It’s something I often say – “seeking zen.” In fact, it was almost the name of this blog.
I don’t mean I’m striving for enlightenment.
It means I’m not striving. I’m not straining.
I’m moving. Smoothly. Slowly. Water finding its channel.
Towards a place of balance. “Zen.” Peace.
Not a place lacking emotion, thought, or action.
But a place where feelings, words, and motion stem from a balanced center.
Balance is dynamic. Mindfulness is constant.
As soon as I stop seeking, the zen vanishes, because I’ve stopped paying attention to where it is.
I am always, always seeking zen. Are you?
You’ve heard this before. It’s probably old hat. “Breathing is important,” yadda yadda. “Breathe deeply and count to ten,” et cetera. Breathing is a topic of discussion in everything from yoga to meditation to martial arts to anger management to singing to public speaking to… well, you get the picture.
Have you ever tried it?
“No.” Then do it. Time yourself for sixty seconds and breathe slowly into your gut. If your stomach isn’t moving when you breathe, go deeper. There’s a diaphragm down there that wants to be used.
“Yes, and it didn’t do a damn thing for me.” Try it again. Shelve your skepticism for one minute. Then take a second minute and do the above. If you keep disbelieving the potency of breath, your brain will find or simply create ways to support your negative opinion. (That goes for most everything, by the way.)
“Yes, and breath is vital to me.” Good on you! Keep breathing.
The next time the wind kicks up, instead of shielding yourself and muttering, raise your face to the world and inhale.
If you’ve been sitting at the computer for more than an hour, take a deep breath.
Close your eyes.
Turn your head as far as you can, gently and slowly, to the left. Hold for a breath or two; if it hurts, you’ve gone too far. Do the same to the right. Repeat two more times.
Tip your head forward and touch your chin to your chest, gently and slowly again. Hold. Now look upwards as far as you can, gently and slowly. Hold. Repeat two more times.
Tilt your head to the right until you’re looking at the world sideways. If it hurts, ease up a little. Hold, then tilt to the left. Repeat twice more.
Now, make circles with your head – dip your chin to your chest, then roll your head to the right, then back, then left, then forward again. Do three circles, then reverse direction to do another three.
Breathe deeply. Open your eyes. Resume your regularly-scheduled program.
I mean that in the nicest, most encouraging way possible.
This body that you’re housed in, this skin that you wear, these bones that hold you, these muscles that move you – this is all you’ve got right now. Whatever shape it’s in, it’s yours.
I don’t care what color your skin is or what kind of scars or blemishes decorate it.
And I don’t care if you’re a man, or a woman, or an intersex individual, or something entirely different.
This is your skin. It has nerve endings. Especially in certain places.
Sex – physical pleasure, lust, satiation – is glorious. It is sacred. Even asexual people can revel in pleasurable touch, though it may not be erogenous to them. That’s okay.
Forget the preconceptions of your appearance and your sexual attractiveness. Forget the media’s sullying of sexuality. Shuck your self-consciousness and your shame right along with your clothes.
Go fuck yourself. And enjoy the ever-loving hell out of it.
I get home at 5h15 – I live about ten minutes from my office, and even in the evening traffic, it’s such a short jog from there to here.
I’m feeling pretty good. It was a productive, low-stress day. I had time to sneak in a little twitterification, and I was able to brainstorm on my next novel while doing Tedious Data Entry™. My boss was complimentary, and my coworkers were entertaining with their banter.
My partner’s in the next city over, half an hour away, at work. He’s a teacher, so his hours are never really set in stone. His class lets out at 5, but I know he probably won’t leave any earlier than 5h30.
I’m hungry, but I want to have dinner with my love, so I make some sweet tea and bide my time. I turn on music – can’t live without the stuff – and bob my head in time to the beat. I tidy up a little, tossing dirty clothes and scattered books into their places.
It’s 6. I try to ignore the clock. I slump in my creaky computer chair and surf the internet. If I’m not careful, I’ll check Twitter almost obsessively, so I pull myself away after I catch up on web comics and blogs.
6h30. I’m really trying not to clock-watch, but damn, it’s hard. I open my phone, start a text message, snap the phone shut before I finish. Breathe.
I pick up my guitar, my fingers worrying at the strings. She doesn’t want to talk to me today, though, and the random notes don’t have cohesion. The sounds aren’t telling a story. I set her back on her stand.
7 o’clock. I groan. I’m hungry, dammit, so I grab a pudding from the fridge and drown my nerves in banana cream. Mmm. I keep fidgeting, though, flitting from place to thing to place.
I could read a book. I could write a blog post. I could work on one of my novels or write a 15minfic. I could sing. I could…
I keep checking the clock. It’s past 7h30. I’ve been home over two hours and haven’t done anything worthwhile. I finally give in to the urge to call my partner. He hasn’t left yet. I’m not surprised. I probably won’t see him for another hour. I slump.
The above scenario happens more often than I care to admit. It’s not any fault of my partner or his schedule; my own impatience is what creates my unhappiness.
