From Madness to Mindfulness

Long before I thought meditating was sitting with your legs crossed, the soles of your feet aimed at the ceiling, your first finger and thumb touching in a cosmic, “ok” while chanting “ohm.” (which honestly seemed like a rather dreadful waste of time) I would put my self to sleep at night in a particular manner I much later found out to actually be a form of meditation. I got the impression the forced posture and chanting was meditating because in the 70’s, the glowy cube of infinite knowledge suggested such things through hypocritical prejudice against other cultures for the sake of amusement with no balance of real educational information about what the world is really about. Well, except for the Wild Kingdom, because that show could get pretty wild and often had me covering my eyes in terror… for a lot of different reasons, but I digress… Except not really.

I have mentioned before that I am not the best “sleeper“. In fact, I’m rather bad at it to the extent that when people tell me, “goodnight” I have to remember that they are not mocking me intentionally. This rivalry between sleep and I goes way back. Back to days when creatures blacker than night waited under my bed to reach out with their long slender arms to wrap around my limbs and pull me through the floor into the depths of hell through the access tunnel located in the darkest corner of our basement. Well, that is what my siblings told me it was, I’m pretty sure now that it was the hole for the sub-pump. Also, there was not one person in my family who shared my concern that there *could* be a “mean monkey” (baboon) in my closet. I had to find a way to go to sleep at night and not worry my extremely sensitive self into a fit with my over active imagination so I developed this survival technique that is obviously, easy enough for a child to do.

Each night to get to bed, I would stand at the door taking my final breath of light, planing exactly where I had to step to avoid being sucked into the danger zones around the room. The closet, the window, the dark area on the far side of the chest of drawers, all had to be avoided while on my way to the only island of safety, my bed. Unfortunately, it happened to be perched precariously on top of the doorway to some God-forsaken abyss from which the grotesque and distorted henchmen of Satan regularly emerged to terrorize me. I had devised a way to walk across the dresser and leap into bed after turning the light out. This is not part of the meditation, by the way, and I don’t necessarily recommend it as a nightly ritual. Prayer, incense, and a glowing smart phone have proven to be safer and more effective way to face the long mile to my temporary resting place.

Lying on my back, I would start by taking long, deep, breaths while imagining breathing all the substance out of my body. Each inhalation vacuuming the dense particles from my body, then blowing those particles out into the universe. Starting at the tips of my toes, I work up my legs, up through my torso, up my arms, converging near my throat. I’m explaining this to you as an adult with some more complicated language about substance and particles, but at the time, in my little child head, I was making myself invisible.

I had to very specifically and intentionally focus my mind on this process. If I allowed stray thoughts about whatever misery had befallen me that day, the pain in my body… “What was that noise?” It would not only slow removing the matter from the area I was working on, but I could lose ground in other areas I had already cleared. The point was to get invisible before the evil lurking everywhere became aware that I was in the room. Once I felt I had breathed enough of my substance out, to be sufficiently invisible to any malevolent room mates, my body was completely still and peaceful, no twitching, itching, or aching, like it wasn’t even there.

At this point, I found my consciousness rather stuck in a position somewhere beyond the back of my throat, which was rather boring. So, I walked up a spiral staircase, climbed through a trap door, and left my old life entirely behind to lie in a field of grass and stare into the vast dome of a clear starry sky and eventually drift into a dream of a different life where I was loved.

I discovered that breathing makes your body relax by accident one night when I nearly asphyxiated myself hiding under my blanket in 90 degree weather to protect myself from the bastards who’d besieged my room. Sweat was trickling down my neck, I felt dizzy, I was starting to get thirsty, and there was no way I was getting out of my bed to get a drink. In reckless abandon I threw back my covers, the thin shield that protected me, at least psychologically, from what dwelled in the darkness. Although I was still in the stifling room with no breeze and 90% humidity, the air felt as fresh as spring winds off the Himalayas rushing over my body as I filled my lungs again and again with its life-giving essence. By the time my elation at having discovered oxygen wore off, I found my body in a bliss full state of emptiness. Free from all the pains and worries of the day, I was not afraid of anything, I felt invisible, and therefore concluded that I must be and was not the least bit afraid that the goons in my room would get me.

Definition of MEDITATE
intransitive verb
1 : to engage in contemplation or reflection
2 : to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness
transitive verb
1 : to focus one’s thoughts on : reflect on or ponder over
2 : to plan or project in the mind : intend, purpose
— med·i·ta·tor noun

My mini yogini.
My mini yogini.

