More Than Our Moods

Unhappy people say happiness is overrated. Unhappy people and grumpy cat.  Well, stick a feather in my hat and call me grumpy cat, or something…  If I opted to call this site the Happy Bitch, or The Happiest Bitch on the Block even, it’d do better.  But I’m not in the business of promoting happiness.  I know what you’re thinking, she must be a great therapist, huh? Well, screw you, I am.

Actually, I’m not unhappy.  Not perpetually anyway.  I do a lot of the same mood boosts for happiness and I read the same books. I just don’t value being happy as much I value other aspects of myself and my life.  Seeking joy through mindfulness, especially in its origins, is more about living life fully, than it is about being happy.  Por exemplar (for a fuller life, I’m also brushing up on my Spanish);  my happiest day would be one day after I’ve done something of accomplishment, and two days before I’m expected to do anything else.  My happiest days are Saturdays.  But they are my emptiest days.

On full days, my happiness is fleeting.  It’s not necessarily replaced by sadness or anger, instead I go through a full range of emotions. Which is really exhausting, so I sleep late. This fullness is the “joy” that mindfulness practitioners allude to.  A nice side effect of a full, value driven life is happiness; but it is not the goal.  

Remember when you found out dandelions were weeds.  We all found out the same way.  We saw some, we plucked them into a stinky bouquet only to present them to someone who was unimpressed.  This means we had to like that person enough, hold them fondly in our little minds and  have the forethought to pluck those pretty yellow flowers, only to be greeted with a look of disgust. So now we’re standing there like an asshole, and we owe someone real flowers.  That’s what valuing happiness is like.  Its missing the intention and beauty of feeling and connection by trying to trade it for another more valued state.  And in case you couldn’t tell this is more than a tacky metaphor, it’s an unresolved anecdote in which I wish my aunt would have just taken the fucking dandelions with a smile. ::insert wilted spirit here::  Anyway

The reason I have a full range of emotions is because I’m supposed to feel them, not so I can keep calm and carry on, but so that I give one, two, or as many fucks of my choosing.  It’s allowing myself to express and have emotions without shame for having had them in the first place that leads to emotional regulation.  And I said without shame, not without boundaries.  Healthy emotional expression means making the situation better in the long-term and conserving relationships. Expressing emotions effectively is different than acting on every emotion you have.  Mindfulness was a huge help to me in that I used to act on my emotions without properly identifying them most of the time, which is a pretty lethal mix.  I haven’t killed anyone, though, yet.

I went to a therapist once in grad school. Literally, just the one time.  I went because I was angry all the time and I’m not a characteristically angry person.

 “Sometimes when people are expressing anger, they’re actually feeling a more vulnerable emotion, like fear.”  

Pshh, no.  Not me, I aint a-scared of nothin’.  I actually said something like that sans Chuckie from Rugrats voice.  It took me a year to realize I was actually terrified.  Whatdya know. I can picture him being like, “called it!” Smug bastard.  No, I shouldn’t. He was actually quite kind and professional.  Whatever.  

So I guess the take-away from all this is that all emotions are essentially good emotions.  If we know what we are actually feeling.  It took a lot of time and a lot of self-compassion for me to be able to admit that I was scared during that time.  I often think I’m feeling angry, rageful -almost every time I feel this way I first felt rejected, embarrassed, inadequate.  When we can recognize our primary emotions, we  have the chance to do something different, to soothe.  “It’s okay that I feel this way, I feel myself getting reactive. This is because I need love and belongingness.  Not because I’m a bad human, but because I am a human.” I can work on the extent of the neediness of course, but if I notice what I actually feel, what I really need, I have the opportunity to fulfill my own needs, relying less and less on the external validation that I once prized.  And that responsiveness to myself, that act of full living is greater than the fleeting smile it produces.

Unspoken: We can’t find our voice until we start talking

Unspoken

A word that contradicts itself before it leaves your lips

It’s moments to be said and heard

Empty seats on passing ships.

I could’ve written it down,

At least then I could erase it.

Instead I gulped it down,

Not deep, though, I still taste it.

Nothing to revoke, defend, or take back

Thoughts I never spoke

Climaxes fall flat

The undoing of most things, requires them first done,

But I can’t unspeak the words that I left unspoken.

And all the lonely heroes will remain unsung

For words that lay unuttered on the tips of tied up tongues.

Think before you speak.  Wiser words have never been spoken.  At least, I think not.  But how long is long enough to wait?  For me, any hesitation or deep thought usually results in a retraction of my unspoken statement.  Is that because it was really unnecessary, or have I just been conditioned to examine the superfluousness of my every move? How long should we think before we speak, especially if it just becomes a pattern of thinking and not speaking? As a woman, and a shy, un-self-assured, second-guessing woman, I find myself doing an awful lot of thinking before speaking.  It’s what I’m thinking about, though, that’s the real kicker.  I’m not thinking about what I will say and how it is helpful or true, I’m assessing how my personal value shifts in the eyes of others upon my saying this.  This is not to say I don’t talk, I talk. A lot.  Which means that I’m thinking about my talking infinitely, which of course means I’m not being mindful.  “Ah, screw it just say what you want,” my bitchiness usually wins out in the moment.  Which I vow to correct for the next time I see those people, “I’ll show them, I’ll be so fucking quiet.”

