Saturday, November 3, 2012

So Now What?

After the post two weeks ago, in which I questioned whether any of this was actually happening or just a figment of my imagination, and last week's post, wherein I discovered proof positive that real progress had been made, I find myself wondering why nothing feels dramatically different, and what I need to do to move things along in that area.

Mostly, I just do the work that presents itself. Most of the timet, the next step is pretty clear and I am able to take it without a lot of dallying. I've dallied quite enough, thanks. Not interested in whining or navel-gazing; I am actually trying to get shit done, here. 

But sometimes, no new work emerges on its own. I find myself floating, waiting for the next thing to come along so I can get cracking. 

This happens more frequently than I let on. But so far, those limbo periods have always been followed by a break-through of some kind. Like reaching the plateau at the top of an arduous climb, I get an easy walk for a while, until it's time to take on the next hill.

The next hill never seems like it's going to come. It always does, but I never think it will. 

Every month or two, I sit down across from Dr. Oz and announce that nothing is happening, nothing is moving, nothing is changing, I'm frustrated with my lack of progress, I don't know where to go from here.

The next week is usually when one of those crazy OMG moments happens and a bunch of cogs click into place, and the wheels begin to turn again.

I never think it's going to happen, though. I find myself in doubt, every time.

I think it's because the changes are happening at such a deep level. It's not a change of scenery or a change of mood, it's a change in orientation to the world, when it happens. It's a re-imagining of the self, every time.

I've really been trying, when shifts occur, to embrace them completely and embody them in as permanent a way as I can. I don't have time for back-sliding. When epiphany comes, I want that thing integrated and operational ASAP.

This all sounds exhilarating, doesn't it?

Well, it sucks. It totally sucks. In case I've given you the impression that this whole business is enjoyable at all, let me disabuse you of that notion now. There is nothing fun about it.

What's fun, as it happens, is writing about it in such a positive way. Telling the story like it's an adventure, like it's a thrilling chase. A madcap caper! The race to sanity! 

In that way, like I warned you way back in the beginning, this whole tale I've been spinning is, in fact, made up. I've been telling you the story of the life I'd like to be living; events as I wish they were happening; progress as it only gets made in the movies, or in dreams.

What I didn't know back then, when I first told you that writers are liars, is that somehow, in this journey, writing the lie helps to make it true.

I hardly ever know what I'm going to write when I sit down in my usual seat in the coffee shop on Saturday mornings. Sometimes I have a vague idea, but I almost never have a complete one, and it never, ever goes where I think it's going to go, anyway. The epiphanies usually happen to me twice, or in two ways: once in therapy or in preparation for therapy or in the aftermath of therapy, when the lizard brain shifts in its mostly wordless way, sometimes below or beyond my ability to articulate what's happening.

And then it happens again, in the way that feels real-- the way that sticks-- when I sit down and let whatever's been brewing under the surface come out on the screen. Maybe it's the coffee that's the catalyst. Whatever it is, it happens only once I've completed all the progressively-more-ritualized steps that precede a writing session: procuring coffee, plugging in my various tech devices, aligning edges, arranging according to priority of use, switching from sunglasses to reading glasses like Mr. Rogers' religious divesting of dress shoes for sneakers.

All must be done, and done precisely, before I can proceed.

And then I open a new post, and begin to type. Sometimes (usually... almost always, really) I don't even know what I'm going to say until after I've said it. But I rarely sit and stare at an empty screen. My conscious mind might not have been consulted, but my subconscious seems to be rigorously prepared, every week.

That really brings home one essential truth: the element most conspicuously missing from the day to day aspect of the work I've been doing is mindfulness.

Asking a profoundly dissociated person to be mindful is like asking a fish to fly. A fish spends all its time doing the exact opposite of flying. Every thought, action, instinct, and biological compulsion the fish has tells it that flying is impossible. Flying removes that which the fish requires in order to live.

Okay, I should say it feels, to the dissociated person, as impossible as this.

Every single method I've ever tried, in the pursuit of recovery, has come down to mindfulness. Therapy works most profoundly through mindfulness. Body work works most profoundly through mindfulness. Writing and thinking and breathing and living work most profoundly through mindfulness.

Well. Homie don't play that.

Mindfulness is exactly what I do not do. I do not sit within a moment and experience life as it happens. I do not observe intimately and openly events as they unfold. I do not breathe and meditate and let thoughts pass me by like people on the sidewalk outside a window.

Seriously. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

No, I'm more of a scavenger, darting out, collecting bits of life and scurrying back to my cave to turn them over in my hands and admire them from all sides and think about them from a distance before filing them into place. I am a remote observer. I am a weigher of thoughts.

I need, as they say, a moment.

But I've just realized, as I've been writing this whole last section on mindfulness, that this writing has actually become the place where I get closest. I sit, I let go, and things come. I dress it up as it hits the air and turn it into a yarn being spun, but it comes out of a place more immediate and vulnerable and present than my usual consciousness.

As such, I usually learn the truth about what's going on inside me the same way you do: by reading it here.

Leave it to me to call this bizarrely disconnected process mindfulness, but that's what it feels like to me. It's the closest I can get. It's the only time I just let what comes, come, and it's where the most is revealed to me.

I think this is why I feel like I'm making it up. There's no planning, there's only shaping what is right in front of me. Writing the lie, and making it true.

It's alchemy, this blog. Self-discovery is not a neat process, and most of it seems to happen when we're not looking. Or at least, that's when it happens to me. And then I come in here on Saturday, line up my kindle precisely with the edge of my laptop and stack my earbud case on top, dead-center, put my fingers to the keys, and let my body tell me what is happening within, right here, right now, and then once it's out, I let it change me from the outside, where it's a hell of a lot easier to see and understand.

