Keto Day 7

Fat bombs were not the macronutrient saving grace I hoped they would be, but they’re fuckin’ delicious, so whatever. I started with a recipe I found online then realized I didn’t get everything I needed for that recipe and cream cheese was missing from the prescribed ingredients, so I just winged it.

In the event you’re curious: 2 tbsp coconut butter, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 4 oz cream cheese, the rest of my fresh almond butter (about half of a small container), 3 tbsp cacao nibs. I heated it in my awesome frying pan then spooned nine servings into a muffin tin sprayed with coconut oil and one serving directly into my mouth (sans coconut oil).

I’m also trying out Qualia Focus nootropics. They arrived today. 5 capsules a day, 5 days a week is the recommended dose, but they also recommend you ramp up, so I started with three. Intention: get some high-quality GRE studying in before going to work. End result: very thorough shopping on the Amazon Prime app for things I’m missing in my apartment. This included careful measurements of the spaces they were meant to fill and comprehensive customer satisfaction reviewing. So I’d say they’re effective, but I’ve gotta work on directing that focus a little.

I’m sad to say that I really didn’t get in any stretching or exercise today, either. I didn’t get up until almost 2pm because I didn’t get off work until nearly 6am, and the last two hours of that work was very labor intensive. So I’m okay giving myself a pass, but my aching body could have really used the stretches. Now off to work again until 6am, at least! Happy Pride!

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.

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 5

I’ve considered coming up with more creative titles for these posts, but meh…

Anyway, today went (in my opinion) really well. I felt sort of frenzied beforehand because I’ve imposed a lot of deadlines on myself for getting certain things done (planning to move to Europe and get an advanced degree apparently involves a lot of steps), and today was going to be my day to knock some of those things out.

Given that I work at a bar that doesn’t close until 4am, that usually means I’m not home until at least 5:30am, which means I’m not asleep until 6:30am, which means I’m not awake until 12:30pm. By the time I’ve walked and fed my dog, made coffee and breakfast (lunch) for myself, and settled into any kind of head space for getting things done, it’s already 2pm.

I put my anxiety about my to-do list aside (my realization that it was MLK Day, and many things are closed today helped), and reread the directions for the Letting-Go-of-Thought Meditation on my schedule for today. I put my dog in his kennel, set my alarm for 21 minutes out, and sat, and breathed.

In essence, the task for today was to say, breath to myself on every inhale and every exhale. When a thought or sensation arose – positive or negative – I was to label it not breath and return my focus to the breathing. I found it to be fairly easy to return to my breathing today. I’m not sure if that’s a cumulative effect or today was just a good day, but it was heartening.

Likely as a result of my time in JROTC and ROTC, I have an internal voice that calls me Farrell, and when it chides me it sounds a lot like it’s a drill instructor. Honestly, though, the drill instructor voice was pretty quiet today, and didn’t add much to my experience. The soft-spoken hippie woo woo voice that I’ve developed internally over my years of exposure to counter culture was much more chatty today, and surprisingly, more difficult to shut up.

My mind would wander to things I was upset about, hippie voice would say, “It’s okay that you feel angry.” Then I’d imagine myself in a field lightly scattered with trees, sun shining, wind blowing through my hair, and he’d say, “It’s important to stay in the moment, remember, the point of…”

“Shut up, Hippie! You are ‘not breath!'” I finally told him. Then I laughed, and focused on my breathing again. While I appreciate his input, he makes it difficult to concentrate on a given moment with his kind, considerate prattling on. We get it, you eat organic and recycle, and you dole out self-love like it’s going out of style. Thank you, now shush.

The time seemed to fly by today, which I attribute largely to my attention on each breath component, as opposed to the experience as a whole. I’ve also been able to pepper in some mini-meditations in the past couple days. I’m a doorman at the late-night bar, which means I spend a lot of time by myself in a foyer, staring out a 1′ x 1′ window.

As you might imagine, this allows for a lot of reflection. When I’m not interacting with guests, I spend a lot of time lost in my own thoughts, but last night, I also spent some time here and there just focusing on my breath and on the individual sights and sounds being presented to me. I let them enter and exit my consciousness, then put my attention back on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling (my left nostril is still fucked up, if you were wondering).

Last night, I pondered whether or not my years of exposure to hippies or studying psychology put me ahead of the pack when it comes to self awareness, but I think it ultimately doesn’t make any difference in this endeavor. The truth of the matter is that everyone – from monks to plumbers – can improve on what they’re working with. The practice of meditation is not a cure for the human condition, but a coping mechanism that we can always be better at employing right now. Or now.

