Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Center of the World

I have noticed an unfortunate tendency in myself to test friendships and family relationships through waiting for the other party to get in touch with me.  I am usually the one to call or write, and perhaps this has set me up to be disappointed when people get used to me being the first to get in touch and don't think to contact me because they feel I will always do so eventually.

They are right, I almost always will get in touch with them before they try me.  This isn't bad, but I sometimes interpret their silence as a perceived lack of enthusiasm for spending time with me.  I fear   that they don't care about me at all.  This is probably not true, but it feels bad to want people to want me around and feel like they don't care either way.  It can become quite a large dragon in my head, and result in me deciding to test the relationship by withdrawing and waiting to see if they approach me.

The ineffective part of this test is that no matter what the other party does, I find a way of holding onto my doubt of their affections.  If they call me the very next minute, I wasn't actually testing them anyway and the thought is forgotten for now.  Or, if it takes them a few days, and they sound thrilled to get in touch, I still have a snarly glum dragon in my head that tells me I should still doubt their interest in me.  Maybe they only got in touch because they need something.  Maybe they called because they felt bad for me.  Maybe they really do like me, but not enough to make me a more prominent part of their world.

It is laughable that I have a desire to be the center of everyone else's worlds!  It is hard enough to hold the center of my own.  And truthfully, when I find myself in the center of several other people's attentions, I am uncomfortable and unable to keep up with the demands I believe I will have to live up to in order to remain there.

Most of us want to be the master of our own destinies, and so we believe that the more people that hold us in constant regard, the easier it will be to control our future.  We will be able to harness their attentions and launch that energy toward the future we want.  Ironically, as more people  hold us in their attention we actually lose more control and start to take on a kind of collective will.  Our momentum may be bolstered by others, but equally it can become altered or even reversed.  Presidents are a great example of this, or any public leader.  We all have experienced mob consciousness in one form or another.  It is when we break from the collective flow and start to think on our own and try to direct the flow ourselves that we feel out of harmony with everything around us.

It has been my experience that I like to try to fulfill the wishes of each person who is paying attention to me.  If it is just Derek, that is good.  I won't always succeed, but each disappointment is relatively minor.  Once I add in my work companions, things get a little more complicated.  Add in a circle of friends and it gets harder.  Add in clients, it gets more difficult.  Add in family, it becomes even crazier.  What is hilarious is that I can get swept up in what I think all of these people want of me, but it is actually just my own dragon babbling away in my head.

To be the master of my own destiny, I will first have to realize what I am all about.  If I am busy trying to get everyone else to back me up and help me along, I actually get confused as to what I am doing and why I am doing it at all.  I try to be impressive and to do everything in a grandiose fashion.  Bigger location for work, more difficult pieces to work on, more appointments.  Move to a new house, bigger kitchen, better meals.  Paint to show off or bolster tattooing skills, to have more to show, to become worthy of teaching and therefore offer even more at the studio.

What I am learning is that my desires are more simple than I make them out to be, and if I could just accept them for the humble things they are, I would be much more content.  I want to enjoy tattooing.  Enjoying tattooing means enjoying the clients, enjoying the drawings and stories, enjoying the process of applying the tattoo and enjoying maintaining my space.  It doesn't mean continual expansion.  It doesn't mean constantly upgrading or bringing new workers in.  These things only add stress right now, and will come about naturally if I can just sit down and enjoy the tattooing!

I want to enjoy learning more about energy and how our bodies work.  I want to enjoy learning to calm my mind down and to be able to enjoy time that isn't spent running around being confused and upset all the time.  All I need to do is relax and show up to class when I can.  Stressing over a missed class due to sickness is silly.  Stressing over meditating is ridiculous!

And when it comes to my friends and family and my desire to be a greater part of their lives, I can realize that they are all important to me.  I am important to them, too.  We can't always spend time together, and if I suddenly had to spend time with all of my friends and family, I would be overwhelmed by that, too, because I am blessed to have a lot of them!

I think it is true that we all do what we can.  None of us can keep up with the crazy amount of demands floating around in the ethers.  We can choose to accept this, and be happy when it all works out and we get to have a meal with a friend, or share a phone call with a loved one.  And we can accept when we are too busy to call or too tired or sick to get much done.  We can realize that everyone else is the same as we are, so there is no need to get angry at them if we wanted them to call and they can't or didn't know we were sad and lonely.  They could be feeling the very same thing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Patterns and Immunity

Whatever cold I had last week pales in comparison to the mucous-y beast I contracted yesterday.  Derek has been laid up for three or four days with what I thought was just a more intense version of my exhaustion cold.  Turns out it was a separate illness altogether, which I am now battling.  Fortunately, I had today off and tomorrow as well, so I should fare well against it.  Sleep and stillness seem to be the only activities that still the running nose and halt the wracking cough.  Ugh.  I hope that we haven't given this to other people, as it is a miserable state to be in.  I have been told that everyone who attended the wedding has caught this same thing, though.

So, while I am sick, I am pondering old adages, like "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."  In the case of illness, I think that has the potential to be true, as long as it doesn't irreparably damage your immune system.  Often as we recover from disease, we become immune to that illness and often similar versions of that illness.  Is this true for all things?  For example, does coming through hurtful relationships give you a similar fortitude if it doesn't break you?

I would say yes.  While I wouldn't encourage anyone to deliberately put themselves through the trial of an abusive relationship, I think that the experience of one does leave you with an awareness that you didn't have before.  You become able to see your abuser's particular kind of manipulations in others and avoid it accordingly.  Sometimes you even will have learned how to use those manipulations against others.  I am not sure if this is a sign of strength or of permanent damage, though.

There are novels written on the psychology of relationships and their dysfunctions.  Like our bodies are prone to certain diseases and strong against others, perhaps our choice in partners also follows a similar inheritance.  This is not to say that there is no joy in love or sweetness in partnerships, as I believe wholeheartedly that there is.  I can also see, though, that there is a pattern to the disharmonies individuals continually find themselves up against when trying to have loving relationships. 

If you have a need to help others, you find those who need help, and then resent them for asking so much of you.  If you are afraid of being abandoned, you create situations in which the other will abandon you, or choose ones where it is inevitable.  We like to prove to ourselves that we have a reason for our fears.  The best way to do that is to find someone who can prove to us all that we hope and simultaneously fear.

My brother once asked my grandpa how it was to have lost his wife after so many years together. My grandma died of post-polio syndrome after they had spent 50 years together (or at least that is the math in my head!).  Grandpa said that he thought of her every day, still, even after 18 years of her being gone.  It still hurt even after all that time.  My brother took this to be a reason not to commit to anyone, because to have such a hurt seemed too much to bear.  He would rather not become dependent on another person and suffer their loss someday.  He is also afraid of choosing the wrong partner.  What if there is someone out there that is perfect for him, but he won't know because he was busy off with someone else?  If he picks the perfect partner, will he be doomed to deep grief someday when he loses her? I am sad for his interpretation of those feelings, but I see in his reaction a truth that we all suffer.

What we fear we take to be permanent truth.  Maybe our bodies are like that, too.  When I am sick, is my body over-reacting to a perceived threat?  Could the virus or bacteria be disposed of with a lot less fanfare?  Why must my head ache, my limbs become sore, my nose turn into a faucet, and my throat burn?  Getting up and putting on clothes made my heart race like I had run a marathon today.  Is this similar to the way I panic over hurting someone's feelings?  Is it similar to the way I sometimes have such disproportionate anger towards annoying circumstances?

Of course, there are times when a giant effort to ward off death is necessary and a great idea.  I can see how I often treat regular everyday circumstances like they are a fight for my very life, though, even though they really aren't.  By overreacting in that way, perhaps I have lost the ability to percieve clearly what is and isn't a threat.

It could be a lot more pleasant and easy to simply address what comes up each day rather than push it all into categories and try to control it.  I may have a great deal of ability to get things done, but it doesn't mean that I need to control the outcome of everything I touch and become involved in.  I don't even need to have such control over the particular activities of each day.  When I label and decide "today is good for this, and tomorrow is good for that," but then that comes up today and this is put off until tomorrow, I get really upset.  Why?  It all gets done eventually, and it's been my observation that people don't really care what order I do things in as long as I do a thorough job.  It is myself, finding reasons to be upset to prove that I was right to be worried about it all in the first place.  If I can lose the worries, then there won't have to be panic and life or death struggles every hour.  And that would be fantastic!  Also, I suspect that outcomes could be a lot more powerful and exciting that way, if allowed to take their own course rather than have me in my worry and narrow-mindedness controlling it all.

