Category: Wellness

Forward and Backward

I haven’t been posting lately because I felt like I reached a nice plateau in my mental wellness. Summer has certainly been an important factor and also the opening of U.S. cities given our lucky vaccination break. And of course one should be able to take a break from too much introspection. It’s exhausting work to look at the past.

Certainly I’m in control of my own therapy right? Well recently I had a panic attack flare-up.

One was on public transit and the other was on a Sunday night just before bed. The transit one wasn’t so unusual, it use to be a common place for me to feel uneasy and for thoughts to spiral. I just wasn’t feeling really good that morning and instead of listening to myself, I pushed through overcast skies, loud disruptive road construction, and that typical panicked run to an incoming train. Then once seated, feeling trapped, heart racing, unsure why “this” was happening. That was a reasonably anxious situation for me. The one at home at night, not so reasonable.

Or so I thought. I had spent the afternoon with friends at a pleasant coffee shop, working on the ACA Yellowbook. For dinner we went to a Sonoran restaurant that is significant for being the last place I had dinner with my late best friend. Later I watched a pleasant but emotional movie with friends. Instead of winding the day down, I wound up, looking at various personal files including my financial budget.

All these well-intentioned activities on a Sunday piled up more than I realized. I was angsty and emotional. After some last minute evening stretching, I decided to take a blood pressure reading which was naturally elevated. The worry about that reading spiraled into a memory about a doctor who “cornered me” into taking medication. The rest of the night didn’t go quite well. I woke up around 4am and felt like I had slept an eternity already. I just did my best to continue pretending sleeping in bed well into 9am. Good thing the pandemic makes our mornings pretty flexible.

All this happened to say that I can never really take a break from mental health work. As much progress as I’ve made and my friends have congratulated me on, I am still a work in progress and I need to be a lot more careful about what I am exposing myself to. So much work can feel undone by a bad day.

I use to think I had it all together and approached therapy like a quick fix. You want my money? Then give me the minimum amount of sessions to “knock it out.” Some websites say it takes 10-15 sessions, some say 10-15 months. A year or more is often what I hear from therapists directly.

So in addition to dealing with the actual therapy, I have to deal with this constant frustration that I am never healed or never good enough. The alternative is a codependent life that yo-yos between big highs and big lows.

Hopefully one day I can take on any thought or memory and let it slide gracefully off my shoulders. I don’t feel resilient against the wind anymore, but I do feel like I can get back up when I’m knocked down.

Forgiveness, A Personal Contemplation on White Supremacy and Asian American Identity

I’m lucky to be in a place in life where I can go to therapy regularly.  It started a few years ago when traumatic events entered my life.  After months of coming to terms with the horrors, I found myself in a new but recognizable place.    I had arrived back at myself.

The old me before the wounds, the me that had always and will always exist. And the me that wanted forgiveness. 

I did all this hard work to shine a light on the past, so now what do I do? How does the past pull me from the present?  Can I let go and live fully in the present? Can I achieve the clarity I desire?

The past is defined in a lot of ways in therapy, as trauma, as cognitive distortions, as past events, as our whole identity. We think we are real because of the memories our brain has stored. The good and the bad blend together to be the truth. I guess I am really knee deep into that truth.

Enter the #StopAsianHate hashtag.  Watching the video of the Toisanese grandmother howl at her attacker in San Francisco really triggered something deep for me.  It brought to light a significant truth I’d been holding on to, a memory of when the world became White for me as a child on the playground. 

It wasn’t just the fists or shoving or name-calling or multiple kids cornering me around the sandy pit of the jungle gym, but the deep othering of my existence in this society of the United States.   Bruised but at least not too bloody, they chanted “Chinese opera woman” as I swore every word I knew at them.

I got on my bicycle and peddled away furiously.  I ran through my mind over and over, how this truth would now come to define my entire worldview, as if I must now endure the unendurable for the rest of my life.  

I was a young child trying to settle this disturbing idea that I didn’t belong, maybe never belong.

It was probably the start of turning the lens onto myself in negative ways. I couldn’t be proud or comfortable being a child of Chinese immigrants, I was sort of this ambiguous blob of being. 

