jump to navigation

My Relationship With My Body: Ending Silence and Shame July 12, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

It has been several years now since I endured the worst of my negative body image and unhealthy eating, but I still find that I can’t talk about these experiences as openly and honestly as other difficulties from the past. I would like to end the silence and shame in order to be healed in the present, and to help others to do the same.

In my feminist English class I took years ago, I learned that silence is secrecy, and secrecy is shame. I have found this to be true in my own personal circumstances, because as long as I cannot openly and honestly talk about some aspect of my experience, it means that I am ashamed about it.

Only recently have I been able to open up to a few close friends about my negative body image and unhealthy eating that I had in the past. I have only opened up to these few people when I knew that they were undergoing the same difficulties. But I can still tell that I have some shame around my past suffering, and this silence continues to contribute to suffering in the present.

When I was a fourth year honours university student, my honours thesis topic was on women’s body image. At the time, I had hoped that people would assume this was purely an academic research interest of mine. When I told them what I was studying. It wasn’t. I hoped that people would think it was merely a coincidence that my eating and physical activity habits had changed at the same time as starting the thesis. It wasn’t a coincidence.

What I didn’t tell people, what I kept secret because I was ashamed, was that I was struggling with my own negative body image. I was a perfectly healthy young woman, but I felt like a fat slob. I had a beautiful young woman’s body, feminine curves and all, but I wanted to look like the models on the fitness magazines, with their perfect abs, tightly toned muscles, and hardly an ounce of body fat bulging anywhere. I wanted my body perfect.

Oxygen_Feb_2010_Cover[1]

 

Can I buy your body?

I exercised religiously. I didn’t miss a single day of my workout routine, even when I was feeling tired or had come down with a cold. I lifted weights and went running every other day. When I couldn’t exercise while at the farm or on vacation, I was fraught with anxiety about when I would have the next chance to burn off the “extra” calories.

I planned every single meal and snack every single day. I eliminated as much dietary fat as I could until my dry itchy scalp drove me nuts and I realized my dandruff was caused from too little fat. I had lost weight and people were commenting on how skinny I was. I didn’t want to be skinny, I wanted to be thin and fit.

Thankfully, this didn’t last long. I now know my body image struggles were due to mental and emotional energy being diverted from the depression from which I was recovering and swore I would no longer revisit. Unfortunately I was still dealing with the same negative mental energy with my negative body image, just in a different form. Thankfully, I read a feminist book on eating disorders and learned that women’s body ideals are a patriarchal form of control over women’s and girls’ bodies and minds that keep our attention and energy diverted away from taking power. My negative mental energy still wasn’t completely healed, but instead resurfaced as intensified symptoms of anxiety.

My shame and silence is still the worst around my family. It is my family members and relatives who know what my body looked like before, during, and after my worst struggles with body image. It was my family with whom I shared meals and justified my food choices under my strict diet by saying that I was trying to “eat healthy.” It is my family with whom I feel the most self-conscious if I notice even the slightest changes in my body shape or size, because I am convinced that they will notice it, too.

I want to be more open and honest about my past suffering because I know some healing still has to be done, as much as I would not like to admit it. I want to end the silence, because I don’t want to be ashamed as if this was all something I deliberately and consciously chose to do to myself. Whenever I can look deeply at the full extent of my suffering, I can’t have any shame because I know that no one would ever choose to undergo that much pain and stress. All I can feel is compassion. Finally, I don’t want to keep silent, because keeping silent means that I take away responsibility from other people, groups, and institutions that are responsible for upholding and reinforcing harmful standards of women’s physical appearance (including other women).

Silence and shame still surround the negative body image and unhealthy eating that I experienced in the past, even though I would prefer to think that some healing has been done. Things have noticeably improved for myself, but I know that there is still some healing left to do. I have noticed that there is still some suffering in the present from some unresolved suffering in the past. I hope to end the silence by being more open and honest because I don’t want to feel shame over suffering I didn’t consciously choose to take on.

Advertisements

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 4 May 24, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

(This is part 4 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 3 here.)

Then something unexpected happened.  I had expected that letting my mother know I had forgiven her would bring a great deal of relief. I assumed I would feel better and that energy being held up inside would be freed.

Instead I felt noticeably worse for a good week or two. I was quite emotionally upset, bearing through waves of great sadness, grief, and fear. My mood was depressed, and I lacked my usual amount of energy. Seeking solitude, I stayed in my room at home to try and deal with what was coming up. I was starting to get worried about what was happening, and wanted to know what the cause was.

It didn’t take long to see that the difficult emotions were a result of opening up a part of my awareness that before had been hidden for so long. A very vivid image came to me that best illustrated how I felt. The image was of a light being turned on in a large room to reveal an entire corner of the room previously cloaked in darkness. The light was the light of my conscious awareness seeing clearly and directly. The room was my mind or my consciousness, and the hidden corner was my storehouse of memories. The sudden change in my awareness seemed to be as explicit as the switch of a lightbulb.