So I oscillate between talking mindlessly and thinking mindlessly.  How to be a mindful, talkative, thoughtful, bitch?  There are a lot of little hacks out there, but perhaps the most enlightening for me was one my mom taught me. She taught me out of annoyance.  I annoy myself to date with my ramblings. I can’t imagine those excited, non-punctuated, rantings of a child (cringe).

Much like my life, I lead conversations through poor planning and running into the next word or thought.  “Say each word all the way to the end” she’d say.  This simple rule is easy enough for me catch in the moment, and benign enough that I don’t feel the need to swallow my words out of shame for “doing it again.”

I could rack my brain endlessly over when I should and shouldn’t talk, what I should or shouldn’t say.  After reading The Alchemist, I used it to help me be better at this. “Eat when it is time to eat, and move on when it is time to move on.”  Talk when it is time to talk, and shut up when it is time to shut up.  I found my voice through the encouragement and listening of others, but I had to start talking first.  Starting talking was hard, stopping talking is harder.  But, I guess it’s time to shut up.

The Mindful Bitch

When I think about how I should meditate, I get this image of myself in lotus position, content and at peace. Ohm.  Its desirable, trendy and now it’s good for me so why not?  And then I actually do it, and it’s not quite like one would imagine.  It would make a great meme, a perfect Pinterest fail.  

Unfortunately it is these very imaginings, these expectations that draw me to mindfulness that also make it feel hard.   That’s the trouble with practicing an ancient tradition in modern society and expecting ancient wisdom and contentment to follow.  The current draw to mindfulness (for me anyway) was the prospect of self-healing.  But really it was the image -the new me; one that was transformed into a calm, cool, collected, happy, and fully present woman.  After all, with the new hacks and articles, it’s easy, right? Instead, my initial difficulties with mindfulness practice became the source of more personal discontentment. I was not self-confident and I was certainly not cool (I’m still not).  I wasn’t doing mindfulness right. It’s impossible  to measure up to the mindful ideal, and in the theory of mindfulness, doing it for a particular outcome (happiness, peace) is an altogether fallacy.

The origins of mindfulness are more empowering than the current applications as a skill or route to happiness. Using it as a tool for healing can miss the point of actual meditative practice.  Recent trends break mindfulness down into be non-judgmental and in the moment, but there’s more to that end.  Yes, mindfulness can absolutely help people, and there are whole therapies (that I practice) based on this.  

Mindful meditation decreases many thinking patterns associated with depression and anxiety.  Depression stems from ruminative thinking that confirms self-defeating ideas from the past.  Anxiety is living mentally in the future –planning, worrying about details that are usually out of one’s immediate control.  However, making “getting better” the goal of using this practice is selling people short. There are so many mindful shortcuts, it is almost exclusively used to help people feel better.

The origins of mindfulness come from Buddhist practice that draws on ideas of spiritual connectivity, not individual contentment.  One might argue that mindfulness meditation does not exist to make one feel better at all, but to help them not think about themselves quite so much.  As a society, we live off of the belief that contentment and confidence are earned through other’s affirmations. And there’s truth to that, but in meditation, it is humility that breeds connection, not confidence.  Being more in the moment allows us to see the people right in front of us and to connect honestly, authentically.  It also allows us to take an external perspective and connect with our own core values.

But have you heard these meditations?  I have, I’ve (attempted to) record my own.  And each time I hear my voice, there’s a part of me that does not recognize that woman; that positive thinking, slow speaking, kind, reflective person.  So is it right of me to hold myself to that standard? Self-improvement is always a good thing; but self-acceptance has to come first.  

In true mindful based therapies, control is the problem especially controlling for unwanted emotions.  Yet, I originally pursued mindfulness as a way to do that very thing.  To expect the pendulum to swing from judgment to non-judgment, or negative to positive, was my ideal. It was not realistic. We use mindfulness to eliminate the parts of ourselves we don’t like; and minimize discomfort about things over which we don’t have control.   We should first incorporate the parts we aspire and then see if there’s room for both.  Instead of going from bitch to mindful; I have to first accept that I am a mindful bitch.

Gotta start somewhere

TMB is an idea that I’ve had for a long time.  I’ve struggled if whether this should be book, an article, or something I just shut up about.  So I decided to make a website and blog.  I work as a professional therapist and I take particular interest in stories of change that transcend boundaries.  I think all of us struggle with trying to be our higher self and trying to accept ourselves as we are.