Or now. Especially now. Point is, I’m enjoying this.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 3

I’ll admit, I didn’t put a whole lot of sitting and breathing into my day yesterday, but I did regularly think about today’s practice session with eagerness and excitement. Today was 20 minutes of Hearing Meditation, which involves (for me) closing my eyes and actively listening to the world around me.

I was nervous about setting myself up not to hear the alarm again, so I put extra effort into choosing the right sound (I landed on Sun-Shower which has some running water noises and some birds chirping and shit), and I went with Airplane Mode over Do Not Disturb. I set the alarm for 21 minutes, spent some time situating myself on the foot of my bed with my legs crossed, my back straight, my hands on my thighs, and my attention on my first few deep, intentional breaths.

About a minute in, some sort of lawn mower machine (I realize it wasn’t actually a law mower, as the winds outside are currently quite high, and there’s like 7 inches of fresh snow on the ground). This machine ended up taking a lot of my attention at the start, and throughout the session, which I found slightly aggravating, but mostly amusing.

With my eyes closed, I imagined myself suspended in nothingness – a boundless white space – and let the sounds around me populate that space as they rose and fell. My radiator squealed, popping suddenly into my consciousness void, then it disappeared into the whiteness again when its work was done. The wind whipped against my window, momentarily bringing both of them into focus in my mind’s eye.

I felt myself looking toward each of them internally, or to put it a different way, I felt my shapeless self awareness physically drift through the nothingness toward them. Focusing on my breath again after I drifted, brought my attention back to the center of my being/awareness, so I better understand why people say it’s “centering.”

Then some douchey itch popped up in my left ear. I refocused my attention on my breath for some centering. Then the little bastard moved to the left side of my scalp. Breathing. Then the right side. Breathing. Then it settled in on the right side of my penis for most of the rest of the time, before finally landing in my right nostril toward the end.

“Fuck, am I doing this right?” I thought. “What defines doing this right?” I played myself the memories from my readings and some videos I’ve watched on meditation. “Everybody strays, everybody has intrusive thoughts and emotions. The point of meditation is to keep refocusing your attention on the present. What are you hearing right now?”

Of course, I had recurrent, fleeting anxiety about whether or not I had done the alarm right this time. I also kept envisioning the alarm going off – anticipating the end of the session. Otherwise stated, I spent quite a bit of time not adequately focusing my attention on the present.

Interestingly, I noticed that much of the time that that was happening, I was also unintentionally leaning forward. My body was contributing to the anxious, future-driven feedback loop my mind was in. Breathe in… Breathe out… I sat back again, and focused on my breath, then found myself in void again, ready for auditory input.

My cousin was walking my dog, and returned toward the end of the session. His excited footsteps brought him in and out of my void. His crying did, too, but the crying was different. Instead of popping in and out like with all the other things I was hearing, the crying solidified him in my mind’s eye. Even when he stopped actually making noise, I could still see him in my blank space. I wondered what he might need, and lent him a lot of focus despite my best efforts to stay in the moment.

My guess is that the noises he uses to tell me he needs things resonate more with my innate nurturing side. I’m programmed to lend him – the creature I care for – more attention emotionally, physically, and mentally. The question that I have as a result of that is, “To what extent is that playing out in the rest of my life?”

I don’t just mean with him. I mean, to what degree am I allowing lingering thoughts to eat up my ability to listen to the rest of the world? How much am I missing out on because I’m not living in a moment while I’m plotting for my future or dwelling on mistakes I’ve made in my past?

I guess that’s one of the points of meditation practice – answering those questions by continuously refocusing my attention on the shit going on right now. Per usual, I would prefer to have my answers right this second, but that seems to happen less and less these days, and I’m slowly coming to acknowledge the power of delayed gratification.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 1-ish

So this is sort of Day 2 in that I started reading Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation yesterday, but by the time I got through the first 60-some-odd pages, I learned that I would be meditating for 20 minutes each go-round, I should read the instructions a couple times before beginning, and I was only doing it thrice in the first week (every other day). Initially, I balked at the idea of reading the instructions over again, but then I thought, “If I’m gonna do this shit, I might as well do it all the way.”

So today, after my usual morning of walking the dog, making breakfast and coffee, and watching some random shit on Netflix, I sat back down with the book, finished the remainder of the material for Week 1, then reread the instructions on Breathing Meditation. Then I downloaded the audio files on my phone, and realized I didn’t have any software on my phone that would allow me to unzip the compressed file, so I downloaded the file on my computer.