I now had access to an entire block of memories from very long ago that were memories of my mother. Somewhat surprisingly, these memories were pleasant memories, or if not pleasant than at least neutral. The memories were far different from the painful ones that I used to be convinced were the only memories I had of my mother.

Why had these memories come to me so suddenly? They were tied up in the pain I had felt at an earlier age, pain that had left a lasting effect on me. The anger and hatred had been keeping the pain locked in place, hidden safely in forgetfulness so I didn’t have to face the pain. As long as the pain was still there, as long as I refused to face it, the memories were invisible as well, as if they never existed.

As soon as forgiveness entered the picture, the anger and hatred could dissolve, and the pain was opened up. The sadness, grief, and fear I was feeling were from this pain being exposed.

So if these were pleasant, or at least not painful, memories, why was I still feeling such difficult emotions? It was as if I had to reprocess each one of these memories one at a time. When these memories came into my awareness, I re-experienced the pain associated with each one that I had felt at the time when the memories were locked away.

I was being healed, or perhaps more accurately, I was allowing the healing to happen on its own.

What was so absolutely amazing to me is that there actually are real happy and warm memories of my mother. A few years earlier I would have been absolutely convinced beyond a doubt that such memories weren’t possible. I couldn’t believe how much mental energy was being used to keep these memories hidden! My mind was trying so hard to tell me the memories weren’t there, and trying to prevent me from facing reality.

A huge insight from this whole process was that memories are not real. They are only constructed images of the past meant to serve a purpose at the time that they are remembered. If I am in a depressed mood when I try to remember what has happened in the past, depressed memories will be brought up. On the other hand, if in the moment I am in a happy mood when I look back on the past, happy memories will be brought up. The more time spent in one of these moods, and these memories are brought up, the more these memories begin to shape our perceptions of reality.

This insight into the non-solidity of memories has allowed me to let go of the past more and embrace being grounded in the present moment. I am also more likely to qualify what I say, as I have throughout this series of posts, with “or at least, that’s how I remember it,” because I know that my memories are not the absolute and final truth.

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 3 May 17, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
5 comments

(This is part 3 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 2 here.)

I will admit that it was difficult at first to open to pain and turn toward such deep anger and hatred held in my heart. The resentments that I had felt for so long were hard to let go, as if they were who I was or they were an integral part of me. Without them I might not know who I was anymore.

Nevertheless, I did a great deal of deep looking and out of understanding came forgiveness. I looked deeply into how I felt hurt and how I perceived my mom had hurt me. I could see how, much like Thay explains, my suffering was related to someone else’s suffering. My suffering was my mother’s suffering.

The harm I felt that had been done to me was a resut of my mother having depression.I could no longer hold onto anger in the face of so much pain. I saw that no one would ever consciously choose to be in that situation.

I experienced a huge amount of relief to let go of all of that anger I had kept inside for so long. I could now see that no one had actually deliberately or intentionally tried to hurt me or cause me suffering from depression. Instead, what had happened in the past was just what had happened. I came to a level of acceptance of my past experience.

I had inner forgiveness for my mom in that I didn’t openly acknowledge the change to anyone. Part of my reason for keeping this forgiveness to myself was that I still felt resentment for other family members who had told me I should forgive my mom. They argued it would be the right thing to do. Before, this advice had made me angry. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing I did what they told me to do! I didn’t forgive my mom because it was the right thing to do, or because I listened to anyone’s advice. Instead, I did it out of my own choice and for myself first. I did it to free myself of hatred and anger.

I kept my forgiveness to myself and my relationship with my mother improved somewhat because I no longer held such hatred and anger. But outwardly our relationship didn’t drastically change because I didn’t’ sense that much warmth or love, at least compared to other family members with whom I was close. My mother and I were still quite distant from each other.

I moved away even farther from home and for a period only saw my family twice a year, so any relationship with my mother was still distant. After a year of being far from home I began to feel quite homesick. I even felt homesick a little for my mother, which was completely unexpected. I kind of missed her, but not nearly as much as I missed other family members, and even some friends. I almost couldn’t believe I was feeling this toward my mother; I really hadn’t thought it would ever be possible.

I soon came across a dharma talk on forgiveness, which planted a seed of intention. The teacher made it clear to me what I needed to do, my next step: I had to tell my mother that I had forgiven her for anything that had happened to me. But first I had to ask for her forgiveness. I had to ask her to forgive me for all of the violence and aggression I directed toward her, and for all the blame I placed on her for what happened to me. I almost didn’t know if it was possible. But I still had to ask for it.