I became a meditator in order to survive, possibly not the way I thought at the time, but knowing what I know now, it helped me cope with the stress in my life and that is pretty important. I was bullied a lot at home and school, was often sick, and didn’t have the support system I needed to process and understand my world. About six years ago, after reading some information about meditation being healthy for you, I started to investigate exactly what it was. I had a terrible time following the suggestions to “empty your mind of all thoughts,” until I realized I had been doing essentially that half the days of my life, but rather than drifting into dreamland, you allow yourself to drift into a peaceful stare something I am also accustomed to when I’m solving problems, or creating things.

Through further studies, I found some guided meditations to be helpful, where someone with a nice voice talks you through a relaxing visualization, often with some ambient music or nature sounds. I think they are a nice place to start for someone who wants to get familiar with the experience. Mindfulness meditation helps train you to be present in your life right now rather than allowing your thoughts and emotions to drag you through past troubles and future worries, getting there can be difficult without some foundation.

Once you are able to wrangle your brain into thinking about what you want it to think about, or nothing at all, you can meditate any time you want to. I met a Gentleman once who taught me Hong Sau, it was my favorite technique for a time before I upgraded to some bootleg Kriya. I often have one of these running as a background program while I’m going about my daily tasks that don’t take concentration. It keeps my head from running off track and is quite uplifting, but I do not recommend it unless it is your nature to pursue an advanced spiritual path.

Recently though, I discovered the White Skeleton Meditation. When I first read about it, I giggled myself silly because it is so perfectly brilliant. After getting comfortable with the full meditation, I modified it to suit me and use it whenever my brain is telling me to be uncomfortable with my circumstances. Basically, I strip down to my skeleton using my invisibility technique then remain focused on what my skeleton is doing. It’s great for your posture, and is especially useful in public situations because the big skeleton grin I have on my face makes people think I’m a happy person when really I’m just amused to think of a shiny white skeleton pushing a grocery cart full of food, sipping a macchiato in the coffee shop, attending social events, waiting patiently at the doctor’s office… My skeleton is never nervous.

I have also found using these “on the go” meditations to be helpful in dealing with PTSD addictive or OCD behaviors. Our mind is a battlefield of competing thoughts and ideas, most of us have learned negative, or unproductive ways of thinking along the way, which leads to destructive behavior. This is not because we are bad people, but because we have not been taught to think right and cope with our emotions. It is our responsibility to train and maintain our thoughts in safe, honest, and true paths that improve our life so we are not led astray into painful ways of existing. Now, when I find my thoughts running in directions that I know to be destructive, I stop, put on my grin, and think about my shiny white skeleton instead. It keeps me out of a lot of trouble. It can be quite difficult at times, but it is well worth the effort.

Once you start taking a serious look at your thoughts, you see how they affect your life, if you want to have positive change, you need to generate positive thoughts. That can be very difficult for people who have been abused and traumatized and taught to think of themselves, others, and the world around them in a negative fashion. Harboring negative, angry, and hateful thoughts towards yourself or another is damaging to your spirit and keeps you from enjoying the life you have now. It can be nearly impossible to think of positive things when your life is a wreck, but, you can turn your thoughts inward, to your shiny white skeleton and whatever it may be doing. Suddenly, you are here and now, with no fear, no anger, sorrow, blame, worries, anxiety, or stress. Later, when you are calm and have the ability to process your thoughts and feelings on a subject, take the time to sort it out. love and forgive yourself.

Learning to meditate does not mean all your problems go away. In fact, you may find that it creates more problems initially, especially in relationships. You are the only person with full access to the thoughts in your head. It is important that you begin to face down the thoughts you have, even if you don’t like what you are thinking, you have to be honest with yourself and acknowledge what is running through your mind if you ever want to change it. As you learn to slow your thoughts, you notice the persistent ones that are causing fear or anxiety and limiting you from being free to enjoy life. Focus your attention on those thoughts and challenge them. Ask your self some questions.

Why do I think that?
Is it true? (Research real facts)
What’s the worst that could happen?
Is this information still relevant today?
Is there something I can do to change it?

Sometimes, we hold on to thought patterns that may have helped us survive at one point but are not really relevant to life now and contribute to states of mental illness. I look at meditation as mental hygiene, it clears the way to take a good, hard look at the thoughts that are drive you, which is similar to cleaning out your closet and discarding the clothes that no longer fit. Sometimes there is a sense of loss when you have to part with a comfy sweatshirt that is tattered, and paint spattered. Yet one day you look in the mirror and you realize that it does not portray the person you want to be, so you let it go. It can cause some identity crisis because you have to find new ways to think about things, a new more comfortable way of being.

