Appreciating the Absurd (Today's Daily Remembrance)

I struggle as a person with the false belief that the events of my life are completely under my control. In my worldview, planning, due diligence and attention to detail can surely prevent all catastrophes. Although there is certainly wisdom in forethought, I acknowledge that massive efforts to wall off any possible harms comes at its own cost, and that some circumstances are truly out of our control. In addition to the unknowable, mistakes happen even when we try to avoid them. I decided to take a bit of time today to recall the humor that can come with such situations.

One of my most poorly planned driving errors (of which there are many) occurred when I was in college. It had snowed significantly the night before and the sunniness of the day belied the amount of precipitation that had accumulated. I entered a complicated intersection of two roads which offset each other. Somehow, in my brilliance, as I tried to find a parking spot, I decided to make a three-point turn. I unfortunately drove directly into a snow bank in order to do so. I have no idea why I thought I could just pop into it for a second and then retrieve myself. I immediately became hopelessly stuck and blocked multiple lanes of travel, as I was now perpendicular to the curb. A few people eventually jumped out of their cars and angrily pushed me out of the snow. It was my total confidence as I drove into the snow that has always stuck with me, a “this is fine and will work” attitude that failed to consider in any way the physical realities of my situation that makes me laugh.

Another mistake came at a thrift shop, I believe a year or two after the first story. I wore dresses and skirts at the time but was very lackadaisical about shaving my legs (a preference that makes more sense in light of my realization that I am trans and non-binary). I found a skirt that I thought was cute and attempted to try it on. It wouldn’t fit over my pants so I took them off. It still wouldn’t fit (at this point, the lesson is to give up), but I forged on by straining it, one arm at a time, over my head. I was wearing it finally, but could only move it a foot or so up and down my torso. This was before cell phones were popular so I had no way of calling anyone for cover. Were this to happen today, I would walk out and explain my dilemma. I was much more easily shamed at the time, so I felt there was no solution other than to force it from my body. After several minutes of straining, I finally got a handle on it enough to rip it a bit and pry it off of myself. Even though it caused me immense guilt to do so, I ended up leaving it in the dressing room as I was too embarrassed to admit I got stuck in it. The mental image of tangling my way through mismatched clothing makes me crack up, especially in light of the ridiculous lengths to which I went to trap myself in a piece of clothing.

I have many, many more stories of stupid actions I’ve taken. Before jolting off on a new adventure (which these days often involves an attempt at DIY repair), I often ask myself “Is this how I die?” mostly but not fully in jest. The importance of being able to make a fool of and laugh at one’s self cannot be over-estimated as both a coping skill and a check to arrogance. What is a ridiculous scrap into which you’ve gotten yourself? What about it strikes you as funny? What lesson, if any, did you learn from it?

Sending Calming Signals (Today's Daily Presence)

Today was filled with stress, albeit good stress because I was challenging myself in positive ways. Even though nothing went wrong and I didn’t feel triggered per se, my body is responding as though I am in danger. My heart is racing, I feel physically numb and my time perception is warped. This is a signal to me that my PTSD reactivity is on high alert, and that I need to spend some time reconnecting to my body. The easiest and simplest way I know to send it a sign that I am safe is to regulate my breathing.

Breathwork is not limited to breathing in and out slowly. For me, it starts by noticing my breath. The act of paying attention to my breath in and of itself soothes me. When I allow my breath to happen only on an unconscious level, I tend to breath in a very shallow and quick manner that leads my body to think it is danger (and which results from the perception of threat). Next, I invite my diaphragm to contract and relax at a slower pace. Finally, I allow for pauses between my in and out-breath.

A multitude of health benefits have been linked to slow breathing. Unhurried respiration eventually lowers my pulse rate. It may also help my heart to beat more efficiently and my oxygen exchange to be fuller. Six to ten breathes per minute is apparently what has been shown to lead to the best outcomes; I haven’t timed myself but ten per minute would likely be closer to where I’m at. Have you checked in with your breathing today? How does your body respond to you noticing your breath? How does slow breathing, if you are able to practice it, affect you?

