Every Year Is the Worst (or the Best)

Please stop saying 2020 was the worst.

In a sense, 2021 will be no different than 2020 and 2020 was no different than 2019. Bear with me while I explain.

The similarity between these years, and every year, is hope. Every New Year’s there are hopes made. We said that 2020 was going to be the best yet. But as the hope of the new year failed, our vision was proven not to be 20/20. It’s now being said that 2021 will be better, but to rely on that hope is for that hope to fail us. The problem is that, instead of sitting in the present moment and asking what it can teach us, we time jump. We grasp for the future or the past. When the hopes we created for the future aren’t realized, we despair.

Hope places us in the future, never the present. This neglect of the present to cling to hope limits our perspective. The present perspective offers us a wealth and a joy. What do I feel in my body as I take my walk through the woods? Where is there movement that I didn’t notice before, whether from people or animals, or in the breeze among the plants? How does my coffee taste? What am I savoring about this book? If my stomach is hurting, can I pause and relax? If my neck hurts, can I pause and stretch and breathe?

Like other emotions, hope is powerful enough to reduce perfect vision. I’m not saying that emotions should be suppressed. Being part of the present is acknowledging those emotions. They are indicators of my present, and I cannot deny their presence. If I do, I find myself in a sort of limbo, lingering on the past or hoping (or dreading) the future.

I acknowledge that remaining present is not easy. I’m no model. But 2020 became a catalyst for growth in this area. From my perspective, 2020 was not a bad year. Yes, it was difficult. Yes, it required significant changes. But those changes opened me to growth. By spending more time at home and by myself, I slowed down. There was no rushing around town after work to get to the next event or practice. There wasn’t my hour commute one way. Although I missed singing in the choir or meeting in person for my writing group, I had the time to explore.

I began to learn deeper things about myself that I would not have had the time to do if I were maintaining a constant (honestly, exhausting) social and work calendar. I wrote a lot more. I was moved to follow the dream I didn’t know I had of being a full-time writer. I found the courage to quit my steady job to do this. I learned how to hone my introvert power. I took more to reflect upon and develop my spiritual life.

I learned how to cry better. I learned to accept my crying better. I pressed into my sensitive nature and learned a little more about how it can connect me to people and the universe.

In a sense, 2020 was the best. 2020 unsettled me so I could grow. Ice freezes and heaves the soil for cultivation. Cultivation leads to growth. Every year can be year for growth, if we allow it. Part of that growth involves pain. If we practice leaning into the pain, as well as the pleasure, we will have a good year every year. Whatever good means.

Threads of Reality

A few days without electricity seems to shift time and space for a dweller of modern reality. Following a snow storm that brought wet, heavy snow, we were without power for two days last week. This wasn’t the first time I’d gone through a storm and subsequent power loss (I’ve lived with inclement winters my whole life), but this time disoriented me in ways I’d not experienced before.

Part of this disorientation was due to new experiences as a home owner. The heat, of course, wasn’t working. Gratefully, we have a wood stove. The pumps bringing in and driving out the water weren’t working. I tried melting snow on the wood stove for water. We slept in the living room with the stove for a night, me in the loft where it was warmer and he on the couch where he could more easily get up and empty the cisterns every few hours. The snow blower, new as of last year, wasn’t working initially. My spouse’s work truck has 4-wheel drive, so we were able to go to town, but it was a longer effort that seemed slowed by the encasing of the world in snow. Snow tends to do that: transform quick work into both physical and mental trudging.

While I appreciated the extra time to read, everything I knew felt off-balance and elsewhere. It felt like an alternative reality in some ways. I felt threadbare. I could see parts of thread in me that I recognized, but the colors were muted and I was otherwise empty space.

It’s difficult to say what this experience did to me and what its lasting effects are. But I reacted to it by going into my spiritual practice. After about 30 minutes of this, I felt more whole, more grounded, like the threads were dyed again and filled in with other threads.