I think a good goal would be to continue to be observant, but not to be worried about outcomes.  Learning to be flexible about what happens liberates the emotions and probably my body by extension.  By noticing what is going on and choosing my best possible actions, without worrying too much if it will or won't go the way I plan, I can learn to relax.  I will have done my best, which is all I can do anyway.  I will have nothing to regret.  And I won't have to worry about what could have happened if I chose differently.  What is happening right now is all there is.  I can't change the past.  I can only act right now.  The future is non-existent.  I can never touch it.  Why worry about it?  I am here.

And so, here I am, in my body which is tired and achy and sniffly.  Best possible action?  Turn off this computer and get more water, read my book and fall asleep.  Plenty of time for contemplation tomorrow!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

No Heat

There is surely something to our moods and bodies that is linked with the seasons and the weather.  Today the heat at work was once again not working properly, and it was very cold.  While my spirits are up and I enjoyed working on the tattoo, both myself and my client had a hard time getting through five hours together in the cooler climate.

It's difficult to stay warm while staying relatively still.  My client's limbs were cold, and eventually there was no getting around goose-bumps.  My own arms and hands got progressively colder even though initially they had been warm with a rush of enthusiasm for the piece and being creative.

Tomorrow we will have the heat fixed, but this evening made me think about the rhythms of nature.  When it's cold, we want to burrow and snuggle in.  Focused activity should be very short.  It's not a time for new projects, or long hours of intense labor.  What seems to work best is lots of time for introspection, using the long dark hours for planning future endeavors, and being cozy with things just as they are.  Otherwise it is just an uncomfortable struggle, even when things are going well.  It is just hard-won successes.

I am going to enjoy a couple of days more of sleeping in and reading.  I am not motivated to start a new campaign of work ideas right now.  Truthfully, becoming more centered on what I already had going on anyway is very grounding and rewarding.  I think I am doing better at it all because I am finally realizing what I already had.

I have a lot of thoughts I want to write about, but eloquence is beyond me tonight.  Perhaps tomorrow, with nothing needful of doing beyond a few dishes, will be a fruitful writing day.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Brief Thought on Food and Seasons

This past year I have gotten more interested in what I eat and what it does to me or for me.  While I haven't been adamant about only eating real food, or even cutting down on my ice cream and junk food intake, I have become more aware of how I feel when I eat certain things.  I am naturally tending to choose real food as a result, which I think is a more lasting new habit.  I hope to become even more willing to eat actual food as the years go by.

Thanksgiving is such a feasting holiday that it reminds me of what I choose to eat and what I enjoy the most.  Part of Thanksgiving being so wonderful is the inclusion of friends and family, and infusing joy and love into the cooking process.  I think this can only benefit whoever eats the results.  Also, it is a day of actual cooking, not simply warming up an instant meal from a box.  Real food! Yay!

I have been eating stew with gusto this week.  I have felt a real need for something warm and thick and yummy.  Hearty foods, to get me through the winter.  There is a natural order to what we eat if we pay attention to the seasons and what our body craves.  I want meat, and fat, starches and green beans if they are around, carrots - all of the roots.  Beets would be nice, too.  Cranberries, though I dislike them, are probably also good.  Anything that is actually in season.  Broccoli and cabbages.  Cold weather foods to thicken the blood and help me stay warm in cold weather.

With strawberries available at the market, it's easy to think that we can and should eat anything we want year round.  But they are not in season, and they thin the blood and help us in the summer.  They drain us in the winter, or at least don't help us stay warm.  Foods that launch us into hyperactivity and action are best left for Spring and Summer, not for this season of hibernation.  Anyway, I was thinking about this today and wanted to remember that there is a reason our bodies cave what they crave, and when we listen to them, we will likely end up in better health.

I haven't figured out yet what alcohol does to my body beyond make my thought to action swimmy, and generally adding to asthmatic reactions if I am having any.  It is not good for me, but I still enjoy it - perhaps that is the only thing it is good for!

Here's to good cooking this evening into tomorrow.  I can't wait for our Thanksgiving feast!

Fisrt Look at Meridians

Though I was a bit run down, I am glad that I went to my first Kosho class on Tuesday night, and stayed for the philosophy class as well.  I had a hard time concentrating in the second one, but did manage to get through.  I worked yesterday and then went to bed early.  I slept nearly 11 hours straight and am thinking of taking a nap soon.  This cold is very draining!

We worked on learning meridians of energy and which organs and elements each meridian corresponds to.  I remember a few of them and am getting more familiar with the elements in general and which organs correspond to them.  I am thrilled to have found an entire school of people  who work with energy and understand it.  This is something I have been doing on my own for years but with no informed knowledge.  It is great to get some insight into why energy moves the way it does, and the ways it gets caught or stagnant.

I think I am good at feeling energy and noticing the nature of it, at least a little bit.  I have been aware of it for many years, and used to be able to name who had come into a room without hearing or seeing them, just based on feeling.  I stopped that over a decade ago because it seemed to be unusual and made people nervous.  I stopped paying attention.  But it is true that our senses extend well beyond our bodies, and once we become aware of that, we can digest a lot more about the world around us.

Where do I stop and you begin?  Is it as far as I can see?  Smell?  Taste?  Hear?  Is it how far my influence extends?  Limiting ourselves to our physical bodies is arbitrary and limiting, though I believe that my body is a core of myself.  Perhaps it is the most concentrated portion of myself there is.  But my mind can travel vast distances instantly, I can hear sounds from miles away and occasionally see as far.  Tattoos I have created are all over the world, a part of the people who asked for them.  My words and actions have effected hundreds of people.  We are not so cut off.  And we don't have to be as ignorant of this fact as to deny the senses we experience that are beyond our body.

I am very excited to learn the directions that energy moves, and the body parts that are associated with different elements and emotions and physical disorders.  I think that understanding these things will improve what I can give in tattooing.  It could make placement even more purposeful, and give more insight into individual's needs with the imagery they choose for a particular area.  There could be great healing in combining this knowledge with tattooing, and I am happy to be finding a way to learn it.  This feels like knowledge that should have been known by everyone, but got lost somehow.

I continually have so much that I want to learn and apply to living.  Starting with healing myself, I am getting a personal look into how our bodies and minds work.  It's fascinating!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Joining Kosho Shorei Shin Kai

I just finished hemming my gi for Tuesday night.  I am so happy to have figured out a way to join the dojo!  While money is very short right now, I do have time, and I was able to work out a trade with Sensei to paint new acupuncture charts for his studio.  In return, I can study for the year.  Yay!  I am very excited.

I am not a great seamstress, but I think I did an allright job on the arms and legs of my uniform.  The outfit feels very bulky to me, but once it was trimmed down it felt much better.  I guess there are a lot of very tall people that take these classes - wow!  I had to cut off nearly 9" off the legs.  I am looking forward to tomorrow night and beginning some training.

It's been 15 years since I took a martial arts class.  I wonder if it will come back naturally, or if what I remember will be a hindrance, as I am no longer studying the same style.  I am not too worried about it.  The memories are distant, and I am happy to learn something new.

Having a large painting project to look forward to is also nice.  I am excited to work on figurative paintings, and making more interesting charts than what is already on the walls.  We will be overlaying Eight-Principle style acupuncture and Five-Element style acupuncture points.  As far as Sensei knows, this has not yet been created on paper.  It is rewarding to be working on something so new.  Both styles of medicine are thousands of years old.  Combining them is rare, though.  Few people study both methods.

There is a peace that comes from routines.  Even though I haven't yet tried out this new one, I am feeling very pleased that a new structure will be surfacing in my life.  I function well within structure, as long as I am allowed to experiment within it.  I like having goals and lots to occupy my busy mind.  I especially like having new things to learn because I feel that learning is full of fun and good thoughts, whereas without a goal or new subject to study, my thoughts become a jumble of foolishness.

It occurs to me that this is an aspect of water, also.  It likes to mold to the form of what surrounds it, and is quick to absorb everything.  It can take in flavors and objects and ideas and make them a part of itself, or sift it to the bottom, or float it on the top.  It wants to flow easily, and doesn't need anything more than gravity to create canyons and restructure the land.  With a decent framework, water can be magnificent - irrigating fields, home to coral reefs, leaping from mountainsides in glorious falls.  Without a framework, or in a less pleasant ones, it can become host to sewage and bogs, full of rot and collecting waste.  With water as my primary constitution, it would be wise to remember that I am prone to collecting whatever gets thrown at me.  I am also capable of quite a lot of good and beauty if I make sure to travel within structures that support and encourage growth and development.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I have had a tickle in the back of my throat for over a week now.  Having had lots of travel before me, I pushed through my days without allowing myself to get sick.  This is something I think many of us do.  We will delay illness to complete what we consider important.  I made it through a convention, a wedding, and a day of work before a bout of asthma added itself to the mix.  This evening, I am allowing myself to succumb to the cold.

