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?

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?

Tend to Your Own House First (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw focuses on closeness and intimacy. This topic is highly charged for me right now, but I want to give it attention. One of the queries associated with the card is to consider what needs to be healed in relation to connection.

As I sit with it, what comes to mind is a desire, both inwardly and in relationship, to be taken seriously not only for my strengths as a person, but also for my limitations, scars and disabilities. I have had so many people in the last decade clamor to me because I am organized, dedicated and empathetic. They have no qualms about seeking my advice or assistance when they are struggling. However, when it comes to my weaknesses showing through, they act like spoiled children who didn’t get the extra toy they wanted, failing to give me the space and grace I need to work through my reactions on my own timetable when I feel betrayed and misused, and instead pressuring me to take care of their feelings at the cost of my own integrity.

I want to start by offering myself as much time and energy as it takes to come back whole after I’ve been treated in a faithless and harmful way, without having to justify to myself why I deserve to be treated with more care and consideration. I want people in my life who are mature enough to hold space for me–to send me the message I’m here when you are ready to talk–instead of treating me like they have an unassailable right to my friendship and loyalty. These hypothetical people look after their own internal world rather than thrusting the disemboweled contents of their inner wreckage on me the minute they are told they’ve violated my trust.

One of the most powerful stands I ever took was to tell someone who wouldn’t respect my boundaries “I know you need a friend to help you through this, I’m just not that friend.” The message I want to send in these situations is: Don’t harm me and then expect me to help you through my reaction of distancing myself from you due to your harm. Take responsibility to get yourself right just like I’m doing.

I can work with people who see me for what I am, someone who has experienced a tremendous amount of childhood trauma, who has few social resources on which they can rely, and who is doing their best with the limitations they have. I am uncompromising in my loyalty to myself; I made the choice when I was about 25 that, come hell or high water, I would never again make myself subservient to anyone, no matter the cost. I won’t ever forget the terrifying feeling of freedom that rushed through me after that decision–the self-ownership I suddenly possessed has been worth the price.

There is nothing I can do to prevent myself from feeling mistreated and betrayed; it is baked into my brain as what happens in close relationships. All I can hope for it is to continue to prove myself trustworthy to myself in treating myself with kindness when it happens, to being honest with others about my limitations, and to holding out the slightest of hopes that some people will enter my life in this new decade who are more mature and capable of meeting me where I am. What do you feel you need for healing? What is most important to you in developing closeness? Where does connection happen?

The Right Distance (In the Cards)

Today’s draw from my In an Open Hand deck invited reflection on taking a risk and considering next steps. In coming to a place of being much more deliberate in how I spend time with others, I realize that the social situations that I would most like to experience would be those that somehow combine present-moment awareness and self-contemplation alongside sturdy boundaries that lower the chances of me feeling unsafe in regards to PTSD triggers. I would say that I have one recurring group in which I participate in which I mostly experience this, but I would like more.

I spent several minutes in contemplation while writing this and what came to me is how hard I have to work to manage my interactions with others. My threat-detection system is so tightly-calibrated that it is set off by the slightest boundary incursion. Whenever it isn’t being activated, my “oh shit I said the wrong thing now they won’t be my friend anymore” self-criticism script starts running.

The entire experience feels like being boxed in on a field with lines set to buzz if crossed on all sides (into the next person’s space), and the other people and I are constantly tripping them, startling me and sending all my mental efforts towards resetting the playing field whilst everyone else seems oblivious to what is afoot.

Where I feel safest is when everyone is (figuratively) sitting in their own spot, calmly engaging from a safe distance that does not conjure feelings of abandonment or attack. Something in being fully present allows for this, but I have no idea how to create or locate this type of encounter in a setting that includes casual conversation. It likely isn’t a realistic desire either–people move about relationally and “healthy” people are able to negotiate their boundaries.

