Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I Carry Around A Lot of Stuff

I'm starting to feel confident that the new year will be entered with a lot less baggage being carried around on my back.  It seems like every day I am startled by another realization of something I have been holding onto.  Stuff that was painful, or full of grief, or anger and bitterness.  Identifying all of these burdens is allowing me to lay them down.  I don't actually want them anymore.  They are heavy, and will make me twisted with the effort it takes to hold onto them all.

Putting them down is hard, too.  There are times that it feels so brilliantly easy to give up on a feeling of obligation, or a feeling of unworthiness.  Just letting it go, and there - ahhh, lighter!  But after a few minutes of dwelling in the light and relieved feeling, the heavy one jumps up on my back again.  Guilt for past sins, guilt for the way I act while carrying all of this stuff sets in.  I have hurt people, I have been selfish, I have been foolish, I have been mean.  All of this is human, and I need to just get over myself.  The guilt is really just to punish myself for being human, and not the superhuman I was taught I should be.  Religious baggage is part of the package, though I thought I never had any of that.  But the Catholic need to be pure in all ways including thoughts really does stick, even though it is so harmful to everyone.

I think that a great way to move forward is to embrace the idea that today is a fresh start, every moment is.  I often have a glimmer of that idea going, but it burns up as I tackle the challenges presented from all of my past foibles.  I get caught in laying blame, usually on myself, and the whole cycles starts afresh.

Today is today, what happened before is over, and tomorrow will be tomorrow.  Today, I am going to start a mantra for myself of "Be here.  Be here.  Be here."  The intent behind that is to notice when I am starting to get panicked about what I did that got me here, and to instead let the feeling pass and return to being here, where I can be "better" and start making progress towards repairing anything that went awry.  Or, be here so I can enjoy the goodness that came out of what I did before.  All of my judgments really haven't been helpful, or at least they haven't made me feel good so far.  Time to teach myself to drop my stories and stop being a slave to them.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Broken hearted

Sometimes it is easy to swing very far in the opposite direction to apparently solve a problem.  But in truth, if we continually swing to extremes, we won't get anywhere but stuck in a loop.  First too soft, then too hard.  First too scattered, then too focused.  In the beginning of recognizing a fault, I tend to want to obliterate it completely.  I want to be able to choose to be completely different, to make that fault no longer a part of who I am.  But what once was just a minor flaw can then become a different kind of crack in my personality, turning me into someone I might like even less, and have more animosity toward.  I could start to not recognize myself and wonder how I got this way and wonder if I even have the option of being different.  Then there is an about-face, a return to the original flaw but even more so - back and forth until I am confused and battered and completely lost to the cycle of opposites, no longer in control or even able to accept myself, because I have no idea who myself is.

I have been told by perceptive people over and over again that my heart has been broken deeply.  They hint that I am not over it.  But I have been confused by this perception because I truly thought I have gotten over my heartaches of the past.  Here I am, living life.  I am not sequestered in an apartment with ten cats.  But it is true, if I let myself acknowledge it, that I haven't been willing to love deeply again for a very long time.  I may have only been able to do it once or twice in romantic relationships, and after having had so many people take their love away from me without telling me why or even wanting to try and make things better between us, I can see how the wound across my heart is very deep after all.

Friend after friend has given up on bothering to call or write, starting from when I very first had a friend at all, as a small child.  I didn't wear the right clothes, so one stopped talking to me and had an active campaign against me for several years, but never answered why until we were teenagers.  One went to a different school and didn't care to keep in touch - I was unimportant and not worth the effort.  One dropped me for boys and horses on and off throughout high school and beyond, always blaming me for the things she was doing as though I were the one who stopped talking to her, which infuriates me still.  My first serious relationship was fraught with infidelity, which I was expected to deal with and even appreciate - I was abandoned again and again even as the mask of togetherness was polished.

All of those friendships and even the one lover didn't completely harden me to being open to others.  I still held hope and longed to abandon myself into a relationship, free to love and be loved without fear of it being yanked away or proven false.  It was a little hard for me to do so, but eventually I chose to leap past the fear, trusting that this one beloved chosen would be there for me as much as I was for him, faults and all.  But he wasn't.  One day, despite my complete trust that at the very least we would always have each other (safe to fight, safe to laugh, safe to be silly, safe to make mistakes) was shattered.  Even as things were getting difficult, I had faith that we would of course get through it and get back into a state of joy again, because we loved, and loved truly.  Or at least I did, and I had allowed the belief that he did, too.  He didn't.  He chose not to fight for anything, not even to try, and didn't want to talk to me anymore, just like that.

Since then, I am sad to admit, I haven't opened my heart to anyone else again, not like that time.  Even when I think that I am being open and accepting, even when I think I am showing all of myself, I am not.  I am too scared of having my heart ripped out again and thrown on the ground, bloody and raw, overlooked and despised.  I am always just a little bit wary, even in moments of joy. When will the ball drop and the time be over for whatever relationship or friendship I am in?  I don't want to feel the pain that is still caught in that wound, so I won't let myself feel anything close to that kind of innocent abandon that I once did for that single person.  If a single person could hurt me so badly, I can't let several people go for it.  I might die.

Timed with this loss was the loss of another friend, who lost her baby and then chose not to talk to me again after getting pregnant a second time.  I think she associated me very much with that first pregnancy.  Or maybe I did something hurtful that I wasn't aware of - I was in such grief for the six months following the loss of my boyfriend (I'll call him X), I didn't have it in me to notice much other than deadlines for classes and graduating.

Now, I have logic that allows me to think I am compassionate to others, when I really won't feel it truly for very long or at all.  I can honestly understand how others can be callous, or work for their own self-preservation.  I can understand why they do hurtful things, because I do them, too.  But I won't feel it too much, otherwise that heart-wound re-opens because that's the main thing about my heart - it is really hurt.  If I get past a surface feeling like delight or frustration or even fear I suddenly find myself staring into an abyss that I am afraid I won't be able to heal and really don't want to feel anymore.   It's a more ragged and brutalized gash than I already nursed growing up - the help I thought I would have in healing it turned out to be a metal wire brush and not a soothing balm after all.  So I go numb. I can see why I should feel upset, or loving, or any other thing.  But I am separated from true feeling, because it simply hurts so much to return to that place of vulnerability and me-ness.

I had so much practice being other people, my whole life. As a kid, I would try so hard every day to become someone else, a girl who was gentle and sweet and wise and who never fought with her brothers, who by being so passive and quiet would be loved by her family and accepted for once, not thrown to the side for her siblings each day and punished just for showing up and reacting to being taunted.  I failed at it several times per day, but I kept trying.  I tried to be a good friend to the few people who would even talk to me at school, too - I managed to be mostly neglected but not actively tortured, so I counted it a success.  It wasn't until college that I threw myself onto the scene of life and wondered who I might actually be and if I could love and be loved for that.  I didn't think so, but I wanted to try.  By the time I met X, I had at least saved myself from several emotionally abusive situations and had a bit of a handle on who I was not, anyway.  I was willing to trust that he'd witness my finding out who I was with acceptance and encouragement, as I was discovering that even though he had several less-than-stellar traits, I still loved him anyway and wanted to stay with him despite and even because of them.  I assumed because I was in that space of acceptance and readiness to grow with another person, he was too.  I have never honestly returned to that space of complete vulnerability and complete acceptance of another person since.  I guess I don't accept myself.  It's too bad.

I am fascinated that I have been able to form new friendships and even my marriage with this giant hole in my heart.  I have been oblivious to it because I really believed that when crying myself to sleep finally ended after four months, and I even got hopeful and happy after nine or ten months, that I must have healed up completely.  Now I am not so sure.  Surface happy or angry or sad followed by complete blankness when having to face how I really feel about anything is not healthy.  Continual return to a mindset of having to deal with being completely on my own even if it sucks, even if it isn't fair, even if I didn't deserve it, with a stoic blankness is not a sign of health.  And believing this to be my reality has been contributing to me making lots of decisions that further that eventual situation, again and again.  I honestly don't believe anybody who says they are there for me no matter what.  I wonder what the deal breaker will be on that promise, at what point they will join my army of past friends and lovers who also told me that lie and walked away without putting up a fight.  I push, to see where that line is.  I didn't know I was doing that, but I do see it now.  Maybe I can start to stop pushing now that I see it.  I hope so.

The fear of being completely destroyable is huge.  If they don't see all of me, they can't hurt all of me.  And all of me is hurt already.  I hid it even from myself, so I couldn't hurt all of me again.  It's no wonder that I daydream about being able to start over, go back to an early time and try again, maybe this time not getting so beat up in the process.