Within an hour of this decision, a cough has surfaced, I am sneezing, and my throat is well on its way to becoming truly sore.  How amazing we are that we can know that sickness is coming, but put it off for weeks just for convenience sake!

Our bodies are a marvel.  I wonder how quickly we would recover from illnesses if we actually rested at the beginning of them rather than pushing rest off until the last possible moment?  I won't know this time.  I pretended I didn't need rest and recovery for at least seven days.  If this compounded the amount of time I will now suffer, I am unable to know by how much.  I suspect that for each delayed hour a sickness gains deeper tenure in our cells.  If handled immediately, we could perhaps spare ourselves hours and days of incapacitation.  I expect to be laid up through tomorrow at least.

Interestingly, I am looking forward to it.  It's a weird aspect of my lifestyle that I feel I need the excuse of sickness in order to slow down and lay low sometimes.  I want to get better at claiming breaks as much as activity.  But for now, in the early stages of my progress towards becoming a balanced human being, sickness allows for a break in a much more immediate and tangible way than simply knowing I should take one.  Now I need one.  Hehehe.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Work and Vacations

Having just been on two trips in one week, I pondered the concept of vacations.  What is a vacation?  Is it a luxury trip away from home?  A treat for oneself?  Simply a day off from work?  There is a lot of expectation caught up in the concept of vacations, and I wonder why something that is supposedly such a good fun thing can be stressful.

To me, a vacation should be about doing something fun for yourself or with others.  It should be a break from working, with no obligation to do anything in particular.  Simultaneously, I seem to consider weekends a vacation, and any time away from working to be a vacation.

This leads to some stress, as days off from going to work often have obligations.  Dishes need to get done, the house needs cleaning, the pets need food, shopping has to happen, and often there are family functions or extra work from the studio that followed me home.  If it's vacation time, these things shouldn't be plaguing me!  And, long stretches of time away from work are often cluttered with other obligations, even if they are on the surface "fun" things to do.  For instance, a Disney vacation would include having to get up early to take shuttles to the various parks, and a need to be at the parks as long as possible to make up for the amount of money one spends on the tickets in the first place.  It all becomes a justification of how I spend my money and time.  Because of this expectation of freedom and ability to follow whatever whim I want, I am often disappointed.

I think that I have some kind of expectation that time off or a vacation needs to be about relaxing or about getting something for myself.  Anything that contradicts or impedes that expectation causes annoyance and irritation.  And those are two emotions that I don't want to have on my vacation!  Because unexpected things always come up, though, vacations inevitably become frustrating to me.  Could enjoying my time be as simple as losing the concept of vacation?

If I no longer feel that I need to be in a constant state of grace and relaxation, automatically pressure about how I am spending my time lessens.  Doing the dishes is no big deal.  Visiting my family could be fun instead of time spent away from mind-numbing video games (which is part of vacation - right?)  If I feel like answering an email about work, it won't cause undue stress because I shouldn't have to do that right now.  I have all sorts of expectations about what I should be allowed to do when, it turns out!

When did I get these ideas?  Were there always vacation days and luxury trips to be taken throughout history?  I suspect that the concept of vacations and time off are pretty recent, and have to do with the incredible amount of effort we put into working these days.  Work that is not necessarily for self or even for the community, but for corporations and businesses that make little sense to us and that we have little pride in being a part of.  Work to prove that we are worthy of belonging in our society in the form of many clubs and activities we join.  Work to increase our property and wealth.  Even work to keep up with vast social networks full of people we barely know and honestly don't care too deeply about.  It gets us excited and exhausted, and then we need a break or we will collapse.  Is this how weekends were born?  Two days off instead of one sabbath resting day in order to catch up with all of the personal work that gets left behind after five days of rushing around for everyone else?

The concept of vacation time, and retirement - when did these spring to life?  Why do we expect and even require weeks off or years off from our occupations?  I am not saying that it is wrong or that I don't want my time off - I do!  But I wonder why our work loads and careers have become so burdensome that we need weeks away from them and desire to leave work as soon as possible in life and never work again.  We are wearing ourselves out and hating the process as we get there.

This feels like a very sorry truth, at least in the society I live in.  I know almost nobody who loves what they do for a living and wants to keep doing it until they die.  A few of my painter friends, maybe a few tattoo artists love their work and want to do it forever.  I do.  But even I don't want to have to keep up with the very demanding pace I have set for myself at this early point in life.  It's simply impossible to keep up with when I consider possibly 70 more years of existence.  At my current pace I will be physically and emotionally broken within 20 years.  That leaves 50 additional years in which I would be either a burden to others due to having hurt myself and becoming incapable of working, or more likely 10 - 20 years in which that would be true as I rapidly deteriorate and die.  That is horrible, and I won't let that happen.

In order to reverse this trend of overwork, I need to really pin down what it is that is causing the stress and exhaustion so that I can change my pattern.  In doing so, I could truly make work a part of living instead of working for some unknown goal and forgetting that everything I do is a part of my life.

The way we compartmentalize our existence seems to be a large part of the root of this issue.  By separating work from "our lives", we let work get away with being very annoying.  We let ourselves do things we don't want to do just to get through it, since it's only work.  We can justify doing way too much work because it supposedly is to make "our life" better.  We can be lazy at work because it isn't very meaningful to us, or we can overwork because we make it so important to our identity.

When we choose to suffer through activities, either for ourselves or for others, why are we doing it?  What do we believe we are gaining?  We often joke about how money is the root of all evil, but money is just money.  Could it be that we are trying to say that the work we do for it is evil or in some way wrong?  I think this could be closer to the truth.

The typical person in my circle spends almost 1.5 X more time working than doing anything other than working during their waking time.  (I am assuming an 8 hour work day with about an hour of travel for five days per week, and eight hours of sleep per night).  This work is just for their job.  It does not include other life necessities, such as cleaning their kitchen, preparing meals, shopping, taking a shower.  It doesn't include raising children, or time spent doing other activities like soccer, or theater, or taking a class.  If you factor in time for shopping and food and cleaning and bathing, one's "leisure" time gets smaller.  Now you might have about 4 hours per work day free, and 13 hours on a weekend.  Of your 112 waking hours in a week, 46 are left for resting, spending time with friends, joining an activity or church, taking a class, or raising your children.  This assumes that you are not working multiple jobs, commuting more than a half hour each way, or taking your work home with you.  Only 40% of your waking life is yours to decide what to do with once you become a slave to your job.  And that is probably why we all want vacations beyond our usual weekends, and dream of retiring to a state of life where we can choose what we want to do for once.  With less than half of our life in our hands to direct, it is little wonder we choose to spend it escaping into TV and video games.  We'd rather dream of enjoyment than wake up and attain enjoyment.

How can we do this?  I am not sure yet, but I think it lies in choosing to act in a way that we respect in ourselves.  We could choose professions that we find meaningful and choose to do our best with it out of respect for ourselves.  In doing something well or to the best of our ability and believing it is benefiting others as well as ourselves, we can find happiness.  But thinking that we will be happy after we are done working feels like an empty hope.  Also, if we can find happiness in our profession, it no longer feels like work, and can become a part of living instead of  an obligation that allows us to live some other time.

I am reminded of the virtue of honor, which seems lost in our society.  If we could find honor in our work, honor in its service, we would certainly find more respect for ourselves.  There is pleasure in self-respect.  For me, at least, the key to needing less breaks from my life will hinge on finding the honorable aspect of my service to others.  Without it, I will continue to flounder and find my efforts worthless.  With it, I will have the self-respect and respect for others to take my time with all aspects of my work.  I can't reasonably expect to produce results quickly 100% of the time, nor should I.  But with thoroughness and intention, a lot can be accomplished with much less rushing and effort.  Enjoyment could have time to manifest in the actions.  The work could enhance other areas of my life and all could become a study of unfolding honoring of circumstances, people and beauty.  It could be fun, and even a reason to live instead of an annoying way to live some other time.  I really want to do this!

Next time I feel like I need a vacation, I will remember that it is probably because I have lost the meaning in my actions.  It will be OK for me to take a break and regroup.  But ultimately, I'd like to live a life where I don't feel like I need a break from my reality as much as I have so far.  It's attainable, and I will do it.  :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Expectations and Letting Them Go

Travel has made it so that I haven't had chance to keep up with my daily posts, but has offered other opportunities for insight into pervasive thought patterns.  One development I was happy to note is that I am becoming more relaxed about the flow of events around me.  I am more willing to let the current of events take me somewhere rather than be caught up in how I want them to go.

