Stringing Together the Pieces

Part of my mindfulness training has seen me bringing together aspects of my life that I have often held as separate.

The most difficult act of inclusion has been uniting my job with my creative endeavors. In those initial floundering years post-college, I very actively and forcefully separated the two so that my job was a miserable march to earn a paycheck while my creative endeavors—writing! music!—were held as sacrosanct activities.

I suffered for forcing this separation. My personal life was unfulfilled (he wrote, summarizing multiple agonizing years of failed relationships in a mere phrase), and in retrospect, I know that my art wasn’t exactly flourishing.

The act of separating is more subtle these days, but I still do it unconsciously - even as the lines between work-self and artist-self are blurring because of how I work (at home or on the road), whom I live with (wife and children), and more self-awareness.*

To live my best life (as the kids say), I recognize that not only do I need to bring my presence to that life, no matter what it is I’m doing, but I also need to be who I am in all of those areas, which requires acceptance and confidence. Hence, I suppose, the word ‘practice’ that often cabooses the term ‘mindfulness.’

*It’s not easy.

Dysfunction Junction

It’s not too much of a concern, but at some point in my self-development process I might actually get better at managing how my emotional responses lead to my actions.

I’ve been self-studying mindfulness for several years now. I’ve been meditating about as long. And like some kind of self-aware lab rat, I’ve been observing how these additions to my life have impacted my creative interests and artistic output.

Or approached another way: Can self-actualized and balanced humans still create viable art?

I suspect I’m not alone in having anchored my creative ways to that Dysfunction Junction within, that dingy place inside where I store my most painful, shameful, guilty memories.

So what happens when I—to continue the metaphor—move out those rusty cars full of stale regrets, shameful feelings, stagnant fears and clear the tracks?

And even worse to consider: do I keep that Dysfunction Junction operational because I’m afraid if I shut it down that I’ll lose my creativity?

I really don’t know how this will turn out.

A Student of Gratitude

I’ve been reading the The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.

I’m a fan of her study on vulnerability (and have in fact written a blog post about aspects of that research). In returning to her work, I’ve found elements and nuances that I’d either previously missed.

In her discussion on gratitude, for example, she notes that joy and happiness are two different experiences (‘Happiness is tied to circumstance and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude’), and that joy’s opposite isn’t sadness but fear.

She then parses that fear and puts a label to an emotion that I’ve lived with but hadn’t been able to properly explain: scarcity.

I don’t consider myself ungrateful, per se, but I fully acknowledge that I worry and fret that the elements that make my ordinary, day-to-day life joyful will be removed. I do fear that pointing out to the Universe that I love my family, my job, music, writing, art, spirituality, will somehow ensure that those things will be taken from me.

Perhaps scarcity is more acute for those of us who grew up in broken homes where economic security and emotional security were fleeting and yet also somehow intertwined, the one working for, with and against the other.

So, I’m afraid to be grateful, and it’s time to change that.

On Advice of Council

I used to be better about taking time out for purely aesthetic experiences.

Granted there are legitimate obstacles to doing that these days: I have two young sons, a more than full time day job, a home and family which are certainly blessings but they bring with them more responsibilities and tasks in a given day than I once had.

Days, as you all well know, have a tendency to flow one to the other in a rush if we don’t pay attention.

Still and all, I should like to be better about taking time out to listen to music, take in a film (do they still make films; not movies, like the kind that I take my kids to, but actual films?), read some poetry or spiritual texts and contemplate.

It’s not fair to compare my life now to when I was in college, or to those rough years immediately afterward when I was apprenticing my writing (and being absolutely broke in the process). And yet I do miss giving over entire hours if not days to creative, artistic and aesthetic experiences. I miss that primal hunger.

The world being what it is, chasing beauty while we can is essential.

Head In Space

I meditate. It’s odd to admit this publicly, a mix of vulnerability and confession follows. Perhaps because admitting to a meditation practice raises the question about why.

Surely there must be something wrong with me if I’m practicing meditation. A deficiency I’m making up for.

And, well, I suppose there is. Among my faults, I’m quick to anger and I live with a pervasive anxiety and at this mid-point of my life, meditation is a means for keeping myself centered. My life is enhanced, and the lives of those around me are improved, if I work on these more off-the-cuff reactions and maybe not always emote and respond from them without the intervention of conscious thought. 

For the past two months, I’ve been using the Headspace app.

Until I started with the app, I had worked through a regular meditation practice cobbled together mostly from my reading on the topic (Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron). This worked well enough; I had managed a workable daily practice, even if it is at times difficult to focus during my sessions.

What I’ve appreciated most about Headspace is the guided sessions, an aspect I was initially not keen on but have come to value. The gentle reminders to reign in my thoughts and to increase that gap between me and the thoughts themselves is essential work for me.

You can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Headspace, which I recommend. Following the initial 30-day trial, should you decide to continue, you can select several learning tracks, including Sports, Health, Relationships, and Performance. (I have been working my way through the Anxiety track in the Health section and found the sessions both effective and easy to practice in my life beyond the meditation pillow.)

Whether you’re drawn to meditation based on its more spiritual overtones or because of the scientific research that supports a practice (or both), Headspace provides you with one more useful tool to help you better understand yourself.