Even though my school and neighborhood was primarily white, I had for a while simply understood I was a unique person in a collective. I remember aligning myself with other classmates with fully European names, the Swedish girl, the Irish boy, as if I lived in the United Nations.  For a time I emulated them in creative arts and sports.

Body image, self-image, self-judgement, it all neatly ties itself back to this beginning of being othered and gazed upon.

The early 1990s wasn’t an enlightened time, and I have to accept that nobody knew the answers then. In the vein of all self-help advice to “live in the now”, why do I continue to judge myself against the expectations of a child. The child didn’t know, couldn’t know, and it’s time to put those conclusions to rest.

I can’t banish the Whiteness that is perpetually this country’s foundation, nor can I ignore its effects on my life and Black lives. But to move ahead means banishing one’s perceptions and self-limitations of that supremacy.  It is a paradox of survival.

Of course I do not mean to forget it does not exist, or that it has a history, or what it does today, but to understand how it holds you in the past, is no longer important. What letting go of White Supremacy is for you will be vastly different and meaningful. 

Simply, I can’t bear to hold the victimhood any longer.   It strangles me and creates a story that insidiously leads me back to pain.   There will be attackers in the future, but if I defend myself from that child’s worldview, I will already be down for the count.     

Instead, I’ll take that child’s strength to defend themselves, to defend their honor, to protect their inner truths.  Transfer power from the past to your present moment and as Eckart Tolle says, forgiveness will become unnecessary.

I think about the bullies in the playground and wonder what came of them, perhaps they’re now part of “militias” and alt-right groups.  Then again, I wonder how did they even find out about Chinese opera in a middle class suburb before the internet.   Perhaps, people learn.    

I also think about the friendly classmates who I admired in those early days.  I’m thankful to see some have become prominent officials in charge now and even advocated for black lives publicly.   I guess these geriatric millennials might have a chance at turning things around.

That Time I had a Wild Panic Attack in a BART Station

Six years ago I walked onto an outbound BART train at Montgomery Station after work. It was like any ordinary day taking the train home except for the fact that I was particularly incensed by work issues as a then land use planner. Clients were being difficult and I felt trapped. As the doors closed, I stood by the doorway, fired up and ready to go… home, I guess.

The train sped along the various stops, and slowly I started breathing deeply and harshly. My mind was running in circles and trying to tell my body to do something. Once my home stop was announced, I was already hyperventilating. Soon, the body sensations of the bends kicked in and my disassociated mind came back to reality.

I confusingly held onto the bar handle until the train stopped at my station. Something was wrong, my body shouldn’t be feeling this way. Is this a heart attack? The doors opened and I sheepishly walked onto the platform, trying to make it look like all was normal and fine. By the exterior I probably was totally fine but my mind was creating a new narrative.

Instead of powering through and dismissing the obvious work-related feelings, I sat down on the cold concrete bench at Glen Park Station. Something was wrong! My hands tingled, my chest felt heavy or stuffy. I was doing deep breathing, it’s a panic attack, nothing to worry about… or was it?

I regained my senses and walked toward the escalators, pretending very hard that I was a perfectly normal person doing perfectly normal things. The slow escalator ride wasn’t helping. Instead of exiting the station into the light, I decided to sit down on a bench and breathe it out. Maybe this could be something. My mind ran through loops trying to decide if what I was feeling was true or not. I wasn’t in pain, I just felt a little off, a little breathless. Or was I actually just fine and a little scared.

I don’t recall what but some feeling in my body pushed me over the edge into disbelief. I asked a lady sitting nearby if I looked pale and she said maybe. I bought it hook line and sinker, I was having a heart attack, or dying… of something. Anything. This was it. She told the gate agent to call 911. I asked her to hold my hand.

The minutes were agony as I lay on the cold platform. I looked up at the brutalist concrete skylights as if through a looking glass of my mind. I was there but wasn’t. Suddenly the EMTs came rushing in. It was like I wasn’t in my body. They ripped my shirt apart to check for signs and kept asking if I had taken any drugs.