I phoned my mom up one day and did all of this over the phone. I tried to explain my side of the story of expressing such anger and violence because of having depression, and based on other circumstances in my life while I was a teenager. I had expected it to be an awkward, uncomfortable conversation, but it went surprisingly well. I felt such huge relief for the situation o turn out much better than I had imagined.

Then something unexpected happened…

To be continued next post

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 2 May 10, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,
8 comments

(This is part 2 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 1 here.)

When times were shitty, I directed all of the energy of blame for all of what I saw to be going wrong in my personal circumstances to my mother. I hated her. In fact, as far as I was concerned, she was the one person who ruined my life. Most or all of my problems were because of her, either directly or indirectly. I would fantasize about how much my life would be better if she wasn’t in it.

I disowned my mother. As far as I was concerned I had an idea or an image in my mind of what a mother was supposed to be, and she didn’t fit that image. She didn’t deserve to be called my mother. I stopped calling her mom and referred to her by her first name, not only when addressing her directly, but also when referring to her when talking to my friends and relatives.

I grew up—sorry, I mean I grew older—and moved away from home. I had a chance to, as I saw it at the time, fix my life by taking control over it myself. I distanced myself from my parents, but especially my mom, and went off on my own.

Not long after, depression revisited, and I had to do the long, hard work of pulling myself out of that big, deep, black hole of self-pity. And this time, the self-pity focused on my mental illness, or the story of it. By the story I mean that depression wasn’t just something that happened to me, I was depression. I was a depressed person, and because I had been depressed before, I must therefore be doomed to this for The Rest Of My Life.

So my self-pity turned to blame for my parents, especially my mother. It was my mother’s fault I was depressed because, among other well-validated and intelligently-argued points, my mother didn’t fix her own depression. She passed on her depression through me. She made me depressed. She did this not only because of, as I was now learning in my university psychology courses, exposing me to seeing someone else with that same illness, but also because of my genes. Depression was built into my genetic makeup. I was doomed. And it was all her fault.

As you might expect, these thoughts and feelings of self-pity only led me to further dig myself into that dark hole of despair. After some time, I was finally shocked into summoning enough energy to take charge of my own recovery. And the type of self-pity thoughts described above absolutely had to go if I wanted my well-being back. I took that approach that I could only take responsibility over what I had control. I couldn’t control my family history or any past experiences, but I could control my thoughts and how I responded to what had happened to me.

When I began to practice meditation regularly and learn the dharma, I was able to take care of the pain leftover from my episode of depression. I was encouraged by the open acknowledgement of the first noble truth that suffering (or dissatisfaction or unease) exists. I was also comforted by the confirmation that suffering can be transformed into understanding and happiness. Strengthened by the practice, I could turn toward the leftover pain of depression and heal myself, and transform the suffering transmitted to me by previous generations.

In transforming some of this pain, I became more aware and understanding of the pain of having a mental illness, and this gave me a great deal of compassion for myself and others in this same situation. I was completely able to deeply feel the pain of mental illness and depression, and have profound compassion in response to that type of pain.

Therefore, when I was eventually exposed to forgiveness in the context of an actual meditation practice, my path to forgiveness was understanding. I took on the forgiveness practice because I decided I needed to forgive my mother. Part of it was a motivation to simply grow up. I wanted to stop being the whiny teenager who had such a sense of entitlement for what people were supposed to do for me. I wanted to be responsible for my own life and happiness.

Continue to part 3 here.

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 1 May 3, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
7 comments

This a story of how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. You might not think it is a particularly unique story. In fact, you might even be able to guess how it unfolds. But its my story, and that’s all that matters. And its my story, so I get to tell it.

My relationship with my mother has changed dramatically over my life, but perhaps the most dramatic change has occurred at the same time as—like many of my other relationships—beginning my meditation practice. To tell this story, I’ll start at the beginning.

My relationship with my mother was quite good when I was younger—or so at least I remember, and so I was told by many people around me. My mom stayed home on the farm to raise me and my sibling, so I got plenty of attention. I was looked after and taken care of. I had homemade clothes, home-cooked meals from the garden (including home-canned fruits and wild berries, and homemade bread), and a home that was kept mostly tidy and well decorated. I also had many family camping trips, and was taken to activities and to visit friends. These early years would become the standard or ideal to which I would later compare my circumstances.

By the time I was in middle childhood, many of the attention and duties provided to me were taken away. It was then that I started to notice and be told that my mom was suffering from the mental illness of depression. It followed that many of the circumstances I had enjoyed at an earlier age started to slip away, and some of them disappeared altogether. The activities mom used to do were more and more replaced by her lying in bed, sleeping.

Consequently, the lack of attention affected our relationship, and I became more distant from her. I had to start making my own school lunch, and cooking my own meals. I had to clean up after myself and my family, and the pantry wasn’t as well stocked with fresh food from the garden or groceries anymore.