We spent the last four days in Orlando for my sister-in-law's wedding.  Two days were travel including today. Tuesday was the rehearsal lunch and a family get together in the evening, and yesterday was the wedding and reception at Epcot.  The whole trip was a lot of fun!

Learning to let go of expectations about how my time should be spent is opening up a chance for enjoyment of what actually is happening and what is possible.  Weeks ago I was unhappy about how much the trip would cost, how long it would be, how the schedule was going to lay out and why the whole thing couldn't be more local.  But, reality is that this is Derek's sister's wedding, and she can do what she wants.  We want to be there for her and her husband, and at the end of the day, this trip wasn't supposed to be a vacation for us.  I think both Derek and I had been upset because we felt like it was a forced vacation that we couldn't really afford, to a place we wouldn't have chosen to go.  But once we let go of this additional burden to the trip, it could actually just be about being there for his sister and family, and us enjoying the remaining time there as a much needed break from our daily grind.

I think this kind of forced expectation is something I do a lot, and I can see how it causes needless suffering.  Things are what they are, and making them into grand ordeals is stressful and detracts from the joy and beauty that are present otherwise.  The urge to make this journey to Disney into a vacation for us actually was a source of great stress.  There was no time nor money to make that happen.  The schedule was tight and the cost for the parks so high for a one-day pass that it would have been over $200 for us to spend about two hours at a single park.  Logically, that just wasn't a great idea, but the thought that we ought to "enjoy Disney" was really stuck for a while.  We felt bad that we couldn't afford to go, that we didn't have an extra day or two to spend there for the parks, and that the schedule was such that we couldn't cram in a park trip around the rehearsal and wedding.

But then, we decided to let it go, and just relax.  The truth was, this wasn't our vacation.  It was a wedding that we were cherished guests to.  Yes, it cost a lot of money, but that is what it is.  We can't undo it, and we wouldn't choose to be absent to family on such an important occasion.  We had already paid for our hotel.  So we went to the gatherings and laughed with family.  We ate lots of food and sang.  We enjoyed the resort we stayed at and swam.  I read books and played Angry Birds, and we slept in and took naps.  We didn't watch TV, and we didn't have a computer.  It was blissful to not be rushed.  Not cramming in "entertainment" was wonderful!  Enjoying family was great, and I felt really welcomed and a part of everything going on.  Because I wasn't worrying about what else I could be doing or should be doing, I could actually just have fun and be present for once.  What a relief!

This brought home to me just how much I do this every day.  I spend so much time in thought over what could be happening that I fail to do anything right now.  My emotions and thoughts are often far away, rehashing the past or living alternate presents.  Why not enjoy what is right before me?  Why waste time worrying about unanswered emails when I would have plenty of energy to answer them quickly and well at another time?  Why worry about drawings, or classes or any of it that isn't relevant right now, when their time will come soon enough?

I had a glimpse of the truth that there is plenty of time, and I spend so much of it in minor panic over what isn't happening yet that when it is time for action, I am exhausted and frustrated.  So much energy is wasted this way for me, I can't begin to describe it!  I can see how resting, re-energizing, and pausing action until the effective time arrives is really rewarding and part of a natural flow.  One can't constantly act.  There needs to be time for renewal.  The pauses between actions are just as important as the actions themselves, and I had forgotten this.  I will probably forget it again, but with practice and awareness, the memory will return.

Having an expectation for each moment of every day is debilitating.  We can't know what will happen all the time.  And quite often, we will not get what we think we want.  I'd like to become a graceful adept at flowing with circumstance.  It can be easy if I let it.  Trying to force all events and circumstances into our designs is manipulative and in our nature, but pretty disappointing.  We get what we want and find it wasn't worth the effort.  Or we don't, and we curse the effort we put into it.

Allowing life to not be about our personal enjoyment all the time ironically seems to open a window of enjoyment for what actually is.  When the day wasn't about me having a fun time at the park, I relaxed and enjoyed a swim with Derek in the pool.  I enjoyed reading for a few hours, and a mid-afternoon nap.  If I had been bent on going to the park, I would have been sullen about the swim, angry as I fell asleep, and bitter as I read my book.  Why?  It isn't going to a park that brings happiness.  It's just being present, and enjoying my husband, and enjoying a book, and the warmth of the Florida sun in November.  It's seeing how happy my sister-in-law was as she wore her wedding dress, and hearing choked-up speeches at the reception and laughing with cousins and nephews.

I am really glad that we didn't have all the cash to vacation in Florida this week.  I learned a valuable lesson about my life and how to enjoy it, especially when I worry that circumstances won't be enjoyable.  The way to get through such times for me is to just admit that it won't necessarily be enjoyable.  Just accepting that life isn't always about me takes an unbelievable amount of pressure off of my perspective.  Suddenly the day isn't so heavy.  It's not as dramatic.  I don't have to be a rock star, always getting my way even when it's annoying to others.  It's OK if I am not having fun.  It's OK if I am!  Either way, I can just breathe and get on with life.  If I am not needed, I can do something small that I enjoy, like read a book or go for a walk.  Every moment doesn't have to be deep and meaningful. It can just be what it is, and I can experience it.  What a relief!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reflections in Shadow

During my visit to Illuxcon this weekend, I was reminded of a lesson I had forgotten about shadows and light.  I found it very interesting because I feel it relates not only to the physical world and objective reality, but also to the way that situations and beings interact with each other. 

Basically, the observation is that many people beginning to paint attempt to paint shadows with black, or only with black or gray glazing over whatever is underneath it.  This can be placed in the correct area, but ends up feeling very flat and fake compared to the actual reference.  The truth is that reflective color bounces into a shadow from all of the objects surrounding it, including the object it was cast from.

What a beautiful observation!  Once the reds of the wall and the yellowy browns of polished wood get included into a shadow, a still life painting of fruit starts to feel like it is in a space.  The light has a color, the objects have colors, the ground has a color, and all of it is reflected onto everything else!  While this bounced light is often subtle, it makes a profound difference to the believability of a scene when reproduced in a painting.

I think that this is a truth that we also realize about our everyday lives in a philosophical sense.  While we may not actively notice it, we can perceive that there is something off about discussing situations from an extreme angle.  If the shadow is black and the light is white, it just isn't right.  It can't actually exist that way!  Nobody truly perceives only blackness and light without the gradations of colors splashed around.  Even the color blind perceive the reflection of light into shadows.

These reflections into shadows aren't just around the edges.  Notice how you see a red glow around the edges of your fingers if you hold them up to block the light.  Even in the flesh that bends away from the edge, there is some red within the shadow.  The shadow includes your flesh color, and the red of your illuminated capillaries on the edge of the light.  As the shadow nears the center of a finger, the redness eases into a duller state, replaced by the flesh tone entirely, but also with a bright highlight of reflected light off of the other hand, or the wall, or some other nearby object.  For me, it was a bluish white color over ochre skin tones, reflected off my clothes from the blueish light bulb which was my light source.  Observing this interaction is incredible, and something to remember when reproducing anything in color.

It is also something to remember when recalling or observing any situation we want to label as "good" or "bad."  I choose good and bad because they are a simple distillation of judgments we place on things, but any opposing adjectives will do.  The truth is that things are actually both good and bad.  Or bad and good.  They probably are a lot more than either of those things, because the light (or consciousness) that defines form bounces all over everything.

It is everywhere, reflected onto surfaces and into shadows.  The light that falls off of my shoulders and bounces into your shadow touches us both.  Where are the edges?  We cannot define them.  Our perception blurs it all, or defines it rigidly, noting only what it chooses and discarding the rest.  The decision to only percieve one part of the story is so human!  How can we resist it, when to take it all in is so vast and indescribable?

Perhaps we are only insightful when we are able to carefully observe and refrain from describing too much.  While we try to understand and define what we see, we know that we are only interpreting reality.  It is only a small part, and only a subjective reproduction in our minds.  This reproduction might find its way through our hands and into paint or blog entries, or out of our mouths in words.  Occasionally careless, occasionally profound.  We are foolish to believe we are constantly one or the other - we are always both!

I am fascinated by Rohb's study of the hallway and the examples of painted fruit he used in his lecture this weekend.  The use of light and shadow and remembering to observe the colors that get reflected onto all objects near each other will stick with me from here on out.  It's a way to help me in my painting and tattoos, but also to help me understand my muscle tension around thoughts.  All actions and thoughts get bounced into each other.  They don't stop just at the edge of the situation that spurred them.  In this way I can learn to distance myself from thoughts and actions that reflect onto me and cause pain, or see that this is what I am responding to.