When I got into the ambulance they ran the usual checks, I was completely dazed at this point, expecting the worst. Then in a few minutes they said it looked like I was fine. I was stunned. I didn’t believe them, I wanted verification. Ironically I can remember everything up until about now, I can’t really remember what they did to pull me out of my psychosis. They probably showed me that my heart rate and EKG were fine.

I walked out of the ambulance sheepishly, after declining to not go. My aunt and uncle were standing there on the sidewalk. I cried. We went home.

The entire incident was traumatic and shameful. I locked it out of my mind for a long time, thinking it was a one off. But it clearly pointed to the mental scars of my surgery just a year earlier. I thought I was a ticking time bomb and for long after I poorly managed reoccurring health anxiety. It was my very first public panic attack where I went into the deep end, so to speak. For anyone recovering from surgery, I would highly recommend follow-up with a therapist if any doubts linger in your mind even after doctors have cleared you.

Financial Literacy Tips for Self-Worth

Continued financial literacy notes from Financial Literacy and Mental Health

Hedonic Adaptation

  • Amount of money !== mindset
  • Money can change quality of life but does not impact well being
  • Happiness? See lottery winners

There is a lot of information out there now about hedonic adaptation and how we get really used to stuff. Dr. Laurie Santos’ popular Yale course The Science of Well-Being does a great job of distilling all the known research and applying the lessons to your life.

Basically, all our societal ideas about money is wrong. Money is just a tool, whereas society treats it like the actual end result. We know very well that money itself doesn’t bring happiness and even Silicon Valley billionaires subscribe to coaches and gurus.

Money does lift oneself up from poverty but after say all your needs are met, why need more. The mind very quickly adapts to a situation and then only wants more after that. It’s certainly a helpful driver to survival in the wilderness, but not so much in the modern world.

Essentially to thwart hedonic adaptation, find out your inner goal, the actual objective, that brings happiness to life, and relegate money as simply the bridge to that goal.

Labeling

  • Labeling ourselves based on our finances
  • Where did I learn to speak to myself this way

Poor is a description of lacking money and it also describes inferiority. No wonder it really sucks to use it to describe ourselves. Other words like cheap and modest further define our relationship to money in a way that we also embody as an identity. Looking deeper into why we use labels for ourselves is a way to start unlocking our real motivations.

For the longest time I was a thrifty person and everything I did had to be within this weird continuum of old and used. Like I only shopped at vintage stores and was modest about my appearance. My furniture was all hand me downs and I relished in shabby chic. Then I just woke up one day that I was perpetuating my mom’s idea of what our lives were to be like in middle school. I virtually gave everything away and started from scratch.

False Narratives

  • Pay grade equals success
  • I’m not worth spending money on

The speaker suggested we combat false narratives like our self-worth by asking the questions below:

  • Where did I learn to be this way?
  • What leads me to believe this is even true?
  • Would I judge my best friend the way I judge myself?
  • What would I say to my best friend if they were going through this?

It’s obvious to me that my parent’s didn’t set the greatest financial example. Money was a chaotic instrument in the home. But that’s not enough to just know the source, I needed to look deeply at how I formed a relationship with it. I saw that thoughts of self-worth and fitting in transferred over to money. I deserved money but I didn’t deserve the joys that came of it. I didn’t feel belonging in the teenage world so what was the point of buying things.

I was harsh on myself and still am. Sure we need to save for retirement or a rainy day but I also place impossible standards on all of that. If I was serious I’d actually set realistic goals and work towards meeting them, understanding there is hope and possibility. This is how I’d approach a friend, I’d console them and show them a path forward.

Healthy Relationship with Money

  • Break down goals from large ones to small ones
  • Reward myself for my progress
  • What does Guilt mean? Speak to it, what would it say, create a dialogue
  • Dialectical: Two opposing beliefs can be true at the same time
  • Radical Acceptance: Accept money situation, neither good nor bad

The obvious approach with money or any large problem is to break it down into smaller pieces and work each one. Directing your focus on what is immediately in front of you is more effective than trying to juggle the entire plan all the time. Within those little sprints toward milestones, reward yourself for progress. I’m reminded of Before Happiness by Shawn Achor which details brain hacks related to rewarding oneself to cross the finish line.

