A Change of Pace (Today's Moment of Gratitude)

I’m struggling through a migraine today and nearly forgot to make a daily post! Although taking time to appreciate the good I have in my life has been an intentional practice that’s enriched my day-to-day experience, focusing on it lately has felt at times like a way to escape grim reality or to brag about privilege more than a genuine stance. I am truly grateful, though, for the change of pace my life has undergone.

I’ve worked for the last three or four years to cut as many obligations out of my life as I could, after coming to terms with the fact that I have both physical and mental health conditions that are disabling. In some ways, the triggers that remain have become more destabilizing, as though I’m in shallower waters and therefore feel each ripple more acutely. I haven’t been able to arrive at a place of feeling secure and balanced.

Being allowed to work from home and having it be socially acceptable to minimize my contact with other people has felt like a prescription for good health, not a burden. People, especially when they are angry, are my main trigger, so having more control over the circumstances in which I encounter them has physically slowed my heart rate and lowered my blood pressure. I’m calmer and more grounded.

February was busier than normal for me, and the reset of my life through which I’m living right now is welcome, even if the circumstances leading to it are devastating and terrifying. Things will pick up again soon for about two months, and then I will have three months off of work entirely. This experience is teaching me that I might need a lot more physical distance from others than I thought I did. I’ve dreamed of moving to a remote area and living off the land. I figured it was one of those things that sounds good until you actually try it, now, I’m not as certain it’s a bad idea for many reasons. And, best of all, I have some space to try it out in small ways to see how it sits with me. What has happened to the pace of your life as of late? How has it affected you? For what are you grateful today?

Action and Acceptance

In my graduate school education in psychology, I was taught to treat questions of “but what if” with a healthy dose of skepticism, to then ask, “what is the likelihood of that happening in real life?” I would then typically challenge my client to see how improbable it was that the fear would be realized. Sometimes, though, the unlikely occurs and we have to move through our disbelief into action and acceptance.

Psychologists frame action as a coping mechanism that stands in opposition to acceptance–namely, that we try to problem-solve. When our problem-solving fails at finding a solution, we move to a place of tending our emotions. We are also different culturally and constitutionally as to which strategy we tend to employ.

I wonder, though, if there is ample room for both. We can take steps to control what can be controlled as well as to make our peace with our fate. I cannot with people who try to placate me with telling me horrible outcomes could never happen, who discount the need for any type of coping. They already have for me as a small child, so I experience “don’t worry” as “I can’t hear or see your fear as legitimate.”

To me, acceptance is the antidote to denial; it is a coming to rest at a crossroads, knowing that I do not know which paths will remain open to me and that I do not control the maintenance of the roads. None of us can predict the future and none of us can preemptively problem-solve for all eventualities. All I ask of my future self is that, if tragedy awaits, I do my best to keep my dignity and self-respect intact.

My worst fear, the “but what if” that keeps me up at night, is losing my autonomy–my ability to choose for myself where I tread through my own solution-generation. I know there are monsters who prey on the vulnerable. But there are kind souls as well and, whether it is rational or not, I attempt to believe they are in the majority. I think that is what I will focus on finding in this trying time–examples of human compassion that existed even when it seemed like all the roads were blocked with boulders. In my own timeline, I do not know who I will meet if all my ways forward collapse into one, but what if they were trustworthy and brave? What if you or I are that person for someone else?

An image of a puppy with white and red fur sleeping on a grey blanket with sunlight from a window landing on it.

Enjoying Nature from Home (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Many of us, myself included, take the ability to go to a park or forest nearby to enjoy nature in the spring and summertime for granted. Even sitting by a window can allow access to these experiences for those with mobility concerns. Today, however, I wanted to share a way to enjoy at least the sights and sounds of nature for any times when we may be stuck indoors by bad weather, health conditions and so on: live streaming!

When the pandemic was sweeping through China, I’d read a story about botanists filming the cherry blossoms opening so that viewers could enjoy them. It struck me as something I hope will continue even after the health crisis passes; there are so many people who cannot easily get out and about who deserve to have a way to appreciate nature. At least one study has shown that even looking at a photograph of nature can lower stress, although I do think there are added benefits to direct participation in outdoor settings to whatever extent possible.

The website I found that feels like a treasure box is explore.org, which is filled with nature cams from around the world. I think my favorite so far has been the puppy cam, which, during the time I’ve watched, has consisted entirely of the puppies sleeping. I can feel my blood pressure dropping after a few seconds as I relax seeing how calm and snugly they are.

Overall, my anxiety has been spiking to the point that I think I would have a hard time sitting outside for an extended period of time, because my hyper-vigilance wouldn’t let me concentrate on my breathing and my senses fully. As soon as it fully warms up, I am going to try to go out and see how it goes, and I have been really liking going for short runs with my dog, where my anxiety gets worked out through physical exertion. Even though the great outdoors remain open to me, I consider observation through live-streaming as another tool in my self-care toolbox. What is your favorite live-stream of nature?

