She became aware of heat on her shoulder. Fearfully, she turned her head to see. Her heart sank. I thought that was you. Her head grew heavy, sinking toward her chest, collapsing under the weight of anguish.
She howled, “I put that away!”
Startled at the volume of her own voice, she lifted her chin slightly.
The smell of the cooling September evening taunted her. “And yet you are afraid,” snickered a mocking voice from the trees. “Child, you are simply wearing a costume for them. I know the truth.”
She stood, immobile. Unsure. Only her eyes moved, darting rapidly.
“Oh,” I say resignedly. “It’s you. Mmhmm come on in.”
Inwardly I roll my eyes at myself, surely you didn’t think she was actually gone did you? Tears cloud my vision.
“You know what the definition of insanity is?” She asks.
Like forgetting that at the end of every productive summer comes the insufferable pain of fall? “Yes,” I say quietly.
She smiles. “Well, come now help me set out my things.” She reaches into her absurdly Mary Poppins-like bag and pulls out the weighted vest, ankle shackles, an elephant, and… what was that?
I groan inwardly. “Oh you brought the funhouse mirror again. I was really doing so good at…” I trail off, close my eyes and allow the tears to begin their descent down my cheeks.
“Where are you going?” She asks as I turn to leave the room.
“I need to make a phone call. She’ll want to know you’re here. For planning purposes you know.”
She smiles knowingly. “Riiight.”
The beginning was fine. Just fine. As the work unfolded, the embers began to glow with heat. Had she been paying attention, she would have heard the crackling.
Lazily, the flickering of the flame caressed the pages of discarded knowledge, setting them alight. She continued her task, unaware.
The fire reached still-hot coals from previous books, gaining speed and girth.
As if from a dream, she woke to the inferno, gasping. Its tentacles danced closer, taunting. Perhaps she could outrun it.
Momentum grabbed her wrist and violently drug her away. Panting, she looked back. Ghosts of smoke hinted at the horizon.
Now she could sleep.
With a little shiny bow on top. I was the dutiful follower, going to church, singing my little heart out to my Jesus and doing my best to love as Christ loves. I had a tidy little checklist I could cross off everyday to prove I was a good Christian and look upon the mirror of self loathing for the areas I fell short.
The problem was the areas I fell short were determined by humans. And in my absolute quest to be “good” I lost my intuitive self. I began to question my own reality. The Bible says God is not the author of confusion. So how come going to church became so confusing? Why all of a sudden did love and evil look the same? Why was the only place I was growing was in self destruction?
I had to go. I could no longer hold the conflicting realities, trudge through the muck to see where – and even IF – the truth existed. The God I once understood did not create me to live in chaos, of that I clung to. And I walked away from organized religion.
It took me 5 years to recognize my pain. 2 more to speak about it. And a decade in therapy before I could sing my favorite songs without dissociating. I’m not in a hurry to find out if there’s a building for me to worship at. I’m content singing alone, just me and Jesus.
Maybe you have heard it, maybe you haven’t. Mindfulness is simply the act of being in the present moment. I had a dance professor who would constantly tell me to be in the moment and I had no idea what she was talking about. Turns out the language didn’t quite hit my brain. She was referring to being fully embodied and not lost in the clouds, the past, or the future. A novel concept for me at the time.
So how does one “get in the present moment?” A simple way and a way that really assists in calming anxiety is by focusing on making your breathing rhythmic. Make the inhale as long as the exhale. And then use your senses. What do you see right around you? What do you hear? What do you smell? What sensations are you aware of in your body at this moment? Ask yourself one or two of these questions and then stay with them and explore the answers. Your mind will wander – that’s ok, just call it gently back to the senses without judgment.
That’s the other key feature of mindfulness. Experiencing without judging – negative or positive. Try to describe your present moment without using judging words. Talk about textures and details and not about value words such as like, pretty, ugly, dislike.
There is a reason this is called mindfulness PRACTICE. It takes time, it’s a process and it definitely takes practice to improve your skills.
I started this blog to chronicle my journey of mental wellness and the trials along the way and those who held me up during the struggle. Of course the last two days I have woken up with an elephant on my chest. Her name is anxiety. Often there’s a specific trigger and I work it out and sometimes – like now – it is purely somatic (body related) with no specific cause. Then it becomes management, hanging on, and knowing it will pass at some point.
In the interest of transparency, it sucks. My anxiety triggers hyper self criticism. The old “I’m not good enough” and “I’m too much” have joined the party. I’ve had meetings with these two many times, it’s always the same old story – can’t you come up with something new? (No don’t – predictability is good). So at least I know the story already. And I know the ending – I’ll go on my merry little way at some point – but I don’t know when that end comes. It’s always a surprise.
One breath at a time.