Creating a dialogue with guilt was an interesting tip because I think of guilt as the symptom than the problem itself. But I can see it’s a key to understanding the original problem. Guilt from money feels displaced for me, meaning I can not see the original reason I would feel that way. Guilt implies that we’ve seen suffering and want to help but we didn’t and we’re drawn back to do something. If you feel guilty buying nice clothes, it’s not the clothes, it’s something about the clothes or related memory. Maybe an estranged parent who shopped like that, maybe body image. It could dive into trauma even.

I still don’t quite understand dialectical approaches to therapy but I suppose a dialectical approach to money is acknowledging opposing beliefs can exist and from there, developing a common truth or relationship between them. I have the urge to throw everything into the stock market but I also want to save money for a home. If approached as two opposing problems where one must win, I will be forever in conflict because there is no actual right answer. Yet society tells us there are a lot of must dos and must don’ts. A dialectical approach might say accept they are both true, so then how can they happen if so. Ok, maybe a home is more important to me so save money now and invest just a little.

The last takeaway was radical acceptance, accept a bad situation wholly and fully without judgement. No “it’s okays” here. Seems easy enough for losing your wallet, but if it isn’t, like a spouse gambling your savings away, then it’s quite radical to say accept the situation. For me, to understand radical acceptance is a way to gauge what my limits are for financial chaos and to plan for those contingencies.

Therapy is Dead or The Ego Needs Anxiety

The self seeks recognition from others (full, honest, authentic, and non-judging recognition) – the ego, however, likes its recognition to be conditional upon its own expectations and desires.

Dr. Aaron Blalick

The human that you see in front of you

And the one that you see in the mirror

Is not a real human.

Dr. Kapil Gupta

I’ve been lately trying to find a path “out” of therapy. I’ve been at it hard for six months now, on top of two years of diddling around in it. I learned a lot and feel like I’ve read everything there is to know at least in my corner of neurosis. And yet still, the anxiety and panic returns.

The good thing is they return in a form which makes more sense and doesn’t overload my being. EMDR sheared off the sting of emotional memory. I no longer go from 0 to 100 hyper-vigilant from a little body sensation. Now I recover within minutes or hours, not days or weeks.

So now, I see, I am back to maybe an earlier version of myself, one that was really afraid of other people for societal and cultural reasons. This is still there mixed between self-image, identity, and shame.

I stumbled upon a Kapil Gupta room on Clubhouse and was mesmerized by the things he had to say. I proceeded to read his entire blog and was left breathless. He mentioned self-help being poison for society. That essentially society’s rules and laws of how to do things and live a “good” life have ruined the human condition. This is of course nothing new, as in psychology a whole reason humans have mental “problems” is because we’re doing things we were not designed to do and living in a construct (civilization) that doesn’t fit our nomadic search for truth.

The thing is he also includes therapy itself as part of the norms and processes which should be burned in a fire. It seemed odd to say something beneficial that attempts to correct oneself is bad. But I saw what he meant, that therapy is again another rule on top of the rules which created the problem in the first place.

It made me think about EMDR then, it’s not therapy per se, but it’s fully experiential and an assault on the ego. It makes the truth clear to the ego which is wrapped up in the past. I do also see that I thought of EMDR as a way to solve things, it did things, and resolved things that no longer exist for me anymore (which Kapil would say is when you know it worked), but it wasn’t a “cure” all.

The idea that someone should get rid of anxiety is the problem

Kapil Gupta interview with Naval Ravikant

I think I’m at a point where that low-level what-is-that anxiety is where I am. That’s good? Plainly, I am really bored, and so is the rest of humanity. When I was a kid bored, I would sulk and then do something for the umpteenth time like a puzzle.

Anxiety itself is a puzzle for me now. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have anxiety, go to therapist, repeat. I hate it. But I love it.

I feel validated and seen. It’s exciting to discover the mind.

I guess this is the pleasure I seek. So how do I change that? I know how and yet I don’t.

Financial Literacy Tips for Mental Health

Apparently there is a whole field called “financial therapy” which focuses on the psychology aspects of money. I took a Zoom workshop from The Financial Diet and wanted to share my notes. There isn’t anything revolutionary, these are just basic life skills but for many who grew up in complicated households an always needed reminder. With pandemic lifting I think it’s a good time to revisit where our assumptions about money and the future are rooted in.