When We Fail (Today's Daily Remembrance)

Are the endpoints of success and failure the only way to encapsulate our life experiences? This is a question I am considering for today’s Daily Remembrance. In contemplating ways in which failures have helped me grow, I believe one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to look at the largest possible framework in any given situation. (Content warning for discussion of eating disorders below).

What may feel like a personal failure often looks quite different when we take the broader context into consideration. I did poorly on a science fair project in high school. I was extremely embarrassed and ashamed of myself when this happened, to the point that it held me back in my future career. The main reason I did poorly was that I did not stay after school and work with a teacher on it. I failed to do this because I had an eating disorder at the time and was near collapse by the end of the regular school day. Had I received the treatment I needed and been supported in my healing, perhaps I would have been more successful.

I also believe “success” is relative. Success in the situation I described above might have been me working through the underlying trauma that led to my eating disorder, science fair be damned. In a lot of situations, someone “succeeding” on the outside by garnishing money, fame, connections, and so forth comes at a high personal cost. Those who “fail” to do so are often hampered by systemic imbalances that are out of their control.

I believe the freedom to choose what we want as our end goal is one of the most important freedoms we have. Disavowing popularity and financial riches as the ultimate measures of goodness or happiness or whatever can enable us to feel gratitude for what we are able to experience. Whether our success is individual or communal, disengaging it from consumerism and competitiveness would likely serve many of us well.

Where I struggle is in making my end goals affirmative rather than avoidant. If I’m honest, I often gear my actions towards “feel the least amount of stress possible” rather than “fully live in each moment.” Every stressor then becomes a failure, rather than each experience of presence being a success. I awoke yesterday and wrote a poem to the snowy morning. This action was incredibly powerful as I contemplated what it would be like to fill my mind with the abundance of the times I can both be and do with joy rather than the times I have to dissociate and survive. What are your end goals? How do you define success and failure? What has a past failure taught you?

A dog's footprint embedded in a few inches of snow.

A Study of Stillness (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I recently shared a multitude of ways to practice mindfulness and a reader reminded me to also include photography as a method. As I’ve been gearing up for having to return to work, I’ve felt my creative connection diminishing, so I decided, after an unexpected snowfall, that observing stillness (and movement) through a series of photographs would be a good exercise. The simple act of walking outside for five minutes was transformed by this experience, so I need to repeat it!

A photograph of a branch on a bush with red leaves and berries holding large puffs of snow.
A branch on a bush with red leaves and berries holding large puffs of snow.
A photograph of a maze of tree branches extending from a tree off the side to the right. The branches are covered in snow.
A maze of tree branches in snow.
A photograph of a part of a metal bench with a single drop of icy water clinging to its lower ledge.
A bench with a single drop of icy water.
A photograph of a web of large tree branches coated in snow.
A web of tree branches in snow.
A photograph of the ends of tree branches holding snow.
The ends of tree branches holding snow.

I’m glad I spent a few minutes in nature today noticing where there was stillness and where there was movement. I was frustrated that I couldn’t fully capture the large clumps of snow that kept falling off the trees, perhaps I need to work on making short videos as well. Where can you notice stillness in nature today?

Safety First (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw from my In an Open Hand deck invited a reflection on the safeguards needed in order to foster deep connection. I’ve become intimately familiar with what feels unsafe in relationships, so I’m hoping I can extrapolate from that into what would allow for a sense of security (as well as consider moments where it’s gone right). I believe the same principles apply inwardly in my inner work as well as outwardly as I relate to other people.

Respect for vulnerability and boundaries

The interaction that has destroyed most of my close relationships is my perception that the other person does not care about the vulnerable parts of who I am, that they are pressing past my boundaries I’ve clearly established to get to my strength, my trauma be damned. I also struggle when someone reacts to me as though I’ve crossed their boundaries, even though they either never communicated them to me or have changed them without telling me. I grow especially weary when people take and take in terms of emotional support, but then push me away when someone else (usually the person they were in conflict with that I’ve been helping them process) gets closer to them and they don’t need me anymore. Basically, I can tell when I’m being used and I refuse to tolerate it.