For sure, this is a week of insight!

Clearer Vision

On Thursday morning I had an acupuncture treatment that centered on clearer vision.  We were reducing some swelling and dryness on my right eye's tear duct, and aiming toward giving me some clearer insights over my travels this week.  There were needles placed very close to the insides of my eyes, along the side of the bridge of the nose.

Despite my veins apparently being in a slightly different location than most people's, and a bit of sensitivity on that first needle, the experience was pleasant.  Other points included the base of my pinky fingers on the outside (very sensitive on the right!), and the same kind of placement on the outside of my right pinky toe.  The other sensitive needle was in the middle of my forehead, over the "third eye" area.  This one I thought was sensitive because I have been so tense in general and probably frowning and clenching my jaw a lot, causing more tension there.

Quickly, I was able to relax and found the whole experience very calming.  At some point, though, an object fell in an adjacent room and startled me.  My body tensed and as it did so, my right pinky point launched into a fit of discomfort.  I spent the rest of my forty or so minutes trying in various ways to avoid that pain.  When I would relax my upper arm, the forearm would clench to hold the hand up slightly.  Somehow I had shifted and I was afraid of letting go too much or else I would feel this terrible pain!

Probably ten minutes into this I wanted to laugh a bit.  I was acting physically the same way I do mentally and emotionally.  If there is pain to be avoided, I will choose a lesser but more enduring pain to avoid the sharp one.  In fact, this lesser pain is so much more encompassing, I might as well just feel the localized one.  To avoid a pain in my pinky, I caused myself to hold muscles in my wrist, arm, elbow, shoulder and neck, eventually even tightening my back a little bit - alternating which muscles were in use but only switching carefully to another set as each layer of muscle reached exhaustion and started shaking.

It was then that I realized that I really do hold so much tension in my body and mind regularly that I cause the same result pretty much every day.  How could I be exhausted and physically using  up all my energy when I seem to not physically do much more than paint, tattoo and type?  Here it was for me to see: I think so much and get so anxious about it all that I tighten my jaw, my shoulders, my hands, and all of my body parts.  I  hold them so tightly that I shake, and I have wondered if it was some kind of sugar deficiency or overload.  It might actually just be the inability to hold so much tension within the body and mind - it has to come out somewhere.  As my arm shook, I knew this to be true, and I tried very much to relax my arm.

It was difficult.  I really didn't want to hurt in my pinky, even though my whole arm was now hurting and exhausted.  The rest of my time was spent trying to teach myself how to let it go, and having very short successes of about ten to fifteen seconds or so at a time.

I have been thinking about this tendency I have since then.  I am trying to notice it more so that I can learn to let it all go.  Holding on to thoughts and to stress really isn't a great way to live.  Without noticing it, I will continue to build it up and hold on.  And so, as we walked around Altoona this weekend, or got caught in traffic, or listened to lectures at Illuxcon, I sometimes was able to remember that I was holding my right hand clenched.  I was able to feel that my upper shoulders were getting balled up and rock-like.  I noticed that when I would start to think about how much email I was missing at home, part of my body would grab on to that thought and keep it alive with clenching.  Sometimes I was able to lessen it, but sometimes not.  For now, just noticing it is good.

One outcome from this treatment that I was not expecting at all was the improvement of my actual vision.  I had lasik surgery done years ago and since then, my night vision gets halos around light sources and at night, it is difficult for me to read license plates and signs from distances due to the haloing reflection of light.  That night, the halos were very much reduced, and reading signs even in the dark was a lot easier for me.  When I noticed this improvement, the whole car trip became a wonder.  The effect is not as sharp now as it was that first night, but it is still a great improvement over my normal ability to focus my eyes at a distance.

I am really pleased that this treatment had such broad effects.  My tear duct is fine now (but the skin near it is still bruised from the unfortunate vein prick!), my eyesight is better, and I have indeed gained a nice insight about a pattern of behavior I have that could use some altering.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Power of Action in Resolution

Taking action, when considered and for the right reasons, can very much calm the mind.  Today I painted the commission piece of the wolf paw and contacted the studio of my upcoming workshop to discuss moving the class to July, since it has not been filling up enough to really go forward anymore.  Both of these actions have done a great deal to still my mind, and I am feeling pleasantly removed from my usual loop of "Oh no!"

It would be helpful for me to remember that postponing effective actions is a way that my mind keeps me locked in a cycle.  If I never resolve whatever has got me going, I can keep freaking out about it indefinitely.  So if I can try to assess what actions I could take right now that would make me feel calmer about my situations, whatever they are.  I can stop panicking and worrying.

Fear of conflict has ruled me for a lifetime, and learning that not all scary actions lead to open warfare or hatred will benefit me a great deal.  I fear disappointing people.  It turns out I am afraid of the voice in my own head that remembers punishment, and the feeling of overwhelm and frustration that was constantly about my home as a kid.  But I am no longer twelve and if I disappoint people I am no longer sent into hiding to contemplate the many ways in which I am a failure.  I am no longer going to be cut off from the world for every transgression and made to suffer for other people's mistakes, too.  Sometimes, unpleasant decisions need to be made, and nobody holds it against us.  Sometimes, we hope for good outcomes and they aren't forthcoming.  It's life, not a fairytale.

Resolution is really quite nice, even when it is not what we expected.  It allows for movement again.  Now, more informed decisions can be made in the future, and I can let the past go as I release at least one of my many thought-loops.

Tomorrow morning I have many emails to send.  For now, though, I am going to enjoy a night of quiet.  It is amazing to me how different the feeling of each day is, even how different the feeling of each hour can be!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Five Elements and Imbalance

Tonight was my second meditation and philosophy class.  Once again, I enjoyed it.  This time, we talked about the five elements and how they are expressed both positively and negatively in our lives.  Well, more accurately, how they function when in balance vs. when they are imbalanced.  We also spoke about how every individual has a primary constitution, and a secondary and tertiary one and so on.  For me, my primary constitution is water, followed by fire, followed by wood.  I would say earth is next, followed by metal most likely.

With water, fear is the imbalance.  Particularly fear that one is not powerful enough.  In fire, it is the belief that love is not safe and/or that the person doesn't have control.  With wood, a belief that life is not fair.  Earth believes it is not nourished enough.  With metal, it is a belief that nothing of value can be held on to, or an inability to let go.

During our brief meditation practice this evening, we contemplated on our primary element and what it might mean for us.  I had the image of my water element always wanting to speed up and move faster, to warm up and prevent itself from freezing.  The image of boiling water came to mind, and also of rapids or moving very randomly and rapidly over rocks.  I had an "ah ha!" moment, in which I put together that my primary fear has been about not being powerful enough to win the love and appreciation of others.  I believe that in order to be loved and cared about, I need to be impressive and productive (or powerful, in other words!)

To this end, I have striven my whole life to be educated and productive, trying to provide to others an array of activities, thoughts, space and products that they would appreciate, and therefore love me for.  For my parents, I wanted to prove I was worthy enough of their love by being a good student and being smart.  I also tried to boast my creativity with writing and drawing.  Anything that was impressive to them was good enough for me, because it was a brief moment in which I was appreciated by them instead of ignored or disciplined.  Really, I have kept up this same strategy my whole life, using my mind, artistic skills and ability to manage tens of complicated and demanding tasks at once to gain the affection of those around me.  This includes even the opening of my studio, which I must admit I was very reluctant to do at first for fear that I couldn't pull it off and it would then become a testament to my lack of ability and power - a disappointment that I could never recover from in the eyes of my husband and friends and family.

This is the primary belief and fear that plagues me: that I am not powerful enough to pull this all off, and I need to do so or else nobody will love me.  It's funny, because usually I don't equate my thoughts or emotions with a need to be powerful, and I actually consciously don't even want to be powerful, I mostly want to be left alone and not have to do so much all the time!  But I think that the dislike of being in the spotlight and feeling like I need to do so much shows it up just as much as when I actively want to be more powerful.  The things we struggle against turn up again and again simply because we pay them so much attention.

Then I get angry about having to do so much for everyone, and how I have locked myself into doing so through needing to be so impressive or whatever it is I am trying to prove. I get ticked off that now I am expected to keep it up by everyone around me.  They expect it because I have made it easy for them to expect it - it is what I do!  Or, they might not even expect me to keep providing and doing all of the things I do, and it could be all in my mind.  Either way, this is wood imbalance.