Childhood

  • Adults have hard time budgeting because of growing up with financial distress
  • You never want to return to your younger poor self
  • Those who grew up around money now find it pointless to manage

Yes money was definitely a whirlwind of hell for me growing up. Not that it wasn’t around, it just was never predictable and seemed to manifest out of thin air even though most of the time it was scarcity. The immigrant family mindset around money is a constant contradiction between comfort and fire drills.

Financial Trauma

  • Bankruptcy or financial loss events
  • Usage of food stamps, financial aid, loans
  • Complex and intersecting events like divorce
  • Personal financial collapse events

Growing up there were big events from my parents where we thought we were on financial disaster whether that was intentional (gambling) or not (loans). While such events are not avoidable, the way they are dealt with can leave lasting scars. My parents were loud and reactive and so that passed into me.

Personally in my 20s after the second recession, I ended up in my aunt’s restaurant cutting green beans and serving Kung Pao chicken to people making real salaries. I thought all the smarts and talents and degrees I had acquired would make me bulletproof to anything. That’s not the real world!

Scarcity Mindset

  • Never enough money, defeated anxious to money
  • Never throw anything away cuz nothing comes to me
  • How much I should have saved dilemma (living in past)

I am notorious for living in the past and regretting poor financial decisions. After graduating college, I let an Italian model sell me a used “almost new” Corolla in a busted out roadside car lot in a “bad” suburb. Then I later found out it had a salvage record from Hurricane Katrina!

But the really dumb part was that I insisted on an econo car when there were plenty of sedans and SUVs in the lot at the same price. I was just focused on portraying how modest and environmental I was, and didn’t even care about the utility or practicality of the vehicle. Uber didn’t exist then but for example I could have helped people move.

Stressing on sticker price and bells and whistles are fallacies. A car is actually at the end of the day a tool.

Abundance Mindset

  • I can give this away and it will make it to someone else and something else will come back to me
  • Opportunities are endless
  • I am capable of giving and receiving

Abundance really comes up in shopping and bartering for me. Like at the end of the day, you saved $5 on a shirt or $20 on a table. Yes save money, find deals, but you don’t have to go all across town after days of research to purchase something that is consumable anyway. Time and energy is precious, protect that, instead of being stuck in seemingly life or death decisions at shopping carts.

I burned a good 6 months trying to find the perfect couch for my living room and I ended up spending more money and got the wrong one anyway. So there goes 6 months I could have just ended up enjoying the first couch I saw that fit, and already been on my next house project. Same went with the fact I was trying to Craigslist my existing couch for way more than it was worth, who cares, you got plenty of life and love out of it, let it go.

Building experiences is what I’m about, so when I think of needing to do a lot of purchases around a common theme, I will set budgets versus wrangling each item.

Revealing Your Distorted Thinking

I have tried many different mental health websites to see if I could gain any new wisdom into my life. There is one out of Australia called MoodGym that is a sort of a fun adventure into a typical anxiety book you might find off the shelf. The Warpy Thoughts quiz is basically a dysfunctional thoughts evaluation which categorizes your responses into human needs such as approval, love, success, perfection, etc.

After filling out the survey, it asks you to write a summary of your strengths and psychological weaknesses. This was a helpful exercise in addition to the survey because I now have words to describe what my dysfunctional “constellation” is like.

I need to feel deserved because I feel I have not been given a lot of good things life. I feel I’ve been denied a lot from others through trauma and grief and it’s now time for things to come to me.

I feel I have strong influence over my life and its trajectory because of my capabilities and resources now. I feel powerful to be able to do anything and solve any problem. I certainly did well at creating a professional career out of failures.

I feel I need to succeed to do well. I grew up feeling very lonely and abandoned. I always needed more from friends than they could give. If I don’t succeed I will be destitute in the gutter. I need to protect myself and ensure I have a future.

