On mindfulness

I’m putting this here on the off chance it’ll help someone else. Sure, I know my quirky worded rants about dipshits dipping their shit bring smiles to faces, but I can contribute more to the world than that.

So this pandemic’s a pain in the ass, right? At the beginning I thought I had it down pat – I settled into what I assumed would be a temporary routine that would keep me distracted for the month or two the world would be different.

Then things didn’t go back to normal as quickly as I thought they would. My life changed in ways I hadn’t foreseen and didn’t want. Turns out I’m not as immune to the repercussions of that kind of shit as I and a lot of people around me always thought. Like so many others, I wound up sad and angry and lonely and bored and often just sort of useless. I came to think of it as not being able to pull my head out of my own ass, because I knew the real difficulties were all internal.

There were too many days where I just fucking couldn’t. You know what I mean; there’s a malaise in the air and something akin to concrete in your veins, and even though you know you should care you just don’t. That’s a dangerous state.

I considered therapy. As is so often the case, I got pissed off at the pricing and annoying process of finding a doctor. Having to even look at a health insurance card makes me feel like a vampire confronted with a cross. “Fuck this noise,” I said. “It’s my own damn head stuck in my own damn ass and I can figure out how to put that shit back where it should be.”

So I started reading, as I always do when confronted with a problem. It ran the gamut from quick listicles to scholarly papers on modern psychology. I didn’t dare self-diagnose; I simply matched what was going on in my head with the solutions described on those pages. And I thought a lot about those solutions and where they came from and what they were trying to do. Seriously, what the fuck is all this deep breathing and visualization and confronting your feelings actually seeking to accomplish? What the hell is this mindfulness shit anyway? What’s the common thread underneath all this stuff?

After wracking my brain, I realized it’s really just preparation. Mindfulness techniques get you ready to deal with your emotions the way studying helps you ace a math test, practicing your Powerpoint slides gets you a raise after your presentation, or hitting off a tee turns into cranking big ding dongs in the World Series. If you understand what’s going on in your head and you’re in a place where you can approach it with clarity, there’s a better chance you won’t become overwhelmed when emotion happens.

For me, this means three new habits:

  1. Meditation. I covered this in a prior post, so I’ll summarize here and just say it’s the reboot button. It resets your inner monologue, breaks you out of negative feedback loops, and generates a feeling of relaxation and refreshment that allows you to think about things without all the prior built-up baggage. You’re clearing the virtual memory, zapping the PRAM, taking the cartridge out of the console and blowing in it – or, if you want a non-nerd metaphor, you’re handing all your empties over to the can guy so you’ve got room in your bin again.
  2. Journaling. The last thing I go to bed is write down all the good stuff that happened that day. This can be as simple as having had a nice iced coffee or a good chat with someone, or as complex as having had some sort of major epiphany. If there’s something I really need to work through, I’ll also scribble it down here. As a writer, paragraphs and something akin to narrative structure help me organize and understand my thoughts better than anything else.
  3. Finding the why. This is the hardest part. It requires some serious objectivity, a clear thought process, and occasional moments of luck. Meditation and journaling are essentially the flash cards that get you ready for this pop quiz. Understanding why you really feel a certain way makes it easier to deal with the negative and enjoy the positive, and helps you communicate about both simply because you’re ready to do so.

I do these things every day. Like anything else, mindfulness is a muscle you need to exercise. I feel more at peace and more awake than I’ve been at any other point in my life. My cranium still occasionally drifts up my anal sphincter, but when it does I’m much better equipped to jerk it back out without losing a day or two to moping around.

Above and beyond simply pulling my head out of my ass, one of my big goals with all of this is to improve my ability to communicate my emotions. Not being able to do so has routinely bit me right in the grundle. I’ve always been good at anger; cracking a beer and then calling someone a jackass in a clever-ish way comes naturally to me. The things that make me angry have historically been given VIP seating in my thoughts purely because they feel like they need to be dealt with. It’s easy to prioritize your frustrations as to do list items that need to be worked out and slandered for a satisfying moment of catharsis. They’re problems; they need solutions. I can unload these emotions confidently because I’ve always been ready to do so.

I haven’t given my other feelings, be they positive or negative, the same consideration. The good things especially need to be processed too. Hell, they deserve even more attention than your perceived problems. I wasn’t doing that. This meant that I wasn’t prepared to act on them or to talk about them, and when pressed I’d get flustered and either fumble a half-assed response or change the subject with something resembling humor. It wasn’t that I had no feelings, it’s that I wasn’t confident in my ability to express them and felt inadequate in the moment. It’s like not knowing the answer to a teacher’s question, but exponentially more embarrassing. I haven’t had much of a chance to really test this given the pandemic, but I hope that being prepared can give me the confidence to answer and act appropriately and proactively.

I’ve also realized that I wasn’t going quite deep enough when evaluating my frustrations. It turns out the vast majority of the issues I’ve had with other people can be boiled down to one thing: jealousy. Be it personal or professional, I’ve seen a lot of people treated in ways I felt like I deserved more than they did, and that led to a lot of negativity and useless approaches to those situations. I know now that those people got the treatment I wanted because they were offering something I wasn’t. Being able to recognize that in the future can only be a positive thing. It’ll keep me calm and help me decide whether I need to either change my approach or redirect my efforts entirely, and it’ll save a lot of very patient people from having to listen to my incessant bitching.

Interestingly, I’m also feeling more empathy for those I disagree with, because understanding yourself makes it easier to understand others. I still think all the maskless shit clowns need to put something on their god damn faces Jesus socially distanced Christ, but…I can understand why so many people are so terrified of their lives changing. That’s a big enough thing that I’ll save it for another post.

I think that’s enough touchy-feely bullshit for today. If you haven’t run off to vomit yet, then I hope something in here helps you with something someday. I can’t say I’m thankful for the last several months, but I will admit that I probably needed the swift kick in the ass that brought me to this point. If you leave with a single takeaway, I hope it’s this: mindfulness isn’t just for hippies and thin-skinned Millennials. Massholes, gamers, smart mark wrestling dorks, tech nerds, swole as fuck power lifters, drunks who think they’re just craft beer connoisseurs, fast walkers, award winning authors, and literally everyone else can all benefit too.