From there, it is the earth imbalance of not being nourished enough, which is where I have been feeling the last several months. I have no energy left, I am tired and desperate for some nourishing.  Rabbit's speech from last night was about this fear of having nothing left for myself and everyone around me begging for the scraps of what I have already used up.  This must be where I lead myself to with all of this off-kilter beliefs.

Metal imbalance saying that nothing valuable can be held onto is relevant as well, because I became so exhausted and hurt that I was ready to just give up on everything - my marriage, my family, my friends, my business, and just watch it all collapse into nothing.  With no energy left, I was numb and pretty much OK with that if it had to happen, which in my mind it did.  Interesting insights!

So now, I have a belief to watch out for, which is that in order to be loved I have to be impressive and able to provide entertainment, insight, beauty and healing to everyone all the time.  These things are what I consider to be powerful, so I guess I really have feared not being powerful enough.  I'll keep my eyes open and I am sure I will see it crop up all the time.  For now - bed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Recognizing Limits

When Derek woke me with, "There's snow outside!" my first thought was, why would you tell me such a horrible thing this early in the morning!  I dislike being cold, and have had a history of unfortunate incidents involving snowy roads and automobiles.  I generally resent the winter and long for the return of warmth from October until April.  I hid my head under a pillow and went back to sleep.

The snow is a reminder that it's the season for hibernation and snuggling in. Rather than resenting the reality that it is going to be cold and snowy and icy, I could accept it and use it the way most mammals do.  We tuck in more food and sleep a bit more to recuperate from a well-lived Summer.  It is the time for dreaming, for reflecting on what has been accomplished, and absorbing lessons learned.  No longer time to forge ahead on new projects, this is the time to slow down and wrap things up.  It can even be the time to enjoy gains in health and sanity by truly sitting still for a while and reveling in the healing that's already taken place.

Since I started acupuncture three weeks ago, my posture has started to straighten out from the left twist I am usually in.  My skin is clearing up.  I sleep better and longer.  I am more awake and have more energy when I am awake.  My anxiety is much reduced and I am finding ways of thinking that help a lot to stop my mental spinning.  Starting this blog is one of those.  Meditation practice is another.

While there is still work to be done, adding new projects is not appropriate for me right now - and the season reflects this.   In times of quiet and cold, stay warm, conserve energy and rest.  I am thinking of it like following the tide - it is going out, and chasing it won't help.  It is true with business as well as with relationships and everything else.  If people everywhere are conserving energy, resources, and time, dumping all of my energy, resources and time into capturing their interest is a failing enterprise.  Better to see this clearly and act in accordance.  If I don't, I will be left exhausted, broke and confused after working very hard for results that are impossible to attain.

The Winter this year is about learning and accepting my own limits.  Thus far I have done a great deal in my life to push my limits, and I found out that they are very far out from where I initially thought I could reach. A few years ago I would never have thought myself capable of even half of what I now consider to be part of my daily existence.  However, now I have pushed so far out that I see where my breaking point is.  I see where the end of my resources extend, and even where the edge of my interest and good will lie.  I pushed beyond them not realizing how far I could go - and it has hurt to find these edges and boundaries.

It hurts because I wanted to believe that I could do anything, be a kind of super woman, and in being that others would like me.  It hurts because I see that I have been so intent on this path of greater and larger and more beautiful accomplishments that I see I have ignored the beauty and greatness and kindness of those around me and what I already did accomplish.  It hurts because I didn't focus only on one thing, and so I haven't really improved at any one thing.  At the end of my shooting for the stars, I have captured perhaps a small meteorite, and I find it surprisingly small and hard and without the brilliance it had when it was still shooting around in space.  My physical, mental and emotional exhaustion from pushing out and forward for several years has caught up with me, and actually, it just hurts.

I want to be great at something.  But I see that I spread my thoughts and efforts so wide that at best I will be good at them.  Wanting to be great hurts.  I'd like to give up on it!  I'd rather be happy content being good and doing my best at things that I enjoy.  I am truly tired of trying to be the best boss, the best tattoo artist, the best painter, the best business owner, the best daughter, the best wife.  It occurs to me that I could only be those things if I stopped trying so damned hard, and anyway - what the heck does it even mean?

The people I know who I consider the best at what they do spend all of their time at it.  The painters who are incredible at painting really do spend 80% or more of their days thinking about painting, drawing for paintings, researching paintings, and painting.  It's the same for tattoo artists.  It's the same for people who manage and run businesses.  Because I am trying to be all of those things in my job and as a person, I have split my capabilities in these areas.  (I do this on a micro-level as well, within each aspect I already split energy on.)  The total energy is diffused.  It cannot be greater.  Wishing won't make me have more energy for it all.  Forcing will not yield results.

Hm.  I like the phrase "yielding results."  It speaks of needing to stop resisting in order to accomplish anything.  Being powerful doesn't mean being rigid or forceful or overwhelming - yielding is what finally produces.  Interesting.

To finish my thought, I have also been bummed that I don't have the attention span or energy to put into my marriage or toward having a family of my own some day.  I envy housewives for being able to actually be a good part of their family.  They don't have to rush off and spend all of their nurturing on a business, or relationships that could further their business.  (It's not that I don't like doing those things, but that I resent that I have felt I need to choose between on the one hand business, and the other, family.)  Housewives actually can keep their house reasonably maintained, and cook and socialize with their children and husbands.  I know it's not all fun and games, but by not trying to do all of that and keep on top of a business (book keeping, relationships between coworkers and suppliers and clients, advertising, cleaning, actually working and producing and improving products), I feel they have more of themselves to apply to it.

Up until now I have seen starting my own family as just one more thing to diffuse my energy on - something I will never be good at because already I am way too scattered to care too much about any of the things I am involved in.  It would be one more part of my life that I can barely keep up with.  In my current state I am feeling discouraged and like I am only minimally able to handle unexpected circumstances.  Even expected ones have been feeling overwhelming.  Simple measures to keep things on course like a single phone call or small sketch feel colossal.  I have to say that I am relieved to be able to observe myself feeling this way rather than starting to feel it and choosing to run off and start a different task in order to avoid the pain.  That alone is a huge gift from the last three weeks.

As I observe, and sit, (and act like mammal in winter should!), I find a space of calm and an ability to take one task and finish it.  Each day, one or two small tasks get completed.  I am not adding new ones.  I am finishing the ones already set in motion.  I am able to feel sympathy for myself as I lament about how far beyond my capacity I seem to have reached.  I am learning to feel proud of how much I can do instead of feeling shame that it is only so little.  I am learning that I could do this little bit very well, even better than I already have, if only I will slow down and stop aiming so far away from my arms' reach.

Also, I am learning how to tell how I feel about things when I am not trying to be the way I think I need to in order to be loved.  How much of what I do is only because I want people to like me?  How much of it is genuinely interesting to me, or worthwhile to me personally?  It is true that I want to do things for the greater good, for the community and my friends and those that are outside of my immediate influence.  But I have forgotten how to enjoy things for myself somewhere along the way.  I think it could be OK to tone it all down and stop pushing very hard when it's only to benefit others right now.  I am not able to reach that far.  I hate that, but there it is.  With time, I am sure I will be able to reach out again.  For now, I want to really dwell in my space of calm and respite from all of this pushing and action.  I even find the responsibility of helping others to be quite threatening right now.  I am scared that if I try to help someone else I will have absolutely nothing left for myself and I might collapse.  This sounds so dramatic to type out, but it really does feel that way.  I am reminded of that rabbit and how panicked it feels and how much it is shaking.  It spooks easily, and any demand placed upon it is something to fear and run from.  And there is just no energy left for running, so now the fear is of dying.  It wants to cry out, "Please, stop asking me to do things!  I just can't.  Leave me alone! Can't you do anything for yourself?  I am tired of figuring everything out all the time, tired of all of the mental acrobatics, tired of providing all of the creativity and money and space.  I am tired of trying to keep it all in line, tired of lifting everyone up when they are down because I am so good at it nobody realizes how hurt and down I am!  Now I am resentful of all of you and fear you approaching me with your hands out begging for my love and support and help and thoughts and comfort.  I have none left to give and no trust that I won't be run over by all of your needs and demands.  You will take everything I worked hard for an run it into the ground because you think it can give forever without ever having time to recover or nourish itself.  Please, just let me shake and rest and sleep.  If you can only just take care of yourselves for a while and leave me alone, I will surely recover and be able to join you again.  But at my own pace, in my own time."

That was fairly enlightening.  On that note, time to snuggle in for the night and get some sleep.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


It has been important for me to learn that failing at activities, or perceiving myself as having failed with them, is not a reason to judge myself.  In fact, judging at all is a huge waste of my energy.  When I get caught up in thoughts about how I am not measuring up to where I think I should be, or judging myself based on how close I come to a goal or exceed it, I am putting energy into thoughts that are meaningless.

