self-expression for the self-strong

Seeking Zen

Making Time

How many times have you heard or used the phrase “find the time”? Now, compare that to how often you’ve heard or said “found the time” without “haven’t” in front of it. Pretty poor ratio, isn’t it?

Time is a precious resource. You’re never without it, but it’s not always in a usable form. And trying to use time when it’s already spent is like trying to hand-sculpt marble. You wind up tired and frustrated, your fingertips sanded to the bone.

If you put something you love off until you “find the time,” you might never do it. Even if you do, it won’t be as much or as frequent as you’d like. If you wait until you “find the time” to go to the county fair, it’ll be two weeks past it before you realize you’ve already missed it. Events, and opportunities, wait for no one.

Be proactive. Make the time. If it matters to you, take charge and make it happen. There is never a “can’t” here. Technically, you could skip school to go to that concert or miss work to go on that road trip. Maybe you shouldn’t, but you could. Don’t lose sight of your own ability to choose – you are never as trapped as you feel.

It’s rarely a question of being able to or not, but a question of how much you’re willing to work or sacrifice – or both – for what you want.

If you want it, make it. Don’t wait for it to wander by.

“I’m freaking out.”

You’re okay. As you are, right now, in the middle of losing your shit, you are okay.

Let the intensity out. Sob until you stop shaking so much. Punch the living hell out of an inanimate object that won’t break your hand. Scream and shout. Say all the words in your head. Spit them, snarl them, wail them. Get them out of your head.

Good. Now. Slow your breathing. Just a little bit.

Stop clenching your muscles. Just a little bit.

Feel the anger or grief or fear or whatever you’re feeling. Find where it’s centered – your stomach, your fists, your throat, your heart. Let it go. If you can’t, then loosen your grasp. Just a little bit.

Listen to the thoughts in your head. Find the ones that are talking to you, the ones that tell you that you’re weak or stupid, the ones that demand that you get your shit together and stop melting down. Tell yourself, instead, that you are okay. You’re not over-reacting. You’re not weak. You’re not psychotic. You’re okay. That’s the only thing you need to tell yourself right now – you’re okay.

Take a deeper breath. Relax your muscles a little more. Let go of this powerful emotion you’re feeling.

Turn your attention to the space around you. If you don’t have much physical space, make mental space. Focus on the air next to your skin, then slowly expand outwards. Feel all the space in the room. It’s open. It’s safe. It’s yours. Close your eyes and make the space as big as you want it to be.

If there is something outside of your body that keeps bringing you back to your pain, like a phone or a picture or a locked door, imagine removing it from your space. Wrap it up, zap it out, cut all lines that link it to you.

Focus on your space. Breathe a little more slowly. Relax. Let go.

When you feel calm, or calmer, then turn your mind. Think of one single, simple, happy thing. Simplicity is important: don’t think of something complicated enough to have pros and cons. We only want pros right now. Just one, single, simple thing that brings you nothing but joy.

Keep breathing. If you start thinking of your pain again, gently refocus on your joy. Don’t yell at yourself for drifting; don’t feel guilty; don’t tense up. Just breathe. In. Out. In. Out.

Remind yourself that you’re okay. And keep breathing.

Chiaroscuro – Light and Shadow

Chiaroscuro is a term used to describe a painting or a vocal performance that has a stark contrast between light and shadow, brightness and darkness, depth and height.

In music, this results in an electric thrill, a slash of lightning against a stormy sky. In art, this yields warm and rich colors set against a deeply shadowed background, making the centerpiece of the painting pop out from its frame.

Chiaroscuro is not just applicable to fine arts. It can also describe us.

Against the dark background of your mistakes, your successes shine brightly.

Against the potential for human cruelty, human kindnesses glow like stars.

Let chiaroscuro flow. Let the natural errors that you’ve made along the way serve only to deepen the brilliance of your wisdom. Let the negative circumstances in your life give you perspective on and appreciation of your wonderful fortune.

Every person and every life has positive and negative aspects. Don’t deny your shadows; let them help your light shine by contrast.

Remember: nothing is useless. Your mistakes and your flaws have helped move you along your path and shape you into who you are today – just as much as your successes and your strengths. Be grateful for the journey.