What if I can love the me that I actually am, beat up and sad and lonely?  Would I then be able to love Derek more, and Lari, and Cat and Rama, and all my friends who tell me that they really are here for me no matter what?  I do love them already, but would it be more real after coming to terms with my sad and tiny and hardened self?  I think so.  Maybe it's time to try.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Some Thoughts on Objects and Acumulating Them

I had the thought last night before bed, "What if I loved every object I owned?"  It was a loaded question.  I realized that I own an awful lot of stuff that I don't even like, let alone love.  Some things I love, but don't need at all.  Some things I need, but wish were different or better somehow.  How would a person even go about the task of making sure she loved every single object she owned or was surrounded with?

Lets start with clothes.  Why would I bother to keep clothes I don't like?  Why would I get them in the first place?  Sometimes things I like at first turn out to not be comfortable, or don't fit, or wear out and start to become gross or broken.  Are they worth repairing?  When I don't have the cash to just replace things I don't like or that don't match everything else or give an effect I would enjoy - I can't give them up if they are still at least useful!  The same goes for items gifted to me.  Even if they don't fit, most of the time, I will try and make them work because I simply can't afford to change my wardrobe right now.  But there are fortunately a lot of items that I really do love and enjoy wearing.  Ones that I would even make an effort to repair if they got broken so I could keep them.

As for art (and even writing and computer) supplies?  I have tons.  And at least half of it is completely irrelevant to the way I work and how I would like to work in the future.  I hold onto a lot of it because I fear not being able to afford supplies later on, so at least I would have something to work on, although it isn't preferred materials.  It may be better to sell or gift the unwanted items, though, and clear out space.  I mean, if I don't ever want to paint on a surface, or use a kind of paper, why keep it just to have it?  It takes up space and could be useful and loved by someone else.  I think there may be a fear in there about appearing to be less of an artist for not appreciating all of the art stuff I have, too.  It keeps me holding on to objects I don't love and don't need and won't use.  Time to stop that and get over myself already.

Then there are books.  I actually am pretty good about not holding on to those too long.  I read them.  If I love them, I keep them and read them again.  If I liked them but won't read them again, I pass them on.  If I hate them, I sell them back or bring them to the book barn or offer them on freecycle.  As I am packing up the house a bit with the idea of moving someday in mind, I should be a bit more honest with myself about a lot of the books, and reduce it down some more.  Why move what isn't loved?

I feel like we have a lot of unused and unloved kitchen supplies.  I love my little mugs and teacups, but not the plates and bowls of the same set.  I love the bowls that I use everyday a lot.  Everything else really doesn't matter too much to me.  I wonder if one day Derek and I can consolidate it down to just the stuff we love and would actually use.  Not the display crap that nobody cares about and doesn't use anyway - but the things we like to bake with, and plates we like to eat on, and the knives and utensils we use and love.  Why have more than that?  It takes up space.  Blah.

I guess what has me on this reduction kick is the dawning idea that what isn't useful and isn't loved just clogs up my space and takes up my thoughts.  I think it might be what feng shui is all about.  Not just picking the right object or color for a space but realizing that everything about what surrounds us effects and reflects our being.  It makes sense.  Most of us are so caught up in thoughts and hardship and collecting objects that we don't notice the correlations between stuff and thoughts anyway.  I suspect that the state of our stuff reflects a lot about us, though.  I know it does for me, anyway.

I'll try and write more about this tomorrow.  For now, I am just going to ponder on what my favorite objects are and why they are important to me.  Also, if they are so important, why I seldom use them, or if they are important because I use them.  (I think the things I would claim as the most important actually are barely to never used, whereas the ones I use most I just take for granted.)  Interesting.

The Quiet Pause In Between

We're getting a foot and a half of snow today into tomorrow, and I am happily inside, curled up with a cat, cocoa, and my sparkly glitter tree lit up before me.  It's been an eventful couple of months, and last week in particular was hard as I face more and more of myself and my business, slowly coming to terms with reality in all it's wealth and poverty.  I am happy for it, but it has been tiring.  I continue to have a low-level anxiety, but this is an improvement over the all-out panic of last week.

Christmas was lovely, and I am glad we got to see everyone on both sides of the family.  I missed out on my mom's parents and sister, as well as my dad's sister's family - but overall, I wouldn't have done anything different.  Great meals, lots of laughs.  I am coming to place of equanimity that is not what I anticipated it would be.  It is not a state of constant joy or love, but one of acceptance and peacefulness even in anxious situations.  I like it.

I have a lot to do in the next few days and months.  I am pacing myself, as this is not the season for quick movement, and while there are some things I do have to accomplish rather immediately, the process of following everything through will take months.  No need to get overwhelmed again.

I am finding it helpful to break down the many tasks into categories based on larger goals, to make it easier to decide what is more important, and which order to tackle it all in.  My lists include personal health/relationship goals, work goals, and house/living situation goals.   The house goals take the lowest priority, and I am attempting to keep the health and work goals even, because I am seeing how I can't effectively do anything if I am not in good order myself.  It's hard for me though, so I keep referring to my lists to make sure I make room for personal goals, too, and not just business ones all the time.

I'm glad that it's snowing today.  Normally I am scared of the snow when I have to travel in it.  But when I do not have to go anywhere, it makes me feel happy and silently grants me permission to do whatever I want.  I can't go to work or leave the house if I wanted to anyway, so it is suddenly OK to read, play a game of Civilization, and eat pie.  The anxiety about having to do work all day to keep up with life eases, and it is in those moments that I notice how much I am continually disappointed in myself in regards to working.  I am always feeling like I should be doing more, as though I haven't accomplished anything at all during these years.  But I can also see in the stillness that this perception is false, and I have accomplished a lot.  I might still have a lot to do, but it is enough to work diligently and steadily.  Rushing hasn't been all that helpful, it turns out, and I'm happy to trade all of the flash and glamor of the surface accomplishments for some more fulfilling practical work and success.

I think a good goal for myself would be to come to a place of contentment with just doing the necessary work and doing that well.  Not just getting it done (although that is fine, too!), but actually appreciating it more so that it becomes more interesting and happy than it has been to me so far.  Giving the necessary work the attention it deserves so that all of the flashy things can grow on top of that instead of being a cover for how flimsy I lashed together all of the structure below.  My attention has been misplaced for a long time.  I am feeling disappointed in myself about that, but I think the feeling will pass.  It was a human thing to do.  Flashy things are interesting, and get a lot of praise and admiration, which I really like.  They also take a lot of energy to pull off, and cost a lot of money.  They take up all my time, and after the praise, nobody actually appreciates the vast quantities of resources I threw into them.  Probably because they only last a short time, and who cares after that?  It is only me, left drained and bedraggled, who cares.

Another good goal is to remember to ask for help and to realize that I really do have lots of people who love me nearby and far away who want to help me and enjoy doing so.  I don't have to do it all myself.

Faced with several paradigm shifts, I feel pretty unstable.  Well, maybe unstable is a wrong way of putting it because I feel more stable than I have in a long time - but I feel like I have nothing to pull from.  It's not quite exhaustion so much as a lack of knowing what to do with myself or where to start with anything.  Exhaustion is there, too, but that is more from the struggling against emotions and warring thought cycles for so long.  I feel blank, I guess.  It's not unpleasant, and it doesn't feel the same as being depressed, which is blankness and denial.  This is acceptance and no story.  I don't know if it's possible to live in this kind of space for very long, and I am not sure I can.  I do wonder if I manage to stay in it for a long time, if joy happens as well as just quiet?

In the turmoil of unfolding, I want to be by myself a lot for now.  I have been enjoying just playing my game and cleaning in between rounds.  I have even had good ideas on what to do next on some of my lists.  None of it feels rushed, and I am happy to finally be cleaning  up my living space.  It's true that my outer surroundings reflect the inner state.  All I have wanted for a long time is to have a clear space in which to live and breathe and create, no clutter, nothing that isn't part of a whole picture of peace, creativity and usefulness.  Much like useless thoughts, my space has been full of clutter, un-filed or discarded papers, used dishes and accumulated trinkets that are essentially meaningless and dusty.  As I am clearing out my useless, dusty and cluttered thoughts and emotions, I want all of the junk to go.  Months ago and for years I have wanted the junk in my space to go, but I haven't internally matched that very well.  I hold on and hold on, unwilling to get rid of what used to work because I think maybe it will be used again someday.  I think I know better now that perhaps what didn't work in the first place won't work sometime in the future either.  And what worked when I was unhealthy may not be what I need or want in a healthy state.