I want relationships where vulnerability is treated with the care and honor it deserves and where the emotional care-taking is evenly balanced over the course of the relationship. I want to be comfortable setting boundaries and having them be set with me. Most of all, I want to feel that there are more than enough resources between the other person and I so that we can both benefit from our interactions, rather than holding a sense of scarcity that makes every kindness I give feel like a kindness withheld from me (and vice versa).

capacity to own flaws and limitations

I’ve received very few heart-felt apologies about the “big” stuff in my life. I can think of several that I’ve doled out, as I know I am capable of self-examination and can take responsibility for my part in interactions. In order to be able to do this, a person must first know themselves well and accept themselves, otherwise, any feedback from others that they’ve been acting in a harmful way will only trigger their defenses.

The capacity for self-reflection is only part of the equation, as a recent relationship proved to me, as a person also has to be conscientious and able to feel guilt. I feel remorse when I know I’ve hurt someone, intentionally or accidentally, so I apologize. People who cannot feel guilt don’t and those of us on the other side of it may feel tempted to internalize their guilt. It’s as if there is a free-floating amount of remorse generated when one party harms another, and someone has to absorb it. As a result, I feel so guilty when I end relationships with people who have harmed me and have failed to apologize or change after doing so.

When someone knows themself and holds themself to a set of moral standards, they can then view mistakes and flaws as opportunities for growth. There might even be a place of gratitude for the chance to learn more fully how to be kind and caring. This is an impersonal example, but I read this article and, because I support death with dignity so strongly and because the patriarchy is so insidious, I completely missed the misogynistic murder aspect to the story until I read Twitter discourse on it. I felt immensely appreciative to be able to re-examine my thoughts and reactions before I caused direct harm to anyone by sharing my flawed viewpoint. I would be lying if I said I handled in-person confrontations as well, but I want to be a person and to know people capable of this non-defensive response to situations where we miss the mark.

support and honesty

I’ve met people who seem intent on criticizing my every flaw to make themselves feel better. I’ve also met people who flatter me as a way to get what they want from me. Neither approach is sustainable over time in terms of building trust. What I want from others and from myself is the ability to find and uplift the good, while judiciously sharing concerns when asked.

My issues with anxiety are so severe that I can lean into “well, but have you considered…doom and gloom prediction…” an approach which inevitably feels unsupportive even when my intention is to help the person avoid harm. I try now to at least ask permission before launching into such an analysis. I want the people with whom I’m close to be honest with me in their assessment of issues I discuss with them, but to couch that honesty within the context of their own biases.

In conclusion, I think I’ve managed to create a narrative to which I can return from time to time in order to assess the health of my relationships. The attributes I’ve described are not only qualities I want to find in others, they are also capacities I want to more fully develop in myself. It feels rather odd to crave guilty people, but, when I think through the relational landmines of the prior decade, pretty much all of them, whether the other person invaded my space or abandoned me when I needed support, was held in the frame of “I don’t own/accept responsibility for/feel guilty on any level” for pain I experienced as a result of interactions with the person. In some cases, I wasn’t brave enough to fully articulate what I believed the person should accept as their mess to clean up, but this was usually because their general approach to the world told me there was zero chance of them responding non-defensively. I can’t expect others to treat me in a way I cannot act, so it is my responsibility to continue to grow into the person I want in my life.

What are the behaviors and characteristics that create safety in relationships for you? What role, if any, does the capacity for guilt play? Who would you like to become relationally?

Bodily Filtration (Today's Daily Presence)

For today’s Daily Presence card, I chose the card focused on the lymphatic system. This is a body system I know little about in terms of how it actually functions. I’ve absorbed snippets of information, but, in investigating further, realized there is a lot I don’t fully understand. In order to pay mindful attention and honor an area of the body, I find more meaning when the biological processes involved are clear to me.

What I learned about the system is that it acts as a filtration setup for lymph, which in itself is a substance made of white blood cells that attack viruses and bacteria, as well as chyle which consists of fats from our small intestines. Lymph nodes are where the response to infections take place, so they swell when we are fighting off an infection because there are more white blood cells being produced. In addition, the lymph system helps to keep our body balanced in terms of fluids. Taken together, problems in these functions can spell trouble in terms of immune capacity as well as lymphedema (swelling) in affected areas of the body.