Photo by Tsunami Green on Pexels.com

I now wonder if this experience, the emptying and refilling, weaved in new threads. They’re not objectionable. They seem like colors and textures that fit me. This unfamiliar familiarity might not be a recent addition, but instead a new realization of parts of me that existed before, waiting for the flashlight to be shone on them.

The threads I refer to involve my senses of identity, as a female and as a human being. Those two labels are only echoes of the true, intricate, endless symphony within. They might be distorted echoes, misleading at best. I’ve recently come to realize new threads tied into these words that partially define me. Perhaps my gender and sexuality are not so solid. Perhaps I’m not as human as I might have thought. (What is a human, anyway? I doubt many of the humans know.)

These words of identity represent concepts that point in a vague direction toward a more nondescript definition of an individual. These concepts distort reality, as Anthony de Mello said. Words can only indicate, not define reality.

These concepts are reifications. Reification produces illusion. I can say, “I’m a woman” or “I’m a human”, but those terms don’t really mean anything. They give a false sense of security, either for you or for me, that I can be defined and placed in a neat box for everyone to look at. That box and me in that box are made of smoke and mirrors.

Debunking this clear-cut identity might seem woo-woo to many, an exploration for philosophers and mystics in the hallowed halls of esotericism. But de Mello went on to say, “You don’t need to be a mystic to understand that reality is something that cannot be captured by words or concepts. To know reality you have to know beyond knowing [emphasis de Mello’s]”. I know a bunch of words, but that doesn’t mean I know what reality is. I’ve seen a few threads weave in and out of my existence, but once I start to describe them, I’m grasping at the smoke in the dark.

How do you “know beyond knowing”? Again, I have only gestures to provide. Perhaps through spiritual practices such as meditation and prayer. Perhaps through being with nature. Perhaps through LSD (never tried that myself, but I don’t judge). Perhaps you don’t know until you die. Perhaps we are to never know. In any case, the threads of reality hold their pull on me, shifting me into gray spaces with stronger tugs every day.

Flying with Words: A NaNoWriMo Debrief

We’re coming to the close of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I’ve given up on my goal. The goal I set was as follows:

  • Write 50,000 words across any of the four books in my sci-fi series, specifically Books 2, 3, and 4.
    • As of November 2, Book 2 was 44,252 words. Book 1 was 62,323. Book 3 was 2,435.

I’m not disappointed that my goal wasn’t reached, as I found that there were several issues with it.

First of all, the numbers are an inaccurate representation of all the writing I’ve actually done. Book 1 has already been revised several times in minor ways and is on its second iteration. The initial draft had more words than the second draft, which I’m still in the process of completing. I started to draft Book 2 at the beginning of the pandemic, and it has since been altered dramatically because the second part of Book 1 is being rewritten. All this is to say that, by using the current numbers, I have potentially defeated myself with the illusion that not as much work has been done. They say the numbers don’t lie. Well, it depends on how the numbers are represented.

Secondly, there’s the issue of constraining myself to specific books. According to my goal, the focus was to be on Books 2, 3, and 4. What really happened was that I focused a lot on the prequel and Book 3. The other books received some attention as well. I’ve discovered that, when it comes to creative writing, my work style is to bounce around. Like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh, my ideas are bouncy little springs coming at me in no particular order. I started drafting Book 1 in the middle of the book. While drafting Book 1, I was already formulating ideas for subsequent books, including the prequel. I would write down these ideas as notes, then return to a scene or chapter I was trying to work through.

This doesn’t work for me. I’ve realized that I get stuck when I try to write linearly. And no, I will not be creating outlines for each of the books before I write them, as some advise. I’ve tried this, and while I might go back after a draft or two and create an outline, if you ask me to write an outline before I start the novel or short story, it’s doubtful that anything will get written. I take a wisp of an idea and run with it, not try to collect all the wisps before we set off on our adventure. (All that preparation seems kind of boring to me the more I think about it.)