Anyway, this felt like a very rambling post and I am done.  I am happy to finally be getting tired of talking about everything.  Now maybe I will actually do something!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lifting the Veils

This week I am finally starting to feel more centered and less spastic.  I feel that I am suddenly, miraculously seeing what is vs. what I thought everything was or should and could be.  There is an incredible sense of peace and joy that grows out of seeing who I am and not hating that.  Also, seeing clearly what my business is and not fussing about all of the things it could be.  In both my business and personal life, I am starting to see through all of the veils of "what if's", revealing a shiny nugget of me-ness in there

Settling down to complete started tasks while limiting or even discouraging the emergence of new tasks has been enlightening in many ways.  It is allowing me to see things through to logical ends without getting caught up in what it all means.  No longer as worried about if I am the best at everything, or if I am good enough to do stuff, but simply seeing what was left undone and finishing it.  Good, bad or ugly, delving into all of these lost or subconscious projects is showing me more of who I am and how I have been defining myself all this time.  I am finding I am a lot less attached to my old image of myself.

I don't need to be perfect.  The great part is that more and more I am feeling like I don't have to be perfect, not just telling myself that as a lip service.  And, simultaneously, I am seeing the things I am good at already and the things that are weak spots in my personality or thinking.  Seeing them is letting me choose what to focus on and accentuate, and what pitfalls I can be aware of because they are innate to who I am and how I function.  Having these revelations in conjunction with the studio is quite awesome.  Both myself and my business as their own entities; I am learning to see each as a whole unto itself, and how it actually is and can be best, rather than all of the things they might be or could be or should be.  And it's making me more compassionate towards myself, even though I feared seeing all of it.

I find I can feel compassion for being tired, or stressed, or jealous, or angry, or weak and scared and anything else.  I can see how I was never above everyone else after all, unfit to feel the same things that we all suffer.  I am human, not some kind of goddess or angel who can't feel sorrow or pain and confusion, who can't be wrong and make mistakes, whose intentions are always spot on and perfect.  Relief!  Joy!  It's OK to be sad or regretful or scared.  I could dance!

I am so happy about finding a new direction (or more accurately, to have pinpointed the direction the studio is already taking), and accepting this wholeheartedly.  It feels like rather than grabbing at all sorts of petals and attaching them to the center of a flower to prove they belong together, I am at last seeing the center of the flower and nurturing some petals to grow from it.  I am slowly un-taping and un-stapling and un-gluing all of the random petals I gathered and letting the authentic ones start to manifest.  Perhaps on the outside it will look a lot the same as before, but now it won't be a Frankenstein flower, but an actual, solid, beautiful thing that can grow and morph and change naturally.

Even more awesome is starting to apply this new-found grace and acceptance to myself as a person.  I truly don't need to grasp at hundreds of petals to be a pretty flower that people like.  I can just be myself, and let me-ness grow forth.  And in doing this, I can start to love and accept myself instead of this massive mask and projection I have been cultivating for years.  It takes a load of pressure off.  It lets me see others in a kinder light, too.  We all project and mask a great deal.  What if we could accept the nature of the people underneath instead of the projections?

Life is pretty awesome.  Time to go wrap up a few more tasks.  At this rate, I may well actually be caught up with myself by mid-March!  YAY!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Good Connections

Sometimes it is such a delight that people want to work with me!  I am thrilled beyond words at the prospect of working with the animals and humans at Earthfire this summer.  I can't wait, and am thrilled that a connection is being made between us all.  So happy! 

Also, in getting my Model Mayhem account set up for the acupuncture chart work I am starting, I am surprised and delighted at how easy it is to have responses from models to a casting call.  I had feared this would be difficult but I have tens of responses in under 24 hours.  I will get to pick and choose - how lovely!

Getting projects completed is starting to gain some force.  Today I tackle the work newsletter and update online portfolios.  It is cold out and feeling much more like Winter every day.  Snuggling in with tea and a book after the writing is done will be wonderful.  Maybe Derek and I will get the couch repairs further along as well?  Who knows.  I am feeling positive that all is moving forward well in all areas of my life.  On to complete a project!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Email Excerpt

Here is most of an email I sent to a friend today, discussing energy, diets, and our perception that life is the best it has ever been today.


I don't blame you for feeling annoyed with the energy workshops you attended.  I would also find it really pretty unbelievable to hear people oohing and ahhing about seeing energy coming out of the end of a stick.  I don't doubt that it is there, but I think that it would be a lot better to ask what everyone feels or senses from the object rather than leap right into "what do you see - oh I do too!"  It's the problem I have with new agey groups in general that they seem to "see" a lot of stuff but get no substance out of it.

If you are unable to see energy, I think that is pretty much the norm.  I sometimes do, but it is not a physical eye-sight kind of seeing so much as a way I describe what I sense about an object or person.  It can seem to be a distortion in the space around a person or object, but often it is easier to do with closed eyes, anyway.  What I liked about class is that so far it has been emphasized that we don't need to look, and feeling is better.  KaiCho also stresses that neither he nor anyone else can teach you how to feel, it is just something you have to try and do again and again to gain facility with it, and to gain better nuances in it.

The meridians are fascinating to me.  I want to learn more about them and how they are associated with the different elements and organs.  This kind of energy description has weight to me because of the history to it.  It is not something just invented, but seems instead to have been an understanding discovered and perfected over hundreds and perhaps thousands of years.  It feels like a truth about existence that has been forgotten as we moved further out of our bodies and into our heads.  When only logic and thinking is important, the rest of the organs seem to not matter at all or only be cursory building blocks that allow us to exist.  We feel that we are brains that unfortunately have to deal with bodies, and we hate when they start to dysfunction or go wrong.  Most people are annoyed to ever have to think about their bodies.  We have diets and physicals and all sorts of things we speak of with dread.  We don't think to tend to ourselves as a whole, because we just think way too much.  Or at least, that's been my own experience that I am slowly shaking off.

Worry for our parents seems to be universal.  In part it may be fear for ourselves.  I don't want to fall into the pattern you described of taking pills and having surgeries in order to survive old age.  It is what I see around me, though, and the path my parents have found themselves on.  What frightens me is that my father appeared to be taking great care of himself this whole time and still has had a few angioplasties and is on high blood pressure medication.  His drinking may have been what did him in, or his stress (which led to the drinking), or both combined made it worse.  My mother has been a disaster as far back as I can remember.  Repressed emotions would be her downfall as well, I suspect, and I don't want to follow her footsteps.  Arthritis, auto-immune problems, struggle with weight and heart and liver.  I could see myself slipping into the same patterns that have brought them where they are today and wanted to bolt.  As I am healing myself, I want to share my insights, but find it awkward to bring up.  Would they even hear it?  True healing needs to come from oneself.  And it is slow.  I am hopeful that I started early enough in my life that I have time to counter the bad habits and actually get to a place of healthy balance before I would have been stuck permanently in a battle against symptoms, with no chance of rectifying the underlying problems. 

I'm proud of the work you have done on yourself, that you have managed to discover and stick to a way of eating and taking care of your body that you find natural and enjoyable and that makes you feel healthy and good.  I am discovering my own way of doing this, and will likely come to many of the same conclusions you have.  An optimal diet, when the word is used to refer to a style of eating rather than a regimen of counted calories and denied intake, is probably pretty similar among all humans when we listen to what our body actually wants and needs.  And as I try to listen more to my body I find it wants more movement, more exercise, and I am finding ways to provide that which I enjoy and can make a part of fun living rather than a chore done to stave off doctor appointments.  People need actual grown food and light and air and water and movement.  It's amazing to me as I am waking up how much these basic needs are denied, ignored, or warped to excess in modern culture.  It has become an effort to implement them!  How horrible for humanity that we have made it difficult to thrive and tell ourselves that this is the best it has ever been.  It seems like the greatest lie we could tell ourselves, and a great disservice to our ancestors to believe it is true.