As I educated myself about how my lymphatic system functions, I found myself wondering how much it affects my experience of chronic pain and my general health and well-being. We can test our cardiovascular system with tools like a blood pressure cuff and pulsometer, but I am unaware of similar products to evaluate how well fluid is being drained or how well our lymph nodes are working to filter bodily invaders out. All I found in looking into this were “contrast MRI’s” and the like, although I’m sure basic bloodwork, with its white blood cell counts and all, gives some insight.

I also spent time looking into how to improve the function of my lymphatic system and was disappointed that there were few scientifically-reviewed practices available. One message I found repeated was the importance of drinking water to keep our bodies hydrated. If there are areas of poor lymph drainage, massage can be helpful but should be performed by someone certified in the process and only if a doctor recommends it based on a person’s medical status. Finally, the cardiovascular system is related to the lymphatic system, so improving cardiovascular health might help to reduce inflammation, which, in turn, may be beneficial to the lymphatic system.

All in all, I found myself both intrigued and frustrated by my exploration of the research on this topic as I do not feel as though I gained a full understanding of how it works or how to ensure I am doing what I can to improve its function. Whenever I get a professional massage, I feel queasy and odd for a few hours afterwards. I’m curious as to what my lymph systems “levels” look like after an experience like that. In thinking about my heart health, I will also consider now my immune system and how they interrelate. Finally, I find it highly relevant to how I work as a person to consider that our immune defense has a passive feel to it; to some extent, invaders are allowed to “flow” until they reach the filter, at which time all hell breaks loose and they get (hopefully) destroyed. To what extent do you bring conscious awareness to your lymphatic system? Does it represent anything on a spiritual or energetic level to you? Are there any actions you are taking to improve its function?

Eight Mindfulness and Spirituality Practices to Start the Year Well

As we start the new year, I am more determined than ever to fully engage in the present moment as much as I can and to have that moment be held as sacred. I’ve included ideas here for myself as well as for you about how to enable this process. These practices might also be thought of as including self-reflection, sensory processing and grounding techniques.

1. Writing a poem

I am writing a series of poetry dedicated to animal encounters. This process has felt sacred to me as I draw deeply from each moment of time in which an animal and I exchange meaning. Other series I think would be interesting to try include weather patterns, plants, seasons and the sky.

2. Drawing a nature scene

I prefer my time in nature to be a slow process. What I mean by this is I am not focused on moving quickly through it by mechanical means like a jet-ski or ATV and that I let go of trying to “conquer” any aspect of it, such as completing a trail in as little time as I can. I once joined a walking group and spent so much time outside for a season, but the focus on walking fast and talking completely detracted from any mindfulness. Activities such as sketching and drawing can require tremendous patience and repetition, which enables me to pause and to be rather than do.

3. Practicing Breathwork

I shared recently that breathwork can potentially affect the brain-body connection in PTSD. Knowing this inspires me to spend time simply in awareness of my breathing. For those who do not have much free time, even a few minutes between activities can serve to help us recenter.

4. Connecting with nature through each sense

I love forest therapy and the relationship it encourages between mindfulness and nature. My favorite practice is to notice how each sense is affected by being outside. With a bit of planning, this encounter can be tailored to an individual’s sensory needs and abilities.

5. Engaging in a Body scan and movement

I sometimes find myself reacting emotionally to a situation, and, only after I get some time for self-reflection, do I realize that my physical state either contributed to or has been impacted by the encounter. Spending time checking with each body system and sending it healing energy helps me feel grounded.

In the past six months, I’ve also educated myself about ways to stretch specific parts of my body such as my toes. Doing so not only frees me of physical tension, but it also helps me expand my sense of inhabiting every aspect of who I am. Becoming embodied can be a challenge for those of us who have endured trauma, but doing so has allowed me to more fully process other aspects of my identity such as being trans.