By bouncing around, I get myself unstuck from the sandpit of the scene or chapter I was trying to trudge through. By looking ahead, by envisioning what happens after I escape the sandpit, I can figure out how to get out of the sandpit. The future knows, and sometimes we have to imagine the future now in order to get there. I recognize that this is incredibly difficult to do in “real life” and it might not be the correct approach for that. But that’s a topic for another day.  

Thirdly, my first NaNoWriMo in 2018 served its purpose and seems to not need repeating, at least not this year. The 2018 NaNoWriMo was what motivated me to write the first draft of Book 1. I needed that launch to get me into the air and the creative fuel pumping. Two years later, I’m still on a regular writing schedule. I’ve at least doubled those 50,000 words, probably tripled. I’m on the second draft of Book 1 and have sketched and begun developing a several other novels, some of them in addition to this sci-fi series. I’m transitioning to a career as a full-time writer.

So how much do the numbers and goals really matter? It depends. It depends on your motivation, on whether or not a shove off the cliff is needed. Sometimes we need pushed to the edge to make us fly. Sometimes we’ve forgotten that we’re already flying.  

The Sensors and Their Supposed Malfunctions

Well. This relaunching plan is getting off to a less-than-ideal start. It’s past my designated posted time on my designated posting day. At least I’m posting on the day instead of after it.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I’ve been recovering from a cold/flu thing for the past week. I haven’t told many about this illness, because as we all know, it’s been a year of sickness terror. Whether this terror has been real or imagined depends on the individual’s physical and mental situation. In any case, the anxiety that everyone is projecting like the Batman symbol is enough to make me want to be a recluse for a few years.

I’m not afraid of COVID-19. What I am afraid of is people and their haywire emotions seeping into me. For example, every trip to the supermarket has become an exhausting mental exercise that feels somewhat like combat. Going there pre-pandemic was difficult enough with people darting in and out of aisles unpredictably. Now they’re darting about with masks on, the masks being another anxiety provoker. When I can’t read over half of your face and am forced to look at your eyes, which also makes me uncomfortable, I just don’t want to look at you.

It’s not just the visuals. It’s the unseen poison of emotions that I empathically absorb. Now that I’ve surfaced from years of depression and resurfaced from the meds I’d been taking, I sense others much more easily now. While this might be a superpower in some respects, it can be a debilitating burden.

A few months ago, my spouse and I had to stop watching a Steven King movie because I was about to either vomit or faint at some hand fileting. Like a Victorian lady, was about to faint. At a movie. At an actor not actually getting sliced. Not too long ago, I could have watched the movie without any of that. I might have cringed a little, but I wouldn’t have been rushing to the bathroom in a fit of nausea only to stopped and brought to the floor because my vision was going black.  

While not being able to watch a horror movie isn’t exactly debilitating, my sensitivity to others’ pain can keep me cloistered in our house in the quiet countryside. This is often lovely, and my introvert power helps curb the loneliness of this, but it has limitations too. Apparently, we need direct interaction with other people, which has been limited for the past several months anyway. On the flip side, I’m actually pretty good at taking my own pain. Go figure.

The positive part of my super-sensitivity is that I can connect better with humans. Someone starts to cry, and I’m starting to cry. Someone is overjoyed, and my body reacts with a rush of joy. This becomes an exercise in connection and belonging, which I didn’t have with depression or the meds.

Being able to share someone’s experience with them allows me to cultivate a better sense of compassion for them. That is, if the emotion doesn’t overwhelm me first. I think the depression had me in the habit of shutting down all my sensors. Any feelings and we reached system overload. Despite my new interactions with this sensor system, I feel I now have the tools, resources, and strength to know when I’ve reached my limit and how to cope.