I think that because this lie is so great, we make a great effort to reinforce it by telling stories of how hard life was even one hundred years ago.  We speak about how people rarely lived past thirty or forty years old only two or three hundred years ago, how they worked in misery and were malnourished.  How they had little privilege and weren't able to enjoy as much free time as we do.  If that is so, why are the buildings, art, ceremonies and clothing of past eras so much more intricate and enduring than those we create now?  How did people who were malnourished, exhausted, uneducated, overworked and without medical advancements able to build cultures, empires, architecture and languages that outlast even a telephone built in the last ten years?  This is not just the product of a few privileged minds using slave labor to manifest their brilliant plans.  It cannot be.  The obvious truth staring at us shows that our ancestors were far from stupid unfortunate cogs in a machine hoping for a scrap of free time and transcendence from their miserable lives.  These people were brilliant, skilled artisans, thoughtful philosophers and mathematicians, scientists and master gardeners.  The average layperson of two hundred years ago had more knowledge of how to grow and cook food, build furniture and houses,and  invent new and fun games than the average layperson today.  Our insistence that technology is the answer to every problem is leading to a terrifying dependence on machines even to think for us.

Becoming in touch with our own bodies is an important step to remembering what it is to be human.  As we realize that we are more than just thoughts, and that there is more we require to feel healthy and happy than just objects and the latest cool thing on the store shelves, we can find it easier to disengage from mother culture and make choices that make more sense.  We can step off of the hamster wheel and see a little more clearly.  We can see that we want to think about how to eat and solve every problem with more rules instead of just feeling and choosing what is right for us.  Most of us see that we aren't healthy and then think about which diet to choose to fix it instead of asking ourselves what we feel would help or make us feel better.  When we pick and choose someone else's diet, we even praise the inventor of that plan as a great thinker.  We have forgotten that it's even possible to think for ourselves, let alone use any faculty other than thought to solve a problem we are facing!

Anyway, I went off on a tangent there.  :P  Thinking is the biggest habit of mine.  I like to think out and communicate all of these insights I am starting to tap into.  They might not all even be accurate to reality, but it's like coming out of a fog as I notice more and more about how I live and how the people around me are living.

Ongons, Respect, and Belonging

Have you ever wondered why people name their cars?  Sometimes they name their computers, too.  I find it interesting that we only seem to name computers and cars.  These objects are apparently the only ones we are close enough to these days to warrant naming.

In other older cultures, even our own, I think there was a lot more honoring of the tools of everyone's trades.  If you were a smith, there was great care taken of your tools.  They were your livelihood, steady companions to your life's work.  You wouldn't think to let them rust or lose them.  Meticulous maintenance was a matter of course.  Today, most tools are mass manufactured and often even plastic, considered easily replaceable, and of little importance to us as individual items.

What happens when we stop to consider the great benefit our tools give us?  My tattoo machines are really important to me.  I have been guilty of generally neglecting them beyond the routine cleaning and oiling.  But what if I took the time to make that interaction more ceremonial?  What if there was an aspect of gratitude given to them for the livelihood they afford me, and a more thorough regard for them in general?  The basic tending of them as tools might take on more significance.  I could find that the rapport between each machine and myself grows deeper.

This sounds silly at first, because common culture tells us that they are only machines.  But I find that already I know which of my several machines I prefer - which ones work more tirelessly for me, which ones are cranky and need more tweaking that I rarely feel moved to give them.  We pick favorites, but aren't sure why those ones are more appealing than the others.  Could it have to do with the amount of attention we give them, the amount of appreciation?

Many cultures speak of the spirit of objects, or even of inviting a spirit to live within an object and lend its power to it.  In Mongolian tradition, an ongon is an object that holds a spirit.  It is important to honor the spirit that dwells within the object or it will depart or even cause bad things to happen.  This is a foreign concept to us, but I think instinctually we all have a sense of this being true.  When our cars break down, we talk to them.  We plead with the car as though a spirit does live within it and can respond to our need.  And sometimes, it seems to react exactly as though it heard what we said.

Samurais cared for their swords as treasured companions, mindful of them as powerful helpers capable of great protection and aid.  They would never allow them to fall into disrepair or drop them carelessly.  In fact, they were actively respectful of their swords, giving them a place of honor and acknowledging them through many subtle rituals as they were used and maintained.  I wonder how my life would change if I honored my tattoo machines in the same way, or any other objects in my world.  At the least, I would start to have a deeper appreciation for my daily activities and an awareness of the objects that make my life possible in its current incarnation.  I might become calmer and less worried about gaining more objects, since I would be attached to the ones I already have.  I could become satisfied with the relationships I have with the objects around me, and gain an ease of interaction with them due to a greater familiarity.  I would likely need a lot less objects in my life, and be able to get a lot of use out of a few well-cared-for ones.

It is this attentiveness that I feel is lacking in my daily habits.  I barely notice the plates and glasses I eat off of and drink from each day.  Even my car is taken for granted until it acts up.  As much as I use this computer, I don't really think of it beyond its functionality.  If it stops working, I would curse it and replace it rather than attempt to resuscitate it, especially if a repair was costly.  So much of my life is replaceable, and I find that I dislike that.  It's the great confusion and frustration I find myself stuck in - an eternal cycle of thoughts swirling around "what if this" and "how about that."  But really, everything can be replaceable when nothing is important to me.  If I am doing nothing of value and merely flit from subject to subject without becoming deeply invested in any of it, why not replace everything as it wears out from neglect?  The constant exchange of objects around me mirrors my own inability to focus and make connections with depth.  And that sucks.

What is so scary about becoming deeply invested in situations and people?  Certainly a fear of being rejected or ignored.  An underlying worry that nothing ever lasts anyway and so it's safer to keep a distance.  Why get attached to a house or way of life when it's going to change anyway?  Why not preempt the change by forcing it along?  Actively choose to do something different so that the precariousness of the situation feels a bit more controlled?  Am I doing this by wanting to move to another house?  Why have I never gotten very attached to this one?

I have lots of answers for that, which is a separate post entirely.  Some of them have to do with my own personal wounds, others with practical considerations.  But underneath it may be a lack of faith in my ability to fit in anywhere or belong to anything.  With that attitude, nothing really belongs with me, either.  It's easy (on the surface) to let go of everything.  Clothes, cars, computers, books, temperamental tattoo machines.  Even people.  But it is lonely to create an existence where all of the connections only skim along the surface.  I think I'd rather have great fights with people and objects alike in order to know them better and love them more.  My usual way of always following the path of least resistance, especially in personal relationships, results in lots of neglected frustration and misunderstanding.  If I am willing to know myself a little more, but afraid to know others, or let them know me too, am I really getting to know myself better at all?  Probably not.

It turns out that it is difficult to step out of our protective bubble, which includes not having deep regard for anything or anybody around us.  If we stop talking ourselves into thinking we are caring about it all (thoughts about emotions that prevent us from actually feeling the emotions) and actually sit still enough to feel caring for something or someone, we can know the difference.  It feels naked, and scary.  Right now, for me, it's a bit overwhelming to even get beyond just touching the real emotions. Starting with picking just one object or set of objects to acknowledge feels easier and less complicated than tackling the nuances of human interaction.  I hope that if I can stick with it for any length of time that it can help the human relationships grow as well.  Little steps.

So this week, I am going to set up a more thoughtful space for my tattoo machines, and do the routine cleaning and oiling with more intention.  I'll work with the machine that gives me trouble and see if I can figure out a way to help it run smoother instead of throwing it aside until I have no choice but to use it.  I may even order replacement parts for the worn out plastic bits on the insides, and a few new hose connections for the machines I pirated parts from in order to nurture the favorite machines.  It feels like apologetic action, a considerate way to start on a fresh page with them all.  Perhaps they will begin to have happy spirits and work well for me more often.  Even if it is just a result of better attention to their mechanics, I'll be happy to see an improvement.  And I'll keep my eyes open to any improvements that happen in other areas of my life.  It can't help being connected.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Asthma and Some Space to Breathe

This season is proving difficult for my asthma this year.  I imagine it is probably a combination of having been sick at the same time as the air became very dry and cold that is causing my breathing to be difficult.  It's not so bad as to warrant using my inhaler most of the time, but it is enough that sleeping is very hard to come by, and I am feeling pretty exhausted and my lungs feel abused.

I have sometimes wondered if having difficulty breathing is a metaphor for life situations as well.  Have I been feeling like I am unable to breathe in life?  A little bit.  I continue to have lots of obligations to live up to and complete.  The few ones that I want to do keep taking second or third place to the ones that seem more important, like business concerns.  Somehow business is always the winner in my life, and it's getting old.  And I feel a bit like a jerk to admit that it's not as important as I make it out to be, especially because my work so intimately effects others lives. 

I am glad that I am taking steps to balance my work life with the rest of living.  While it is going to take me a year to implement all of the ideas I've had that will help with easing the collar around my neck, it is going to be well worth waiting for.  At least there is an end in sight for me now, where I can actually visualize a space where I am not carrying a gigantic sack of projects for an unknown community.  In a year's time, I will be working on projects that not only bring me joy but that are more cohesive with a smaller vision that can be more powerful because it is more focused.  I won't have to try to set huge examples, but only little ones.  And it is a relief.  I want work to be fun again.

