Sitting and Breathing: Day 26

Oof. Last night involved a lot of drinking. Well… The last two nights, I guess. Saturday was particularly hectic at the rooftop bar, so the whole staff drank together after we closed. Then I saw one of my coworkers at the bar on ground level, and he convinced me (it did not take a lot of convincing) to join him and the two ladies he just met at a late-night spot.

I spent much of my time hitting on the wait staff and ignoring the two women he brought with us. Interestingly, both of the ladies I was interested in had neon-colored hair – one was lavender and the other was lime green. Finally one of the two that my coworker was chatting up snapped and insisted that they go back to their hotel (they were staying at the hotel on top of which was our place of work).

In the Lyft on the way home, the one who snapped kept making drunk, biting commentary, and I found it very funny. She was, however, not trying to be funny, so her friend got mad at me for continuously chuckling at how ridiculous the situation was. I excused myself and made my way to the train station to go home.

I got home when the sun came up on Sunday, went right to sleep, and got to work only slightly late yesterday afternoon. I dutifully stood in the doorway of the pub until around 8pm (taking only brief pauses in professionalism to chat up the attractive campaign manager for the alderman who was having a fundraiser there), then my manager and I had a few drinks after clocking out.

Well, it was karaoke night at the pub, and my thought was, “I’ll just sing one song, then I’ll get out of here.” I sang California Love by 2Pac, but the words were wrong on the screen, which distracted me, and fucked up my performance. I couldn’t leave on a bad note, right?! So I signed up for another one. A few more drinks later, I was flitting around from table to table buying shots for small groups of customers with my employee discount.

At one point my coworker thought, “Man, Sean knows everybody in here!” Then he listened in on one of my conversations and realized that I didn’t really know anybody and I was just starting conversations with people at random. Before I knew it, the bar was closing and it was time for me to go home.

Fastforward to today: after tending to my rather severe hangover with some greasy Colombian food and strong coffee, I decided I had better do that whole meditating thing I’ve been doing lately. Luckily, today’s meditation was on quieting the inner critic, which was serendipitous because he’s particularly loud on days after some drinking goes on. The goal was to focus on a recent negative emotion (I chose regret), and sit with it and work through what it feels like and what comprises the list of associated concerns.

So I played out the worst-case scenario: I get fired from this job. I don’t think it’ll happen (my other coworkers drink rather heavily, so I’m in good company there), but what if it did? Well, I’d be down to just two jobs. I’d up my availability at both of them, and I’d be just fine. The takeaway from any real deep diving on failure is, “Life keeps going.”

Again, I ended up crying during the meditation. I’m finding that I spend most of my days when I’m upset just being marginally upset. I hold the emotions on the fringes of my mind while I focus on getting things done, and they just sort of sit there gnawing at my awareness the whole day. Meditation gives me the opportunity to stare them directly in the face, take them in fully, and profile them so I better understand them.

So much of my time is spent trying to be or look happy that I don’t get the opportunity to sit with my feelings, and it turns out there are a lot of them eating away at me. It’s relieving to confront them. It’s so very necessary to feel. Ultimately, I’m more happy because I let myself be sad or angry or whatever more fully. Meditation doesn’t make me emotionless, it helps me be at peace with the fact that I’m going to have unpleasant emotions sometimes, and that’s okay.

I could definitely stand to drink a little less, though. I’ll give you that one.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 14

As you’ve probably heard, it’s quite cold in the Midwest today. Presently, it’s sunny in Chicago, and a balmy -11 degrees that feels like -35 with windchill. That means I’m relegated to my apartment for the day, and the landlord (who controls the heat) has cranked all of the building’s heaters up to the max, so I’m currently in only my shorts, and still quite warm.

Today’s sitting and breathing session was the first one in Week 3, which is largely focused on emotions. Today’s practice – titled Meditation on Emotions – involved sitting and focusing on my breath, and just sort of letting emotions happen. When they happened, I was to note them with a descriptor, and let them along by refocusing my attention on my breath.

I was particularly restless today. I have things on my to-do list that took up a lot of my attention largely because I’m excited about doing them. Also, I was sweating from man-made inferno of a space that is my bedroom right now. I felt it collecting on my palms, and along my brow; not enough to drip, but enough to be noteworthy. It made me want to move around more than usual while simultaneously lulling me to sleep while sitting up.