Don’t shun the darkness: without it, how do you know there is light?

We, Too, Are Trees

I climbed a tree today. It is one of the most malformed, gargantuan trees I know, and it’s the only one in my life I’ve ever climbed. My partner introduced me to this tree, and now I go to it as a sanctuary.

This tree, like all trees, started out as a seed. It grew into a sapling. With time, with the seasons, it has grown into the friendly behemoth it is today.

The turning of the world has shaped it. Droughts and floods, early springs and early winters, false ends to both snow and heat have all changed this tree. The wind has bent it until its branches grew in line with the gusts.

Yet, after the sun shone long enough, it bloomed again. After the nights stayed cold enough, it hibernated. Its roots found purchase between rocks and other roots, digging deep until it found the desert’s precious water table.

Every tragedy and every blessing of the weather has helped make this tree what it is today.

When seen among all the trees, this tree – the only tree I have ever climbed – stands out. It is fascinating and full of character. It is a friend.

We, too, are trees. The events of our lives, the tremendous and the terrible, shape us. We are twisted and sculpted by the things we live through. When the good times last long enough, we lift up our faces and smile. When lean times descend, we cease to grow and instead focus on protecting and nourishing ourselves. When seen in a crowd of our peers, those of us who are the most “misshapen” are the ones who stand out as extraordinary.

Be you. Your life is your own, and you are the result of it. Be proud of that. You are unique.

Remember: If you are alive to read these words, you are not one of the seeds that failed to survive. You are still growing. You still have time. You are not done.

Sitting With Pain

If something hurts, our instinct is to withdraw from it. Put your hand on a hot stove, you snatch it back as soon as that flare of pain hits your brain. Have a terrible conversation with a coworker, you avoid them for a little bit until the hurt subsides and logic reasserts itself.

Sometimes, we can’t withdraw from the pain. Maybe a memory won’t let you think of anything else, haunts your dreams, keeps resurfacing in conversations. Maybe that old knee injury is aching all the time these days, more or less depending on how the weather is at the time.

Pain sucks. There’s really no arguing that. But pain can also be useful.

Sit with the pain.

Don’t wallow in it; don’t stay there forever. But sit with it for a while. Accustom yourself to feeling uncomfortable. See if there’s anything you can learn from the pain.

Explore the memory that won’t let go. Relive it if you must. Say outloud how you felt then, how you feel now. Let out that belatedly-thought-up witty riposte. Snarl your anger to an imaginary listener. Cry until the pulse of a dehydration headache is beginning to tap your temples. (Then, please, drink some water.)

We can’t move on until we’ve moved through. Life is a path, not a series of teleporters.

Let yourself feel, fully. Don’t deny yourself this step in the journey. Then, when you’ve expressed and explored all that you can, let it go. Give yourself permission to move on.

When you’re ready, shift your attention to something simple and happy in the present, and let the pain begin to subside.

It’s Not Personal

Conflict isn’t personal. It’s not about you.

In any given scenario, any person in the world could fill your shoes and do or say what you did or said. And if the other people involved had the same opinion of and emotional investment in that person as they do you, the event would replay itself exactly.

What happened may be your responsibility, in full or in part. You may have made a legitimate mistake.

But conflict is not about who you are. It is about what happened.

You as a person are not being attacked. Only your actions or words are being called into question.

The reverse is also true. How you react to other people in conflict is not about who they are. You are responding to the silhouette shaped by their actions or words and filled with the emotional import you place in that person.

Don’t take it personally – it’s not about you.

Learn From Everything

Learn from the cat sprawled in the sunlight how to relax.

Learn from the dog who leaps up to greet each new arrival how to share joy.

Learn from the old woman watering her garden how to nurture your purpose.

Learn from the soldier what mortality feels like and what you’re willing to die for.

Learn from the crying child how to be brave enough to express your wants and needs.

Learn from the wind how to move.

Learn from the mountain how to be still.

Learn from the water how to flow and take any shape, yet remain true to yourself.

Learn from the snake how to shed your old, outgrown skin and cultivate a new one, even if you’re raw for a little while.