Fortunately, working with my clients is fun already.  So, today I focus on them, and look forward to tomorrow being a true day off.  I plan on doing nothing of importance at all!  And that is awesome.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Learning Some Stuff, and a Good Week

Class last night was juken study.  We learn how to feel our own energy through our center into the other person's center via whatever connection we have with their body.  The goal yesterday was to move the other person to the ground, preferably so they couldn't get up, without using force.  It's hard!  But it was amazing to try it out and have a few tries be successful.  I really like the energy classes.

Now, I am looking forward to a goken class to start learning the more forceful stuff.  And I want to try out the brushwork as well.  So much to learn!  I think I am finally learning the bowing in and out a bit better.  I see how to kneel and stand up now, anyway.  I have a bad habit to break with the standing bow.  I always put my hands on the side of my thighs instead of on top of them.  Old lessons learned die hard.  I guess that's how we get caught in so many bad habits.  They aren't noticed but by the time they are, they have become embodied.

This week has been much busier at the studio.  Even with Tuesday off for recovery, I have tattooed 11 hours already.  I hope that the coming year works much like this.  I like being busy at this steady pace which I can keep up with.  Productive, relaxed and happy.  Four hours per day of tattooing is perfect.  It allows plenty of time for the other aspects of work without having to rush.

I am looking forward to the weekend and getting on top of forgotten drawings and housework.  I even have a massage lined up for Monday.  Yay!  Back to work for now, though.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Resolutions Starting to Form

Had some lovely ideas about where the gallery space can evolve from where it is and ways to make my business more cohesive and fun again (for me and everyone else who works there.)  Having a year plan makes me feel happy and excited about where we are going again.  And I like simplification.  It's hard to focus on getting anything done well when we have so many things going on.  Better to make sure they all revolve around one theme than to try and be everything to everyone.

My big lessons for the year all have been about learning to focus and stop spreading my energy around thoughtlessly.  I'd rather gain some depth in a few areas than to merely brush over hundreds of things.  It is hard to be a trendsetter or the leader even in one area.  If I keep trying to do that both as a tattoo business and as a gallery business, I am setting myself up for failure and difficult times.  I think I can run an amazing tattoo studio, and I do already.  And this year proved that I can make great things happen in my gallery space as well.  If the will is there, anything is possible.  It's just realizing that the will only spreads so far.

I am feeling happy to have had a great discussion with my manager and to be on the same page about visions for the studio and ways to get there and make it happen.  So, the new year plan will be coming into focus over the winter, and we'll start to solidify the changes as the year moves forward.  I'd love to see everything complete a transition before the end of September so we can have a huge two year anniversary bash in October and really make it official.  I do so love my space and my work family.  I can't wait to see it all get a little more cohesive and branded, and lose the scheduling and coordination drama that has been giving me so much stress.  It's gonna be great!

Thoughts on my Gallery

This morning I am feeling overwhelmed by my gallery, even though there is nothing to be stressed about.  I need to come up with names for the next eight shows and make sure the dates are straight.  I need to get high res photos of the work going into the shows as well and get them out for advertising.  Why this is stressful to me, I have no idea.

Secretly, I am wishing a little bit that I hadn't taken on such a huge gallery space.  I feel that by expanding the gallery side to be as huge if not huger than the tattooing side of my business, I have inadvertently created two businesses.  And it is a lot of work to keep both sides functioning well!  Fortunately I have help, and thank goodness for that.  I need to take some time and reevaluate what I am doing with the gallery side though, and how it relates to the tattooing business so that I can integrate the businesses back into one whole.

By trying to get gallery shows happening that are outside of the scope of tattooing, I might be watering down the potency of what we offer.  Then again, community involvement is and will continue to be great for us.  I love being able to have the space to offer workshops to the public.  I love combining traditional art with tattoo art.  I think it is important and want to keep offering that.  I think I'd like to be less concerned about the shows, though, since they aren't the focus of my business, and with the way we advertise them they give the impression of being the focus of the business.

Having a show to talk about every month is great, and an opening does bring in the public.  How can I bring the focus more towards tattooing?  Would it be better overall for the place to slim down on workshops so we can focus more on tattoos?  Selling the workshops is difficult, though really fun when they happen.  I'd rather spend the effort on paying clients though rather than on getting folks in for a workshop that will cost me money and time to regulate.  All of this is interesting to consider.

I am feeling that I am only one person, and it is difficult for me to be tattooing and promoting that while simultaneously trying to get the gallery to be a premiere space for talented illustrators, which is where I want to go with that.  It's two full time jobs.  Having spread myself thin for both over the last year in particular, I can honestly say I just don't have enough desire to do both well.  I want a life outside of my studio.  Continuing to put the same level of effort forth as I have been will result in me losing my relationship, as well as ensuring I have no time to do anything other than work.  I don't want to be a slave to something that is supposed to be wonderful.  And I want to be good at what I do, or at least have the energy to put forth my best effort to it.  For me, that is tattooing.  I don't actually want to worry about the gallery that much.  I want that to be a fun space, not a burden I want to avoid.

Soooo. . . time to figure out how to transition that space over this year so that it stops being a drain and becomes a joy again.  If I could get it to eventually just be a display space for our work where we can host workshops, that's awesome.  And Skin to Canvas, of course.  But I'd like the promotional part of the gallery to reduce.  Hmmm.  I'll think more on this.  I might be on to something.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Finally Resting, and Moxa

Today I managed to sleep and sit and rest for over half the day.  It was much needed.  I actually feel that I need a few more days like this, so I would like to plan for Sunday to be a sleep in and sit day as well.  No cleaning.  No post office runs and bank errands and moving furniture.  No hours spent updating photos for the website and facebook and trying to think of newsletter articles to write, since my mind is clearly unwilling to focus on such things right now.  Every time I try I lose steam or forget where I am going with thoughts.  I end up unable to write a clear article on what is going on with work, frustrated by my inability to plan and forge ahead.  I think it's my mind's way of telling myself to stop and rest already.  There is nothing to do that needs to be done right now.  If I value my health and sanity, just stop!

After nine hours of sleep, a long time spent sitting on the couch with Sherazade and watching a movie, and a nice hot shower, I felt a lot better than I have in days.  The asthma calmed down.  I feel tired and at a very low energy level, but overall calmer and more able to face the world.  I did the half of the moxibustion kata I can reach on myself (legs, wrist and abdomen).  It was helpful, and I think as I do it more I will get a better understanding of what it is actually doing to my energy levels and how each point relates to the whole of me. 

Each pillar as it burns down feels like a tight pinch when I get it right and it smolders down to the skin.  I had a harder time letting the second pillars burn down far enough to feel them most of the time.  But I got better at it as I went.  Some felt hot right away, and a few I barely felt even when I did manage to get them burned down correctly.  Eventually after about three passes on every point they almost all felt hot, so I stopped.  I will try it again maybe on Sunday and see where I am at.  I still want to try it on Derek, too, and see if he feels a difference.

At any rate, I am going to wind down and get more sleep.  I am glad to be at last taking the time for myself to recover.  Ahhh.

Earthfire Workshop Ideas

Being patient with myself and attempting to not put so much on my plate is proving difficult for me.  It is hard for me to say no, and I hate to pass up opportunities to do things or have neat things happen around me because of the efforts I put forth.  I am reminded of how much I put out there already now that I have pulled back and stopped pushing for new projects with work.

Even though I have made a decision to stop trying to get more things to happen with work in terms of giant projects and events, I keep getting ideas for more and more things to do or to try to make happen from Derek, Lari and people in general.  Not only shows, but workshops and classes and things to happen in the gallery space.  Could we do a raptor rescue fundraiser?  How about an animal rescue fundraiser for a national geographic artist one of our clients is friends with?  What about more art workshops, such as a comic book workshop with a cousin who works for Marvel, or getting the artists who are showing this Spring to run a painting class?  Why not try to get figure drawing open studio nights going?  And today, I got an email from the very sweet people at Earthfire Institute to see where we are at with coming up with a workshop to offer with them this summer.