I’m working on taking these situations and using them as opportunities to practice patience. Tonight, it’s 7h45, and I haven’t called him yet. I’m writing instead, building thoughts and posts, exploring the concept and feeling of this site. I’m doing my best to ignore the clock in the corner of the screen.
Got problems with patience, too? Breathe deeply, pick something you want to do and can do without waiting for someone to arrive or leave, or something to happen or stop happening, and do it. Focus on what you’re doing, not what you’d rather be doing, not what you will be doing when you stop waiting.
Even if you stay impatient the whole time, at least that’s not all you’re doing.
Preface: I heard something so astoundingly wise and brilliant that the words burned into my brain and begged to be explored. Yet I cannot remember where I saw this, or who said it, so if you are the catalyst for this post, please let me know so I can thank you a thousand times.
When others are suffering, especially those close to us, it is so easy to absorb their pain, share it, and make it our own. We want to help them; we want to make them feel better or fix their problems in one fell swoop. And when we can’t, when all we can do is offer our heartfelt sympathies, support, and love…
But sometimes, it just doesn’t feel like enough. Sometimes we ache to carry their burdens, just so our loved ones can walk easy. Sometimes, even when we can’t help them at all, we take on those burdens anyway.
Burdening ourselves in vain does not help those we love. In fact, it may push them away, as they feel we are too busy, too weighted down, to talk to about their burdens.
Instead of trying to take another person’s burden, why not open a door for them instead? If this metaphorical, emotional burden were a lumpy physical thing draped across someone’s shoulders, you’d get the door for them if your own hands were empty, right?
Then do so. Don’t absorb someone else’s problem; clear the way for them to walk their path to a solution. Support them and encourage them, help them however you can, but don’t weigh yourself down if you can do nothing else constructive. Sometimes, a problem must be solved by the person alone – it is a deep learning experience.
If all you can do is live your own life by your values and seek your own happiness, you are still opening a door; you are providing yourself as a role model of what can be possible for others, too. This is valuable. You can help others by simply being you.
When you can’t improve someone else’s life, work with your own as a shining example. When you can’t help carry a burden, open a door instead.
There are two rules to follow:
Don’t say “I love you” when you don’t mean it.
Say it only when you mean it.
This phrase is not reserved for family and lovers. You can love your best friend, your pet, your car, your god, yourself, the random stranger who made you smile, and the server in your favorite restaurant who remembers your usual dish.
Don’t be afraid of this phrase. Don’t let societal norms dictate when you can and cannot say it.
Remember the rules above: Say it when you mean it. Don’t say it when you don’t mean it.
Follow those rules with a pure heart.
This is an exercise in mindfulness.
Think back to the most recent time you felt love. Not lust, not only love for a partner – just love.
Love for the beauty of the day. Love for your pets. Love for your family. Love for the earth. Love for hope. Love for an idea or a concept. Love for a spiritual path. Love for life. Love for yourself.
Focus on that memory. Remember that feeling, that love. Distill it, in your mind, to its purest essence.
Now, start noticing when you feel that throughout the day. Stop and enjoy it. You can even say outloud or think to yourself, “Feeling love.”
Learn to recognize love and see what else you start recognizing. Gratitude? Happiness? Contentment?
Try it and see. And tell me what happens.
When you’re physically hungry, eat.
When you’re full, stop eating.
When you’re not okay with how you feel after you eat, eat different things.
When you’re sleepy, rest or move.
When you’re tired, sleep.
When you’re energetic, move.
When you’re hurting, stop and seek comfort.
When you’re stiff, stretch gently.
When you’re sick, feed your body nutrients and rest.
When you’re thirsty, drink water.
At all times, listen. Be mindful.
Your body knows what it wants and needs.
It’s your job, as its consciousness, to fulfill those wants and needs.
Sit down, or lie down, in whatever way is comfortable to you. You can be indoors or outdoors or ten stories up. If you can, plant your feet firmly on the ground.
Breathe. Slowly, deeply, softly. Breathe until you’re relaxed. Loosen your muscles. Let your thoughts run their course, then focus on how you feel inside your skin.
Go deep. Bring your awareness down your spine, down your legs, into your heels.
Push deeper. Grow root from your heels, tendrils from your toes. Wriggle them downwards, slowly. Keep going until you touch the earth.
Sink deeper. Drink in the earth’s solidity and fertility and moisture. Feel the texture of the soil, the rocks, the other roots from other plants.
Keep breathing. With each inhalation, draw the earth up through your roots, into your body. With each exhalation, push it upwards, into your head. Raise your arms if you want and push it through them.
Grow branches from your hair and fingers. Let leaves bud and unfurl, growing a little more with each breath.
Let your skin become bark, rugged and beautiful. Feel the air between your branches, the soil between your roots. Center yourself in your trunk and feel yourself as a tree.
When you feel done, slowly undo what you’ve done. Let your leaves turn autumn-colored and fall away. Retract your branches into your body. Withdraw your roots from the soil.
When you are human-shaped again, take a deep breath, smile, and get something to drink or eat to help remind your body that it’s still a mammal.