This is part of the reason in ancient times, (and still occasionally) meditation is taught by a Guru to a student so as the student becomes more aware of the thoughts that are thwarting his progress, the wise guru is there to help sort it out in a loving manner. Since real gurus have pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur or left this planet for worlds where inhabitants embrace and honor messengers of truth and love rather than abuse and slaughter them, a good friend, spouse, councilor, or therapist will suffice. The most important thing is that this person is honest with you. When you are replacing that old sweatshirt with some cute velour yoga pants with matching hoodie and you say, “Does this make my butt look luscious or disproportionately large?” You know this person will be straight up.

As I said earlier, the inner process you are going through can create stress in relationships. This is because when you change your thoughts, you change your life. Your habits change, you may stop addictive habits, which can leave companions who would engage in those activities feeling neglected, and sometimes angry at you for taking yourself away from them. You also may find that the people you are closest to now have a difficult time accepting the new person you are becoming. Perhaps they have become accustomed to behaving a certain way around you due to the way you were before, and they have to learn how to adapt and change as well to keep up with you. It is very important to keep open, loving communication flowing with your spouse or significant other about what is going on inside you, encourage them to take the journey with you so you can grow together, or be prepared to grow apart.

Choosing the inward path to face and deal with your problems is difficult. The thought patterns and addictive behaviors that we use to numb ourselves are the very things that keep us caged and uncomfortable, they were developed from the time of our birth and it will take some time to unwind the damage. You won’t wake up all-knowing with super powers after a 15 minute meditation, and you wouldn’t want to.  Change is difficult, it can make you feel isolated, and even crazier than before as you become more aware of your perceptions, but as you let go of misconceptions and see yourself doing things you never thought you could do, you know it is worth the effort. The power of the human mind is miraculous, you may be the only person you ever meet that loves you enough to know who you truly are. You are the only person that can make the trip inside, erase your misconceptions, and turn the key to your potential.

Mario Cart Mayhem

The other morning, I got that phone call every mother fears. I had barely made it back from a rough night of loud dreams and a three-year-old spinning restlessly in the bed next to me. The child will literally wrap herself up like a mummy in the top sheet as she sleeps, sending the blankets sliding off the side of the bed into a heap on the floor, and leaving my body exposed to the elements… which I admit is a blatant exaggeration of my post 1st world problems- a thermostat set to 65 degrees at night, silk blankets, and a drafty window at the foot of my bed.

I was edging into awake from the foggy land of, “What the hell just happened to me? Was I dreaming?” It was not the first time I experienced this same sensation in the last 6 hours. I am considering putting extra effort into my lucid dreaming techniques, my sleep life wouldn’t be so irritating if I was always packing heat, and had my bug-out bag, or at least a sword. My dreams seem to mock how dreadfully ill prepared I feel to handle real life. I was relieved to notice the hint of light beyond my eyelids, a solid excuse to be conscious and put the night behind me. Just before I opened my eyes my phone began to ring.

I rarely get phone calls. Phone calls before the sun is actually up, never. I fumble around in the blanket next to me for my phone. It’s Z, the world would title this man my ex-husband, I consider him my best friend. We have raised our four kids together in spite of our differences. He lives in a neighboring state with our 17-year-old son who is a perfect replica of the two of us. A call from him shortly after 7AM has me concerned that those nightmares may not have stayed in my “sleep”.
I fumble to slide the button on the unlock screen as I slide off the edge of the bed to stumble into the next room to talk.

“Hello?” I whisper, to avoid waking the mummy.

“Good morning. I’m sorry to call so early but I thought I better let you know, your son took out a bus stop this morning.”

Twenty years of mothering, has taught me to take a minute before I react when I am informed of something that involves my children. There is usually a lot more to the story than what the initial set-up is able to portray. Also, I was still in that hazy- is this another fucked up dream sequence? state-of-mind. If I *had* interjected at this point, it might have been something like, “How is that possible? You don’t even have any guns.”

Instead, I waited for further explanation, although I may have said, “Huh?” In the pause before he went on to reveal the even more important details.

“No one was hurt, but my car will have to have some work done and he demolished the shelter at the bus stop.” (Actually, two days later, he got a call from the adjuster to inform him the car is totaled.)