All of that said, I felt like I had the easiest time yet focusing on my breath today. It was very easy to fall into and continuously return to my breath throughout today’s session. Largely, I was in a very neutral emotional state throughout my practice. I was able to note when I was hit by infatuation when an object of affection popped into my mind, anxiousness and anticipation when I thought about the alarm going off to indicate the end of my sitting, or restlessness for any of the reasons I mentioned before.

At one point about fifteen minutes in, I almost nodded off, then jerked awake with a deep inhale. More deep, rapid breaths followed, as did an overwhelming anger that quickly morphed into panic. The panic gave way to sadness almost as fast, and I felt my face contort. I didn’t exactly hold back tears, but I didn’t exactly let myself get to tears, either. I mentally gave myself permission to cry if necessary, but my body didn’t seem to want to.

I let the emotion hang out for a minute while I investigated its physicality. After taking note of the welling in my chest, the light-headed feeling, and the increased heart rate, I brought my attention back to my breathing. It slowed, and I felt each of the muscles in my face relax again. I’m not sure what brought on that little moment, but I’m excited to learn more about it.

I also noticed that even with every other muscle in my body completely relaxed (except for the ones keeping my in the sitting position, I guess), I’ll unwittingly hold my tongue against the roof of my mouth. It seems to be a way for me to hold tension without anyone else seeing it, and I wonder if the literal holding of my tongue is a manifestation of a more metaphorical tongue-holding.

What is it that I’m not saying? Is that self-imposed silence causing the inexplicable tension or is it a byproduct? Moreover, was the rapid succession of emotions I felt an unearthing of sorts? Is there a sadness underlying the anger, frustration, and anxiety I experience more regularly?

Luckily, I’ll be spending quite a bit of time this week focusing on my emotions in my meditations. Hopefully some attentiveness will shed some light on some of the answers to those questions, if not this week, then eventually. Ya know, whenevs, no pressure.

Patio Fish

I got evicted from the first apartment I rented on my own. Apparently I was too loud, though I was personally impressed with how quiet I was being, the 80 pounds of marijuana in my closet, and my ongoing probation didn’t put me on good grounds for fighting it. Luckily, one of my best friends from high school was getting out of the Marine Corps, and in the mood to relocate to Sacramento.

I found us a townhouse that was way nicer than we deserved. It was a two-story, 2-bedroom/2.5-bath with two patios and a fireplace in the living room, and there was a pool and gym in the complex. It was considerably nicer than anything I’ve lived in since.

Anyway, one of its short-comings was that the drain would always get clogged with the leaves from the beautiful, large tree that hung over the second-story patio off my bedroom (it was a hard life). My solution to this was not to regularly clear the leaves, but to keep them, and add 15 goldfish. I feel confident that they lived primarily off of bugs that landed in the still water, as I regularly forgot to feed them. They were clearly strong enough to fend for themselves (or at least the 9 survivors of the initial shock of the new environment were), so I let them.

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I often fell asleep on the couch downstairs because of laziness, television, and the warmth of the fireplace. One night around 3AM, I was jerked awake by someone pounding on the front door. I opened the door to find a young lady friend of ours, looking panicked, and wearing an over-sized coat that clearly wasn’t hers. I invited her in, and intercepted my roommate who was rushing down the stairs, gun in hand. He lowered it when he saw me, and he went back to bed after I briefed him.

I spent the next two hours listening to her repeat herself. We were all magical, brothers and sisters of Jesus (not figuratively – Jesus Christ of Nazareth grew up with us), and at some points, I was Jesus. She was clearly having an episode of some kind. After about an hour, I found out that she “had a little bit of meth” a few days prior, and hadn’t slept since. She had previously been diagnosed as bipolar, and her manic states were more pronounced after her use of uppers.

She followed me to my bed where she continued her unending stream of words with little to no connection to one another, and at some point I interrupted her to go wake up my roommate. “It’s your turn,” I told him. I had work the next day, and for some reason, I just couldn’t manage to sleep with her talking directly into whichever ear wasn’t against the pillow.

I gave her one of my hats to wear, which seemed to ease her transition to the care of my friend. They didn’t sleep the entire night. We didn’t feel right having her committed to a mental hospital, but neither of us were particularly well-equipped to guide her to stability. After a daylight broke, he was able to get in touch with her parents, and he dropped her off with them while I was at work.

My roommate grabbed my hat off her head as she jumped out of his truck. It was my late grandfather’s hat, so I was glad he had the wherewithal to grab it in spite of his sleep deprivation.