Learn from the hunter and the hunted how every action and reaction is useful and how balance is kept.

Learn from the seasons how to spiral through your evolution and revisit the same places a little differently each time.

Learn from the stars how to shine across the greatest, darkest distance.

Learn from the sun how to rise and how to set again.

Learn from the moon how to share your light with the world according to how you face it each day.

Learn from the world how to live, and you will not go astray.

Being You

I could write a thousand posts on this subject. In time, I probably will.

I have tried writing an introduction to this concept in a concise, brief, rich way. I haven’t yet gotten a post that satisfies me, so this will do for the moment. Trust me, much more will follow.

Right now, I want to tell you that you have the right to be you and no one can take that away from you, even though some people will try to shape you according to their own ideals.

I want to tell you ten thousand times that you are okay as who you are. You are dynamically perfect. You will change and evolve and still be the only perfect you in existence.

I want to tell you that you are magnificent, beautiful, strong, brilliant.

I want to tell you that acknowledging your imperfections, your weaknesses, your flaws, and your hurts is only reclaiming the power of being you.

Let me say that again: embracing your weakness makes you a stronger you.

Denying any of yourself, whether that be by refusing compliments or by shunning your shadows, shatters your wholeness. When you kick away pieces of you that you can’t believe are that good or you can’t accept are that bad, you are less you.

Be you. Fuck the world and what they think, baby, be you and rock it. There is no other you. Only you can live your life and walk your path.

Live it. Walk it. Go.

Don’t Bottle It

What’s the #1 rule of preserving food and drink? Additives! Wait, no.

Seal it up. Soda bottles, canned fruits, tubs of ice cream. Shrink-wrapped fresh or frozen meat, bagged vegetables, spice shakers. All in air-tight containers.

However useful this is for the food industry, it is not applicable to our emotions.

don’t bottle the bad

You’re angry. You think you shouldn’t be – or perhaps you know you should be, but can’t let yourself be. You shove it aside. You bottle it.

Because it’s sealed away, it will stay fresh and potent for far longer than if it were allowed to be aired out. You’ll be able to come back to it, again and again, and it is still as spicy and hot as the day you first felt it.

How much emotional indigestion do you need?

don’t bottle the good, either

You’re elated. You haven’t felt this wonderful in weeks. You try to capture that feeling, to preserve it, because you’re worried that you’ll lose it if you’re not careful.

What happens to plants when you put them in sealed containers on a shelf? The same thing that happens to your joy. Unable to feed on your breath and your light, your joy withers, a flower pressed between pages of a book.

A dried memory of happiness is only an echo of the living, breathing emotion in the present.

let it breathe

Air out your unhappiness in whatever way is comfortable and safe for you. Don’t lash out at people; don’t blame them. Find a place and time to breathe, to sit with your anger or grief or fear, let it roll up and out of you. Express it. Don’t keep it locked inside. Ask for help if you need it.

In the same way, air out your happiness. Joy and hope and creativity grow in open environments, preferably with interaction with fuel sources: inspiring people, conducive music, good attitudes. Grow your goodness like a vine and tend it well.

Don’t bottle it. Your emotions are not flavors of soda.

Ungender Yourself

Don’t like pink because you’re female. Like pink because you like pink.

Don’t watch sports because you’re male. Watch sports because you want to watch sports.

Don’t be tough because you’re male. Don’t be compassionate because you’re female. Be strong and understanding because you’re strong and understanding.

And, as pointed out by Anthea in the comments, don’t avoid things you genuinely enjoy just to rebel against the gender norms. By doing so, you support the very stereotypes you dislike.

Don’t pretend to hate flowers because you don’t want to be girly. Don’t pretend to love fruity drinks because you don’t want to be manly.

Be you. Forget stereotypes. Like what you like. Dislike what you dislike.

We don’t need to assign genders to personality traits, hobbies, likes, and dislikes. We don’t need to assign genders to colors, moods, decorations, and professions.

Be you. Like what you like; do what you love. Don’t let your gender dictate or restrict your life. Don’t judge others’ genders based on what they love and what they do.

Just be. And let others be.