With most of these ideas, I just want to let them lie.  I am so tired.  My brain doesn't have enough to it right now to plot and plan the logistics of advertising yet more stuff going on at the studio.  Seriously, just getting Jordu's workshops to sell out for July is enough of a task for me, and currently I don't even have the energy to put into creatively marketing that!  Forunately I have seven months to get it together.  If there are to be any other workshops taking place at the studio, they need to be organized by someone other than myself, and need to make the studio money, not cost us money.  I'd rather just be the location and take a cut of profits than push to organize more stuff going on.  My energy is way better spent on tattooing and making sure everything is running smoothly on that end.

Earthfire's email threw me for a loop because I had the impression that there was no way we'd be able to do it.  I haven't heard from them in months and thought that they weren't interested in me doing a workshop.  Their institute is an amazing place that brings wild animals and people together in an intimate and natural setting.  It's a place that is doing remarkable work and allowing people to get a better understanding of the animals that inhabit our world, an interaction that has been very much forgotten as our culture speeds into the electronic age and is even forgetting how to interact with fellow humans.  I would love to work with them to help bring the experience of getting to know individual animals beyond the personal experience and into art that can reach the public.  If I do any kind of reaching out to non-profit organizations this or next year, this is the one I would love to do it for.

Initially I had hoped to have my friends Julie and Boris help run the workshop because their expertise in painting is well beyond my own.  But I think that trying to coordinate with them may be difficult because their work schedule is so demanding and they are teaching the Illustration Master Class in the summer, which eats into a lot of their time already.  I will see if I can get them on board (Julie thought it sounded neat when I brought it up in October), but right now I am brainstorming ideas that I will be comfortable teaching on my own.  My interest is guaranteed, and I can make myself available.  Perhaps what I can offer is different from what they can.  I am thinking on it.

The idea of totems and honoring them through art/tattooing comes to mind.  Recognizing a connection with an animal and the spirit of their species, and finding ways to honor that connection through art on paper or on skin.  Body placements that make sense for such work.  Connecting to the animal and asking it what gift it is bringing you.  These are things that I am continually working on myself, but because I have been thinking on it for such a long time, I have at least some interesting things to say on the subject, and personal stories to share.  I think a workshop on these kinds of gifts would be a great offering to the public and would reach the right people who could ripple out and embody the understanding they gain on the retreat.

Another idea that would work well in conjunction with Derek is about how to gather references of wildlife for paintings and other art.  Because animals move and aren't likely to just sit still for you to paint them all day, you need to gain what you can from a short encounter and use it as inspiration for the final work.  We could offer tips on recreating lighting in the home studio for additional references, making sure to get photos of feet and joints to understand how they work when you draw a pose later on, etc.  And also talk about how important it is to capture a mood in your art by recognizing that animals speak with their whole bodies, not just their faces.  Curiosity, trepidation, joy, aggression - all of these are fully embodied in animals, whereas people get across very subtle variations in emotion with just facial expressions most of the time (even though we give out loads of postural cues as well that we mostly process subliminally.)

In any case, I have some ideas to chew over for a bit.  I also need to make sure that in doing this retreat, I at the very least make enough money to get there, stay, eat and return.  I no longer have the luxury of spending my own funds to promote great ideas.  Now I have to find ways to promote them at minimum to the point that I break even.  Eventually, I'd like to have the skill of gaining money for the cool things that I make possible.  It's a learning curve for me that I am trying to get over the hump on.  Up until my melt-down this September I didn't even notice that I do everything with no expectation of getting recompensed for my efforts.  It's a bad habit and that has understandably led to a lot of unconscious stress and confusion on my part.

As part of my growth into the more centered and balanced human I want to be, I am going to enter into this venture in the spirit of shared gain, rather than self-sacrifice for someone else's cause that I support.  I am sure I can make this happen, and will find a way to bring something awesome to the world without my losing energy and funds for once!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sawada Ryu Moxibustion (and thoughts on running myself ragged)

On Saturday I attended the moxibustion seminar at KSSK.  It was really fun!  I am excited to be learning more about the healing arts and to learn some of the points on various energy meridians.  I am going to practice on Derek today and hopefully even a little on myself and see what it feels like.

Moxibustion is the art of applying heat to different energy points to restore energy there.  The method that we learned was Sawada Ryu, which uses moxa in small threads to direct the heat deep down below the skin in a straight line.  In this way it can help replenish yin energy as well as yang energy.

I now have my own starter moxa kit.  It includes moxa, which is the fuzz brushed off of mugwort leaves, hollow bamboo sticks to cap the burning moxa and make sure it goes out before burning the patient, purple cloud plum ointment to attach the moxa to the body and also to soothe the skin after treatment in case of too much heat, incense sticks to light the moxa with and to further soothe the senses during treatment, two wooden planks to roll the moxa into threads, and a lighter.  I want to make a better case for all of these items but for now its paper bag will do.

We learned a kata for bolstering the constitution in winter.  The points help with feeling centered and rested and help to cultivate yin which has been depleted through overwork.  I am hoping to learn how to do it well on Derek and teach him to do this for me, so we can both feel better this winter.  I am definitely exhausted and I know he is too.  I don't think either of us have stopped to rest much in the last several years.  I certainly haven't.

I think a big challenge in learning to do this well will be learning anatomy better.   I never took an anatomy class and I suppose now is a good time to start.  Locating the points requires knowledge of where all of the bones are and being able to feel them and the surrounding tendons and muscles.  Also challenging is learning how to hold the moxa, incense and bamboo all at once and move seemlessly through lighting and putting out each pillar of moxa.  I was lucky enough to try it out at the seminar. Though it felt awkward, I am sure with practice it becomes a lot more natural of a motion, rather like learning to tattoo was very awkward at first.  Fortunately I am no longer scared of touching people's bodies and understand about applying pressure in the touch so that the application doesn't tickle and actually places the moxa where it needs to go.

My cold is still hanging on and I am still very drained.  More than likely my whole experience of this sickness is an extension of how generally bedraggled I let myself become over the last few years.  I keep feeling impatient about how fast I want to get better and start doing all this amazing new stuff that I am learning about.  I think I need to remember that it took me years to get this tired and confused, and it could take me years to get out of that state.  Just because I want to train myself in new disciplines and read lots of new books doesn't mean I instantly have the time and energy to do it all.  And I still have obligations to live up to.  I can't drop my whole life in order to pick up a new discipline for living a better life.  The integration of what is and has been with the new stuff is the key, and I'd do well to find ways to do this.

Making it to classes has so far been difficult not only because of sickness but also because my work schedule overlaps all of the class times.  :(  I can modify my schedule over time to allow myself the joy of classes, but for now I need to keep working and make sure I am not shucking work responsibilities.  And, training when I am honestly near collapse due to breathing difficulties and the exhaustion of kicking this bug is not a great idea.  I can feel bad about it all I want, it won't make it a good idea to tattoo for four hours and then train for one and a half on the remains of what energy I have at that point.  On Saturday I took the seminar for two hours, then ran to the studio and tattooed for two hours, then felt ready to pass out.

I have not been good at my lesson for the week which was to pace myself.  I keep thinking I am doing it, but I am not.  I continually overestimate what I am capable of getting done without getting tired.  I have become used to getting it all done regardless of how tired or hurt I am, and now I expect to continue to get the same amount done without the exhaustion that follows.  Maybe I should be impressed by how much I can choose to ignore and forge on ahead when I will to do so.  But I am starting to have a different opinion of it now.  Now it feels like it's a sure way to slowly kill myself because I have so many balls in the air that I feel I can't stop tossing them all.

I feel like if I let anything slide, it reflects on me as a failure for giving up.  If I stop pushing so hard with work I might be seen by my workers as disinterested in the studio or lose their respect because they have become used to a pace of continual expansion and reaching for more and more ways to relate to the public. I really want to stop pushing and just rest for a while and let it catch up to where it can be for now.  I am afraid that resting will be seen as disinterest and giving up on all of the things we were pushing for.

At home, I am afraid that if I stop pushing at trying to get the place ready to sell in the Spring, it will be one more project that never sees completion.  Everything will get halfway done and then sit in a worse state then it was to begin with.

With KSSK, I worry that because I can't actually show up as much as I want to I will miss out on learning lots of things that would be good to know or could help out with the way I am currently easily upset by expectations all the time.

I have worry about all kinds of silly things, like my second website I was so excited about writing but let slide for four months now.  I have been hesitant to get back into it because it will take a lot of time and thought, but maybe I need to work on the studio more, and KSSK more, and the paintings for the acupuncture charts.