I got so angry internally at a coworker recently when I tried to explain to him why a leadership position wouldn’t work for me. He kept insisting I would be good at it, as if too much self-doubt was the reason for my resistance. My PTSD is the whole way debilitating; I feel like no one except my therapist has any g-d clue that I even have it at all no matter what I say or do.

Basically, in casual settings, I have to sacrifice any internal semblance of calmness and safety in order to make it through. I find myself fantasizing about having a group of friends where I could literally scream “trigger” whenever they set off the buzzer, and they would act in an apologetic and reassuring way and “back off” in the moment. I physically isolate myself because of how suffocated I feel in most social encounters. People aren’t pawns and I can’t move them to the distance I need, so I cast them out entirely when there are too many hits to my system.

I trigger others’ abandonment fears much more than their “you’re too close” issues because of the way I’m calibrated.* I respect their boundaries and tend to tip-toe up to any possible touch-points and (sometimes) apologize if I feel I’ve overstepped. I don’t feel badly for leaving people because I would much rather be left than invaded.

This is the inner world I know I have. I explain it to friends. I warn them about how I work. I do everything I can to educate them as to my triggers. And it is nearly always for naught as they lack either capacity or care to work with my system as it stands.

I think shifting my focus off of trying to resolve these dilemmas onto finding places where there is a natural distance held within the setting (to whatever extent these spots exist) and onto what I can offer myself is the only rational response. I cannot keep resetting the field and believing that this play will be the one that leads to perfect balance and no lines crossed. I get that exposure helps reduce the intensity of triggers for most people, but my triggers aren’t primarily fear-based so, in my case, it only makes it worse. I owe no one a g-d explanation for why my steps look side-ways or off-track when I’m simply trying to find a quiet place to sit and contemplate in peace. I think the next time I’m pressed, “I’ve explained my mental health issues to you as much as I’m willing to” is going to be my go-to. How do you hold boundaries with others? Is it harder for you when others get too close or too far? How do you find your peace?

*If you are finding yourself relating to this on one side or the other but aren’t sure what to call it, I would describe it as representing attachment styles. Complex PTSD can be related to attachment trauma. I would describe myself as having moved from a disorganized/unresolved attachment style towards an insecure-avoidant/dismissive one. I tend to attract insecure-ambivalent/preoccupied people as friends which only compounds my problems.

To Become (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw involves focusing on hopes and dreams, from a place of tender care for their fragility. As I sat with this invitation, what came to mind is a desire to create opportunities for self-reflection and self-compassion that encompass present-moment awareness. Ideally I would like these spaces to extend beyond myself, but I think experiencing them inwardly first is an initial step.

I’ve concluded in recent weeks that relationship drama pulls me away from the central source of my joy, which is my connection to the universe through my inner world. In trying to work from the outside in, I end up in situations that are unsafe for my parts, and which then force some of who I am into hiding or which cause me to feel isolated from other people. My healing has to flow from my Source, from the inner well of Spirit that I believe is available to everyone. Other people cannot reassemble me; I am my own unity.

To form and extend this indwelling of connection and clarity, I believe compassion for self as well as energy directed inward is necessary. My inner being needs its own workspace for creativity and spirituality in order to flourish, as well as a cozy den in which relaxation and downtime can occur. How much of my life have I wasted in social situations that were unfulfilling, trying to meet the needs of my parts without listening to them? How unloving and unconscious have I been in relating to others by coming from a place of scarcity and drudgery?

I exaggerate here, but right now writing this, I feel like if it takes me 99 years to come to myself whole, and I then spend my final year truly present with another, might that not show more love than expecting each other to heal our un-examined and unmet wounds without any inner work? I in no way want to make it sound like my path is everyone’s path; many people become their best selves through their relationships with others. I am harmed by attempting healing through relationship more than I am helped, and the window into myself I’ve opened has shown me another path forward. To what extent is your deepest meaning and fulfillment found in relationship with others? With your inner world? In other passions?