I can't do it purposefully, yet, but this blog is increasingly authentic proof that I can let it happen without resisting, and I don't know if Dr. Oz would agree that mindfulness is what I'm doing here, but I think it's at least a proper start.

Ugh. I guess it's happened again: the revelation of the next step, just when I am convinced it's never going to come.

Mindfulness. The traditional, old-fashioned, purposeful kind.  

I've said before that I need to get on that. I'm saying it again, and meaning it this time: I need to get on that. It feels like the final frontier, in a way. I can see that everything I hope will happen from all of this work will happen more easily through a real, developed practice of mindfulness.

Okay. All right. Fine.

I may need to enlist some additional resources for this (fish: flying. Remember?). 

Remember Superbetter? This seems like a good time to put that to work for me. One of the things Superbetter asks you to do is identify your support network, and enlist champions to help you through specific tasks, or even to carry out specific tasks on your behalf, to push you along and help you achieve what you need.

Champions: that's you guys. You do your job by showing up here and reading and following and sharing your thoughts (keep doing that! The comments section is waiting for you!). 

I don't know if there's anything more specific a champion can do to help me be more mindful, but if there is, I'll put the word out. Let me know if you'd like to be involved.

Well, I've meandered my way to another epiphany. Funny, how that keeps happening. If it's a sign that I'm on the right path--and I think it is-- I'll take it.

It would be nice, once in a while, to see it coming. Mindfulness will help with that, right?

Anybody feel like they have a particular skill in being mindful? How do you do it? Where do you start, and how do you know when you're doing it? What does it feel like? What's the benefit, in your view? Why is it the goal?

Lay it on me, champions. Teach this fish to fly. This water's getting murky and I could use the fresh air.


  1. I'll be your champion!

  2. A book I read recently on meditation spoke of how in meditation the mind often wanders without your realizing it.  When it happens you have to purposely put your attention back on your breath.  

    Beginners, the book said, often label this attention-wandering-forcing-the-attention-back-to-the-breath as "failure," and repeated "failures" add up to "I can't meditate" and then they stop trying.  

    However, it said, the act of forcing your attention back on your breath is how you develop your mindfulness muscle.  It's the lifting part of lifting weight, so to speak.

    If you want to get bigger muscles you don't do that by "having lifted" the weights, you do it by actually lifting them, over and over.  Likewise, to develop mindfulness you must shift your attention back to your breath over and over and over.  

    So, to extend the metaphor...when it comes to becoming more mindful, you're like a person who's been bedridden for twenty years trying to lift weights.  You need to start with 1lb weights.  Or even less.  Like maybe just one single breath at a time.

    But, being present for the whole breath is not the thing to aim for.  Aim for returning your attention to your breath when it wanders, as often as you need to during that breath, until you can sit for the whole breath.  

    Eventually you can move up in weights.  2 breaths.  5 breaths.  10 breaths....100 breaths.  Before you know it you'll be as mindful as someone who isn't fighting their lizard brain.  

    Actually you'll be better off because I think most people are a lot less mindful than you give them credit for.

  3. Your quest for mindfulness
    reminds me of this passage from Roger Ebert's blog entry, "All the Lonely


    "There might have been a time when humans were content to sit and
    simply be, like the goat I saw yesterday sitting contently in
    a patch of sunshine at the Lincoln Park Zoo. That time was long ago. We want
    the news. We want to chatter and gossip. We want to say 'I am alive' in a billion billion different ways."


    I think I'm a little more mindful than I was six years ago, and the reason is this:  we live with a dog now.  Sophie constantly models mindfulness.  When it's sunny, she goes outside and rolls on her back in undignified doggie ecstasy.  When her bowl is full, she wolfs down kibble and turkey bits with such gusto that you'd think she was encountering food for the first time.  When a human comes to visit, she shakes her rump like a bee pointing out nectar.  Nobody can say that this dog is not present.  She lives in the moment, and when we take her for a stroll around town, so do we.  
    When do you feel most mindful?  It might be during meditation, but it might not.  Things that put me in the zone include writing and listening to music.  Things that don't include yoga and meditation.  Try to notice those moments when you feel most mindful.  What are you doing?  Whatever it is, you should probably do more of it.  

    "What I didn't know back then, when I first told you that writers are
    liars, is that somehow, in this journey, writing the lie helps to
    make it true."  That is *such* a great observation.  Absolutely.  We draw a map, and like it or not, the envisioned journey becomes real.  Strange alchemy indeed.

  4. KateTheGirlWhoLived10 November, 2012 11:54

    Thanks, lady! And in return I shall lend you a preggo-friendly chair that will not suddenly cease to be. Seems a worthy exchange, no?

  5. KateTheGirlWhoLived10 November, 2012 11:56

    Thank you, love. This is incredibly helpful and clear. One breath, I can do. Or at least, I'm confident I can learn to do.

    Also, I stole your book and it is now mine. Mindfully. So. ;>

  6. KateTheGirlWhoLived10 November, 2012 12:02

    Yes. It's good to hear that out loud from someone else-- that yoga and meditation don't work for everyone. I live in the Bay Area. That is not, shall we say, a popular opinion. ;>

    Writing: me too. I hadn't felt that way for a long time, but have begun to achieve it again. Finding mindfulness through writing and letting that motivate me to write more seems like the answer to a great many things. I will cultivate a better understanding of how that is working in my life.

    I don't have a dog (yet), but I do have two 3-year olds, and you are absolutely right. Being around little beings who are nothing but present 24/7 does have an effect. It is hard for me to remember that a lot of the time. 

    I try to stop and smell the roses with them-- I mean, really, what else do I have to do that is more important than that? Nothing, that's what-- but I don't achieve that as often as I wish I did.

    Another built-in way to practice. No contortions or chanting required. Damn, you are good. You really are.