3/4 of a box step

3/4 of a box step

I’ve been feeling pretty good about myself lately.

My new volunteer gig is frightening and wondrous. The easiest and hardest volunteering ever: literally nothing I have to do [exhale] … except hang out with people I don’t know [gasp], and infinitely rewarding.

And I’ve developed a new superpower: CHANGE. As some of you may have read in The Fireworks Guy anecdote, I (yes, the writer you know and love) have the ability (it’s okay: you can touch the hem of my garment) to stop doing destructive shit! Not only have I stuck a wrench in the churning hatred of Fireworks Guys (so successfully that I don’t feel any anger even when surprised by one of the little bombs anymore, just … surprise), I also preemptively stopped myself from falling into passive-aggressive relationship patterns twice last week.

The magical source of this newfound talent? Dumb old meditation. The best explanation I can give is that I’ve grown accustomed to my thoughts, or to observing them. Instead of just reacting to a perceived offense thoughtlessly, my response sits in the center of my vision like a dog in need. I can get off my lazy metaphorical ass and try to figure out what the issue is, or I can ignore it, fester in my angry/grumpy/bitter automation, while it slinks off and waits for the next opportunity to bump me out of inertia. In both recent scenarios, instead of just thoughtlessly plodding along as I usually do, I had a brief debate with myself over my choices:

I’m gonna be withholding now.

But why?

Because I didn’t like that.

And will clamming up make you feel better?

… no

And will it make him feel better?

… no

And will it teach anybody anything?

… … … no

So?

Fine. Forget it.

And that was it. I just didn’t do the pointless, harmful thing. Twice. I was so excited about my new superpower that I had to share it with the Practice Check-In group at my local sangha on Tuesday. To be honest, I was feeling pretty fucking cool. Not braggy cool, just quietly proud cool.

And then today I felt like shit. Depressed. Surly. Trapped. Drained. I took a short nap. I worked out. I logged out of my work computer. I listened to some Lizzo, did some dishes, took a walk. Everything helped a little, but I still feel shitty. What is this need for control? For consistency? Why do I panic whenever I’m down? I suppose there is some fear of feeling the way I used to when I was younger, of struggling to get out of it. And I have a need for answers. I have a few – an unfulfilling job, some bad news about a project I’m working on, eating too much sugar this week. But those answers don’t help me right now. Just sitting with it is probably the best thing I can do. But part of me wants to be better than that. Perhaps I need to stop thinking of the “good” things (my superpower, for example) as a step forward and the bad things (depression, criticism) as a step back, and see it more as a dance, a sidestep, an expansion into more, rather than better.

Writing helps, too. Thanks, friends.

Sitting in the Shit

headAnd sometimes you just have to accept that you’re in a bad place, and try not to spread it around. The compulsion is to try to justify it with the things you’ve failed at, the ways you feel you’re not supported by your partner or community, the demands of your job, the horrors of the government, your kids, climate change. It is all of that and none of it, but addressing any of it while in this state is downright dangerous. You can justify anything – any outburst, any insult, any rebellion – but that’s just because you’re clever, not because you’re right. And the outcome of any reactive interaction in this state will likely hurt you or someone else.

So maybe you bike it out, or drive around yelling with songs on the radio, or have a few drinks or some weed, or play video games for hours, or watch a pointless film, or ideally, just sit with it and meditate; but don’t blame it on anyone, including yourself. If you decide that anyone’s actions can significantly worsen your wellbeing, you’re reinforcing the idea that you have no choice in how you react to the world, and if you believe that, then why bother meditating, anyway? If you decide that, well, this one time it really was Joe’s fault, or Trump’s fault, or my fault, then you will also feel compelled to keep defending that position, which again reinforces the idea of your own passivity.

It is as much everyone’s fault as it is anyone’s fault, and as much no one’s fault as anyone’s. You are constantly touched by everything you interact with, but that touch doesn’t have to knock you down, and it doesn’t force you to push back. If you make up some excuse for the present state, it’s just going to prolong it. Accept the shit, try not to say too much, and know that, like everything, it will change. The less you attach to it, the easier it is, and the sooner you’ll move past it.

Now you’re going to publish this piece, have a shot of cucumber vodka, and quietly watch Game of Thrones with the partner and the dog. Then sleep. And see where you are tomorrow.

Prescription: The End of the World

elephants climateThere’s a theory that one of the reasons humans are so depressed and anxious is because life is too easy. We are animals, and animal subconscious is primarily consumed with 3 duties:

  1. keep from getting killed
  2. keep from starving to death
  3. keep your species alive

Evolution and our awesome brains, whatever other neat directions they may have pushed our species, haven’t moved us beyond these primary concerns. Nowadays most of us (let’s make this “us” middle class white people; whites are also the biggest US consumers of anti-depressants) don’t have to worry about 1 & 2 on a daily basis. (3 will have to be its own blog post.) The theory is that we are hard wired to be on the alert for threats and scarcity, so when they doesn’t exist, our brains help us create them with anxiety and depression. Similarly, allergies are your body reacting to a threat that doesn’t exist in a way that hurts you (making a poison out of a peanut), and also rarely happen in countries where bodily threats like malaria and intestinal worms are real and the immune system is kept occupied.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the harmful tendencies of the brain and how to negotiate with them. I formulated this particular negotiation because I’ve been tasked with creating some Climate Change content for a State Fair exhibit. Here’s a question:

What if we really, truly internalized the threat of climate change?

What if we woke up every day and calculated how every action we took increased or decreased our risk of decimating humanity? What if we did that every moment? What if our every action was a conscious meditation on fossil fuel reduction or carbon capture or community education? What if we lived our lives on a scalding planet the way Robert Redford does on a sinking ship in All is Lost? Have you seen it? I’m not the only person who had this experience: after watching the film, for a too short period of time, every physical thing I did felt deliberate and important; every dish washed, every door opened, every piece of clothing placed in the laundry felt glutted with meaning.

What if we could live every day like that? Would it give our restless brains something to do? Could we stop being anxious and depressed about nothing in particular and focus that energy on the survival of the species? Do you think this Anti-Depressant Marketing idea might get people to give a shit? CLIMATE COMPULSION FOR MENTAL HEALTH!

I have my doubts about getting this past the MN State Fair committee.

How Winter Kills*

winterWoman & Guy go out for dinner & a movie at the art museum. Pleasant conversation follows – good film, bad audience; good food, bad waiter – as they join the line of cars waiting to exit the parking lot. Woman, sitting in the passenger seat due to her low tolerance for alcohol, looks at her sideview mirror and remembers she got the car – finally, right?! – washed today. Did the mirror get moved? She asks the man if he can see out of her mirror. He doesn’t answer. She waits. She calls his name. He responds with mild defensiveness. She sighs, “it’s just … exhausting!” She presses her palms against her face, hard, and wills herself not to cry.

And just like that – winter depression makes its grand entrance! Continue reading “How Winter Kills*”