Calling Forth Opportunity (In the Cards)

My anxiety has been spiraling so I decided to pull some oracle and rune cards. I received the “Opportunity” card from my Inner Tree Oracle Deck (which I purchased on Etsy). The admonition that was written on the card stated “Use the ripe fruits.” This made me chuckle as I have a store of apples I’ve been thinking I need to cook. The card I chose from my Womenrunes deck was “The Wand,” which is a rune of blessing. One of the notes on it relates to calling forth, so my mind coalesced these messages into “Calling Forth Opportunities.”

Opportunity and change are intertwined, and I believe I tend to respond well to what I’m given unless it threatens health and safety. For example, I had to become highly creative in moving to remote work, and, although there were unexpected stressors, I did not feel crushed by the experience. Although I cope well when the basics of my livelihood remain intact, I struggle when my day to day seems threatened. I circle and circle again the reality that there are things that will happen to me in the future that could have been averted if I knew they were coming or if I exhibited 100% efficiency. These moments to be present opportunities, but I am wired to hold only the threat in the center of my mind. For example, I am having anxiety that my fridge might die at any moment, a fear that I think is only slightly supported by the evidence at hand.

Were that to happen, I would be presented with an opportunity to get highly creative with my cooking, to hone my food preservation skills and to shop. There would be costs, but the long-term impact on my life would be negligible. Even so, I am highly tempted to purchase another fridge as a backup, even though it may not be needed, solely so that my anxiety will dissipate. Multiple this by dozens of decisions every week, all made on a “how high can I tolerate my anxiety going” versus “what will this boost in my sense of security cost me” balancing act and you have a glimpse into what occupies my time. In unambiguous situations, there is no calculation and I am sometimes less stressed; it is the decision-making that taxes me relentlessly.

I don’t know if “what opportunities might I be missing out on by not letting this play itself out” would mean anything to my anxious self, but I did notice a shift as visions of quiche and pies formed in my mind as I saw the contents of my fridge repurposed. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to the point where I welcome or call for opportunities to present themselves to me in terms of wanting more challenge in my life, but I do want to open to the idea that they might exist in places that, up to this point, have been hidden from me. Do you call forth opportunities for change? What might that look like right now in your life?

A Future-Oriented Identity

I’m a proactive person. That sentence right there has taken me about four decades to write and it is shattering the negative messages I’ve absorbed from others thus far in my life. Anxious, over-reactive and impatient are words I’ve used for myself after hearing them again and again in response to my proactive behaviors. I anticipate and respond and that’s a good thing! Now that I know who I am, I can make better choices in how I frame my own situation and how I interact with others.

A simple decision I made in the spur of the moment last year to not be proactive has now resulted in me finding myself facing a highly stressful situation this summer. I’m struggling to cope because my behavior was out of character for me; I hesitated where I would normally act and took the (at the time) easy way out. I’m offering myself grace in that there is no way to possibly anticipate every crisis that will come, but, wow, the feeling of relief I feel on a regular basis because I typically deal with the tough stuff first and avoid these types of outcomes is something I am deeply craving. I want to become someone who is capable of grace towards others in these moments; so often, my mind goes to “this could have been avoided if you’d only…”

What I’m visualizing in my mind is a bell-shaped curve of proactivity to procrastination, which the majority of people falling squarely between those two extremes–they act “just in time,” making deadlines but cutting it much closer than what is allowed for by my comfort level. I experience the most extreme stress when I find myself facing an unanticipated situation with time pressure. If I have time and warning, I’m much calmer, so I do everything humanly imaginable to hone those two resources.

Where I’ve made mistake after mistake is trying to move others onto my timeline, when they want to work at a much slower pace and tend to interpret my warnings as nagging or fear-mongering. I know now how to talk to someone when I see them headed 90 miles an hour towards a brick wall “I’m a really proactive person, so things tend to pop up on my radar before they would bother someone else, but, I see an potential issue here and can offer my thoughts if you are interested.” An invitation to consider rather than an a “WTF is wrong with you” when they don’t jump when I say danger is coming.

I’m a highly anxious and impatient person, but those characteristics are only born out when I’m missing the timely warning and feel trapped in needing to make a quick response. I was utterly confused as to my lack of panic when the pandemic was announced, but I had been paying attention and making arrangements for months beforehand, so my anxiety and impatience were not highly triggered. Owning my identity as a prepper and a proactive person helps me feel proud of who I am, rather than ashamed of it. It makes me incredibly curious as to the characteristics myself and others possess that may be equally misunderstood and mislabeled. Are there any you can identify in yourself?