6. Drawing a card

I believe that qualitative as well as quantitative data and information are useful, and I find that using tarot and oracle cards helps me release some of my compulsions towards liner thinking so that I can also take in “big picture” viewpoints. Experiencing insight through not only written but also through illustration is also enabled through the inclusion of various decks I have.

7. Listening inwardly

I’ve shared my process for doing inner work. I sometimes find myself wishing I could pause social encounters, check in with myself, and then reengage. I may need to find a way to do this IRL as so much of my out-of-body, out-of-time response is due to not having enough brain power to process my internal and external experiences simultaneously. When I make time for this practice, I often realize that much of the anxiety and anger to which I’d been reacting for hours was due to an inability to fully hear myself.

8. Holding Sacred Ritual

There is a good deal of overlap between the practices I’ve listed above and scared ritual in which I might engage. I have at times kept to a Pagan calendar as well as honored the full and new moons, but I did not find myself relating to these holidays any more than I relate to the ones most Americans follow. Ritual, for me, works best when it is held in anticipation or response to lived events. In particular, I want to engage in it at times where I feel scattered from myself and in need of reconnection.

Conclusion

Which of the mindfulness and spirituality practices that I’ve shared have you found to work the best for your needs? What else would you add as beneficial? What barriers, if any, might you need to overcome to allow yourself to be in the scared moment?

Appreciating the Winter Season (Today's Simple Pleasure)

It finally feels like the heart of winter where I live, with snow covering the grass and a cold wind blowing. I at first was displeased with having to spend time today snow shoveling, but then decided to take the opportunity to check in with each of my senses in an outdoor setting. My pup accompanied me on my journey.

I started by noticing the temperature. My face was uncovered so it was quite cold, but I soon observed how toasty my hands and upper body felt in my gloves and coat. The sensation of the wind blowing by intrigued me, as it felt as though it was sneaking past my defenses and trying to infiltrate every pore.

The smell was, for once, crisp and clean. Several of my neighbors burn wood for heat, which I hate as the smoke is highly irritating to my lungs and the odor lingers on my clothes after only a brief time outside. They’d given it a rest for once (or perhaps the wind had cleared it away) and I could detect only the scent of the snow.

I forgot to give much attention to what I was hearing, but it was in general quite quiet outside as well. There was a neighbor shoveling in the distance and a dog barked occasionally, seemingly agitated after I’d chopped up the ice on my driveway with my shovel. There were few traffic sounds.

In terms of vision, I felt bored looking at the dead, light-brown grass peeking through the thin layer of snow here and there. I then remembered my flash of insight this fall in regards to including the sky in my observations. I looked up and the most subtle, beautiful set of blues, whites and greys awaited me. The sun was hidden but the sky looked cotton-covered in a soft palette of clouds. I read in the last few months about the Cloud Appreciation Society. I am too lazy to join their ranks but I think they are on to something as I feel so rewarded whenever I remember to look up.

All in all, taking a few moments to connect to the experience of winter, rather than to simply shovel it out of the way, helped me reset my mental state. What is the weather like where you live (thoughts to those in NSW in Australia right now!)? With which sense do you most appreciate colder temperatures? If you practice mindfulness in nature, how does it affect you?

Trans-Androgynous, Non-Binary and More

As it’s the end of the year and I’m engaging in a lot of internal processing, I decided to spend some time reflecting on my journey thus far being out as a trans and non-binary person. I will be discussing my current way of conceptualizing my gender. I will also talk about both social and physical dysphoria and how they affect me.

Self-Understanding

It has taken me some time to find language to describe my experience of gender and I still don’t feel that I’ve quite come to a perfect phrasing. I label myself as trans and non-binary. In terms of being trans, even though I am on T, I feel that trans-androgynous fits me better than trans-masculine. I want my gender and sex to be read as non-binary, not as a man or a women. Although I connect with both masculinity and femininity, my primary experience of gender is outside of that framing. I don’t yet have a complete ability to describe what I consider this to be, I just know that it exists.