The In-Gathering

As I worked through what I need after feeling invisible, experiencing invalidation or simply having a stressful day, I realized my inner world is best honored by ritual. My spirituality is at its deepest when I follow my own natural rhythms. Whenever and wherever, I can honor each part of myself. I invite you to customize the following for your own practice.

Setting the Scene

Create a space for ritual. This can be as simple as lighting a candle, laying out a special cloth, or brewing a cup of tea. It can be creating an elaborate altar or traveling to a place in nature to which you feel called. All that matters is that it is made sacred by your intentional presence.

Begin by centering yourself on your breath. Invite your senses in, one-by-one. If you having trouble focusing, play calming music or listen to nature sounds.

A Safe Place for All

In turn, welcome* each part of self. Some I chose to honor are the vulnerable, the eager, the nurturing, the brave and the wise. You may have other parts that need representation. Allow each to share with you whatever they want to share, without judgement. Ask the other parts to sit back and grant space while each one shares. Parts may make a request of others, which should be held with care.

Body, Heart, Mind and Spirit

After each part has shared, concentrate again on your breath. Inhabit every corner of your body. Listen to your body as a whole and through its systems, observing what it needs. Focus on what it may want to reveal or release.

Allow your emotions to channel and course through your body. Meet each one with a loving embrace. Notice them shift and dance.

Attend to your mental state. Notice the pattern and pace of your thoughts. Observe them come and go.

Finally, turn to your Spirit. Allow it to reveal itself to you through your senses. Touch the moon and sun cycles, the sky, earth, rain and fire and the season. Let nature guide you deeper into your soul.

Symbols of Love

Breath again, and ask of yourself, all of yourself present, what love looks like here and now. To the best of your ability, provide this love to yourself. Note any hesitancy, and then move through it with care. Embrace yourself.

A Closing Prayer

Finalize your ritual by spending time in quiet meditation, honoring yourself for making time to gather yourself whole and to recognize your worth. Incorporate whatever words and movements feel holy in this moment. Be the prayer your soul needs to feel.

*If you are new to inner/self-work and you hold a trauma history, this practice could be destabilizing. I encourage you to first work with a trusted therapist before engaging in this ritual and to take as slow of a pace as needed. Self-care practices such as spending time in nature, running a gentle bath or settling into your breath may be safe places to start to connect with parts of self.

As I Am (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw was about finding my voice as well as inwardly listening. I quickly came to a truth I’ve been ignoring, which is that I am harmed when people fail to perceive my gender. Specifically, I’ve had incident after incident in recent weeks where someone who knows I’m trans uses an incorrect pronoun for me and then acts like I didn’t say anything when I spout “they” in response. I feel invisible in those situations, and the interaction brings up strong feelings related to my childhood trauma.

I feel uncertain as to which direction to go in, mostly because being more forceful will inevitability lead to me being regarded more negatively than I already am. My primary choices, if I want to possibly be heard, are to interrupt the person and tell them “please use they pronouns for me,” to try to talk to them privately afterwards, or to start wearing my pronoun pin in all social setting. None of these options appeal to me, perhaps because I want them to perceive me as I am, rather than to have to be strong-armed into “respecting” my gender.

I think what gets under my skin so badly is the fact that being trans is really hard, and, rather than my so-called friends and supporters giving a care about that fact, they are instead putting me in a position where I have to become antagonistic in order to get my needs met. I think they should be the ones putting in the effort, not me, just as I put in effort to be sensitive and conscious of how I speak to them. In ignoring my pronouns, they are in effect acting as though I’m not trans, like we can simply carry on as before.

Given that I am not likely to get very far in resolving this or any interpersonal conflict, I turn instead to what I need to offer myself to cope with environments in which, despite showing up whole, only pieces of me are welcome. My first course of action is to limit my exposure to these environments. Next, if I have to be in them, I need a recovery period in which I allow myself all the space and time I need to come back to self again, including giving voice to bitter, misanthropic and angry parts. Finally, I have to spend time reflecting on my own shadow and the areas in which I allow my privilege to silence another’s truth. If you are trans, how do you handle being misgendered by those who know better? Which types of self-care are most helpful to you?