A Shift in the Wind (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

I’ve been experiencing brief moments of intense grief since the pandemic began; today’s was a doozy. A friend whose baby shower was cancelled stopped by to pick up her gift. I stood by the window with my pup. He was so thrilled to see her and then seemed saddened when she left again right away. The realization that I won’t be able to spend time with her in person before she gives birth and may not get to see her newborn baby till who knows when really hurt my heart.

It’s been humid and unseasonably hot for a few days here. I walked outside a few minutes after my friend left to discover a sudden change in the weather. The wind was swirling the tree buds in every direction and the temperature had dropped considerably. I felt my grief surrounding me instead of locked inside me, as though nature was responding to the exchange that had just taken place. I came inside and snuggled with my dog as I re-calibrated my equilibrium, not quite the same person I was earlier today. Each loss, each moment of grief, however small, registers a note in the symphony of our life that we ignore to our peril. Witnessing nature play the melody for me was truly a gift.

Processing Over Plodding

I’m in a foul mood today after a sleepless night battling abdominal discomfort alongside crashes of lightening from periodic thunderstorms. I awoke to find water damage in my bathroom, the source of which I have not yet pinpointed, and found myself saying “no” to an obligation I later realized I could have met. I’m spiraling into feelings of unworthiness, hopelessness and guilt.

And, yet, I’m slowing down in this space instead of numbing myself through mindless entertainment or food. I’m making room for the small parts of self that are tired, frightened and utterly overwhelmed by what feels like crisis after crisis. I’m reminding myself of the positive steps I’ve taken and what I have accomplished today.

And, when I make space for myself, I find my fears are more vast and deeper than I first realized. My guilt at declining an invitation swirls until I am homeless because I cannot provide for myself–one wrong step and I lose everything. My sense of worthlessness holds my inability to tame my temper when I feel unwell–I become a monster when my body hurts. My hopelessness devolves into–there is nothing I can do; everything is always a mess and goes poorly for me. To sum it up, I’m a monstrous, incompetent fool who screws everything up.

I am none of those things and I do not know where to find the parts of myself that feel that I am that. What stood out to me immediately upon writing the last paragraph’s final sentence is the raging hatred I have towards anyone who emulates those qualities even slightly. I want them gone from my life, never to return. I hate incompetence, cruelty and needless failure. Yet, what grace do I offer myself when I start to embody an iota of any of those attributes? What grace do I offer others who might do the same?

This welcoming of the unpleasantness, this turning towards it rather than away from it, allows me to feel larger and more spacious than I did before. I am grumpy because I am sleep-deprived. I needed to rest and could not show up for my obligation in a way that would allow me to contribute in a positive manner. I have handled the situations the day has given me as best I could, and, in allowing myself time to process instead of plodding along, I will handle a similar day even more successfully. When is the last time you checked in with how you were feeling on an off day? What is your inner dialogue and commentary like? What peace do you make with the parts of self that are hard to welcome?

Inner Royalty and Self-Respect (In the Cards)

One of the themes I’ve been encountering this year has been related to the outflow of my energy. In the Northern Hemisphere, we are moving into the warmer seasons, where, at least for me, my mood and daily productivity tends to be stronger than in the cooler times of the year. I feel that I’m exerting effort more than I’m replenishing my reserves. In particular, I been paying more attention than I normally would to my desire to be helpful.

A core strength of who I am as a person is that I am highly skilled at problem-solving. It is natural for me to analyze situations based on the available resources and to select among various outcomes the one I think will work the best to address the issue at hand. This gift is one for which I’m grateful, but I’ve found it is not often well-received by others. If offered unsolicited, it slips from being an act of kindness into a “know-it-all” place. What frustrates me to no end is when people turn to me for help and then become offended when I am frank with them rather than support their continued denial of reality. Those who can’t face hard truths rarely respond well to those who are comfortable in observing the world as it actually is.

The phrase “pearls before swine” has gone through my head more times than I can count since the pandemic began. I tried to warn others about what was coming, only to be dismissed with hostility and to have the basic facts I was presenting be ignored or discounted. Everything I predicted would happen has, as well as far more serious outcomes than even I had anticipated. I want to pour my energy into people who respect me enough to know that I speak truth and who will be honest with me in turn, but I also need to find a way to reclaim my efforts that are futile and lost on those who won’t face reality.