Approval from others is important because it helps define my life vision and trajectory. Doing things in a vacuum is tough and forces me to constantly second guess. Doing things with others support is easier and affirming. I also am not actually that picky, but I cannot make independent decisions very well. I enjoy flowing with others moods and sensibilities as it gives me purpose.

External things do give me joy in some regards but perhaps on a 1-1 level. For example I like wearing nice or interesting clothes even when I don’t have to, it makes a statement and I can tell it moves people a certain way. But I wouldn’t care to have a nice car because I don’t want to be intimidating or separate. I want the direct social cues. I want to be desired and accessible.

Perfection is important to some degree but only as it regards my personal matters and in specific areas. I like people’s flaws and eccentricities, as if enjoying actors on stage. I use to be very concerned about my appearance and still am certainly over weight but I have relaxed that and given into that I have only a present life and I must live into the change I want to see instead of escaping this moment.

I love how the Aussies call it “warpy thoughts” which makes dysfunction sound whimsical and approachable. The word dysfunction itself has heavy connotations of being broken and shunned, when actually we all have a level of dysfunctional thinking. I like the idea of thoughts warping our reality, like a gooey lens across our eyes. We can’t just patch cracks in the glass to make the brain functional. Rather, we interpret in concepts and experiences, so we have to identify the whole picture, grab the lens and adjust it.

The biggest takeaway for me is understanding how I’m driven by others which in many ways reflects my ENFP personality. Often how we want to engage the world is also the way in which it reflects back to our darker sides.

A Compassionate Letter to Yourself

The group session prompted us to write a compassionate letter to ourselves. Now after a few weeks I’m looking back and thinking how short and simple it was. Typically when I write notes to my therapist, it’s a barrage of meaningful meaninglessness. Why was I treating myself so succinctly.

Seems like I’m acknowledging my terrible problem with second guessing myself in every decision. I have a “shoulda” “coulda” solution for every problem. Telling myself to be grateful for where I am still feels hollow. Maybe one day I will truly receive this.

The letter feels hopeful but I can tell I feel like I’m in trudge. Sludging through mud or thick snow. Anxiety is a path to nowhere, and the out is often annihilation. No one is going to come save me because there is no saving. I’m just watching across the field, for something or nothing, while being eaten alive.

When there isn’t a lot of hope, then compassionate is just a gesture to show you’re still living.

I’m tired of having been through 2 or 10 years of ups and downs between doing the work of healing versus trying to “get past” traumatic events. In some ways it’s 30 years when I think about my childhood and teenage years. I’m tired of finding some discovery about how my brain works, applying it, then falling into another trap months later for something else.

I want catharsis even after having had so many cathartic moments. Expecting a catharsis is probably the problem.

Dear Eric,

I have compassion for all you have experienced and continue to endure as a result. You are an amazing person who has so many facets to you that are beautiful.  Life has been difficult at times and it is wonderful that you signed up for this workshop – it shows you know you are worthy of the love and support from this community.  (take it from here) 

Be grateful for all you’ve overcome.  Never second guess where you are in life or what you’ve done.  So many things have happened good and bad.  You are living the human experience and that is okay.

You’re tired and groggy from having to manage this chaos.  You may even believe you are a chaotic person or that you deserve some atonement.  These are stories and they help you bring meaning.

Remember you have done so much to bring light to the darkness and working on fixing yourself.

You believe there is a place that is better than now, or a person that is better than now, or you will arrive in the future.   You can arrive now and know each day will be even better.

Dealing with Uncertainty, Higher Power, and FOMO

I learn so much about what’s happening to me by hearing others convey the same experience. This week’s group therapy dealt with uncertainty. It was so incredible to hear others share their health anxiety thoughts and immediately I felt relieved to know I wasn’t the only one dealing with them. Of course I’ve prowled the internet long enough to watch every YouTube video on this kind of anxiety to hear every story imagined but something about hearing it in real time was freeing and I felt seen.

Obsessive thinking simply latches onto uncertainty with a vengeance. For me, nothing can ever exist in a range, in ambiguity, even when medical science says it’s ok. I don’t like it, I hate it. I had a very difficult session with my therapist on this, as it is currently really underlying things. I’ve been so good all my life at being specific and detailed in creative and professional pursuits, that I never thought I’d be turning it against me.