But learning how to cope has not come easy. I imagine it’s the same for those other highly-sensitive sensor systems out there. When I Google COVID-19, after scrolling for a little bit, I see a section on coping. So now we’re addressing mental health. I’ve been wondering, from the beginning of the pandemic, how and when it would be addressed. For the most part, I’ve seen neglect of the whole self with the exception of the physical. We are more than our physical bodies, and my mind has been a far greater threat to me in the past than those little microbes. But I digress. A little.

If you’re still learning how to cope, please reach out to someone or an organization you trust. It has taken, and continues to take, a lot of courage on my part to reach out when I’m not coping well. Let me remind you: you’re not alone, and you’re not the only sensor out there.

Update: This Blog Is about to Get Re-pressed (on WordPress)

A False Quantification

A lot has changed since my last post in 2018, both in my outer and inner lives. In February 2019, I started a big-girl job with health benefits and a salary better than many Millennials. I will soon no longer be working at that job. My spiritual life went from floundering among various ideas with no clear direction to landing on a spiritual practice that has changed my life in a short amount of time in scary and wonderful ways. Then, of course, there’s the whole world pandemic thing. Plus, the anxiety around the presidential election. You can relax, because I’m not here to talk about the latter two.

The reason I’m losing my job is because I’m quitting, and it’s not because of burned bridges. My co-workers and the organization I’ve worked for have treated me well, providing me with professional opportunities and connections. However, the job itself no longer challenges me and doesn’t provide many opportunities for my creativity to blossom, with few chances to expand that creativity in writing. It’s a drive that compels me to a bigger dream that can only be limited by spending eight hours per day correcting commas and reformatting documents or giving in to my crippling self-doubt. Or both scenarios simultaneously.

Several weeks ago, before I decided to resign from my position, I picked up a novel. It wasn’t my novel, but someone else’s published novel, and that’s what led me to the carpet, crying. Someone had published their novel, and I hadn’t yet. I couldn’t see the words on the pages without thinking about my own books, incomplete.

Self-doubt likes to quantify things, even if the numbers are false and misleading. 

The fit of crippling self-doubt ensued. As I pressed my palms to my wet eyes, I could have reminded myself that creating a novel that was publisher-ready took years. Furthermore, the business of actually publishing the novel was a challenge on its own. The author of the book I attempted to start had spent countless hours churning and refining and competing before the hardcover hit the shelves.

But self-doubt doesn’t relax at the notion of reason. Nor does it believe that its own line of reasoning could be fatally flawed. It doesn’t believe that I can achieve the same dream. It fears my self-confidence, which derives from an inner fearlessness and inspiration that can’t be quantified. Self-doubt likes to quantify things, even if the numbers are false and misleading. 

As that self-doubt continues to reassert itself on a regular basis, I will walk steadfastly toward the dream I’m pursing: to become a full-time writer. This dream, which has been encroaching since my childhood and is finally starting to manifest, scares my self-doubt in its squeaky little boots. The passion enveloping this dream refuses to be repressed any longer. This impetus is the reason I quit my good-paying job in a declining economy.

This blog is becoming part of that dream, as I practice organizing my thoughts in writing. I hope many will benefit from this, taking strength from the power of my proverbial trembling pen (or, rather, shaky fingers on the keyboard). My words should not inspire and create for my benefit alone. Gifts are not only for our personal use.  

Staying Regular

I’ve decided to relaunch this blog site with an intention that I didn’t have before. One of the major themes has been and will continue to be my journey through life with depression and anxiety. While my mental illness has been subdued by a regular input of compassionate practices, it continues to surface with feeble plots now and then. My life experience will continue to be influenced by my past dances with shadows. Actually, I anticipate future dances with shadows as a part of my continued growth.

As mental illness fades more regularly, new themes will continue to emerge, and I expect them to influence the content of this blog. New themes could include discourse on the themes and subjects appearing in my novels, thoughts (and potential rants) regarding social justice, and spiritual musings.

