The Radio Silence Is Hurting My Ears

Yesterday afternoon around 5:45pm a woman jumped in front of The L in what police are calling an “apparent suicide.” She jumped off the same platform I find myself on most days, as it’s two blocks from my apartment, and it connects me to the rest of Chicago. Per my MO, I was glib when I talked about it with my coworkers last night.

“I mean, suicide is a selfish act already. Why do you have to add to that by screwing a bunch of commuters out of being on time?” I said.

“Right? Plus now there’s a guy that has to power wash the front of that train. He’s fucked up for a good week.”

I think we both had pretty good points there, but I still can’t help but relate to the lady. Lately, I’ve had serious depression gnawing at the edges of my consciousness, waiting for moments of quiet to chew threw my mental walls and say, “Jump in front of that train!” or “You’ve got that gun… Have you considered…”

My schedule is full and my dog always needs walks, so I’m pretty capable of pushing those thoughts back with reasoning or the emotional appeal of sticking around for the pup, but that doesn’t make the thoughts go away. It just delays them – suicidal procrastination, if you will.

The dark thoughts aren’t all about ending it, obviously. That’s just sort of a fun fantasy that the thoughts play around with. The more prevalent rumination is meaninglessness. The feeling that the days don’t matter, that my contribution to society doesn’t matter, that I don’t matter, etc. I’m reminded that all of that isn’t true when I talk to friends or family, but I find it difficult to reach out to anyone, and if someone reaches out to me I tend to reject it, so I strongly encourage you not to view this as a call to arms.

In fact, stop worrying! I’m fine. I’ve always been fine. I’ll always be fine (I mean, we all die eventually, but I won’t be dying any time soon). I can’t always worry about your worrying in my writing, otherwise I’ll just be stuck not writing anything at all. Sometimes I just need to write things down to process them – share where I’m at in order to move forward, which is what I’m doing right now. I’ve been stuck in a quagmire of writer’s block that stems from my concern for your feelings, but I’m pretty sure that hasn’t been healthy for me, so we’re all going to have to suck it up and power through it.

My point – if there is one at all beyond the need to vent – is that I understand that woman. Her choice presents me with a stark contrast between my feelings and her action. It highlights for me the fact that I don’t want to be her. I’ve got very cool things to accomplish in the near future. I’ll be applying to grad schools soon to study things I’ve always had a sincere interest in. I’ll get to research and teach ways of viewing the world that I believe in strongly, and that’s cool as fuck. This little vortex of negativity is temporary.

Mother Nature is wasting no time in driving the point home, as it’s raining heavily outside right now. Annie might’ve been a little overly optimistic, as the most recent weather forecast says it’ll keep raining for a few more days, but the sun will come out again. This storm will pass as all storms do, and unlike our sister on the L, I’ll live to see that happen.

In case they have WiFi in the afterlife, I’d like to take a quick moment to say, “Thank you, you kind, tortured soul. Whatever your misdeeds in life, in death you’ve had a strong positive effect on at least one person, and I appreciate the fuck out of you. Rest easy, dear.”

Sitting and Breathing: Day 21

So I flubbed yesterday pretty hardcore. I was on a bit of a time crunch so I thought, “Oh, I’ll just do my meditation on the train on my way to work!” Turns out that isn’t as effective as I’d have liked it to be. Every time I closed my eyes I felt nauseous. Plus I think I’ve had a resistance to meditation for the past couple days due to my emotionality.

My mind has felt like it’s been in a haze of emotion. I feel vaguely stressed by a lot of self-imposed timelines. There’s a long list of Have-To’s that I’ve got running in my head, and I feel the pressure of them all the time.

I have to become a bartender as soon as possible. I have to be more committed to my meditation practice. I have to exercise more often. I have to get myself enrolled in German classes. I have to complete my school application as far in advance as possible. I have to enroll my dog in reactivity classes right away. I have to buy a carpet for the living room. I have to read more. I have to write more. And so on.