If I stop the panic, almost none of these things actually need to be done.  The charts need to be done and will actually assist in learning more about KSSK, which is two good things caught up in one action.  Yay for me!  Work must become calmer with less pushing because there is not the business for it, and as long as I keep up with my clients and obligations to them there is no need to be upset or keep pushing there.  The season will come for that, but because we pushed too long too early on, it might even be a year away instead of just a season away this time.  We have to catch up.  The new website is my own pleasure, so doesn't need to be done on anyone's timeline but my own.  The house will sell when it sells.  That too can wait.  It's getting my panicky mind to agree on these points that isn't coming easy.

Happily, this afternoon is mine to do with what I wish.  I slept (or at least lay in bed) for 12 hours last night, which was very helpful.  Derek just got home and I will practice on him for a bit.  And this evening I have a massage with Shawn - yahoo!  I'll be back to myself in no time.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Alcohol's Effects, While Intoxicated

I'll write this one while buzzed on Captain.  Alcohol mutes my senses and makes me feel full and fat.  It makes me laugh easily and ignore loud sounds.  I feel sleepy and full and pleasantly unwilling to engage the world.  Or rather, to engage the world only for my own pleasure, without regard to anyone else's feelings or needs.  Babies can be crying and I don't notice, and when I do, I don't really care enough to help.  It feels soft and numb and quiet.  But it is false - far away from everyone else and ultimately stupefying.

We watched a movie from a selection of compiled horror films at our friend's place tonight.  I am shocked that soft core porn can be purchased at Walmart!  We all were.  It was very bad and very funny.  It is interesting to me that over-the-top blood and violence is amusing or at least not offensive, but realistic horror or war films like Saving Private Ryan make me very upset and sad.  Violence isn't funny, but we make a whole industry out of it.

Anyway, while in the grips of alcohol's gentle blurring embrace, I'd rather think of pleasant things or not at all.  Good night.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Good Way To Deal With Bad Things

I have been raised with the idea that there are good and bad things.  Sunny days are generally good, rainy days are bad.  Having to work is bad, but play is good.  Selfishness is bad, generosity is good.  Anger is bad, happiness is good.  Life is an array of contrasts, with most of its experiences falling neatly into one or the other category, and the rest to an ambiguous and often neglected space of indifference.

Who made up these decisions on what is good and bad?  I learned them all so long ago that I really couldn't say if they are my own or another person's opinions that I picked up along the way.  What I do know is that certain emotions, topics or situations give me immediate feelings of joy while others instantly raise my hackles.

When I get cut off in traffic, I get angry.  In that moment I consider both the cutting me off and my anger about it bad.  But it is just something that is happening.  I don't have to judge it.  To stop judging the action as bad, and my having to slow down as bad and annoying allows for more space in my being.  What I mean by this is that I feel a lot more relaxed and open to what is going on around me when I am not angry and upset.  My muscles aren't clenched, my mind isn't spinning around the annoying situation.  Everything is OK and I slow down, or change lanes, or whatever seems like a good next step from there.

Even in this writing, I am using good to denote an action or state of mind that allows forward momentum, or peacefulness.  Good and bad are so ingrained in my culture and thought that I don't know how to describe my world without them.  But what if I could accept bad things happening without getting upset about them?  Or good things without getting terribly caught up in what it all means and why I am deserving or undeserving of them? 

Sometimes I think that this kind of acceptance would be very boring because on the surface it looks like the person who is accepting of everything doesn't feel very deeply about anything.  I suspect that isn't the case.  Perhaps it is more of an allowance of everything, including one's own strong emotions, without having to get caught up in believing that we are those emotions.  It is just something that we are going through; an experience that like all experiences will come and pass.

Yesterday I was thinking about how we all want to be good and have good things happen all the time, and because we dislike pain we want to avoid that and all things "bad."  When bad things happen, we get caught in a cycle of thought (or at least I do) that frets over where it all went wrong and led to the bad thing happening, or the bad feeling about what is happening.  I get stuck in backwards thinking about the past and how all the bad things could have been avoided and how maybe I suck because I didn't avoid them this time.  But if I could do it over again. . .

This can go on for a long time.  My whole life can get rewritten in my head just to avoid one lousy situation that actually doesn't need to be dwelt on.  Because I am so convinced that it is bad, I give it a lot of attention and remain stuck in it.  It becomes the most huge important thing to ever have happened on planet Earth and how will I ever go on?  So I fantasize about reliving my life from some random point in my history knowing what I know now, and how I will use my clever gained experiences to avoid the pitfall when it comes up again and somehow end up in a shiny sterile "happy" new present or future based on simply avoiding any and all pain.

I think we write our friends and lovers and family members into roles of angels or demons as well, to make ourselves out to be good guys all the time.  We find it painful to think that we are bad, even a little bit.  There is always some outside reason that we did a bad thing, or thought a bad thing, or stumbled into a bad thing.  It had nothing to do with the core of our being - it wasn't our fault, we are immaculate and would never do anything deliberately bad!  This thinking is subversively causing us more pain than just admitting that we did something bad.  Now we have to look at everyone around us as a potential enemy, out to do us harm or take advantage, leading us astray into an expereince of annoyance or sadness or fear.

Life is painful.  We hurt.  It happens.  Why cause more pain by constantly looking for who is responsible when usually it doesn't matter all that much?  If we were able to actually feel the pain instead of leaping past it and looking for someone or something to blame for it we might find it passes pretty quickly.  It loses its hold on our attention once it is experienced.  We can let it go.

I am finding that letting go of pain is both easier and more elusive than I anticipated.  If you dive into it and feel the misery of things as they happen, or feel the pain of past hurts that you are holding onto, eventually you get tired of it.  The feeling passes and you want to move on and have a hamburger or read a book.  Playing a finger pointing game doesn't really matter to you anymore, when up until that moment it was the most important thing you could possibly do.  We do all sorts of crazy things to avoid pain.

On the other hand, it is hard to realize you are caught in the cycle.  It's so comfortable to be in our thoughts and we believe that our thoughts are who we are, so we like to defend them even to ourselves.  We put a lot of energy into them and they grow larger and more solid to us, even though they are just thoughts. Perhaps the first thing to let go of is thinking about ourselves as good or bad.  If we can start to do that, the other judgments also stop having such a grip on us.  The energy can start to flow again.

An idea that I read in a book recently spoke about how our faults are tied to our gifts, and we can't have one without the other.  Being a procrastinator can produce a remarkable ability to get things done in a flash, which is a great gift.  Being a daydreamer can lead you to miss a lot of conversation or miss the point of what's happening around you, but can also result in some spectacular inventions and creativity.  An inability to turn down requests from people can make you tired, but your industriousness is admired.  Everything we love about ourselves we would not have if we didn't have our faults.

Getting to know our faults can be scary because we fear that if we admit having them we are bad people.  But learning them allows us to use them better.  We can operate in the world knowing where we are likely to trip up and allow for that.  I think that this is a better way to act that simply burying our heads in the sand and believing that we are perfect or totally dysfunctional.  We are both.  And so is everyone else.  The difference between someone who knows and works with their faults and one who does not lies in their ability to roll with them.  They might also think of others even as they know that their faults will come into play.

Would this be a good way of working with bad things?  Probably.  As I float towards equilibrium, I am trying to see myself more and more clearly, and become less attached to who I think I am because of my actions.  It certainly feels better than the frantic emotions I felt around every action before.  Being less worried about being the best person is allowing me to be a decent person again.  And I think that's enough for me.  At least for now.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Releasing Phlemy Thoughts

I think that when we are sick, we have the opportunity to leave behind not only whatever junk gets removed from our cells as we recover, but also clogged up thoughts and emotions.  The older I get the more I believe that thoughts and feelings and bodily stuff are all caught up in each other; inseparable.  So it makes sense to me that if we are in a process of releasing bodily gunk, the opportunity is there to release an old habit, thought pattern or grudge.

I have moved my meditation practice to the morning as I wake up instead of in the evenings after work. Actually, I have been checking in with myself throughout the days often to see where I am at.  I think that is what meditation practice gets at, though I could be wrong.  I think it is the practice of getting in touch with the quieter mind behind your mind that observes everything about yourself.  The part that can see patterns of thought and notice how you are feeling without also feeling that way, so that you can breathe and just be with it instead of avoiding it all.

In the mornings, though, I have been putting myself in child's pose (from yoga), and offering up whatever anxiety or nervousness and worry I find to a higher power.  Basically, I take ten to twenty minutes to feel out how I am starting my day.  Am I feeling good?  Feeling upset?  Angry?  Frustrated?  Still tired?  Worried about work, or time crunches, or anything at all?  I feel it and then ask for help letting it go because I don't want to carry it all day.  I want to be free to just be and not feel guilty about not getting everything done all at once, or perfectly, or on some predetermined schedule that is impossible to keep.  And I want to offer thanks for the help in doing this, and for everyone who is supporting me by allowing me to be myself just as I am.  I can support them all by offering the same.

