I don’t know when it happened

I don’t know when in my life I somehow convinced myself that I wasn’t worth it. That I would never amount to anything. That I didn’t deserve anything. So I stopped trying, doing the things I loved, striving, being who I was. I guess it was fear of inevitable failure. I’m not exactly sure what led to this. I mean I have a vague idea, but it wasn’t one thing in particular. And anyway, it doesn’t really matter.

I’ve turned a corner recently. Actually it was a really long corner. Razor sharp edges. But somehow I made it. I began to realize that this life was mine to live and striving for failure is inevitable. It is a rarity in life to be the best at something or to be perfect or to be the person that you want to be. But being able to experience and grow and change, that is living.

Life is shaped by those tiny glimmering moments, when a smile creeps up your lips unexpectedly. When you feel that little flutter in your gut and that warm glow in your chest. It’s the anticipation in your beating heart before you do something exciting or nerve-wracking. Life is sitting down with a cup of tea after a long day’s work and being proud that you went out and did it. Or spending the day in bed curled up in a blanket because its your life and fuck it.

I think I spent a lot of my life changing myself to be someone I thought I wanted to be. Trying to find a sense of belonging and self-worth. Maybe it was there all along. Because I’ve never been happier. I’m working hard, doing the things I love, and soaking up the moments.

I guess I’m writing now because I’m heading into a semester full of unknowns. Things that could go fantastically or horribly wrong. I’m taking a risk and doing something that tore me apart physically and mentally years ago. I’m afraid, but I hope that this time, I’ll be able to face everything gracefully, with my head held high, just there to enjoy the moments. But who knows…

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To Be Alone

Over the past year, I’ve gotten to a place where I am comfortable with myself. I wouldn’t say that I’ve grown to love myself, because honestly, I still hate the way I look, and I’m not a huge fan of my personality either. I think its more of a feeling of acceptance.

I used to be really afraid of being alone. I’d spend nights crying because I was so alone. Of course I had family and I had friends, but this was different. It was a fear that I would never find anyone who would understand exactly what it was like to be me. To feel these things that I could never explain in words. Someone who could make my decisions for me. I guess, just someone to be me, to live my life and to just let me watch.

But I’ve learned that to be alone is something to be cherished. To know that you are the only one in the entire world who is ever going to feel this way, to have these experiences, to look at the world from this perspective. That is a beautiful thing. I’ve learned that this what life is. To contribute to the world a life that you shape, a life that is limitless. Sure, there are laws, societal conventions, restrictions. But still, it’s crazy to think that as a human being, you have the ability to do anything, to decide to feel whatever you want to feel. To me, that is the gift of being alone. And it’s something that I’ve accepted.

Here’s the part that’s not so great though. I’ve spent a lot of time this past year being on my own, learning to trust myself and appreciate that I have the power to shape my life and decide whether or not I’m going to be happy. But now I’m scared to not be alone.

I guess its because when I’m the only person involved in my life, I’m in complete control. But, when I let other people in, I lose control, and that’s when things get tough. The problem is, the closer people get, the more I care about them. And the more I care about people, the more they have the power to hurt me. And this is the kind of hurt that I can’t control, I can’t turn off.

It’s been three months since I’ve gotten back. I haven’t gotten particularly close to anybody this semester. I’ve met people, made new friends, but I haven’t made any close connections. Part of it is circumstance. But a huge part is excuses, reasons not to commit, not to care, not to ever let anybody have the power to hurt me. It’s not that I love being alone. I’m okay with it, and I don’t mind it. But I’m terrified to not be alone.

Stop

I had a rough time in Japan, but there is one thing that I do miss. Awareness.

We live in a culture of rush. It’s glorified, especially here in New England. Trying to make plans with someone inevitably becomes an argument about whose schedule is busier because for some reason, being busy equates to being accomplished..

Kyoto was not a particularly happy place for me. We had curfews and restrictions, lots of restrictions, especially at the monastery. A lot of that had to do with trying to diminish our thinking, decreasing our choices, forcing us to do rather than spending every moment anticipating the future. It was hard, but it worked.

But my favorite part of Kyoto? Every night at 8:00, I set out on my nightly walk. I finished all my work in anticipation of my nightly walk. Then I would set out, headphones in. 20 minutes to the river. Just me and myself. Once I got there, a thirty minute walking meditation. And finally, I would pick my favorite rock, sit, and just watch the Kamo River in all its glory. The lights, the city, the water. Then I would stroll home just in time for 10:00 curfew.

I miss it. And its not like I couldn’t do it here. But, I keep telling myself that there isn’t any time to stop. That I have to keep going even though I know its not really true.

Taking time for yourself isn’t a waste of time. In fact, its probably the most productive use of your time. Those are the moments when you are literally living. You don’t even have to be straight up meditating. Just being aware of where you are, not just physically, but in life. Being aware of the people around you, people with just as many feelings and emotions and experiences as you. There’s this unspoken belief that we don’t want to waste our life and in order to accomplish that, we have to do as much as possible in as little time as possible. We have to avoid failure. I am just as guilty in going along with these sentiments, but lately, I’m trying just a little bit harder not to. I personally believe that we are just passing through. Its okay to take life little less seriously.

