Staying Afloat

I’m having a difficult time writing this morning. I feel anxiety over what I should be writing about; over not wanting to write about the same thing I wrote about yesterday or the day before; over the truthfulness of my writing; over the fear of the things I write about, and read about, not sticking. Like I’m not actually learning the lessons I think I’m learning. Like I’m not actually changing.

That anxiety becomes more and more difficult to shake. I start to feel it in different parts of my body. Those feelings cue the desperate, and then frantic, searching for thoughts that will keep me afloat. Thoughts that will keep me from sinking deeper into the cold ocean that is anxiety and panic.

I should have a list of those rescue thoughts; those flotation thoughts.

I don’t have to go down with the ship. For I am not the Captain.

An Idiots Guide to Digging

Life is strange.

We are not meant to understand it. We’re not meant to know its meaning or solves its mysteries.

The best we can hope for is to learn to adapt to it. Does adaptation imply understanding? What’s the distinction I’m digging for? And in what fashion am I attempting to dig?

A drill bit is capable of digging straight toward the goal. It does so in a circular, multi-faceted, fashion.

A shovel also strikes directly toward a destination, but only so deep before the digger must stray from the direction of the goal in order to widen the hole.

I believe there’s a lesson in this. Shovel versus drill bit. Progressing slowly versus more rapidly. Man versus machine.

A drill bit can be reckless and dangerous, causing great and immediate destruction. A shovel is more controllable and less likely to do damage. I hope to learn in this life, only that which can be uncovered with my shovel.

My shovel was passed down to me from my father.

On the wall of the cabin formerly known as Monty’s (now George’s), my late Uncle Pat’s shovel hangs in memoriam with a small plaque that reads, “Pat Sinnott, The Human Backhoe.”

In my journal writing yesterday, I made a list of the following goals:
1. Walk more!
2. Drink less coffee!
3. Spend more time in the garden!
4. Spend more time reading!
5. Spend more time cleaning!

Today, I consider how I might “dig” toward each of these goals with a shovel rather than trying to drill straight down, through bedrock, to the achievement of my goals.

1. Walk more! – To dig with a shovel may be to first consider that which is preventing me from walking already. Why do I list walking as a goal rather than it being something I’m already doing?

Reason/excuse #1 – the time it takes. When I consider the time it takes to go for a walk, my monkey-mind immediately starts listing any number of other things I “should” be doing with that time.

Reason/excuse #2 – Fear. For over a year, since my “breakdown,” I’ve been battling a fear of heart attack. The physical symptoms that have accompanied my panic have been allowed, by me, to stack fear onto stress, resulting in panic. For over a year, this fear has kept me from exercising regularly. More recently, my mom’s deteriorating health has resulted in choking-like episodes of aspiration. She’s temporarily unable to breathe, for as long as it takes for her airways to clear. This can be a serious issue, and it has made me afraid to go for long walks and leave her home alone.

Interesting. According to the diagrams above, I’m actually closer, in proximity, to my goal when I dig with a shovel.

Also interesting is that a hole dug with a shovel, having taken the time to widen it out at the top, is less likely to cave back in on itself. Meaning I will be more likely to sustain my new habit of walking once it is reached.

So, in digging with a shovel, I will temporarily stray from working directly toward a new habit of walking. I will allow myself to genuinely consider that which is preventing me from walking already, without feeling rushed or feeling like I’m wasting time and should “JUST DO IT.” I will reach my goal eventually, and when I do, I will have done so in a way that makes it a more durable achievement.

To be continued…..maybe.

Nike Was Wrong

Nike did us all a massive disservice. They brainwashed us into believing we always needed to be DOING something. This concept took over my psyche and I applied to it EVERYTHING. “DO something. Get something done. Something tangible. Something you can show off and be proud of.”

You were wrong, Nike! We’re not “human doings!” We’re human BEINGS!

We don’t need to “JUST DO IT.” We need to learn awareness and acceptance. We need to learn how to JUST BE!

Ever Since You

Ever since you, grays have been grayer.
Ever since you, I’ve been better at praying,
That someday I’d get back to being,
That me from before I remember seeing,
You in the park that day with Thomas.
That day I knew I’d break every promise,
I’d ever made about being a man,
Who stands by his morals and follows a plan.

Ever since you, lines have been blurry.
Ever since you, I’ve been in a hurry,
To find a distraction,
Some kind of contraption,
To change how I’ve felt,
Have a new hand be dealt,
To believing in heaven.
To take back going in on your two and your seven.

Return to Stillness

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Another beautiful morning! The sun is shining full and bright over on Eaton Dr, but is kept from shining on us by the big redwood trees to the south. I imagine to be hit by the sun this morning would be to feel at least 10 degrees warmer. Here in the shade it is very cold.

I’m feeling great this morning! Yesterday I did not feel good at all. In the morning I did, but then something happened. Almost instantaneously I did not feel good at all. It was a twinge in my chest. A rush to my head. A feeling in my shoulder. A taste in my mouth. I immediately went back into the fight against fear. Fear of heart attack. Fear of death and thought of all that would mean. Fighting those thoughts. Along with feelings I’ve felt before, returned the bewilderment that often accompanies them. Confusion. I had been relaxed, I thought. I felt relaxed all morning up to the twinge. I even felt relaxed the day prior through my deposition. How could my nerves be so sensitized that I could have such an episode despite my alleged relaxation?