It's been a calming practice so far, and has allowed me to get closer to the me I was once, back in high school: who didn't get upset about stalled cars and running late because I actually realized there was nothing to be done about it and worry and guilt were useless emotions to the situation.  Life was more of an adventure then, and I'd like it to feel more like that again.  Minus the social angst, of course.  I am delighted to see signs that I could become that much looser about my expectations of myself and the outside world's conformity with my plans and let life flow again.  Losing the illusion of control seems scary sometimes, but I think I prefer it to always fearing outcomes and trying to predict or manipulate them into something I think I want.  Actually, I just want to be.  That's all.  I want to do stuff and not stress over exactly how it is going to come together, since it will never go exactly how I plan anyway. 

This morning I was feeling very frustrated upon waking up that I was tired and had to go to the post office before my acupuncture appointment, and then I had two tattoos and one of them wasn't drawn right yet.  I stretched out and felt into it and realized that I was upset about it, and asked to let it go.  The emotions and my joints loosened - as I got up my fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, ankles, toes and even spine cracked into place.  I felt better.  I didn't feel great, and I am still sick today.  But I felt OK about being anxious about getting it all done on time.  I decided to just get going and if I ran late I would be late, and everything would be fine.

I had a nice breakfast, took a warm shower, got to the post office, and found that the timing worked out so I was the only one there to be waited on, but by the time I left there was a line of seven people behind me.  Great timing - yay universe!  I made it to the clinic early, had a great treatment that helped clear out my lungs nicely, and even my nose is getting remarkably better this evening.  I got to work fifteen minutes late, but still was able to start pretty much on time for my 12:30 appointment.  Everyone got their tattoos, and I scheduled appointments for the rest of the week as well.  I even managed to sign myself up for the moxibustion class this Saturday before work, and decided to draw the undrawn tattoo when I got home tonight, since I bumped that new project of Mike's to tomorrow afternoon to give myself more time.

And then I saw that I have absolutely no paper to use for the tattoo drawing at home!  Oh no!!! (this is where I would usually panic and feel bad about myself and the world and mope and rant and call my client in defeat to bump back his appointment to another day or absurdly late tomorrow to make up for the lost drawing time.)

I was thrilled with myself because instead of freaking out, I just had an inner chuckle, wrote myself an email to remember to bring some paper home from work tomorrow, and enjoyed watching Thursday night TV with Derek instead of working all night.  Because of how I scheduled tomorrow, I will still have at least a half hour to get the larger drawing done anyway (the small version I already had started, so I cleaned it up so it's ready to go).  No need to go bananas.

I really do feel like I am losing a lot of obnoxious holding on as the phlegm leaves my body.  Phlegm holds on too.  Gross.  But it's a nice parallel, and I am glad to be taking advantage of it.  I like to picture whatever annoying thought is bothering me as some kind of color or shape and find where it is gripping to in my body so I can imagine it letting go or loosening up and floating out of my space.

One annoying thought I have been stuck with even though I knew I hated it was the one about people needing to choose the right people to spend their time and lives with.  It was a thought that brought a lot of stress into my marriage, and I know bothers my brother as well.  It even relates to friends and families, and if you think about things like the possibility of reincarnation and having chosen your parents and siblings and everything about your life, makes you get really anxious about every encounter you have ever had with anybody.  What was its significance?  Did you mess things up with these individuals?  How do you make it right?  Are you meant to be doing something you aren't doing?  It goes on and on and as far as I can tell, the thought serves no constructive purpose.  It just creates fear and dissonance and worry that no matter what you chose you chose wrong, but leaves you with this hope (that is actually pretty destructive) that you could tip everything over and choose better.  It's full of judgment and by its nature suggests that you are missing out on happiness because of _____.  Could be anything.

Well, I have finally recognized that it is this thought that is the biggest demon in my head.  No matter what subject it casts its shadow onto, it makes me feel worried and upset.  Are my friends too negative?  Are my parents too neglectful?  Is my husband "the one for me'?  Is my job really what I was supposed to be doing with my life?  What about painting?  Why haven't I been on a podcast in a while?  All of these thoughts are out and out garbage!  If I let them get a hold, I just start to break down and doubt myself, who I am and what I am doing in life.

The truth is that the people we choose to be around are special, because we made them so when we chose them.  The things we do with our time are worthwhile, because we made them so when we chose to do them.  If I am upset about how things are going, that's OK - I can address that and change my approach to change the tide a bit.  But being upset and spiraling into worry over whether or not my course was doomed from the launch is really debilitating and unnecessary.  It leads to random and hurtful actions.

I think the truth is that actually, it doesn't matter one bit who or what we choose as long as we choose.  There can be so much depth in a relationship (with our mates, with our work, with our friends, or parents, or hobbies) but only if we stop and reach into them.  If we are busy worrying about what else is out there or what other people are choosing, we forget that we have a rare jewel in our hands.  We could drop it, or break it, or just never realize how beautiful it is.  And I think that all of the jewels are beautiful.  But we can only really appreciate the one(s) we have if we acknowledge them and take some time to see them and feel them, and get to know them.

Every time I wonder what I would have been doing in some parallel life where X or Y went differently, I am wasting precious energy on a reality that is fake!  It is only in my head, and isn't real.  If I fantasize about a different career as a writer, or what if I stayed at SLU the full four years and studied abroad for a time, it is sapping energy away from where I actually am now.  It saps away love for the really awesome space I am living in right now.  It takes me away from this reality, where I am loved intensely by a truly delightful and thoughtful husband, cared for by my awesome and talented work crew, privileged to be learning so much through my studies of the mind and body and art. . . why would I want to escape this?

Yes, sometimes life is hard and I see that it is true that we will do just about anything to avoid pain, of any kind, in any small measure.  It takes a lot of courage to face pain, face mistakes, and move forward anyway and embrace all of the good.  I think my next post will be about good and bad and why it's unfortunate that we only want the good and pretty much always want to get rid of the bad.  I think that's why we make up these elaborate stories of why things are the way they are but somehow we could choose better and end up only with good things.  It's the most harmful belief we all have.

But now, I need to wind down and get some rest so I can have the energy to do the rest of the drawing tomorrow when I get to work.  :P

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Snake Lessons

I love Timmy, my ball python.  I haven't seen him in over a week because I have been sick and he has been in hiding to shed.  Yesterday he made it through a rather difficult shed, due to the dryness of the air right now.  Even with me spritzing his cage every night to humidify the space, it was still pretty dry.

This evening, he was out and about for the first time since I got back from Florida.  I said hello and turned on the light.  He did his snakey weave and bob at the cage door.  Then he ducked down to the floor of the cage to turn around and come back.

Because Derek and I moved all the extra furniture into Timmy's room for Thanksgiving, I had to sideways-lurch down the middle of the room to get to him.  As I was carefully hopping towards him down the small aisle space, his face peered out of the glass and saw what to him was a complete scary stranger lunging towards him.  He recoiled and fell into a ball, hiding his head under his body as I finally arrived to the door.

Fortunately, it didn't take him too long to recognize me when I opened the door and spoke to him, apologizing for moving strangely and reassuring him it was just me after all.  He's a really awesome snake.  I lightly pet him and he uncoiled, and didn't mind at all as I cleaned up his cage around him.  New bedding went down while shed skin went out, his hiding bowl was cleaned and replaced, and the walls rinsed down.  He didn't want to come out, but he was happy to say hello.

I am glad to find it relatively easy to speak to animals.  I can feel their fear and have sympathy for it when I move in an unusual way and scare them.  I can feel their playful thoughts of run and tackle if they are a predator like Sherazade or the tigers at the zoo who really wish I would pounce on the small children for them.  I generally don't fear animals or people unless they are fearful, which makes me nervous, too.  Fear makes everyone unpredictable.  I hope to become more conscious of people and creature moods and thoughts over time so that I can find it easier to unhook myself from unconscious reactions to them.

Tonight, when Timmy recoiled, for a moment I was as upset as he was, though it was easy for me to realize that it was my unusual motion and angle of approach that had scared him.  It's a good observation that we immediately mirror whatever action or emotion is thrown at us.  Once we catch it, we can unhook and decide if the reaction is a good one or not.  And as soon as we choose something compassionate, the other has a chance to respond in kind.  It's pretty beautiful.

I love lessons with snakes.  *grin*