Look up.

The river from Gojo Dori

The river from Gojo Dori


The river at night

The river at night

Until We Meet Again

Life is but a fleeting moment in the game of time. It is a second filled with happiness, sadness, anticipation, and pain all rolled into one. It teaches you not to grasp anything too tightly for in the end, you will learn that it is all temporary. You may ask, but what is its meaning? Why are we allowed to live when in the end we are all to face the pain of death? But to me, death isn’t the end. It is only a gate, a symbol of our souls passing through.

Family and friends look on and wave as you pass through. We are sad that you are traveling on without us and we will miss you. But we know that you are moving on to bigger and better things. You’ve accomplished what you needed to do here in this world. One day we will meet again. Until then, we will savor your memories with a smile and keep you nestled in our hearts, right where you belong.

Let it all in

 everybody want happiness nobody wants pain but you can't have a rainbow without a little rain

When hurt and pain approach us, our first instinct is to avoid it, to shove it somewhere deep and hidden where it can’t bother us. No one wants to feel these negative emotions, but they are such an important part of the experience of living.

I believe that those who experience the strongest emotions lead the fullest lives. Consider Van Gogh, Beethoven, Virginia Woolf, who accomplished so much not in spite of, but because of the pain that they experienced. I’m not saying that I envy that lifestyle nor that one ought to lead a life of negativity; however, there is a reason that emotions like these exist. Painful emotions help us explore parts of ourselves and to feel things more deeply than ever before. And when it is all over, we can experience and appreciate our positive emotions with the same ferocity.

One of my favorite articulations of this idea stems from a scene in Louie, a slightly dark comedy through which I have actually learned some fairly deep life lessons. After Louis’ love interest moves away, he is in a world of pain. His insightful neighbor remarks: “This is the good part. This is what you’ve been digging for this entire time. The bad part is when you don’t care about her. When you don’t care about anything. The bad part is coming so enjoy the heartbreak while you can.”

Don’t be afraid to embrace the pain. Don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t strong enough to block it out. Love yourself because you’re strong enough to take it in.

7 Ways to Get a Little More Out of Life…

1. Handwrite someone a note
We all have that special someone who has made our life just a little bit better just by being in it. Maybe its time to tell them that. Thank them for making a difference in your life and let them know why. It takes ten minutes to write down how you feel and it will mean the world to them.

2. Make a checklist
There are always those simple little tasks that we always say we will do later. Making a doctor’s appointment, cleaning your room, returning your email. For some reason there is nothing more satisfying to me than checking those little shadowed boxes, especially if those tasks take less than five minutes to accomplish. At the end of list, have a checkbox for “starting the list” so you can start off strong.

3. Get mindful
Take a couple minutes each day to center yourself. Don’t think about the past or the future, but focus on the present. It’s difficult to remember this as you go about the day. Ironically, there are several iphone apps to help you out. Most of them are about 99 cents and you can pick time intervals (eg 1 hr or 2 hrs) when it will ding and remind you to be mindful. I use a free app called Lotus Bud that will ring at random intervals. If you buy the full version, you can set a schedule for quiet times when you don’t want to be interrupted, but otherwise, you just open the app and there is a switch for on and off.

4. 100 Happy Days (or something like it)
You’ve probably heard of 100 Happy Days where for 100 days, you take a picture of something, little or big, that was a highlight to your day or made you smile. For my winter study class at Williams, I took landscape photography and I felt like for the first time I was really seeing the beauty of the campus. Obviously living in the Berkshires and in the mountains doesn’t make this very difficult, but I also started to see the beauty of a swatch of grass or a pile of leaves or the magic of a snowy night. Now that the class is over, I’ve started to notice less since I no longer have assignments to complete, but I’m starting to make an effort to get back to seeing and not just looking.

5. Do a few burpees
I’ve noticed that when stress starts piling up, I get into a bit of a rut which usually ends up in me lying under the covers in fetal position blaming myself for getting into this situation. I’ve started to see that all it takes is a little exercise and a bit of a pep talk. It doesn’t have to be extreme exercise, but if you do 20 burpees or jumping jacks once every hour or when you feel yourself sinking into that bottomless pit, it might get your motor revving a little.

6. Set an intention for the day
Like I wrote earlier, it was much easier for me to see the beauty in the world when I had to do it for an assignment. That may sound terrible, but its not so bad when its a goal that you set for yourself. It can be something on this list or an inspirational quote or something arbitrary like saying hi to someone you’ve never seen before. Hopefully focusing on this goal will make you start living more in the present and not in the past or the future.

7. Write yourself a note
I don’t mean one of those goal setting notes that they make you write at every workshop, retreat, or orientation. I mean acknowledging that you appreciate yourself, that you’re proud of yourself, and encouraging yourself to get through whatever you need to get through. Throw it out, delete it when you’re done, but make sure you take that time for yourself.

“One thing about trains… It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.” -The Polar Express