Sitting and Breathing: Day 22

Slow start today. I’ve been trying to take advantage of the fact that my cousin is out of town for the month to catch up on some deep cleaning. The apartment looks great, but – in part due to his absence, and in part due to the fact that I was busy and on my feet all day – my dog has been particularly anxious.

When I decided to take advantage of a short break in today’s rain, so too did every other dog owner in the neighborhood, so we did a lot of turning around and my body ached from trying to restrain him. Also, he was already amped up because there’s this rabbit that lives right outside the apartment next door, and once Maximus spots that little bastard, it’s nearly impossible to get him to wind back down.

I’m totally gonna kill that fucking rabbit, you guys/gals. I haven’t decided how, though. I don’t want to put out poison because I don’t want my dog or any other household pets getting ahold of it, and I don’t think bringing a gun out into the streets of Chicago is a good idea. Still brainstorming. Feel free to put in some suggestions.

Luckily, today’s meditation session was titled Lovingkindness Meditation for Times of Emotional or Physical Pain, so I got to pretty directly deal with some of the emotions that cropped up earlier in the day. There were a few different options for mantras, but I chose, “May I accept my anger, fear, and worry, knowing that my heart is not limited by them.” I was to start by repeating that for ten minutes or so, then switch to breathing meditation.

As I meditated, I customized the phrase bit by bit until I felt like it fit me a little better.

First, it became, “May I accept my anger, fear, and worry, knowing that they do not define me and my heart is not limited by them.”

Then, “My anger does not define me. My fear does not define me. My worry does not define me. I am not limited by them.”

Then I added sadness to the mix. I repeated the mantra again, but got overtaken first by anger, then immediately by sadness. Sadness took hold, and it took me about a minute to bring my body out of its physical response to the feeling. This seems to be a recurrent theme – the “sadness underlying my anger” thing.

I read an interesting article recently about how angry outbursts can be an indicator of depression. Apparently, nobody’s really been looking at anger as a marker for depression, but there’s a fair amount of evidence correlating the two. I can say with certainty that I related to the subjects in the article as I was reading it, and the things I’m digging up in this meditation practice seem to support the main point of the article (at least for me).

After I pulled my body back into the proper position for some intentional breathing things evened out again.

Earlier today I heard back from the admissions folks at the University in Vienna, and they seem to have confirmed that many of my plans are viable (still not assuredly in, but it was good news). I also got a job offer to barback at a Michelin Star restaurant on the weekends, so that’s pretty fuckin’ cool. As I write this, I’m sipping scotch and thawing a steak to enjoy in my clean apartment.

Life is alright, but clearly there’s some stuff that needs sorting out. More tomorrow, probably. And the next day. And the day after that.

And probably the day after that, too.

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!

The Wasp and the Hound

We were about 45 minutes into our long walk for the day. My mind was stuck on my persistent lack of money (mostly my fault for spending it all as soon as I get it). I was sick and resentful for being outside. My knee has developed a constant, dull aching that I feel comfortable chalking up to a combination of old age and constant straining against an easily excited 75 pound dog. His legs are notably more muscular than when I first took him home – who needs weights or resistance bands when you can drag your owner around for hours on end each day?

We came to a corner, and he’s learning (slowly) to stop before crossing the street, but this time his attention was on something – anything at all – down the road. I got frustrated and jerked him around to my side, but his gaze never left whatever he was staring at. I got down to his level and I held his face to mine, trying desperately to be entertaining enough to pull his attention from whatever he was transfixed on, but no luck.

When I finally stopped drilling my eyes into his skull and looked around, I saw a tall, well-dressed, waspy white woman with short, blonde hair look at me with clear disdain behind her designer sunglasses. She averted her gaze and sipped her latte, and I didn’t hear it, but I felt the, “Hmph!” as though she had slapped me in the face with it.

We started across the street, “What even is it that you’re looking at?” I asked my dog with as much sincerity as I could pack into a single question. “There’s nothing even there! Silly creature.”

Clearly nobody with a smooth tone and sincere interest in their dog’s likes and dislikes was capable of the consistent beatings my momentary lapse in poise suggested I was doling out at home. Or at least that’s what I hoped went through the lady’s head after I said it. Given my mood, I was already prone to guilt and sure enough Guilt took full advantage of the opportunity, and I felt my shoulders hunch forward on their own.

“You know what, fuck that lady!” I thought as I pushed my shoulders back again with some effort. “Let’s see you try to handle this dog for longer than five minutes without getting frustrated!”

Furthermore, let’s see you re-navigate the struggles of your youth with that haughty aplomb. Based on your clothes, and her “better than you” attitude, I’d say she was sitting pretty comfortably in her middle age. Get off your high sybian for a second, and try dealing with the litany of concerns milling about in my head without getting a little physical, why don’t you?

I laughed to myself at the thought of her trying to wrangle my beast – at the picture of her being dragged down the street after a rogue squirrel – knees scraped, clothes tattered, sunglasses humorously askew, yelling, “Peace, puppy!” or some other ineffectual hippie nonsense.

If she turned around then, I’m not sure cackling to myself would have added to her opinion of me, but we were beyond that now, weren’t we? Slowly, reason and guilt crept back in, and my shoulders found neutral ground, between shame and defensive hubris.

Of course, my anger wasn’t really at her, or my dog, but at myself. It’s always at myself, in all likelihood. All we can control are our actions and our reactions, after all, and I had failed myself, my dog, and the wasp in a moment of weakness when I whipped my dog around the sidewalk. Still though… Fuck that lady.