One breath at a time.
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One breath at a time.

My mind has been agitated lately. A series of skirmishes with life has left me feeling quite anxious. Reading anything but a brief news feed becomes difficult and my internal monologue is repetitive and stale. I am currently acutely aware of the correlation between my agitated mind and a shallow mood. So what to do? Interestingly enough, many shrinks I know are on some form of antidepressant medication, or are self medicating low mood through the common strategies such as compulsive series watching, alcohol, smoking pot, pornography etc. I’ve had a brush with one or more of these dark little friends over the years, I’ve also tried multiple workshops and retreats offering masculinity, miracles, holotropic breathing, medicinal plants, lucid dreaming, conscious coupling, conscious uncoupling, yoga, mindfulness, a dizzying array of self help literature, blogs, lectures, the list goes on- and where has it all led my curious, sometimes ferocious often anxious mind? Back to the mat, back to my little cushion with a picture of a chihuahua on it. Perhaps that’s all this self important mind is in the mirror, a yapping little chihuahua who doesn’t know when to keep his little trap shut. So, this morning, at 4:37a.m. I dragged the yapping little shit to my cushion, lit a candle and made it sit. Boy was it hard. Yap, yap…on and on it went, parading an endless stream of mind confetti. I kept returning to my breath as I had been shown…again and again, my mind strained at its breath-leash, unaccustomed to not being able to have its way. Puppy training classes. I wasn’t cruel as I tugged on the leash, bringing my mind back to the breath again and again and again, I was patient, prepared to sit for as long as it would take. Slowly, ever so slowly it began to sit with me, seconds initially, then a minute or two, then off it would dash. I can see that it’s going to take some time, but that’s ok. I’m clear that making the time to sit with my mind and let it know , through the breath, that it is safe, that it can come to rest, will bring a sense of calm that I am aching for as weather pulls through my life, one breath at a time.

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The Demon Ship.
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The Demon Ship.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are on a boat, I like to imagine something out of Mutiny on the Bounty. Your standing at the tiller in the middle of the ocean. Below decks are the most awfully terrifying demons, dementors and furies. They are made of your greatest fears. You have made a deal to placate them, to keep them below decks…the deal is that in order for them not to rend you limb from limb with their powerful jaws and sharp fangs, you have to drift aimlessly on this ocean, alone, forever.
Thing is that after a couple of months of this ‘drifting’, you’re becoming hungry, deep in your soul, you know there is more to life, that in order to evolve and live with meaning and purpose, you will need a clear direction.
As your hands grip the tiller, the demons are immediately present, howling all manner of horrors into your face, “you’re going to fail”, “no one will love you”, “you’re fat…too old! “, “pathetic!” On and on they howl until eventually you concede to the fears, convinced of their truth. And you continue to drift, to starve yourself of the nourishment you so desperately need.
Months pass, you become spiritually emaciated and intellectually stagnant, your moods darken and your heart grows weary. Slowly the realization dawns that unless you are going to make a concerted effort to plot a course and move towards something that will really enrich your quality of life, you will suffer a pale death, drifting aimlessly until your final breath.
Courageously you set course, determined to get out of your comfort zone, to apply for that new job or move towards a new relationship, to move actively towards change. On cue, the demons return, knowing that you are fueled by courage, they redouble their efforts to pull you off course, they fling shame, humiliation and despair into your eyes, but this time you white knuckle through their barrage. As you continue heading in a purposeful direction, you begin to notice that the demons are made of smoke and mirrors, old stories about yourself, ancient, worn fears whose teeth are worn smooth by the knashing of a weary mind. They become more and more insubstantial with each passing mile as you approach a new shore. Slowly as their volume fades, you become aware of the warmth of the sun on your face, the other ships in close proximity, you notice you are no longer white knuckling and are actually beginning to enjoy your journey…

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