All My Own (In the Cards)

Today I drew the Own card from my In an Open Hand deck. This card references an in-gathering of all parts of self and allowing other people’s castoffs to remain their’s. In other words, it’s about boundaries that encircle as well as protect.

In a certain realm of existence, there is no true distinction between self and other. We are all particles interacting in the same space-time as other particles. However, on a psychological level, I do think a coherent sense of self, one which can partner with others as well as choose times of solidarity, is a valuable metaphor even if it is ultimately an illusion. I’ve known in the pit of my being what it is to have someone perceive me as an indispensable yet subordinate part of who they were, and I do not wish to repeat that experience.

Which parts of self do I struggle to acknowledge as my own? Which might I be tempted to have others care-take for me in unconscious ways? I think my arms reject more than embrace the small, terrorized parts of myself as well as the loving, warm aspects of who I am. I do not see myself as kind or vulnerable, yet I contain those capacities. There is a wistful, longing part of myself that draws the most shame; I don’t want others to know when I want to fit in or be welcomed.

I can sometimes verbalize these lose selves, but I rarely embody them. I would much rather someone see me as cold and calculating than weak, needy and ingratiating. Yet, I am all of this. I have more work to do to sit with myself and love all of who I am. Where do you struggle with internal connection? What love might you show others that you hold back from showing yourself?

Authentic Living (In the Cards)

For today’s card draw, I used the In an Open Hand deck I am developing and drew the authenticity card. This card focuses on self-expression which is perfect for this moment in my life as I recently took a big step legally in relation to being trans and changed my name. The process itself was extremely stressful and took much longer than anticipated. Because of this, I haven’t felt much cause for celebration or “newness” of self as of yet, but I anticipate an internal shift will arrive.

One of the prompts that comes with the authenticity card invites a reflection on what it means to move across the boundary of self. Someone I know was diagnosed this month with a terminal illness, which brought up a lot of internal reactions for me as to the finite nature of each of our lives. I was surprised to find myself having an intensely spiritually-centered response in that I view death as a sacred transition, just as transitioning in terms of embracing my gender has a sacred quality to it for me.

As I experience them, both changes are embodied; they cannot be separated from the physical states to which they correspond (other people may of course transition in terms of gender without making physical changes). Life experiences that are wholly embodied are, then, an opportunity for knowing that cannot be taught. There is another side to which we are moving that is undefined and which we have not known consciously but yet which we know in our bones. Having traversed new waters, we are never the same.

As I connect these concepts, I wonder if part of the reason I get so frustrated with those who misgender me again and again is the fact that their actions belie their stilted grief for who I was and their state of denial of the movement I’ve undertaken as a person. What does it mean, perhaps, for their sense of their gender if someone else can “leave” or “change” what they believed to be permanent? What if the lands we declare our own are themselves constantly shifting? What if we box ourselves in so that our true voice is hushed?

In the same line, I observed others who got news of the terminal illness diagnosis shut down and seem stalled out by it, likely because they hold tightly to an idea of how things “should” happen, whereas I found myself filling with a sense of expansiveness as to, if there is no other path but the one unfolding, what do we make of ourselves and the situation? (I fully acknowledge that I could be engaging in spiritual bypass and would never bring these reflections to the person who got diagnosed unless she went there first). I am stressed by decision-making–the pulling up of the anchor–moreso than the arrival on new shores. I want to know in my body what it is to be human; these being-in-body journeys depart at different times and to different locations for each of us, but the living-with instead of in-spite-of or in-denial-of is where I want to be. What is an embodied experience in your life? How did it shape your spiritually? What do you know of life that you didn’t know before?