little discomforts

 

In three seasons out of four, I most often read and write under an espresso-brown fleece throw in my overstuffed living-room chair. Especially on the chilly days, I even have a space heater at my feet as the winter wind whips around the bare branches of the tree right outside my window.  Inside, my home is dressed in a warm palette, with textured and inviting fabrics, round edges, fresh flowers and candles waiting to be lit in most rooms.

 

ingredients: novel, chair, pillow, sunlight

 

My place is a pillowed sanctuary from the occasionally-harsh conditions of the world for an introvert and one with more than her fair share of sensitivities. Too much light, noise, extreme temperatures, too many demands, stress, drama or chaos can all have me diving under the fleece for a reprieve.  Can you say ‘high maintenance’?

While having this place of serenity has been my sanity saving grace on many occasions, I’ve recently discovered that I may also be using it as a form of self-medication. Not only to soothe my weary psyche after a long workday but to also wrap myself in a cocoon of self-talk about why it is unnecessary to indulge in anything that makes me feel bad.  Uncomfortable.

 

Most recently, I’ve noticed that I’ve become quite elegant at avoiding the following:

  • Beginning a task with a long-term deadline where progress is not quickly noticeable.
  • Initiating a conversation with someone involving me asking directly for what I want.
  • Allowing myself to fully express a hard, vulnerable feeling even when I’m alone.

 

Because of my well-developed verbal reasoning skills, I’m able to convince myself that I’ve been through enough stress through the working day so when I get home, I don’t want to deal with more drama. I simply want the comfort that is due me.

The problem with this approach is that the challenges I avoid only appear to disappear like a parent does to a toddler when his pudgy little hands are covering his eyes in a game of peekaboo.

 

Peekaboo!

 

So where do the hard things go? According to my bodywork therapist, I have a few holding points for them in my shoulders and lower back that are asking for my attention often.

Beneath the layer of avoidance of uncomfortable things, there is a deep river of grief and fear. Not having to wade into those waters is so much easier if I choose instead to focus on procrastination, choose solitude over relationships and talking myself out of feeling feelings even though I’m standing hip-deep in them. Grief and fear. The Big Discomforts.

 

River Clare Water Cascade

 

Since storing unprocessed emotional material in my body’s cells is hardly a positive long-term solution, it seems that engaging in little discomforts might be a start. Breaking it down into manageable chunks. Looking beneath the surface irritation, panic, procrastination, the avoidance and the desire to cocoon for a glimpse at the dark flowing waters below.

This week, I began by allowing some little moments of uncomfortable, raw, exposed vulnerability in the safety of my sanctuary.  Without trying to self-soothe and negotiate an express trip through the process.  As unnerving as it is to begin, initiate and feel deeply, little by little, I’ve found surprisingly, they don’t consume. Under the panic, grief and fear are feelings. Just feelings. Feelings asking to be felt instead of hidden away as muscle aches and pains, physical tightness and exhaustion.

They exist whether I give them room to breathe or not.  But what could be released, opened and nourished as a result of opening the door to little discomforts?  Capacity to sit with The Big Discomforts?

I guess I’ll see.  Little by little.

 

why i sit

I sit.

Intentionally.

In silence.

(4/365) concentration, meditation, contemplationIt is certainly not because I’m a calm, balanced person who lives devoutly among the pure and the pious. Nor it is because I exude self-discipline. Far from it. Sitting started out simply as my way to overcome the overwhelm, to quell the tsunami of thoughts and lower my oft-rampant heart rate for a sense of overall well-being. It was basically a physical solution to a spiritual problem.  But that has transformed into something more akin to falling down the rabbit hole where the experience has become curiouser and curiouser. While I still get the physical benefits of habitual stillness, my sitting has become a time when I explore previously unknown landscapes and meet the oddest characters who mostly exist inside my own head.

Body-Speak

I sit to notice my body.