What do I mean by that?  I mean that spending my mental and emotional vitality measuring my worth based on the outcome of my efforts and wishes only feeds my ego or cuts it down.  The effort of it is exhausting and doesn't help feed my soul.  By spending energy on thoughts that center on judgment (ways to avoid feeling worthless, or to ensure feeling worthy), I have no energy left to do very much.  All of it is burned up on speculation on how to justify my actions and running through scenarios in which I can save the day with some heroic calculated move.

The best use of my mental powers would be to simply see what is happening, but try to stop there.  When my emotions get stirred and I feel bad that something is not going the way I planned and hoped, I could try feeling that without adding in a mental chorus of finger-pointing and "See what you've done!"  Since that voice is going to be in there, I can try listening to it and noting that it is just a thought, and it can't hurt me.  Along with "See what you've done!" there is also, "Well, that sucked," which is a bit kinder.  There can also be, "Wow, what can I do now?" and "Everybody fails sometimes."  It is when I am desperate to avoid being judged by others that I panic and feel the most terrible.  I think it's probably true that others are not judging me as harshly as I am judging myself.  They might not even be judging at all!

I have found it true that people only judge others in passing, rarely holding onto a judgment unless the person is currently bugging them or currently delighting them.  Most of us are so caught up in our own personal dilemmas and hells that we don't really have time or energy to spend on someone else for very long.  We are all the center of our own universes, and judge others only insofar as they relate to us.  Who has the capacity to see a grand picture that doesn't include herself somehow?  It is too abstract to relate to for very long, and so we return to our self.

Since this is probably the case, why should we spend so much energy judging ourselves?  Why do I spend what little energy I have figuring out what it means that I didn't market effectively for a quarter, or that I stretched a bit beyond what my business is capable of hosting as far as workshops this early on?  All of this effort into finding a meaning behind it all results in no answer.  The simple fact is that it happened, and that is all.  Now what?

The judgmental voice within tells me, "Well, since you messed this up you probably will mess up again even worse, and that'll eventually lead to your financial ruin as well as the deterioration of your reputation as an artist and gallery owner."  When I type out these thoughts it is pretty laughable, but it all feels so emotionally real to me.  It is hard to separate myself from the judgments I have about what it means to have made some mistakes.  I associate myself with my business very closely, so making mistakes with it this year causes me to feel hurt and responsible for the destruction of myself and not just a few dollars.  But I am not destroyed.  Here I am, breathing, eating dinner, able to walk around my home and snuggle with my husband.  I am able to play with our cat, type this article, drink some water and yes, figure out some ways to improve my work situation.

The thoughts of not being good enough, of not being strong, or clever, or charismatic enough all drain out my energy.  I am left feeling small, tired, and unable to do anything because no matter which move I make, it will be somehow wrong.  I can see how these judgments do nothing for me.  I become paralyzed, in a constant cycle of fear and hurt.  What is worse is that I run from the fear, and find more reasons to fear while doing so.

There is a rabbit in my heart and guts that has been running for years to escape these dangerous pitfalls.  And now, it's run out of steam and has stopped, shaking in a wide field.  It feels completely vulnerable and exposed.  It would like to keep running and hide.  But there is no energy left.  To run one more step will cause it to collapse and die.  And so, it shakes, and is letting all of that fear finally drain out into the ground below its feet.  It turns out there is nothing immediately dangerous around.  It still feels terrified, but nothing is chasing it.  Sure, there were some dogs that chased it once, but they've long since forgotten about a rabbit that evaded them years ago.  To the rabbit, it's all still real. But there is no choice but to sit and shake now.  And the rabbit is finding out that it feels pretty good to shake and to sit.  It might even eat some grass soon and stretch out those bunched up legs.  The scenery is constantly changing, and it could be nice to just observe it and become a part of it instead of running to a new place all the time.

When I think of myself as this terrified rabbit, I can feel compassion for myself and what I have been through.  I can feel sympathy for how exhausted it is and how much it fears.  I am exhausted and scared, too, and that's OK.  Everyone experiences that, not just me.  I don't need to decide that because I feel that way now, I always will and must always have felt so, and therefore I am exhaustion and fear.  It is temporary, as is everything.  There is comfort in that, and a reason not to judge.  Nothing is fixed, nothing is forever.  Ebb and flow could be a liberation for me instead of something I resist until I keel over dead.

I will remind myself of my rabbit this week when I get worried and fearful, on the edge of bolting from the room, or bolting away in thought to some far away place.  If I can sit, and shake - stop my habit of running and learn something new - ah, what possibilities are there ahead?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shooting Myself in the Foot

Our expectations of how life should be going can really get us amped up and disappointed as our circumstances flow through desirable and less desirable outcomes.  I have been locked in a struggle with my expectations for myself and my business for some weeks now, and am trying to teach myself ways to get out of this cycle of pain.  Yes, proactive measures need to be taken to ensure that the business doesn't spin out of control financially, but I also must not get so upset about things not being perfect that I shoot myself in the foot.

I might have a tendency to do that, of which I haven't been aware.  When a project or friendship, or anything else in my life gets too far off of the path I had set for it, I begin to waver in my commitment to it.  Another idea seems a lot more shiny and doable.  I could make money elsewhere, or hang out with a new friend, or start a new painting rather than finish the one I started and find a way to make it work.  It's not a quality I find very charming in myself, and that's probably why I haven't noticed it.  I don't want to see myself as fickle or one who gives up easily.

I suppose I justify my emotional melt-downs and eventual giving up on projects (or transitions to new ones) by believing that I wait a really long time to abandon something.  I didn't give up easily, so the giving up doesn't count somehow in my mind.  In learning how not to give up I am needing to face difficult situations that would once have had me running for the door screaming.

Money is such a hard issue, so caught up in my self worth and worthiness of existing.  To carry a balance that is half what I started out with, and then watch it halve again is terrifying.  To fear that if circumstances continue in this vein I will need to reduce hours for people or face us all losing our jobs is upsetting when I know how much we all have committed to this endeavor taking off and doing well.

What I see is that I need to apply myself more rather than give up on my business or leave it to everyone else.  I let myself get overwhelmed by taking on too many projects and spread myself very thin over the last year.  What was already difficult for me became more than I could manage, even though I thought I could handle it all.  Perhaps by no longer having to handle it all, I let so many things take their own course that they eventually became far more expensive than I had ever thought possible.  By letting myself feel like I had more time to play with and more time to do more work projects with, I ended up shooting a little too far for my first year in a new location.  It was an incredible year, but I tried way too many new things.  Now my spirits, my vitality and my pocket book are all drained, and I am left wondering how I can maintain what we started, or bring it back down to manageable levels so we can recover.

It's good to see where I am at rather than running from it.  In this place of seeing more of reality, even when it is a reality that is not one I'd like to see, I am in a place of power.  I am able to choose actions that will correct my situation.  I am able to move forward rather than react and move backwards.  This is a blessing, even though it sucks.

Also, it is good to keep positive and be grateful for all of the good outcomes and progress.  I can feel good about all of the wonderful things I have done, and that we all have done, and realize that we are capable of anything we put our minds to.  Eventually, all there is is choosing productive and worthwhile actions again and again.  With time and patience, I will be able to see more and more clearly which actions are appropriate and pass over the many hundreds of actions I could make that would be a waste of energy.  So in the end, I will choose to look at even this "bad" or less than stellar situation I am so concerned to find myself in as a good opportunity for me to wake up and learn how to choose more effectively and efficiently in my life. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ways To Calm My Mind

I believe that one of the reasons I love making art so much is that it is one of the few activities I do that brings me into a nice, quiet focus.  Tattooing is an exercise in precision.  My brain will stop its yammering to really notice all of the subtle textures of the skin, the glops of ink on the edge of the tube, the hum of the machine and the glint of the needles as they do their work.  Even when having conversation while tattooing, my mind generally focuses only on the work at hand and that one person.  Whatever we are talking about may occupy my thoughts, but the vaster part of me is involved in the tattoo, bringing the hundred sub-programs of thoughts to a momentary halt.  It's quite pleasant.

Painting also provides this kind of quiet calm to my heart.  My body may get quite tight as I draw down equally tight lines with the brush, but generally I feel at ease and blissfully without thought.  It is a meditation I didn't know I already practiced, and a pleasure I rarely afford myself.  To make painting a more prominent activity for its calming value rather than for my perception of it as a worthy productive activity feels really good.  I wonder if I will remember to look at it that way, as a gift to myself rather than as a demanded productive enterprise.  If I can do that, perhaps my manner will become more peaceful and I might find my general state of being becomes relaxed instead of on the edge of anxiety.