Many of those are valid, but they’re all created and fostered by me alone. Really, I don’t have to do any of that, and my life would likely be just fine, but I’ve got it in my head that my happiness is dependent on their completion and it’s been causing me a lot of anxiety lately.

Anyway, I was back to meditating today, and I’m glad I did it. Today’s session was on Lovingkindness (it’s one word in the book, so it’ll be one word here). You start by saying to yourself, May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease. Then you transfer that attention to others.

The first recipient outside of myself was supposed to be someone for whom I had deep affection, so I chose my dog. Next up was someone that was having a hard time right now. The first object of my attention was an ex and close friend who I know is having a sort of emotional roller coaster of a week (yeah, you), then it moved to a couple friends who have a more perpetually difficult time.

Next up was a person I don’t really know, and I chose that old guy that stands on the corner, and pays zero attention to my dog barking at him. I don’t know that I necessarily harbor animosity toward him, but I will say I’ve been regularly frustrated with him in the past. Come to think of it, I’ve been regularly frustrated with basically everybody who received my Lovingkindness today.

Next was supposed to be someone who I have a hard time hearing, or who I often butt heads with. Per the instructions, I didn’t need to choose someone who the world was at odds with as it would be more challenging, so I chose a softball here and went with my mother (sorry, Mom, but I think you know that I don’t cut you enough slack sometimes, but I love you dearly).

Finally, I was to send Lovingkindness to all beings on earth. May all beings be safe. May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings live with ease. I felt a sort of aura radiating outward from my person. It was as if I was pushing those phrases out of me in every direction as hard as I could. After only a few seconds of this, I felt tired and overwhelmed with sadness. I’m not sure why, exactly, but it happened. I was able to recenter myself by the end of the meditation, but that was an odd combination of jarring and relieving.

I don’t know what a lot of this means, yet. I’m definitely feeling a connection that I hadn’t, but I wouldn’t say that my mind is clearer right now. It feels like I threw a heavy stone of awareness into the pond that is my mind. All of the shit that had collected over the last three decades of my life has been stirred up and it’s floating around in my consciousness haphazardly.

I’m eagerly anticipating the clarity that’ll come when all the dust settles back down on top of the awareness, but it’s cloudy as fuck right now. Constantly moving in every direction that I’m pulled by my Have-To’s probably isn’t helping. I guess we’ll just have to be patient. Gods, do I hate being patient.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 10

It was back to the sitting and breathing today for Body Sensation Meditation. For somebody who humble bragged (maybe just outright bragged) about their body awareness just two days ago, today was strong dose of reality. The point was to just sit cross-legged on the floor, back straight, and focus interchangeably on breathing and each bodily sensation that arose during the session.

Based on the sensations I felt today, I am pushing my body really hard lately. I was to focus on pleasurable and painful sensations alike, and today was largely filled with painful sensations. I felt the tension in my lower and mid-back from work and my litany of personal projects. I felt the tension around my knees and the muscles immediately around my knees, likely from the same activities. I felt the soreness in my shoulders from playing with the dog.

What I found most interesting is how my mind was able to so thoroughly and completely lose itself in thought today. On a day when I was supposed to be focusing on painful sensations, my brain kicked the imagination into overdrive, and I’d catch myself in very different times and places every time I’d return to my breath.

I gotta get to work soon. I wonder who will be there. I wonder what I’ll be doing today.

Then I’d imagine myself already at work, talking with my coworkers. Then I’d imagine getting off of work at 1:30am, and the long public transit route home, and how shitty it would undoubtedly be in zero degree (or under) weather. Then I’d feel how cold my toes were, which would bring me back into my body, and back to my breath.

Ow, my back is really hurting. Probably from all the bending over and weird angles I put myself in to finish the bar for my living room.

Then I’d wander into a hypothetical conversation with my mother about how I’m spending money frivolously, and should really be focusing on other things right now. “I spent as little as possible making this thing!” I’d argue. Then I’d play out the rest of that conversation, and I’d work myself up into a tizzy over a conversation that never happened. By the time I remembered I was supposed to be focusing on my breath, I was already pretty agitated. Then the pain came back.