Physically, the act of sitting provides an experience of grounding and being firmly rooted to one spot.  From here, there is room to build capacity to get out of my head and notice my bodily sensations. It may be a subtle sensation of discomfort especially if I’m sitting for an extended period of time, or perhaps tightness in one shoulder, a stiffness in a joint or a blunt lack of sensation in one area. During a typical day of non-stop mental information tennis, this quiet time of softens the mind-noise enough to allow me to be keenly aware of my body’s innate wisdom.

Feeling-Talk

I sit to feel the feelings.

The feelings could be connected to my body’s messages or they could be left-over feelings that had never been given permission to be expressed.  Isn’t that the point of feelings? To be felt?  Not all the feelings that come up are easy so I sit with whatever comes up and resist the urge to label the feelings “good” or “bad”. I notice the feelings then give into the fullness of their expression. A gratitude, a sorrow, a desire or even a dark numbness are acknowledged.  The practice is to hold both difficult feelings and the sense of ease and grounded-ness that sitting provides as a balancing act of surrender and release.

Story-Time

I sit to listen to the stories.

I love a good story.  I’m a stubborn idealist with an imaginative flair for dramatic detail so talk about walking the smooth path to self-delusion.  I can rant, rage and rationalize with the best of them.  But I have found that there is absolutely no light at the end of that alliteration tunnel. The mind-stories where I repeatedly have a starring role are fun for a creative outlet but definitely not so useful for living life on purpose and wide awake. Sitting often enough helps me to recognize the stories penned in fear and dread, to unravel the foggy plot-lines from the intricate web of physical sensations, emotions and to recognize the way things actually are.  That is the work. Unremarkable, hard work.

Work that frees.  Releases.  Softens.

And work that begins with sitting.

Just sitting.

Meditation Rock 2

autumn’s solitude

Long days tented under gloomy skies, wet leaves beneath our feet and the cooler temperatures all forecasting an even darker season yet to come can weigh on even the most optimistic person. Hope can turn to apathy as quickly as a burnt red maple leaf can be tossed by the wind to reveal a paler, less vibrant underside.

(My Heart Says) Come On In

This is also the season of preparing to put gardens to sleep and to acknowledge that new emergent growth will not happen for a long, long while. And that some of the richest, most significant growth will surely follow this dusky period of restful slumber.

In harmony with this natural cycle of the earth, why not choose to occasionally hibernate? Intentionally burrow? Use this season to dig the hole of life much deeper? We could choose to prepare our own inner gardens by cultivating surroundings that are warm and nutrient-rich enough to produce fresh and verdant growth come springtime.

It’s seldom easy to abide the kind of solitary silence it takes to nurture future growth. Too much aloneness whispers twisted messages of scarcity, void and hunger. It might even suggest that we’ve somehow been left behind, abandoned to the margins of life with only self-consolation to comfort us.

But nothing could be further from the truth of intentional times of solitude.

How about going gently into your intentional ‘cave’ and radically accept the often aching discomfort of it? Greet yourself with a warm fleece blanket, a hot cup of tea or cider and even consider creating your very own ritual to celebrate, and even welcome, autumnal solitude.

 

chai love

 

Autumn Light Ritual

Create a place of comfort specifically for you. Surround yourself with your favourite music, books, soft lighting, comfort foods and drinks that warm you. Have a large package of tea lights and matches available. On a table or other flat surface, place one tea light.

Sit comfortably and breathe deeply. As you feel your body relax and your mind soften, bring to mind any person in your life, past or present, who has supported you, helped you, nurtured you, moved you, said a kind word to you or even smiled at you. Don’t rush. Pause. Breathe. Recall.

For each person who comes to mind, light one tea light.

A friend, a lover, a parent, a grandparent no longer with you, a neighbour, a pet, a cheerful cashier at the grocery store, the author of a book or article that resonated with you, the child who was on that school bus in front of your car on the way to work and who made faces at you or waved just to get a response, the artist who sang or played a song so elegantly that it moved you, the person who held the door for you when your arms were full, a teacher who guided you, or even the person who supported you a dozen or more years ago when you needed it the most.