I remember when I was practicing Koba-ryu in high school, how much the nights of classes gave an outlet to my physical stresses.  In studying katas and moving through one-steps there was a very wonderful state of being where my mind got quiet and my body was allowed to use its intelligence, taking me through complicated and precise motions to the end.

I am looking forward to returning to a formal practice of physical motion, as I think I have pretty much taxed my body to its edge without giving much back to it over the last decade.  To allow my body to physically move and learn new motions would be a treat.  To experience the joy my body feels with such activity would be great.  My attempts at solo exercise have all come to fail fairly quickly each time I start, and I imagine it has a lot to do with not having any ritual or formality to the practice.  Wii fit by myself just doesn't bring a lot of joy after a few days, since nobody is there struggling with me or playing with me.  There is no built in reason for me to stay with it.  Having the power of othrs supporting a practice definitely makes it easier to do. A dojo will be for me a place of respite from my harried daily grind, and a way to perhaps build some bonds with others looking for a calm and healthy path in life.  With luck, I will have the funds to pursue some training in the next few months.  In the meantime, my first step is meditation - one part of the dojo's practices already.

I am on my fourth night of solo meditation practice, and I was really happy last night to have managed twenty whole minutes!  It was probably towards minute 15 that I started to feel more calm and less anxious about sitting there, meditating.  I will probably go through the same process tonight.  Giving time to myself is so much less important than doing other things, like dishes, or taxes, or sweeping, or even playing a mindless round of Plants vs. Zombies.  This is what I tell myself, but I am starting to break the habit.  Breaking it means I am feeling fairly upset a lot, but I force myself to stay in that feeling of panic until it passes, even just a little bit.  I am beginning to know a little bit of relief.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How Pets Help

I think that we can learn a lot about our state of mind and heart by observing our pets, if we have them.  Animals and reptiles don't lie, or at least not well - and they reflect back to us the energy we put out.  I am particularly aware of this with my snake, Timmy.

Timmy is generally a very approachable and sweet snake, and enjoys coming out to explore and gain some warmth by wrapping over my shoulders or around an arm.  He is a fairly curious and adventurous sort, and will willingly come out into my hands and arms if I open the door to his cage with little encouragement.

That is, of course, if I am in a mellow and calm mood.  When I am at all agitated, very sad, or overly excited, at the most he will rest his head on my palm for a few moments before turning back into his space and resuming his laps around the aspen bedding.  I find him to be a good barometer for how anxious I am.  There are times I am so caught up in my head that I don't realize how worked up and far away I have gone until I try to visit with Timmy and he shuns me.

What is amazing, I find, is that if I take a few minutes to calm myself and have some success at it, he will fairly quickly change his mind and come over to see me.  Perhaps all pets speak to us of our state of being, but reptiles speak such a simple language that it is a lot easier to understand when I am exuding dissonant energy.

My cat, Sherazade, will also reflect back my state of being, but because she is such a drama queen and talker, she is just as likely to fight with me as to ignore me.  It's harder to see a reaction when it becomes a fraught dialog.  When I pay attention, though, there is always a clear indication of how I am acting toward the world.  If I am delightful and approach her with toys and treats, or take time to snuggle without being distracted by computers, TV or books, I am always met with adoration and purring that further fuels the warmth in my heart.  If I am easily annoyed, every mew and fetched milk carton cap is exasperating, and she gets exasperated with me, too.  We have had days of joy and days of icy glares coming from each of us as neither of us gets what we wanted from the other.

I think that paying attention to how I feel towards these everyday interactions would be a great way to become more conscious of what is going on for me, right here, right now.  It would be a good way to become more centered and present in my body.  My thoughts forever fly to the far reaches of the world, to alternate times and opportunities, to the past and near future.  They are constantly trying very hard to envision what Is in an abstract sense, and what could be if I only do this or that thing.  Silencing them or at least realizing that they are in no way helping my situation right now would be a blessing.

And so, I leave this post to focus on loving and petting the purring ball of fur on my knee, and to tap into how I feel at this moment, rather than how I feel about things that have happened already, or are yet to happen.  How liberating!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quiet Mind

For once I actually don't have a lot on my mind this evening.  :)  I will try my meditation practice and see how it goes, then read a bit and go to sleep.  Work was good today, friends are good today, and promotional actions I took last week are looking like they are taking off - it is a relief.  Time to sit.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Impatient to Learn Patience

It has taken me nearly a full week to make time to meditate again.  It is very hard for me to still my body let alone my mind, it would seem!  I come up with a million excuses not to sit and stay with my feelings of anxiety or disappointment, to feel into my body or my heart.  The mind wants to control it all.

I rehash the week - What happened?  Who did I see?  Where did I go?  Was I successful in my work?  How can I judge that?  Am I tired?  Happy?  Sad?  Angry?  What would a good way forward be?

All of these thoughts clamor for attention, and I decide I ought to catch up on emails, work on more advertising, publish a second portfolio book for work, text a friend, and eat a chocolate bar rather than sit for meditation.  While doing all of these things, my mind also tells me that meditating is something that would be good for me, and I ought to take time for that! 

Finally, I sat.  I only managed ten minutes.  I fidgeted a lot compared to last time.  My stress level was a lot higher to start with than last time.  I eventually calmed down a little bit, but tonight I found it very hard to sit still.  My eyes dried out if they were open.  My leg was uncomfortable, then my back.  My heart was fast and my stomach very full from dinner.  I wanted to lay down and not sit.  Thoughts, constantly tumbling around in there.

I am going to try and do it again tomorrow.  I am having an inkling that meditation practice is all about practice, and that it probably sucks a lot of the time.  I also think that it is a hugely beneficial thing to do for myself, since it is so hard for me.  If I can learn even a little bit to slow down and start taking time for anything at all, even something so simple as ten or twenty minutes to just sit and be with myself, it could blossom into a much kinder attitude towards myself.  I could use that.

This week was hard.  Work has been slow.  Workshops are not filling up as I hoped.  Even with loads of effort put into promotions, lots of money put into promotions, and creative ideas eeked out, all is not unfolding as I had plotted and hoped.  Turns out I have been rather married to my ideas of how things should turn out, when reality is showing me that actually, I get no say over that.

It makes me mad.  It makes me frustrated and want to shake my fists at the world and hit something beautiful and break it.  Or, squish my feet in mud and realize that life is like that sometimes.  Sadly, I have no beautiful things that are not my own to break (it's only satisfying if it is someone else's it would seem), and no mud, either!

At the end of today, talking about it with Derek, I realized that I have done the best I can on these subjects.  No further amount of forcing is going to turn things my way.  Now I have to wait.

Waiting is sooooo hard for me.  Patience is not a trait I have cultivated deeply.  I thought I had some, but really I just use loads of projects as a barrier from ever having to truly wait.  Instead I just switch projects and get busy with something else while the first project stews.  As I found myself overwhelmed with too many projects, I have decided to halt adding any new ones on to my list.  This is revealing that I get pretty upset and feel very worthless when I have to stop working on a project and wait for it to do something.  I feel I have lost control and without it everything might go horribly awry.  And you know what?  It might.  The difficult concept for me to internalize is that sometimes things will fail and it does not mean that I am personally a failure.  It just means I did a project that failed.

Normally I will mask failed projects among all of the successful ones and come up with an alternate plan for the failed project, relaunching it before anyone can see that the first one bombed.  Especially myself.  I hate seeing myself fail, and I think I must go to annoying lengths to ensure that I never pause long enough to think about what it means when something I start goes wrong or turns out in what I would define as a bad outcome.

Well, this time I am going to see all of my projects through and let them turn out as they must.  I have done my best.  I am just a human being like everyone else.  I cannot expect that I am not subject to the same ebbs and flows of existence as everyone else.  My workshop might not fill up despite my best efforts.  My work schedule may not pick up despite all my best efforts right now.  It is just how it is.  Rather than weeping for it, being upset and miserable, I could try to just breathe and let it be.

In my heart, I am secretly hoping that by conceding that I will just breathe and let it be that it will automatically get better.  I think this may be some kind of subversive thought and hope, that could only lead to more disappointment if things don't improve or take a long time to improve.  How to get rid of it?

Practice.  Patience.  Argh, patience, how you goad me.  I am even impatiently trying to become patient!  No wonder it is a virtue.  Like all virtues, if you have it it is awesome, but getting it seems nigh impossible.