Finding Peace in a Time of Panic

Leaders around the world have begun to reference the global pandemic within the framework of a humanity facing a war. We are admonished not to panic, whatever that means. In my country, our leadership’s been rudderless and we’ve received daily contradictory messages. Things are not fine.

As a person with lifelong severe anxiety, including PTSD caused by childhood abuse, it feels like I’ve spent so many years trying to tell myself that the world was now “safe” and that I could let my guard down. I’ve felt so jealous of people who are carefree and secure in their daily lives. Now I’m not sure if it was they or I or both of us whose prior learning deceived us.

The truth, most likely, lies somewhere in the middle. Our lives are likely more fragile and less guaranteed than the “everything will be fine” but also on stronger footing than “we’re all going to catastrophically die now” crowd would have you think. As a group, we need a range of tolerances for risk, otherwise nothing or everything would be chanced.

I keep noticing a theme of uncertainty as a driver for panic, but those of us who live deep in the realm of fear might know a different cause: no good options. The unknown isn’t what frightens me per se, it is the potential unavailability of a solution to whatever threat I might face that I find intolerable. I know what it is like to be trapped with no way out; I spent many years living that reality and it caused me to split myself apart internally simply to exist.

I refuse to bind my peace to the notion that no catastrophe will ever arrive at my doorstep. I find it insulting to be told not to worry or to trust that the higher-ups know what they are doing. The peace I seek is simply this–that there is more beauty than pain in the world. That, even in the darkest moments imaginable, kindness and compassion remain somewhere to be found, if not by me, then by the next person.

I’ve been shocked to find myself arriving at an inner well of actually giving a shit about the people in my life, a place I thought long lost and dried up. I’m not resorting to “me and mine” to the extent I would have predicted. I believe that crises can bring out the best in us, not because we avoid feelings of panic and terror, not because a solution will arrive if we simply hope enough, but because there is something central about teamwork and collaboration to the nature of being human. We will find our peace in this, together.

A Good Distraction (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

With national and global events heading into a tailspin, I’m finding myself seeking out ways to engage my mind that do not involve worrying, planning or taking action. Although I am taking events seriously and have created several posts recently that speak to the deliberations and reactions I’m having, staying in a gloom and doom state for extended periods of time will only lead me to respond in unhealthy ways. So, I’ve found myself “gaming” more than I have in a long time.

I put gaming in quotes because I do not even own a television, much less a gaming system. I’m basically one step removed from a paper-and-pencil crossword in terms of what I find enjoyable. Too many bells and whistles overstimulates my mind and I get a headache. I dislike most board games as well and find myself immensely bored by the rigidity of the schema under which they operate. In general, I prefer games that are either entirely word-based or that involve abstract, image-based strategy.

My current favorites include the NY Times Tiles and Mini-Crossword games. I’ve also downloaded the apps Word Search and Tiny Bubbles. I’ve yet to venture into games that involve communicating with other players; I suspect, based on how much I’ve hated board game-themed parties, that I would not be a fan. I find it fascinating to consider how our brains approach human-made puzzles in different ways, with some of us enthralled and others of us wanting more nature-based experiences. To what extent do you consider yourself a gamer? What types of games, if any, do you enjoy? How does your brain respond to mental puzzles and challenges?

In Case of Emergency (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I am grateful for a feeling of empowerment I’m accessing as I better organizing my personal affairs. I would likely come across to most people as the type of person whose file drawer is enviable, but the reality of my schema for categorizing documents and the like is that I store most of what I need to function as an adult in my head and/or computer, so there is little evidence of how I manage bills and such that physically exists in my life. I have a plastic bin into which I’ve placed most of my important documents, but it could easily take someone hours to sort through it to find the one they might need.

The realities of the potential for a healthcare crisis (among other threats) in my country has pushed me into the realization that, were I incapacitated, it would be difficult for someone to step into my life and manage things for me. Lacking a spouse and family puts in me in a much more precarious situation than most people, one that has left me inert with anxiety ever time I’ve tried to cross this threshold of preparedness. Now, though, the threat is more real than it’s ever been to me and I feel compelled to take action. I am compiling a binder with all the relevant information necessary. It should serve not only the emergency for which I am designing it, but will also be something I can grab and go if there is a natural disaster.

I am also planning to meet with an “elder law” attorney this summer, even though I am decades off from being considered elderly. I need to know my options for designating someone to manage my healthcare as well as the welfare of my dog, should anything happen to me. What I find bizarre about the whole situation is that I’ve been suicidal more times than I can count in the past, sometimes seriously, but taking these steps of actual preparation feels very daunting and challenging. I suppose I’m not afraid of being dead but I am extremely scared of losing my autonomy and having to rely on others to ensure my safety, so much so that even planning for it feels risky. I’m grateful, though, for the privilege of being able to make choices now for myself as I find the courage to face my fears and am taking concrete steps forward. What is something you’ve been putting off that you’ve begun to address?