All of these facts are settling into my mind… I’m having a hard time stifling a giggle. Is this appropriate reaction to hearing of your son being involved in a car accident? I don’t know. Eli has his learners permit and is my first child to actually show a real and active interest in driving, so I am new to all of the ramifications of having a child behind the wheel of a vehicle. Honestly, the idea of having a teenager in an unfamiliar city being dependent on public transit is equally unnerving, but such is the life of a college student. It’s all a little bit of letting them go and having faith that they are going to be ok. Phone calls like this are a reminder that real life can be as chaotic and unpredictable as dream life. On this particular morning, the details that followed could easily be portrayed by Mayhem which only added to my levity.

Most of my son’s driving experience has been on the highway when he and his dad go to visit family but recently he has decided he wants more city driving experience which is why he found himself making a right turn out of their neighborhood onto the 4 lane road which is quiet (thankfully) at 6 in the morning to make their way to before-school bible study. Things went wrong immediately. He over-steered, jumped the curb, and drove down the sidewalk into the glass and aluminum bus stop shelter, shearing it off its mounts and pushing it 30 feet into the grass… At approximately 15 mph. And just like any hard-core Mario Cart driver, he never put on the brakes. The reflex that seems natural to those who have been driving real cars for years, I suspect is not so developed in a brain that has never actually had to use the breaks in 14 years of driving. It ended with broken glass from the structures’ roof raining on the windshield and four cop cars showing up to manage the situation. Four. Cop. Cars.

It prompted the immediate and mutual decision to send our child to driving school this summer. I realize this seems like a rather obvious precaution, but it is a simple demonstration of why Z and I are such good friends; we rarely disagree when making decisions for our kids. What they eat and do with their spare time is a completely different story. It is hard to co-parent from several hundred miles away, I must have faith that his dad will give him some extra hugs because the best I can do is FaceTime. I have watched my boys turn into men from afar which created a sadness that weighs heavy on my heart, I never talk about it, because it is my burden to bear for choices I made. It does make me even more thankful for the years I did have their companionship.

I had to acknowledge a long time ago that my children do not belong to me but are here to create their own life. Since I am at the egocentric center of my own universe, I marvel that the most brilliant creatures to ever roam the planet all chose to be my children. I have always felt unworthy, parenting is the most challenging task a person could ever take on, there are no rule books, no real classes, and few good examples to follow. I came equipped with love, instincts, and a will to do my best even if I had no idea what I was doing. I was miserably inadequate and in spite of that, my children are compassionate, successful, young people who I again attribute to the remarkable individuals they are. I am honored that they chose me to be their first companion on this earth, they are each unique and treasured gifts.

I have so many moments, sacred in my memory of my son climbing onto my lap in the quiet of the morning while I said my prayers, or when he first woke up from his nap. He always wanted a little snuggle while he was still sleepy. Laying his shiny blond head against me, his big, brown, eyes would shift off, in a blissful stare, peering into some other dimension while I rocked and held him in that sublime, timeless space. Whenever I worry about or miss him, I focus on those beautiful moments and imagine wrapping big Eli in those same loving prayers and intentions I wrapped little Eli in.

He is still a quiet and sensitive boy, sometimes it takes a little while for situations to work their way through his emotions. I worried about him all day. When I was finally able to get him on the phone to gauge how he was coping he seemed ok, a little embarrassed mostly. I’m not sure why this surprised me, but the incident seems to have made him more popular by earning him the respect of some of the more rebellious of his culinary classmates for sticking it to the man by inadvertently defacing some public property. As a gaming geek, honor roll student, and fan of English humor, he was amused that his predicament actually elevated his position in the dubious social structure of his school. When I told him about the alternate nightmare universe with the gun-toting Eli, he laughed and I knew he was ok. He will cope, learn and adjust. He is clever, since the kid was 9 he has had the ability to complete video games in a matter of hours that are intended to be weeks of entertainment for adults. He will also know he is loved unconditionally and when he makes a mistake, his parents (and the insurance company) will be there for him to help make it right.

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The Muse

He falls upon me as a thief in the night, releasing me from my prison where I hang upon my cross of sticks. I spring to life in my Master’s hands as he gently straightens my strings and sets my feet, lightly on the ground. And though I am still bound, I am free. I am free to do that which I was created for; to be the intangible life that is always just beyond my reach as I hang lifeless in my dark cupboard always hopeful for my Master to come and set me free. Continue reading

Ice, Ice Baby

Recovery from abuse requires one to overcome the stigma placed upon them that they somehow deserved the punishment they received. Unfortunately, people use the fact that you have been mistreated to justify treating the survivor with disrespect and contempt, searching for a reason to condemn them for the situation they have found them selves in when they are in desperate need of compassion and understanding. Continue reading