Track 1 was a recitation of the directions I had now read twice, but I sat through those three minutes while I situated myself in the correct posture. Track 2 was the guided meditation portion, but I got about three minutes into that before I decided her voice was more distracting than it was helpful, so I opted in on my own practice (which sounds like a thing I should do, so I felt good about that). I went back to the dining room where I left my phone (I was encouraged to leave it elsewhere) to use it as a timer.

I put my phone on Do Not Disturb, and set an alarm on Pandora to play some classical musical after 21 minutes, then I watched my phone intently for the minute of setup I allowed myself to be up. When it hit 11:37 I threw my phone down, internally said, “Go!” and focused on my breathing. I felt the sensation of the air going into and out of my right nostril (apparently my left one is clogged or something). I centered myself with a few deep breaths, then fell into a more normal breathing pattern.

Planes flew by overhead. My dog started dreaming and growling in his sleep. This made me laugh, as it usually does. I returned to my attention breath. In… Out… I thought about how much easier this would be if I were simultaneously doing physical activity. Like yoga. Which I should really get back into. I bet I can find videos online and do those. I should also do an ab routine after this, followed by some stretching. Actually, the yoga would probably serve both of those purposes. Shit. Breath. In… Out…

Every time my attention wandered, I forgave the intrusion, and thanked myself for recognizing it and returning to my breath. My back started hurting. My legs started hurting. My new tattoo started hurting. I felt tension in my jaw, and when I relaxed that, I somehow felt tension in my tongue. I let all of them go. I adjusted my sitting position. I started to get antsy. I started to feel lightheaded for some reason.

“There is no alarm. There is only this breath,” I told myself. In… Out… My attention kept returning to my phone sitting next to me. When would I hear the sweet relief of classical music? In… Out… “Okay, we’ve gotta be getting close now.” In… Out…

Finally, it was too much for me in some way or another, and I almost jolted out of it. Funnily enough, I did that at exactly 11:57. The alarm was silent (apparently Do Not Disturb extends to Pandora), but I had made it the full 20 minutes. “Fuck yeah! That’s what’s up!” I said out loud.

I have the day off from Sitting and Breathing tomorrow, but I’m back at it again Saturday. I feel good for having done the thing today, but I’ve clearly got a lot of room to get better at this. I guess that’s why it’s called a “practice” – there’s pretty much always room to get better.

I’ve already noticed a shift in the way I interpret the goings-on in my day, and I’m excited to see what changes (if any) come about in my view of the world over the course of the next month. Stay tuned. More sitting and breathing to come.

No, You’re Flighty!

I occasionally have difficulty focusing on things. Right now, for example, I am at work – the place where I imagine most people spend their time doing work. But what am I up to? Well, I’ve been checking out what credit cards I might qualify for in spite of my shitty credit score, I’m editing a short story that I wrote recently, and I’m writing this blog post. I’m pretty sure none of my coworkers read this (except the one that checks my screen every now and again to see if I’m working, who is clearly just being paranoid, and whose suspicions are baseless), so I feel pretty safe discussing my delinquency.

I know it’s not just an aversion to work because I have this issue in my free time, too. At parties I’ll bounce from group to group interjecting what I deem to be meaningful contributions to each conversation, then I’m off to the next cluster of people to brighten their lives. When I’m watching movies or TV at home, I’ll also be scrolling through shit on my phone. I’m listening to audiobooks or NPR when I’m driving, walking somewhere, playing videogames, or hanging out with my dog.

Do I have an aversion to silence? Is it my mind that’s unquiet? I feel  like I really enjoy silence at intervals, like when I’m hiking or… Actually it’s pretty much only when I’m hiking. Even then I’ll listen to audiobooks for large portions of my hikes, but for the really strenuous portions where every part of me hurts, I need silence. I need to be completely physically exhausted in order to entertain the notion of meditation. Though I’m not sure I’d call that meditation because in that state, I fall back on simple, looping thoughts to keep my limbs moving.

Immediately after the uphill, when the ground evens out and the push is over, that’s when my mind seems to be able to shut itself up for a minute. That’s when I’m able to come to an epiphany if there’s one to come to. After chewing on whatever my repetitive thought choice was at length, when my breath is quick and labored and my body aches, that’s the sweet spot.

As I’m typing this I’m realizing how long it’s been since I’ve been in that mental state. My thoughts leading up to now have largely been around a need for healthcare coverage so I can medicate myself to attain it, but I’ve completely ignored the potential that I’ve been landlocked by concrete for far too long. I need to get out, get away, get moving – that’s the medicine I need most right now (and probably always).

Thanks for going on this little mental journey with me, Reader, you’ve been a real help. Maybe we’re both flighty.