Sadly, I ended up taking a Xanax. The feelings were strong and fear was making them worse. I hoped the Xanax would aid in the deescalation of both. It did. This, once again, should prove to me that it’s all psychological. That if I were having a heart attack, Xanax would not provide such relief. This should once again prove to me that I “have nothing to fear but fear itself.” This should also remind me that it can happen completely subconsciously. That worry and fear have their roots deep down where I forget about them at times and think I’m feeling relaxed. But they’re still there waiting for the smallest inclination of WORRY to bring them back to the front of my mind.

WORRY!!! Even only brief! The duration to effect relationship is exponential. For example: In a short pause from writing just a second ago, I caught myself in the act. Sitting at my writing desk I’m able to look out my bedroom window and enjoy the most expansive view we have from anywhere on our property. The redwood trees on the distant hill are far enough away to appear hazy even on the clearest day. All of a sudden it occurred to me that if the neighbors build a large enough structure on the back portion of their property, that view that I have spent years enjoying would be blocked!

Worry! Fear! Panic!

I noticed it happening. I noticed myself living out that very unlikely scenario in my mind. It would mean this. It would mean that. I would feel this and that. I was rehearsing devastation as if that future had already been written. I was doing it myself. I was giving those roots of fear and worry the thoughts they needed to grow and sprout in the garden of my mind.

Because I observed it, I was able to slow the escalation and stop it shy of panic. As I now sit in the same spot, instead of the negativity I had been seeing in my mind’s eye, I am now seeing the bright red leaves of the neighbors’ tree. Upon the branches from which those reddened leaves hang, small chickadees hop. Fluttering their wings and then landing on another branch. I always find such peace and joy watching birds. Then I focused on the branches.

The branches were bending under the birds and would bounce after the bird leapt from them.

But then, it struck me. No longer stressed by the weight of the bird or the bird’s act of pushing off of it into flight, the branch quickly calmed. Quickly returned to stillness.

Beautiful, that return to stillness. No more tension or forced movement. No more stress. Natural rest. Peace. Stillness. Visual silence.

With that branch, let me too return to such a state. The bowing and bouncing, the stress and the tension were but brief and did not prevent the branch from returning to rest. Let my worries and the thoughts kindling them be so brief. Let my mind now find the same stillness found so quickly by that branch. And when thoughts return, when worry, fear, and panic start to rear their weight, let me remember they are but a small chickadee, and my mind need only bounce briefly before returning to stillness.

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

To steal the line from one of everyone’s favorite movies, but now to look at it from a different angle. Forest’s mama told him that life surprises you with it’s events just like the surprise of opening a box of chocolates, “never knowing what you’re gonna get.”

In my journal writing this morning I had a similar thought. My initial thought was thinking about life as a movie rather than a box of chocolates. The original title of this post was going to be, Life is Like a Movie. Let’s think about it that way for a minute. A movie. You sit down to watch a movie from beginning to end. It starts with the title and then ends with the credits. Like life, you’re named and you die. But what about the movie itself, the life?

If we press play to start the movie and let it play from beginning to end, how long will the movie last? Depends on the movie, but I would guess the length of the average movie is somewhere around 90-100 minutes. Life. Average life span is what, 60 years? That being what it is, 90 minutes, 60 years, or a box of chocolates with a certain number of chocolates in it, we have A LOT of opportunities to control the quality of those quantities!

The thought that got me started this morning was the realization that just about every task I set out to accomplish, I try and get it done as quickly as I can. If thinking in terms of the movie, I watch with my finger on the fast forward button. If thinking in terms of the box of chocolates, I open the box and stuff the chocolates into my mouth, one after the other. We arrive at the end of the movie, an empty chocolates box, much more quickly this way. With much less enjoyment, and even awareness, of what the movie was about, or how delicious the chocolates were.

So far I’m thinking you might be thinking, “well, yeah, this is obvious.” And I agree. But what I don’t think everyone has the same understanding about is the cumulative effect that living this way has on your body.

Living life in fast forward day after day has a very negative cumulative effect. At least it has on me. I’m not a scientist or psychologist. I don’t have a degree and haven’t done studies. I have read parts of some books on the matter, but am still only qualified to speak for myself.

It has become my automatic instinct to try and do EVERYTHING I do as quickly as I can. EVERYTHING. Thinking, talking, cleaning, writing, reading, gardening, showering, brushing my teeth, painting the walls, building a door, etc. This is a problem. A lot of the tasks I’ve set out to do are new to me. Like gardening, building doors from scratch, remodeling kitchens and bedrooms on my own, having a 55 gallon aquarium full of fish, growing vegetables from seed, etc. I’ve not done them before, at least not enough times to do them in fast forward and still do them well. Not enough times to have a grasp of what needs to be done in BETWEEN the beginning and the end. So what happens when I set out to accomplish a task?