I wonder to what extent I’m doing this with other pains I’m experiencing, both physically and emotionally. I wonder if my mind’s tendency to experience pain in the form of a drive to distract myself with something – anything – else is bleeding out into the rest of my life. I bet it is! I have no concrete evidence for that, yet, but I’ve got a hunch, so now I’ll be on the lookout for it.

Returning to the pain (burning, dull, aching, stiffness, soreness, tension), I was reminded of the time I modeled in the nude for a painting class. I chose what I thought would be fairly easy positions to hold for 20 minutes, and realized on the first attempt that it was harder than I anticipated. Even sitting cross-legged on the floor, on a pillow, can ware on you after a while. I started anticipating my alarm, largely because it symbolized the end to my pain, or at least the potential pursuit of another distraction (namely, writing this).

Funnily enough, when I finally surrendered to the ideal that there would be no alarm, and that the future was irrelevant to my current experience, the alarm went off. Luckily (after writing this) I have to start getting ready now, otherwise I’d be strongly inclined to do my ab workout before work, which I don’t think would do much in the way of easing my muscular tension. Maybe I can squeeze in a routine before work tomorrow, though…

Sitting and Breathing: Day 8

Today I was antsy (I decided to throw a party, and then decided I needed to build a bar in my living room, so my brain is swimming with ideas), which inhibited my meditation’s beginnings, but I seem to be able to pull my shit together by about 2pm every day. The program recommends choosing a consistent time of day to meditate, so at least my nonsense is punctual. Today’s was a Walking Meditation, which started with an awareness of my stance, then moved to a gradually increasing awareness of the movements involved with propelling myself forward.

From the beginning of today’s practice, I couldn’t help but wonder who doesn’t do this on a regular basis? Doesn’t everybody slow-motion walk for funsies from time to time?! They should. Your body is telling you a lot if you’re willing to listen to it (thank you Erin Burch for that phrasing). Based on the verbiage in this section of the book, people clearly aren’t listening, so my mind wandered around trying to figure out exactly what got me listening in the first place.

I took martial arts as a kid, which is probably the first time I had to pay any real attention to the way I stood and why. “You need to have your feet angled like this so you can kick like this and return to your center of gravity like this.” Honestly, I don’t remember that lesson, though. I mainly remember my sensei allowing us to punch him as hard as we could manage in the stomach (he clearly had time-tested faith in his abs), and the blonde black belt (that in retrospect, couldn’t have been more than 14) who was so much older and more experienced, and who I had a very powerful crush on.

My first concrete memory of these lessons was in JROTC in high school. Military drill teaches you to stand and walk in a very particular way – heel-to-toe with your back straight, your shoulders back, and your head level with the ground. If you don’t do it right, you get yelled at, which acts as some pretty immediate, indelible feedback. Then I joined the armed and unarmed drill teams, and color guard, where I fine-tuned those marching styles. Then I lead those teams, and those techniques to other people in a way that maximized uniformity.

That’s about the same time that Erin (please check out her website here) came into my life, and taught me her reasoning for focusing so heavily on my gait and what it was telling me. Just by watching me walk, she was able to figure out quite a lot about the way I interact with the world, and advised me on how I might go about fixing things. Ever since, I’ve paid very close attention to my weight distribution, how long my strides are, where I’m holding tension, etc.

Anyway, back to today’s session. After the requisite rereading of the instructions, dog distraction five minutes in, and restarting the 11 minutes of audio guiding the meditation, I did a total of 16 minutes of walking meditation today. Most notable to me was the sensation of my feet flying through the air between steps.

As I lifted my heal to begin a step, all the muscles in my leg tensed to push my weight to the opposite foot. Then, as my toes left the ground, each of those muscles relaxed as my foot glided to its new position. I felt my weight shifting more fluidly the slower I walked, each small movement acting as a counter to the movement of the muscles in the other leg. I also felt the floorboards of my apartment pushing back on me with the same amount of force that I was exerting on them.