It feels like a psychic exchange occurs in which I am robbed when someone asks for my advice and then stomps on it, or treats me as ignorant in areas where I am nothing of the sort. It is a loss of dignity, so perfectly captures in the “pearls before swine” image. I know there is a deep traumatic wound that is being exposed when these situations happen, because I suspect an outside observer might not feel that I’ve endured a grave moment of dishonor.

I am working through imagery and ritual that will help me realign my sense of self-respect and dignity when I am dishonored. Icons of crowns and robes and regal adornment are flashing through my head along with moods of luxury and abundance. Where I want to not trip over myself is to fall into the dehumanization trap of believing that those who are rude to me and who don’t value my gifts are worthless or beneath me. It is not really about them but about my need to remain intact when the best of me is viewed with scorn and contempt. Their denial of my truth speaks to their inability to be honest with themselves as to their weak or impoverished or emotional parts of self more than it says anything about my relationship with mine, but, when I continue to focus hatred towards them rather than to celebrate myself, I buy into their lies. My lived reality is that I acknowledge all the parts of myself, even the ones that are difficult to accept and that I have a rich inner world.

There is plenty for each aspect of myself and each part’s role is vital to who I am as a being. A practice dedicated to inner dignity, inner royalty, inner respect and inner truth and ownership are life-giving ways of honoring who I am that may help to restore each jewel of my energy back to myself. I’ve never conceptualized this process in this way and am curious as to how this viewpoint will change how I see myself. If you’ve had experience in this area, please share in the comments!

In Search of Dreams (In the Cards)

Today’s card invited me to spend some time contemplating recent dreams and deciphering the wisdom of my unconscious mind. I had a vivid dream a few nights ago that led me to worry that the person about whom I’d dreamt had died. As far as I know, he hadn’t, but I lost an estranged family member a day or two later. It is always tempting to view situations like that as prophetic, but I have my doubts. Even that dream, though, generally held the same theme and energy as the large share of my dreams.

I am always attempting to have the moment arrive in my dreams. I will have intricate dreamscapes of buildings with spires and rooms upon rooms, through which I wander, never to find that for which I am looking. Sometimes, such as my recent dream, I am waiting for an appointment to begin, but there is confusion about the schedule and nothing lines up. Or, I will find myself driving along the highway, bland building after bland building passing by, uncertain of where I am headed.

People are, in general, not the central players in my dreams. It is always about searching and being foiled by the layout of the building or location in which I find myself, thwarted from meeting whatever unknown goal my mind has set for itself. There is a sense of time pressure in that I’m late or about to be late in most situations. The moment I am so desperately trying to reach is rarely an important or self-directed one; it is arranged in the service of keeping to a schedule or performing a work-related task.

My days are rushed and chaotic at times right now, but, underneath the hustle, there is a sense of lounging around as I don’t have to dress up or drive anywhere to perform my job. Even when life is “normal,” I schedule myself so that I am rarely under time pressure because of the amount of stress it causes me. I question why my resting mind anticipates and attempts to solve a problem that my waking mind has perfected many times over.

This of course leads me to a deeper interpretation. Am I searching for something other than the mundane? Am I trying to find myself, or to find answers to who I am? Am I seeking beyond my own limitations into the possibilities of the dreamworld?

From the scant empirical research on dreams in psychology, I do think it possible for our waking mind to influence our resting mind. So, I ask myself: For whom or what I am searching? Is the process of searching what I truly desire? What would it be like to sit instead and enjoy the creations of my inner world? What questions would you like your resting mind to answer?

Befriending the Fearful Parts

Today is barrels of fun as I’m dealing with the potential for severe weather as well as the ongoing pandemic. Right after learning about the upcoming weather events, someone posted “tips” for dealing with anxiety on a social media site I visited. What they wrote immediately irritated me as their message was basically “think positive” and “distract yourself.” That approach may work for some people, but, to me, it dishonors the role that parts of myself–the ones with strong emotions–play.

