pulled.

I did not know until today how many acupressure points correspond to the ear. (Side note: The link I’ve included unfortunately does not reference Chinese/Eastern medicine sufficiently in explaining how acupressure may work.) I found the pressure point on my outer lower lobe to be the one that was most relaxing. Unfortunately, my tinnitus started up again after trying the points on my inner ear, so I will have to stick to only a few of the recommended areas.

I also tried out a technique for massaging one’s ears and neck in order to promote the opening of a person’s Eustachian tubes. After trying it out, I found myself wondering again how much the severe neck tension I have also worsens any ear dysfunction from which I might suffer. I find it interesting to note how much the lymph system plays a role in our ear health.

Finally, with my left ear ringing, I researched whether massage can help to reduce tinnitus. There was a double-blind study published that indicates it can, but the specific trigger points were not included. I have not gotten a massage in quite some time, so this finding is making me tempted to try it out again!

The Daily Presence practice never ceases to impress upon me how many body parts we have and how much of an impact each one can have on our lives. In addition, I am beginning to be able to appreciate the complex interconnectedness within each of our bodies in new ways as I learn about how the systems that run throughout our body interface with organs, limbs and the like. Have you tried any ear self-massage techniques? If so, how did they affect your body?