Community

I have significantly more social dysphoria than I do body dysphoria. For me, this means that I am affected by being misgendered more than I am by looking the mirror. What makes cis-centric viewpoints especially painful is that most cis people in my life try explain away the pain I feel when I’m misgendered, rather than validate my perspective.

Because of my social dysphoria, I find non-binary affirming spaces to be places where I feel more comfortable. Unfortunately, the only ones I’ve been able to find thus far are online. Many people in the queer community still divide trans people into trans-femme and trans-masc perspectives only, leaving those of us who don’t fall into this fuzzier version of the binary with limited places into which we feel we fit.

Gender is a primary way humans sort themselves, so, in interactions with people who don’t understand my gender, I tend to feel a sense of invisible alienation. Most people will place me on the binary without my consent and then react with shock or surprise when I remind them I don’t belong there. I am hoping my continued advocacy and attending pride events and such will help me connect IRL with others who can relate to my experience.

Embodiment

I’m taking both low-dose T as well as combination birth control. This isn’t a recommended HRT plan, but is necessarily for me because of the medical conditions I have. I feel quite a bit of conflict internally about being on T, as I don’t particularly want hair changes. I have gotten some but they are not yet past a point where I feel totally uncomfortable.

Even though I have issues with some of the physical changes associated with T, I absolutely love how my body feels on it. My physical stamina has dramatically increased and my chronic pain has diminished. I am quite short but have always seen myself as a bulldog; T is affirming my sense of strength and allowing my natural abilities at being handy/mechanically-minded to come through more fully. Many people describe a narrowing of their emotional range on T; mine has actually grown and I’ve been able to cry in situations where I would not have before. My viewpoint on certain situations has shifted and I feel more certain of myself.

Conclusion

On the whole, I experience a bit of ambiguity about some of the physical changes I’m undergoing. I have a decidedly stronger reaction to the social issues that affect me as a trans and non-binary person. I feel excitement about continuing my journey of self-understanding and coming to a more complete understanding of myself in terms of my gender.

Time Enough (In the Cards)

Today’s card invited reflection of how the pace of my life is going. I decided to focus on how I hold my sense of presence and time in situations where others are present. I believe that my experiences here will guide me in finding places where I connect with a felt sense of safety.

I went out to a restaurant with a group of friends last night and noticed a moment pass where I would normally feel like time was “up,” where I’d become impatient and want to leave. After my reflection on having PTSD, I believe this surge of anxiety occurs when, as a result of either internal or external stimuli, I come to view the experience as containing threats from which I want to flee. At dinner, in the moment this would have happened, my internal system instead read “you are safe” and I was enveloped with a wonderful sensation of calm and a near-hallucination of a clock shutting off. What time it was and how much time there was left in the encounter weren’t my most pressing concerns.

In almost every other social setting, I feel as though I am in a race where the goal is to survive until time runs out. Maybe I’m trapped on a level of the simulation or my programming is broken! In all seriousness, the intensity of needing to rush through and have whatever is happening end is overwhelming. I look forward to events much more than I enjoy attending or remembering them.

I do not believe I am able to engage in mindfulness or present-moment awareness in the presence of others for any length of time. As soon as at least one other person is in the same room as me, I lose my connection to my body and my sense of time becomes at least slightly distorted. Every day when I leave my job, I find myself waiting for myself as I leave the building, crawling back into my skin and inhabiting my breath and my rhythm for the first time in hours. Who I am around others is often only a shadow-shell of my true self.

My experience of time is less affected in outdoor spaces, where the elements help me reconnect with my body and remind me of shifts outside of my own reactions to stimuli. If waiting rooms were parks and grocery stores outdoor venues, I would perhaps respond with less rage. Small, confined rooms such as medical offices are especially taxing. I recall a few moments where I felt highly connected to friends; most of them occurred in green spaces with people far and few between.

This reflection has enabled me to note a direct connection between where I am and how intact my perception of time remains. People are not the only variable; fresh air and a luxurious amount of room in which to rest or walk about also play major roles. What factors affect how you perceive time? To what extent is your connection to your body impacted by the presence of other people? In which spaces do you feel safest, where a sense of more than enough time and place are pervasive?