Anxiety is often relegated to the role of a deceptive betrayer, a cowardly enemy or a feminized hysteric in modern culture and modern psychotherapy. I find it unfunny but ironic that many of the exposure and response prevention tasks that people with contamination OCD have had to endure, such as touching a doorknob and not washing one’s hands, fly directly in the face of declarations from the W.H.O. and the C.D.C. in terms of dealing with the pandemic. We have been told to fight our fears, to quell the whispers of obsessive thoughts and to “calm the f*ck” down” when, in reality, the world presents dangers. I find myself deeply questioning the years of training I received in graduate school, wondering how much the “treatment” of anxiety is really a tutelage in social norming in order to not disturb the sheltered peace of the privileged optimists among us.

What relationship can we have, then, with our anxiety that does not trade fighting for subservience and terror? I view it as one of acknowledgment, honorance and the formation of an alliance. If this framing doesn’t work for you, ignore it! I first encountered in during Buddhist practice and immediately knew it was for me, but it may not be the story you need to tell.

To me, getting to know the scared parts of myself is first a practice in realizing there have been and continue to be things that are frightening in the world. I’m not “stupid” or “over-reacting” when I worry. I concentrate on the process of how I worry and thank the parts of self that bring worries to my mind for their care for me. There is a way to worry well or at least to negotiate with worry. I take action based on my fears, action aimed at reducing the likelihood that they will come true as well as methods of building resources if they do. Sometimes, my fears fuel panic-buying, but I’ve grown to trust myself more deeply than I did in the past, so this happens here and there, not with consistency. In short, I prepare for danger, and, in doing so, often fear it less.

I also check in with myself and with my fear to watch the extent to which it is based on concrete reality and the extent to which it is a physical reaction to stress. I find that I actually have the most difficulty with anxiety after a stressor has occurred, when I’ve taken all the practical steps possible and simply am in a state of waiting for resolution. For me, behaviors such as not sleeping or eating poorly can create their own spin-offs of fear that have to be managed by self-care.

Perhaps because I’ve been invalidated for my fears on a non-stop basis, told not to worry, that my worries are unreasonable or that they don’t deserve attention, I’m not good at remembering that, even if the worst happens, I’m not alone. There may or may not be people willing to help or sufficient resources to recover, but, even if safeguards fail me, we are interconnected and each of our lives, in my worldview, are more than a beginning and an end. What would it mean to tell the next person you hear panicking that you will be there for them in whatever way you can if their worries come to fruition, rather than telling them not worry? To have that said to you? I try to do this for my anxious parts, to let them know they aren’t going to be abandoned to fear, that the rest of me will consolidate and bring the resources I have to bear to manage the situation.

Anxiety, even at the “pathological” level I possess of it, isn’t my enemy. It does not deceive me. It isn’t hysterical. It is a biological response that has been preserved in pretty much all animals by the process of evolution to warn us of danger. Humans have the gift of foresight, of anticipating threats before they occur. We can rage against this capacity, deny its presence, numb it or attempt to silence it through invented worlds of positivity, or we can come to know the inner monsters we hold and realize they are frightened children who need love. We can come to know it as a part of us, steady in its reliable angst, and, like all parts, only made whole when it is welcomed into the family of our being.

One More Bite (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I’m grateful for having the time and available resources to mindfully eat an abundance of fresh, healthy foods. Yesterday, I received a shipment of fresh vegetables from a farmer a few states away, and combined several of them with a chicken and pasta dish I made that included a kumquat sauce. I’d ordered avocados straight from California, and, although they are still ripening, the farmer there packed them with an overflowing amount of kumquats still on the branch! It was a delightful treat and, mixed with the carrots, microgreens and spinach of yesterday’s haul, my lunch today was one of the most satisfying I’ve had all year.

My relationship with food has been the source of both pleasure and pain. I have struggled with anorexia as well as food addictions, so eating a moderate amount of healthy foods is something to which I end up aspiring rather than achieving more days than not. Most likely because of these mental health conditions, few things in life bring me the excitement and joy that food does. I stare at dishes being brought to other diners at a restaurant the way other people stare at people they find attractive. I recall meeting someone several years ago who told me he ate because he needed to eat, not because it made him happy, and I’ve never had such a “who are you?” moment as that one.

All of this to say, living through a lockdown where traversing a grocery store feels akin to potentially being taken out by a sniper in the form of a virus-carrier, my issues with food have only gotten worse. I’m starting to eat beyond the point of hunger and have spent far too much money trying to ensure I don’t have to go without in any capacity during this time. One practice that I am hoping will cut through the anxiety-fueled excess is mindfulness. Taking time to enjoy each bite as well as to honor its origins will hopefully help me to focus more fully on gratitude, and, in slowing down, I will be better able to hear what my body is communicating to me in terms of what it needs. What’s your relationship like with food? How is it being affected by the pandemic?

