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.

Reaching for Ten Percent

I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I listen to them while I’m driving, while I’m walking the dog, while I’m on the train or bus, while I’m doing dishes… You get it. I listen to them a lot. A little over a year ago, I stumbled upon a book called Stealing Fire, which looks at the potential therapeutic value of altered states of consciousness (as brought about by psychoactive drugs, exercise, meditation, watching TV, etc.). It’s great – I strongly suggest you check it out on your own.

I was so intrigued by their research, that here I am a year and some change later, and I’m revisiting it with the intention of pursuing higher learning in the same vein. I want to know what these people know. I want to be responsible for teaching them some of the things that they don’t know. So where do I start?

Well, I went to their website, and shot them an email outlining my plan and asking if there were any institutions already actively engaged in this type of research. I don’t expect to hear back any time soon, but while I was on their website, I took the liberty of reading what they already took the time to type up. They (not exactly sure who “they” is in this instance) recommended that someone with my particular set of ongoing foibles check out 10% Happier, written by Dan Harris.

In line with my impulsivity and hunger for information of this ilk, I downloaded the book for immediate consumption. It chronicles the TV journalist’s journey through the Woo Woo world of conquering one’s inner demon’s by striving toward “enlightenment.” You get the narration of a skeptic as he chats with leading self-help gurus, religious figureheads, psychologists and neuroscientists, and peppers them with questions driven by his own quest for inner peace (he’d probably object to some of that verbiage). I love and strongly recommend this book, as well.

As a result of this book (and probably partly as a result of me choosing not to drink alcohol for the remainder of January), I’ve decided to embark on some meditative shit. Dan did a video with meditation expert Sharon Salzberg, giving me the chance to do a quick trial run before making this choice. So what did I learn in my very first session?

I’m angry. I’m not sure exactly what I’m angry about. It comes out as anger at my cousin for not doing the dishes, or anger with my dog for being distracted by squirrels and conveniently forgetting that we went outside because he had to poop, which he doesn’t remember until we’re back at the top of the stairs and in the apartment. Max (my dog) barked within the first minute and a half of starting the meditation session, prompting me to get up and put him in his kennel so I could start over.

Other than that, I’d say it went well. As they say in the video, the whole point of meditation is repeated failure. You’re supposed to continuously be distracted by whatever, then refocus your attention on your breath. Each time you catch yourself, and bring your consciousness back to your breath, it’s the equivalent of a brain-bicep curl. I enjoy regular bicep curls and the idea of conquering my wandering mind, so this all seems like a good fit.

Goal time: I’ve ordered Sharon Salzberg’s book, which includes a 28 day program of guided meditation. I’m gonna do that. Why? Hopefully I’ll be able to shed some light on why so many people I respect seem to really dig it. Hopefully I’ll gain some insight as to why I have a tendency to fly off the handle about little shit in my life. Hopefully I’ll be able to eek out a percentage point or two while I’m reaching toward that 10%.

Like Mr. Harris, I’m skeptical, but I’m approaching it with an open mind. After just my first attempt, I can see how this might be tough at the get-go, but how it’s ultimately doable. Oh, and I’ll tell you about it. And probably some other things I’ve been meaning to tell you. We’ll see.

Namaste, motherfuckers.

Spinning Wheels

I’ve cycled through so many career plans in the past year that it’s hard not to feel a little lost. I was going to be a SeaBee in the Navy, then an architect, then a firefighter, then a search-and-rescue paramedic, then a veterinarian, then a writer/actor/comedian, then a clinical psychologist, then… well… Who knows? I’d like to think I’ve settled, but history would indicate that there’s another shift just beyond the horizon.

What (if anything) do I know for certain? I know I want to write, I know I want to live abroad, I know I want a family, I know… no, that’s it.

I think that a PhD will provide me with a base of knowledge to fuel my writing, and I think that it’ll provide me the type of stability I’m looking for in the upcoming stages of my life. I think that I will enjoy studying psychology, in that I remember enjoying that field when I was younger, and I miss feeling like a subject matter expert.

While I’m on the subject of missing things from when I was younger, I miss being viewed as a leader. I was young for my accomplishments once. I was hungry for my future, and I was pursuing it voraciously. Then I got fired from the lobbying firm (I seem to have blocked the specific reason, but I imagine it was related to my partying-influenced attendance record). Then, after some scrambling, I landed a job as a campaign manager. I lost that campaign hard, and in response, I partied harder.

I’ve dragged you all down this rabbit hole before, I know, but it’s hard not to dwell on the feeling that I’ve lived a decade of squandered potential. So, now what?

Presently, I’m working at two different bars (soon to be three), and I do this well. It’s physical, it’s never the same night over night, I get to socialize and drink while I’m at work, and it gives me the time and mental cache to write during the day. To put it shortly (I know, it’s a little late for that), I enjoy this line of work, but I’m not proud of myself.

I’m not proud of what I’ve done because it’s hard not to focus on all that I haven’t done, or all that I could have done by now. When looking myself in the mirror, I can’t help but echo the words of my stepdad when he said, “I just wish you would pick something.”

Realistically, I don’t know that I’ll ever just pick one thing. I’ve always viewed myself as a Renaissance Man, but I think that’s gotten in the way more than it’s helped. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Farrell, stop spinning your wheels! Let yourself gain some traction by slowing down long enough for the tread to catch and move you forward!

The fear of becoming nothing has me exhausting myself sprinting in each direction that offers even the slightest bit of potential for longevity, and it’s preventing me from gaining any clarity on which way I should go.

I’m tired. I’m tired of wasting my potential. I’m tired of looking down on myself for not being what I could have been. I’m tired of being disappointed in me. Also, I’m just actually tired from the insomniac-like existence you get when you combine working in a bar and my dog’s ceaseless need to go outside in the morning (I’m not faulting him for it, but it’s definitely part of my issue). Also I have a cold.

Sleep will help. Sobriety will help. Exercise will help. Meditation will help. Exposure to nature will help. I should probably find a counselor of some sort… Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Sometime.

Whew… That’s some depressing shit. I’ll make the next one funny again. That’ll probably help, too.