My previous intent for this blog was to purge my thoughts in a more constructive way, but I’m not sure how much it actually constructed. My current intent is to purge my thoughts in a more constructive way that actually constructs connections between people and ideas. This will require regular posting and interacting with all of you.

Part of the purpose of this relaunch post is to keep me accountable to a regular posting schedule. If I promise to post every Tuesday at 5 PM ET, that will keep me regular, right? Well, hopefully my weekly posting is more regular than my bowels on any given day. If you have suggestions for emotional fiber that promotes self-discipline, please leave your ideas in the comments.

So start the virtual press again, and let’s make life impressed.

Facing These Times

Too many injustices exist in our world, and even in the United States, that I don’t know where to begin to fight. Women’s voices unbelieved. Native voices unheard. Black voices misheard. These few but mighty injustices are enough to send me railing and soon fall into hopelessness.

It seems that freedoms are plucked away, little-by-little, constantly. How can I help in an effective way when the government and corporations work daily against us? I donate to nonprofits with time and money. I vote. I want to hit the street during a protest, but protests happen rarely near me. It seems that what I do doesn’t make a difference. It seems that the work of others isn’t effective enough either.

Maybe I’m impatient. Perhaps the work will show fruit months or years from now.

I have no answers, and I have little hope. But I have to continue.

I will donate my time and money to just causes.

I will educate myself.

I will attempt to educate others.

I will vote.

I will protest when I can.

I will try. And continue to try. And continue to try.

Because doing nothing will bring greater suffering.

I will continue to seek the infinite love and compassion within me so that others may suffer less. Uncovering that love and compassion means facing my own dark side every day, sitting with it and looking it in the face.

Light shines through me. And light can pierce the dark only when I stand in it.

 

The Tyrant Surrenders

Yesterday, as I tried to set up something on my computer, I had a meltdown. I couldn’t get an external hard drive to format to my Mac. Then I sobbed. But I realized that I wasn’t sobbing over a computer problem that I caused. I realized how bored with my life I’ve become, how clueless I am about what to do with my life.

Mary Oliver says, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Well, hell if I know, Mary. It doesn’t seem wild and or precious. It seems boring, devoid of adventurous tales and excitement. No wildness here. Not right now. And precious? What’s precious about pitifully sobbing over a small problem then falling asleep for several more hours?

I suppose the precious thing was my surrender. After giving up hope that I’d fix my computer problem, I went to my bed and not only sobbed, but cried out. Something was coming out of me. Maybe it was some spiritual Alien creature that didn’t rip open my stomach, but ripped open my heart for a brief time. I seemed to mourn for my life, or mourn for what I was realising. Thoughts of wanting to die came and went, as did thoughts of failing at life.

As I lay, nose running and sounding like a wounded animal, I began to surrender to my situation. I let go. I let go of almost everyone and everything. I gave up on trying to win the game of life. Then I went to sleep.

My surrender may sound dangerous. It may sound like I’m tumbling into a deeper depression. Truthfully, when I woke up I only felt slightly better, and feelings worsened again as I took a walk (thinking the walk would make me feel better). But the surrender I experienced was not one I’d had before. It seemed like an admission. An admission to feel that way, an acceptance of my powerlessness. The acceptance seemed laced with compassion.

My meditation this morning followed up on this compassionate presence. In this meditation, guided with Tara Brach’s voice, I practiced what she calls the RAIN of self-compassion. Using the acronym RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture), I practiced making peace with myself. I’m so very hard on me. Why haven’t you made a better life, Sarah? You’re worthless, sleeping so much. You’re not making a difference. Where’s the adventure you’ve dreamed of, you long for? 

This type of warring dialogue, this set of battle taunts, seems to run through my mind without me realizing it. I set myself at war with myself. I don’t allow compassion into the battlefield. I slice and shank, trying to cut through to answers. And when my inner self is on its knees, vulnerable, I run it through. I try to kill the weakness, anything that doesn’t live to the unattainable standards I’ve set for myself.