First, I figure out step one. That figuring out, that planning phase, like everything else is done in fast forward, so often I will start, hit a wall, and then realize other steps needed to be taken first. The wheels start to come off because I’m so wired for speeding through the process. This causes all sorts of frustration. Anger at myself. Sometimes blame on others. Other negative thoughts and emotions that time and time again lead to breakdown. Breakdown after breakdown leads to task after task NOT being accomplished. I’m living in a world full of non-accomplished tasks. That’s on the surface, but what about under the surface?

Inside, I feel the effects of all those breakdowns. They don’t just happen and disappear. They fall on my psyche like an atom bomb leaving devastating destruction behind them. Fight or flight. I flee. I find a new task to try and accomplish while the previous task’s mushroom cloud is still blocking the sun and making it hard to breathe. Failed attempt after failed attempt blocks the sun more and more. Makes breathing more and more difficult. But I’ve been relentless. I tell myself, “Come on, you can do this! Well maybe not this, but this. Ok you can’t do that either, maybe this, or this, or this, or this, or….hey look, a squirrel!”

For years now, I’ve been living in a world of unfinished tasks. I’m FUULLLL of mushroom clouds, blocked suns, and oxygen deprivation. I can feel it. Tightness in my chest. Tension in my neck and jaw. Weight gain. Confusion. Anxiety. Depression. Loss of confidence. Denial? Breakdown!

My thought this morning was this, what if I had been living in slow motion for all these years? What if I start living in slow motion now?

Build a Bridge to Your Dreams, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD.

All the great Teachers have laid stress upon the importance, not of envisaging an enormous period of time before you to do the difficult things of the spiritual life, but to pay attention to the little passing moments, the minutes and hours of each day. Therefore they taught: Fill the day full; watch over it, guide it; regard each single day as if it were the last day that you knew you were going to live.”
-A. Trevor Barker, Theosophist

Imagine a great chasm like a gorge or canyon with a decrepit bridge going across, missing several wooden slats. It would take a great deal of courage to cross that bridge. If the chasm represents crossing over to some great life goal, each day would be one wooden slat on that bridge. The more days that you miss in working toward that goal, the more the bridge falls into disrepair. The more days that you practice, the more trustworthy and study the bridge becomes. In the spiritual life, each day of work is another day that the bridge from here to there will remain in good repair, will be a sure way to cross over the chasm.

This morning you may be thinking of your life’s quest, the reason you get out of bed each day. Your quest may be something quite large, something so big that it is intimidating to think about. But if you think of doing only one day’s work, suddenly this impossible task is brought down to scale.

Think for a few minutes about what you need to do today to make your dream a reality. Build your bridge one wooden slat at a time. If you do that one thing, you can live this day with purpose and conviction. Each time you feel discouraged, come back to one simple task that you can achieve in short order.

-From: A Mindful Morning, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD.

“Walk Down the Path,” by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD.

The surrender of the ego is the most difficult thing we have to do….
The surrender of the ego is the ONLY way of life.”
-Bede Griffiths, Hindu-Christian Mystic

Those of us who feel drawn to the spiritual life have a long and uncertain road ahead. We have no guarantee of success or even of progress. The path goes through dark and lonely places. We face terrible demons that we would rather ignore. The usual comforts of life can be torturous for us. The only consolation is knowing that we are making the journey of the ages, undertaking the process of transformation that is the destiny of every soul.

Today, you have a choice as to whether you will do the work of contemplation or let the time slip by. There are no punishments or rewards other than the natural outcomes of your choices. You only have to ask yourself what you truly want in life and act accordingly . Know that the struggle itself will ennoble your soul, and that, as you struggle to enrich your life, you allow others to do the same.

-From, “A Mindful Morning,” by: David Dillard-Write, PhD.

Build Your Concentration Skills, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD.

“Divine consciousness makes us feel that God is right here, inside each life-breath, inside each heartbeat, inside everyone and everything around us.”
-Sri Chinmay, Spiritual Teacher

We have lost the ability to pay attention with the diligence necessary to see the hidden, divine side of things. Painter, poets, and mystics catch glimpses of it. To see property, we have to discipline the minds, to pick something from nature or culture and concentrate on it exclusively. The object of concentration could be anything – a few lines of scripture, a poem, a rock, a bird, a flower – but the intensity and fervor of concentration make the insight come. Our world, at every turn, will oppose and thwart the total concentration of mind and heart. So the quest for mindfulness will be at odds with the world if it is undertaken seriously.

When a place or an object of human manufacture particularly strikes you, in a way that makes you feel that perhaps the world still holds some beauty and truth, flag that place or object as a possible focus for meditation. Even this morning, you can visit your favorite place or find a few verses to concentrate your mind Familiarize yourself entirely with the object of meditation so that you can see it even with your eyes closed. Then listen deeply , with complete absorption, waiting for its secret to be revealed. If you are on a tight schedule, set a timer for, say, twenty minutes, and use that time for concentration on the object.

From: A Mindful Morning, by: David Dillard-Wright PhD.