A Conversation with the Voices in my Head

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Let me introduce you to my new friend.

Went to a yoga class last week. It was awesome, the first one I’ve been to in forever. It also happened to be at the end of a three day juice fast AKA get-off-the-caffeine cleanse. More on that later. It was at the end of class, when we lay down in Sivassana, or Corpse pose, flat on our backs with our eyes closed, that the voice started talking to me.

“It’s no use, you’ll never relax,” the voice taunted. I looked and I saw him, there in my head. A little man, a bit like a gnome, a miniature tweaked out stress freak. Greenish wrinkly skin that accentuated every bone in his wiry body, big bugged out wicked-looking glowing eyes.

I sighed. “You again,” and I felt my body tense up, fighting gravity, resisting the gentle lull of letting go.

Then I remembered something I read once by the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. I can’t find the exact quote, but the basic idea is to invite your challenging feelings in for a cup of tea, figuratively speaking. Welcome them into your home and embrace them.

“Come on in,” I said, “Have some tea,” and I whipped up an imaginary magical sedating elixir.

He stood motionless, eyeing me suspiciously.

I held his eye contact steadily, consciously working to see past his appalling presentation, because I know he has something of value to offer me. He has to. “You know, you don’t have to be so stressed out,” I said. “I know it’s your job and all, but you don’t have to do it.”

“Lady,” he said, shaking his head, “You gotta stop sending me mixed messages.” And he took a sip of tea. “Yum.” He exhaled and relaxed. I relaxed.

I reflected on that. There is something in my subconscious mind that believes I need to be stressed out, that I need to try so hard all the damn time. And that part of me calls this tweaker to do the job, and he makes my life hell.

The other part is the caffeine habit. I find myself having such an attachment to caffeine, such an impulse to consume it all the time. I sometimes believe I need it to function, that I can’t just let myself get through a wave of tiredness, relax and rest into it. The caffeine summons this little green mean machine, as well. He comes and fills me with energy, which is great. But then, when it’s time to wind down and rest, he’s still there, contracting my muscles and chasing my thoughts around in circles.

Always on. Always up. Always energized.

Exhale. I gave the stressball a refresher on his tea. “You’re right,” I said. “I do need to work that out.”

He drank more tea. I relaxed more deeply. “This is nice,” he said, reclining on my chaise lounge. “I could get used to this.”

My body melted further into the floor. And I remembered that the bliss of relaxation is so much more deliciously fulfilling than the high of adrenaline.

I decided on my new mantra: EFFORTLESSNESS

I poured a cup of the tea for myself and drank deeply. Slow inhale. Long exhale. “It is nice. I could get used to it, too.” I turned to the green man and smiled. He smiled back, a slow lazy smile.

I closed my eyes and all thoughts disappeared.

Awesome photo credit: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/central%20africa

The Bare Necessities

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It is so wild that I am sitting down to write my first post about my pledge to practice yoga/meditation on a regular basis, and as I look at my blog to see how long I have been doing this, I see that I made this pledge exactly one month ago today. How cosmic is that?

So, the last time I wrote about this, I was high from the San Francisco Salsa Rueda Festival, and I talked about movement as meditation. Since then, I have barely amazingly managed to keep up with my regular practice, and I have come up with some basic guidelines for myself.

1. Dancing does not count. I love to dance, and yes, it is a meditation, but if I count this as part of my regular yoga/meditation practice, I will never do yoga. And I will never sit and meditate. I will just dance, and I already do that so it doesn’t really count.

2. I need to be alone. This is time for me to check in with me, myself, and I. I can sit and stretch and twist all I want when I am around other people, but this is not me checking in with myself. It is merely me extending and exercising my muscles while socializing.

3. Listening to my hypnosis sessions does count, as long as I don’t fall asleep five minutes into it. I got one hypnosis CD for test anxiety, and another for Bruxism (teeth-grinding, which I have learned I do with a vengeance). They have been helping me a lot. I have a lot of anxiety in my life right now, and this is a way for me to stay on top of it. I am learning “to be relaxed more than I ever have before (actual quote from hypnosis CD).”

4. Hatha yoga is very different from sitting meditation, and I need both. Ideally, I would be spending 15 minutes minimum nightly just sitting in meditation, but I need to stretch my body to de-stress. I need more time to devote to both practices, and meditation is getting the short end of the shaft right now, because my body demands to unwind. And that is okay, for now, until I get through this very packed and crazy part of my life (I sense someone snickering and thinking, “The crazy times never end, you fool…”)!

5. My practice is about nurturing myself, not about self-discipline. My life is way too disciplined right now. I am studying for my LCSW exam, and let me tell you, this test is a motherfucker! Serious insomnia inducing, teeth-grinding insanity. And I am not a nervous test-taker. I am also juggling a job where I constantly hear horror stories and try to help people find light in dark places. And then there’s parenting my almost 4-year-old boy who seems to be getting hit by a massive wave of testosterone. My sweet little mama’s boy is now fluctuating between screaming at me, hitting, outright defiance, and extreme clinginess. Patience has been a true necessity that I have sometimes been short on lately. There are plenty of other stressors I could list, but they are either in the past, in the future, or in the not so central present, so i will not get into them, because thinking about them is making me chew my fingernails. The point is, I need quiet time, to give myself what I really need.

I am learning more about what I really need, because filling these needs feels really essential right now. I think I am listening to my deeper needs more than I ever have in my life. Simple things, like: get to sleep at a reasonable hour; cut back on the caffeine, alcohol, and sugar; eat healthy foods and take vitamins; communicate assertively instead of holding things in; don’t spend my precious energy sweating the small stuff; be grateful; and relieve stress with physical activity (including sex!!!).

I already knew all this stuff. These were the “shoulds” that were always in the back of my mind. But somehow, they are becoming the “wants” and the “musts” at the forefront of my mind. Challenging times bring us back to our foundation. I am digging deep and making mine strong.