Inner Wisdom (In the Cards)

As I transition to the spring season of my In an Open Hand intuitive deck, I want to take a few moments to reflect on one of the parts of self to which my deck attends, namely, wisdom. I view wisdom as inner guidance that observes and responds to the needs of other parts of self. I became curious, in sitting with the concept of wisdom, as to what it needs itself.

My wise self immediately answered me and let me know, in a word, respect is what it desires. This week has been one experience after another of people (mostly senior to me), blatantly ignoring my education and insight and flat-out telling me I’m wrong or discounting my opinions in areas where I carry a great certainty that I am right. I crave the type of respect that takes time to develop, the one that evaluates another’s capacity and deems them worthy of taking seriously. I’m afraid, though, that there is often a temptation to give or withhold wisdom based on more superficial traits.

There is an entire body of work around the concept of (primarily cishet white) men asserting, without sufficient evidence, their own opinion as fact. What struck me as of late was the level of disregard that can accompany the dismissal of another’s perspective, as I found myself spoken to as though I had no right to stand on equal footing. I swear I could feel the arrogance of privilege seeping through. I knew in that moment that my wisdom wasn’t being respected; my inner needs were not being met by the person with whom I was communicating.

I get frightened when I can tell that someone is absorbing what I am sharing without any critical thinking, as though my knowledge is to be unquestioned. I want my wisdom to be held to the light, as there is always room to add in nuance and perspective. I do not want to be worshiped or for my insight to replace hard science. What angers me greatly is when the hard science I share is discounted because of the vehicle of my semi-young trans and non-binary body being the one delivering it. I believe we need to see past peoples’ exteriors and grant them a fair audience, judging what they have to say on the quality of their knowledge base and not on their similarity to us or our internalized stereotype of competent.

I find myself wondering then how I can better care for my inner wise self, given that I am likely to continue to be disrespected and ignored in the outer world. The first idea I have comes back to not wasting my energy. My capacity for knowledge isn’t related to how many cishet white men take me seriously. F*ck, that feels like a revelation! I felt something fall off of me when I wrote that sentence, the truth of it hitting me emotionally and not just intellectually. Can we please teach all children this message? Such a large percentage of the “people it is necessary to impress” in my life have fallen into this category, and releasing myself of any need for them to be my target audience is powerful. I think, then, that the next part of reassessing what my inner needs for respect might be is to ask to whom I most want what I have to say to be meaningful, a question which I think will take some time to ponder.

Buried in this entire essay is an unasked query as to my ability to show others respect. There are layers of unconscious biases I still need to uncover, but I think I have begun to move in a direction of acknowledging the value of listening to lived experience in earnestness, rather than “well, actually..” as a default. Wisdom and hard science aren’t synonymous, nor is “sounding smart” the same as being astute. Where are you at in terms of accessing your inner wisdom? Do you feel respected? To whom might you be giving away your power? How well do you listen to the wisdom of others?

A Softening Warmth (Today’s Daily Presence)

The weather the last few hours where I live has undergone a dramatic shift, with a cold breeze relaxing into warmer skies. I am always surprised and delighted at the breaks of pleasant weather that happen when winter begins to yield to spring; it’s as though warm weather was a myth I’d heard about as a child, stored deep in my unconscious, but inaccessible until the next season arrives. Walking outside without the immediate contraction of my limbs together to fight off the chill not only loosens my muscles but also perks up my spirits.

I decided to spend a few moments meditating in the sunshine on my porch. My dog is on a chipmunk-hunting kick so I had to leave him inside as his response to sitting next to me on the porch is hysterical barking and pulling. I have no doubt he WILL end the chipmunk if he gets it! Anyways, after shutting my eyes, my first sense that responded was that of hearing, in that I immediately realized how many birds were in song. I felt the softness of the breeze against my skin, coupled with the warmth of the sunlight. There was an indistinguishable earthy smell, as though my surroundings had been pulled out from a damp closet and were being aired out. As I opened my eyes, all I could absorb was heightened activity: my neighbor carrying groceries and robins hopping about my yard. The aliveness of it all sat well with me.

What do you like most about the promise and the arrival of warm weather? How does the shift of seasons sit with you? Are things coming alive or going to sleep where you live?

Canceled Plans (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I am enjoying a lazy afternoon, due in part because an appointment I had got canceled with little notice. I am someone who loves to plan ahead, so I sometimes get frustrated when things don’t go as expected. This week, however, I haven’t been feeling very well physically because of a chronic health condition, so being able to lounge around when I’d expected to be driving for hours feels like I am pampering myself. I sometimes think I have more fun making plans than I do carrying them out!

Have you had plans canceled recently? If so, did you fill the time with more “chores” or did you let yourself take a break? What would it feel like to cancel a plan you don’t want to follow through on, and take time for yourself?

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?