Remember them. Name them. Thank them. And, as you do, light a candle for each one.

 

Candle on the water

Then in the darkness of your previously dimly lit, comfort-cave, notice how many ‘lights’ you have now or have had in your life. Notice how much light and warmth they have provided and will continue to provide for you.  Be mindful of the fact that new ‘lights’ can be lit daily.  All the warmth you need for the imminent season of hibernation is right in front of you.  Always with you.  Glowing.

See? You could not truly be alone, even if you tried.

 

 

how to cure a people hangover

 

You know the feeling.  Head aches, ears buzz with that post-concert-like hum, mouth is cotton-dry from repressing outbursts of irritation and nervous system is set on “If one more person even speaks to me, I’m gonna lose it”.  And when in this state, we promise ourselves that we’re never going to indulge again.  We’ll move to a shack on an island devoid of all other humans to avoid ever having to feel this terrible again.

Shack with a View

Forget the shack. I’ve discovered a much more accessible cure for the People Hangover that doesn’t involve perpetual isolation. With practice, you can indulge occasionally, enjoy the benefits of interaction with others without over-doing and suffering the spirit-splitting consequences.

 

Self-Compassion

You know who you are, or do you?   if you resonated at all with the concept of having a People Hangover, chances are you’re an introvert.  By introvert, I do not mean shy, quiet or socially awkward.  Introverts are simply those who need to have sufficient alone time to re-charge their batteries, to refill their energy reserves and to process life in peaceful surroundings.  Introverts are often mistaken for the socially-challenged, under-developed or anemic cousin of the proud and potent extrovert but not so, my contemplative cohorts!

Introverts are often gifted with introspective intelligence. Cultivators of the inner landscape, they notice details others often miss, make connections, and have the ability to ponder, wander and wonder elegantly.  Yes, yes, introverts are prone to occasional bouts of melancholia and can sometimes be sullen and sorrowful.  It’s precisely that balance of dark and light that compels introverts to become poets, artists, dreamers, thinkers, tinkerers and gleaners of the subtle magic of even the most ordinary of moments.

If introversion was tattooed on your soul at birth, accept, embrace and nurture it.  It was not a mistake, you are not inadequate and your acceptance of this is the first step to preventing the dreaded and avoidable People Hangover.

 

Solitude

If you are like me, and your job involves working with people all day, then the opportunities to over-indulge are fierce and frequent. The key is to accept your need for solitude and to inject moments of it in your day at every opportunity. Think of these moments as small power-up sessions to tide you over until the end of the day when you can enjoy some longer, uninterrupted solitary serenity.  Be unapologetic if, right in the middle of your work day,  you choose to:

  • Close your door.
  • Let your phone go to voice mail.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Go for a drive.
  • Schedule spaces between meetings.
  • Re-schedule a meeting.
  • Ask for a deadline extension.
  • Eat lunch alone.
  • Say ‘no’ to social invitations that happen immediately at the end of a work day.

Levi reading

Shift to Celebration

The world at large is primarily geared towards extroverts but that is no reason to try to fit a mold that asks us to reject who we are at our core.  You are the architect and can design a life fit for an authentic introvert that does not require isolation.

  • Celebrate who you are. Sing the song of the Intrepid Introvert by living a life designed with deep respect for your particular need for solitude and peace.
  • Re-write the old script that suggests there is something wrong with being introverted. Make the re-write a bold affirmation of how your being in the world so fully and completely is based on a foundation of courageous solitude.
  • Challenge that thought that says there is something wrong with you when you are alone.  Choose to see being alone as simply one way of being.
  • Develop relationships with other introverts.  Enjoy socializing (infrequently, of course) with others who don’t require constant stimulation to be entertained and who can actually have an unexpressed thought!
  • Know your boundaries, push them, create new opportunities for engagement within communities then reward yourself with a quiet space, a good book or even better, a nap!

With prevention and cure now firmly in hand, go forward and boldly, creatively and without apology, live an introvert’s dream life without fear of occasionally over-indulging to the point of having to nurse a People Hangover.