Once again, in spite of my initial reluctance, I am very happy that I made time for meditation today. Taking the time to be present seems to relieve a lot of the stress I’m waking up with in the mornings. I obviously still need to figure out why I’m waking up with so much stress in the mornings, but ya know… One step at a time.

Author’s Note: I was neither sitting, nor focusing on breathing for today’s practice.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 7

I did not start the day well. I woke up a little later than I anticipated, so I rescheduled my first free trial class of Jiu Jitsu at the gym I had found close by. The dog was getting on my nerves a little more than usual. I was upset about the trash and the lack of groceries and the tree outside (I just took down my Christmas tree, and it only made it as far as the fire escape). I started reading my meditation book, but I just couldn’t focus. I was hungry, and I hadn’t had coffee, and I was frustrated – my attention was all over the place.

I decided to get up and do something about all of those feelings before I began my second week of meditation practice. I walked the dog around the block. I walked to a local cafe I’d been meaning to check out to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while just being present, a task I usually love, but today it didn’t work quite like I wanted it to. The music in the small shop was some sort of Ukrainian pop house music, which isn’t ideal for relaxation. Financial news was running on a TV at both ends of the place, with tickers and scrolling headlines and a general jumble of nothing but incredibly important information. The coffee was good, but they brought it in a foam cup, which to me negated the point of me ordering it for there.

In my haze of frustration, I decided to use Dr. Brené Brown’s voice and resonant worldviews to soothe me. First I looked up her bio and found out that she hadn’t even gotten her bachelor’s degree until she was 30, which immediately put me at greater ease. Okay, I thought, I can still do this. After settling into the first few minutes of her audio book and finishing my coffee, I wandered to the two stores I had to go to in order to get everything on my list, and a few extra things determined by whimsy (like strawberry jam cookies).

After I got back home, put away the groceries, and had a snack, I felt ready to pick up the book again. Like in Week One, I read all of the material associated with Week Two first, then went back and reread the meditation instructions for today – Body Scan Meditation. I set myself up on my yoga mat, reset myself up after my dog whined outside my bedroom door and I brought him in and put him in his kennel, then reset myself up a final time after removing the bones he was banging against the sides of the kennel.

I closed my eyes and mentally scanned from the top of my head down to my chin, then down the back side of my head and neck, then along the sides. I moved my attention down my arms and felt each finger tip individually. Then I went down my torso, all the way to my feet, where I primarily noticed the pressure of my heels against the mat.

That journey throughout my person wasn’t quite as straightforward as that, though. I spent what felt like a lot of time lost in my thoughts. I’m infatuated with a coworker, and I kept seeing her radiant smile. I kept enjoying my stored mental loop of her gait. I replayed little tidbits of what she’s said to me or in groups that I found funny or endearing. Then I’d spend time thinking about how I was going to tell all of you about those thoughts and their intrusion. Suffice it to say, I worded it better before I sat down at my computer.

My coworker appeared a lot today, but there were other distractions, too. Fantasies about the lunch I’d make for myself, confusion about whether or not the gentle water noises and birds chirping was the alarm I had set, or just the outside world, thoughts about when this lying down thing would be over. I was, however, able to continuously bring my focus back inside my body. Feeling my the contact points with the floor, feeling what was getting heavier and what was getting lighter after the 18 or so minutes I had been there.

Finally the alarm did go off. I opened my eyes and slowly rose form the mat. I will say that much of the stress inhabiting my body earlier has vanished. I am presently more relaxed and less heavy. I don’t think that any of my problems were solved in those 20 minutes – they’re still waiting for me now, actually – but I am able to consider them as truths, and let them stay there. The fact about most of them is that their existence doesn’t adversely impact this moment that I’m in, or the next.

I’m not going to ignore them because they all very much need addressing, but I’m also not going to let them ruin whatever I’m doing right now, and I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point. Or at least that’s what I’m getting from this experience so far. I look forward to upping it to four sessions this week. Until tomorrow!