Attuning to Nature Sounds as a Slow Living Practice

If you have access to a sense of hearing, what sounds come to mind when you think of busyness? What do words like hectic, stressful and crowded bring to mind? I hear cars engines running, a cacophony of harried voices, the smell (wrong sense, I know) of pollution and footsteps stomping down the sidewalk or hallway in a clipped pace.

What do phrases like slowing down, living the simple life, relaxing and spacious stir up? My mind conjures notes of grass blowing in the wind, birds chirping, a stream softly flowing and insects at play on a summer night. I continue to watch live streams of nature scenes from around the world, and, more than the peaceful visuals, I’ve become accustomed to the instant feeling of calm that permeates my body as soon as I hear the accompanying sounds. In particular, the night-time noises from various animal parks in African countries and the rush of waves coming in on Hawaii’s beaches are the most soothing I’ve found.

It is a privilege to be able to enjoy slow living. What we often conceptualize as a simple lifestyle depends on pre-existing wealth or access to funds. I detest tourism to poor areas of the world that revels in the condition of life there as the “cure” to busyness, when, in fact, abject poverty brings its own forms of (often physical) suffering. To be able to be still and to be able to relax into the sounds of that stillness are gifts for which I hope I can be grateful and moments I desire not to squander.

There is nothing that needs to be done or accomplished with the quietness of the natural world. It is ephemeral, broken most often where I live by the machines humans have made. It cannot be stored in quantities and does not hold over from one day to the next. All we can do with it is attend it, open to it, and be in it as fully as the presence it offers us. The pandemic is stripping from me any vestiges of a belief in raw capitalism as a way of life; today I find myself pondering how many billions of dollars humans have spent on products designed to mimic, at maximum expense and minimum function, the enormous wealth that can be found in acts as simple as pacing my breath to the contour of the ocean’s rhythm?

Inner Complexity (In the Cards)

I brainstormed questions to my parts for a card for my In an Open Hand deck today; I have several left to create for the spring season. Today’s focus was about showing all sides of who I am. In reflecting on this theme, I was struck by the contradictions and nuances I’m finding in the unexpected expansiveness of being able to work from home.

From last August till this March, my mental health condition (PTSD) had been getting significantly worse, and I was struggling to find hope as I faced a seemingly unending series of triggers. Being able to disengage from face-to-face contact with people entirely has been a godsend to me, an experiment I never would have contemplated life would have enabled me to undertake. I’m “supposed” to be feeling lonely and anxious, but I feel calmer and happier than I have since last summer. My daily thought isn’t “when can I get back to normal life” but rather “oh shit, what am I going to do when I have to get back to normal life?”

I keep reminding myself that I’ve had more phone calls and text conversations and Zoom sessions than ever, so the feelings of peaceful relaxation may not be due solely to the change in the frequency of in-person interaction I’m having. I don’t know what it would be like if my internet and phone went out and I was truly alone with my thoughts, but I’m not convinced it would cause me immense suffering. Having to interact with people, especially in tense situations, causes me immense suffering.

The image that comes to mind is a broad path to the top of a mountain. I’ve managed to wander off of it and now the bridge across the stream it crosses has washed out, so climbing it is out of the question. I’ve meandered into a beautiful meadow filled with butterflies and tall grasses and a healing sun, and the shouts and commotion of “other people’s presence” are growing more and more distant. I’m no longer remotely convinced climbing the mountain of success through relationships and money holds any proximal or distant joy for me. I still require a sense of community, a sense of being a part of humanity, but what if I live it in my own garden and share my bounty in ways that work for me, rather than in a rigidly-defined and prescribed form?

There is still immense grief for others and the potential for my own losses in all of this; I’m not rose-colored in my meadow. I feel that finding my own place and pace is allowing me access to expressions of community and solidarity, instead of isolating me from them. Perhaps the best way I can say it is, more days than not (there was a notable exception), in the past two weeks I think I’ve come closer than I ever have to experiencing what it would be like to live without PTSD triggers constantly at the ready, and I love it and I don’t want to leave it. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to experience this side of things. I hope who I am inside can bundle the memories of this in a way that informs choices I make for myself in the future. What are you learning? What inner needs are making themselves known to you?