I never followed up to see how things panned out, but I did run into her at a bar a few years later. She was looking much more clear-headed, but hadn’t made the sobriety choice so far as I could tell. Then again, neither had I.

The fish stayed on that patio beyond my lease. I hope the apartment’s new tenants appreciated them as much as I did, and they continued to thrive in spite of neglect, like my friends and I do.

In the Name of Art – Part II

MVIMG_20180912_074105.jpgFrom the time I landed to the time I left, I took my partying at Burning Man very seriously. I went all out until I passed out every day, then got up and did it again. One of the selling points for me has always been that I get to build and create while I’m out there, so I pushed myself hard physically to build and rebuild pieces of camp as the winds blew them down.

I had the added pleasure of a close friend joining me for the trip, got to fall in love for a few days, then do it again with another friend of a friend right before the event was over. The night of the Man Burn, I watched someone run into the giant structure fire. As he entered, a large piece of the frame collapsed around him and rescuers had to back off until it calmed down enough to drag him from the flames. His foot was still smoldering as he lay on the desert floor surrounded by emergency personnel. After being cas-e-vaced, he died from his wounds at the UC Davis Medical Center. Point being, it was an emotional week.

The artist that brought me out had been cordial in our brief passings throughout the event. Honestly, the idea of spending much time with her or on her project didn’t thrill me given that I was in the Land of Distraction, so I didn’t. Finally it was time to pack up, comb the campground for trash and stray tent spikes, and get ourselves and our art piece off the desert.

“I don’t want to go home!” she choked out between cigarette puffs and sobs. She was crying on and off all day as we packed. My patience had worn thin by this point, and we were all tired and out of energy, but dammit, we needed to go. My saving grace of a human that accompanied us out there couldn’t handle the emotional roller-coaster that would inevitably be our ride back, so she left early with a friend, and left me to deal with the artist on my own.

After enlisting the help of basically everyone but her, I was able to get the truck ready to go. She drove us off the desert, but the crying came along with us. The sun left the sky, and the amount of shit she gave about staying in her lane left with it.

“Would you mind staying in the lane?” I asked as she rolled a joint and swerved into the oncoming traffic side of the road, steering with her knees.

“There’s nobody coming! I can clearly see that! And you’re the LAST fucking person that should say anything about my driving!”

“My legal ability to drive and my actual ability to drive (or stay in a lane) are two different things.”

At this, she slammed on the brakes in the middle of a long line of traffic on a two-lane highway. “GET OUT! You can fucking walk the rest of the way!” she screamed at me, nearly jabbing me in the eye with her now-lit spliff.

“I’m not getting out! Drive the car, please!” I stayed buckled in, and she eventually started driving again. I was able to eek out an apology for the license thing (I apologized for this about four times over the course of the week, and thought we were past it, but I was wrong).

The rest of the drive to our “midway” (it was more like a quarter of the way) point was uneventful. We made it to a hotel, got a room together, showered 13 days of dust off ourselves, and got a decent night sleep in an actual bed, with actual air conditioning. The crying the next day was at least less frequent because she was well-rested.

We had a nice lunch at a bar and grill near Mono Lake. I had a nice conversation with my mom while the truck was being refueled, reassuring her that I was not dead. The artist was concerned that she had lost some drugs she had sympathetically purchased on my behalf, so we spent ten minutes looking through the truck before finding out a friend had taken them. We were ready to get on our way, and she said, “Okay, let me just roll this joint, get some coffee, and some cigarettes, then we’re out of here.”

I sighed. “Can we please just go?” I had work the next day, and my already-thin patience was becoming emaciated. She snapped. She called her dad on speaker phone, and complained loudly about how I was a drug addict and how I ruined her project. I felt like I really didn’t need to be there for the conversation, so I stepped out of the truck.

I tried to see if I could get my stuff out of the truck, but it was buried too far underneath the other shit in the back. I realized my wallet was in the truck, which she had locked at that point. I pointed to it and yelled through the window, “Just give me back my wallet!”

She opened the driver-side window, and threw my wallet into the street. Hundreds of dollars in loose bills fluttered in the wind and spread themselves across the street. As I collected them, she peeled out and sped off. I was reveling in a combination of astonishment and relief when the truck screeched to a halt in front of me again.

“You’re a drug addict piece of shit!” she yelled.

“I’m already out of the car! This is over!” I got out before she drove off again.

I collected myself, bought a sharpie from the gas station, and wrote, “Los Angeles” on a piece of cardboard, adding the Burning Man symbol for good measure. And I waited.