Which brings me back to my surrender yesterday. I don’t think it was the surrender of my inner self. I think, instead, it was my rampaging, tyrant self hitting her knees.

True Longings

What does my heart most long for?

I asked myself this in today’s mediation. Some answers that surfaced: love, communion with nature, peace, justice, communication with the creator, deep relationships with others

Not once did my heart say, “I long for a job.”

Although the answers spoken ring true and powerfully, equally powerful is what my heart didn’t say. It didn’t say that it needs a career or any financially-fulfilling occupation. I am relieved and so grateful that it didn’t say that.

When I started my job hunt, I felt the pressure of want and need. I told myself that I need a job to pay bills and want a job to feel statisfied. I seemed to equate my worth with that purpose. But as I continue to hunt, the grasping subsides. Because a job does not make me more or less worthy of love. Because my purpose is not defined by someone else’s hiring me.

The answers my heart gave are somewhat vague. But the heart knows what it needs. The capitalist society I live in does not. As I continue my journey, I am beginning to trust that those vague answers will develop into realities bit by bit. The heart speaks little phrases throughout my days that may not seem like much. “Make your bed” or “Go work in the garden” or “Call this person” may not appear life-changing intially. But it’s those little directions that get me out of my negative thought patterns, out of my head, and into the world of love. They guide me step-by-step into my mysterious purpose.

The Memory Block

My therapist and I have been working on reprocessing memories. However, I have few memories to give. When she asks me to recall my first and worst memories of thinking about myself in a particular negative way, isolated, fuzzy mental pictures appear. When was the first time I thought, “I don’t deserve love”? I don’t remember.

I attempt to scan pictures from my childhood, pictures from where I’ve lived, who I’ve interacted with, and when the pictures were first recorded. I see some images, but they’re either static landscapes or isolated snapshots with people in which I don’t remember what was said or the exact context. I remember my dad yelling at me as a small child, but I don’t remember what he said or what exactly I felt. I can imagine fear and feeling small. Was that really what I felt?

I can remember some more recent memories more clearly, such as a high school boyfriend choosing to play World of Warcraft instead of spending time with me. I remember feeling the insecure thoughts that he cared more about a game than me, some “I don’t deserve love” thoughts. I remember another boyfriend, earlier in high school, who inspired thoughts of “I’m unimportant.” We were at a costume dance in which I was dressed as a princess. He said, “Look at you. You’re dressed like a princess. You think you’re a princess, but you’re not.” When I imagined myself a princess, I felt important. Granted, some ideals surrounding princesses are unrealistic and unhealthy, but imagining myself in the role of a royal who cares and fights for what’s right boosted my self-esteem.

Later memories are somewhat clearer. But what happened to my earlier memories? Has my mind surpressed them, compressing them into palatable images that I can’t dissect and decifer? Have traumatic things happened that I don’t remember? My therapist told me that, at first, she thought I just didn’t want to return to those thoughts. But truely, I can’t find many memories to access. My mind is largely blank, and I don’t know how to rip open the wall. Parts of the wall are translucent and I can see parts of scenes, but where are the actors, the dialogue?

Is it fear that blocks me? How deep does this fear go? For how long will it stand? I fear I will never have enough courage to look back and heal my present.

Another thing: my inability to look into my memories brings thoughts of inadequacy, of letting my therapist down. Really, I feel like I’m letting myself down. But I’m currently unable to help myself in this matter. Perhaps as I continue down the path of meditation and focus on other exercises with my therapist, the wall will begin to crumble.

Out of The Darkness Walk

At the end of September, I’ll be walking with fellow mental illness survivors and the family and friends of mental illness victims. I participated in one of these Out of The Darkness walks two years ago, and felt deeply the love and solidarity. If you need support or want to support others struggling with suicide, I suggest you go walk. ❤

Find an Out of The Darkness Walk near you here.