I know very well I’m not a logical person. As an ENFP, I think in feeling and externalities. And yet I am so confident about diagnosing myself through Google or applying second guessing to doctor’s advice. Their answers are never good enough for me, even when the answer is “you’re fine.” Self-imposed uncertainty is brutal.

Something telling for me in the group were the usually vocal people who were not as chatty. I thought about the things they were dealing with, death, great loss, betrayal, very deeply impacting but yet external events. They noted they had to accept the world wasn’t fair and that they couldn’t change what had happened. Obsessing over oneself would seem a far cry from losing a loved one who defined their future. In a way they gave into a higher power.

Certainly age had a role in this topic, as older members had settled into a life, a home, and accepted its conditions. Younger folk, or rather, the new adults, are confronted with too many choices amidst an atmosphere of uncertainty. I haven’t formed a sense of permanence anywhere on this planet and social media constantly shows I can just jet off to Bangkok where an AirBnb is waiting for me.

I’m missing out on something, or am I? What is this millennial grasping that pervades so many of our decisions. Why isn’t just going on vacation good enough? Again, it points to something about precisely what I want from myself. As yet I don’t have great insight.

Pandemic Misery and The Power of Now

I can’t believe I am only now reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I probably heard Oprah championing it growing up but I never paid attention to any spirituality teaching. This book would have been way more helpful had I read it at the start of my 20s. Like many things in life I chose to learn things the hard way. If you haven’t read it, do so because it is sort of an underpinning of all “new agey” wisdom that we see today. There is nothing revolutionary about the book, it’s literally just a reframing of concepts like wisdom, enlightenment, and spiritual being, wrapped up in a Westernized viewpoint. But the book moves beyond individual self-improvement toward how we apply our suffering to the world.

The biggest wow for me was reframing past, present, and future into simply Time. Time is our enemy so to speak, we try so desperately to escape it when we’re young and then when we’re older, we race again to do things before it’s “too late.” The problem is that we continually relate ourselves to people, places, and events which do not exist or have already happened. Meaning we don’t live in the Now, in the moment, ever. If only we’d always center in the present, we wouldn’t be flying off the handle every time we opened the news feed.

“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.”

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

The pandemic is a great example of testing the limits for me. The fear of catching COVID was definitely real and we didn’t have certainty over it. That’s fine, each moment I was just worried about what to do to keep myself and others safe. The moment lockdowns lifted and we knew enough about COVID to just be careful, that gave plenty of time to think about way more things than just washing your hands. I realized I hadn’t built much of a community in DC and revisited all the failed relationships in the past six years. It made me feel demoralized and bereft. I was alone by my own doing, so I thought. Then my mind wandered to the future and just played through the misery of waiting another year before life could return.

It was a bleak picture, and yet all I was doing was hanging out in my apartment, having nice home-cooked meals, and watching endless amounts of Netflix and YouTube.

While it’s not fair to judge oneself for feeling sad given that this is literally a threat to all of humanity on our doorsteps, deliberating on your life while you can’t do anything about it, can be harmful.

Tolle also points out the things we do where loss of Now manifests, and this was very helpful to see where I could improve in my life. Complaining is a reflection of victimhood and resentment for me, it really is a backhand way to ask for help. Instead he suggests to speak out and take action. I engaged in covid information sharing early on and it felt purposeful and contributing to others.

Another aspect was accepting where you physically are. I have for years now been saying I wanted to move to San Diego and have been living with one foot out the door. I still don’t have clarity over this (which will be a future blog post) but it shows that I’ve avoided or neglected things about my actual home for some time. A friend said you can have it both ways, even as they were preparing to leave DC, they were still doing home improvements and planning local trips. Enjoy your present place, make it a home, even if you know you will not be there for long.

Where I think I would have at least made the grade with Tolle is enjoying a nice croissant with coffee or tea in an outdoor cafe. I was doing this years before visiting Paris and seeing how ubiquitous outdoor sitting and watching was. Thankfully DC’s mild weather made for a lot of this, and it was a luxurious treat in a tumultuous year.

Stay tuned for more posts on The Power of Now.