As a child, I adapted to the changing circumstances. I made do with what I had. I still had my dad looking after me as best he could, and grandparents next door on the farm to which I could go for lots of attention and support, not to mention other relatives. I had other ways of coping. What’s more, I learned the valuable lesson that would become deeply instilled in me for many, many years:

If I want something done right, I have do it myself.

I seemed to be making out just fine. And then I became a teenager. Ah, yes, those oh-so-fun times of adolescence. And with adolescence comes the ability to think more abstractly beyond my immediate experience of childhood awareness into ideas of what my circumstances could be. As I said earlier, my memories of my early childhood with my mother became the ideal with which I would compare my current circumstances.

And also coming with adolescence is a great deal of idealism of thinking how things could be in a better version of my reality. So thinking idealistically was what I did—and oh, how I did it. So my relationship with my mother became idealized into how it should be, and my personal circumstances at home and my mother’s role in creating those circumstances became idealized. I wanted the good times back, or at least my memories of the good times.

But I didn’t get the good times back. I wasn’t about to any time soon, by all signs. And so we know that another characteristic of adolescence is anger. Anger, aggression, and violence when their idealized versions of reality don’t match up with their actual immediate reality. Plus, although I’m simplifying the story a bit here, there were other aspects of my overall personal circumstances that weren’t working out well for me (school, friends, etc.), so I felt that I had other reasons to be angry. But, not surprisingly, my anger and blame was directed at my parents, and my mother in particular because she was an easy target, and partly because that’s what I was learning to do from others.

(Continue to part 2)

How I Came To The Practice: Part 6 – Seeking Spirit October 22, 2012

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

(This is part 6 of a series on the full story of how I came to meditation practice. Click on the links for part 1 – My Christian Rootspart 2 – Why Meditation Came Naturally To Mepart 3 – Asian Exoticism and Zen for Dummies, part 4 – Religious Studies and Meditation Instruction, and part 5 – Running From The Darkness).

In the few months of taking my recovery from mental illness seriously, I made an effort to spend some time outside every day. If you know me today, this might not sound significant, but it was at the time. I was living in residence where I never had to go outside at any time to attend class, visit the cafeteria, or see any of my friends. I was also taking school very seriously, considering it the priority in  my life situation, and often felt that I had little free time to spare. Maybe the break from drinking had somewhat freed up my schedule.

I would go for walks alone, sometimes listening to slow music on an mp3 player, and walk the paths dusted with light snow among the old stone campus buildings. It was on these walks that I found the Divine again.

In the privacy of a bench on the riverbank, while looking out over the water at the birds, I let the tears wash down my cheeks touched by the pale winter sun. I felt something else there with me on the river bank, something in the steady wind that caressed my face, in the clouds moving across the sky, and amidst the snow decorating the grey twigs and branches of the bare stubby shrubs. I felt something else I had known before, on my farm, on my far away, long ago home where I had spent almost all of my life at that point. I was reconnecting to something long forgotten, I was remembering something I once knew and felt deeply.

Back in my warm residence room, when I set the textbooks and scribbled papers down and donned the outside costume of winter jacket and toque, I left Andrea behind–that is, Andrea the student, Andrea the psychology major, Andrea the single woman, Andrea the insecurely attached, depressed Andrea. I was just me, myself, and I had a moment to breathe, a pause, space. I felt freedom. Freedom from the small self and a connection to the “big self.” I write this now with Buddhist words but at the time my interpretation was with Christian theistic language, the only religious or spiritual language I was familiar with: God, holy spirit, soul, sin.

I became a seeker. Psychology had helped me get back to start, to reset and heal my sorest wounds. But counselling only went so far. It couldn’t explain my experience on the riverbank, it couldn’t provide me with something else I needed, a way to fill a hole I felt inside.

I attended a few church services alone, but the heavy trappings of ritual and dogmatism and moral prescription turned me off when they reminded me of painfully dull Catholic masses of my youth. Any reference to God as he or him just made my stomach twist in revolt. Ugh. I couldn’t take it.

I spent some time seeking for something. School would overwhelm me for periods and serve as a wonderful distraction, but periods of pause and rest would bring up the same old questions, the familiar hunger. It was starting to be so familiar I was nearly taking it for granted. But luckily enough, I didn’t give up, I continued to seek until I found an answer that satisfied me.

How I Came To The Practice: Part 5 – Running Away From The Darkness September 24, 2012

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

(This is part 5 of a series on the full story of how I came to meditation practice. Click on the links for part 1 – My Christian Roots, part 2 – Why Meditation Came Naturally To Me, part 3 – Asian Exoticism and Zen for Dummies, and part 4 – Religious Studies and Meditation Instruction).

A few months after my first meditation instruction, I worked for a summer at two jobs, fell into a deep depression, then started a new university semester and broke off my first ever committed romantic relationship. I spent hours at a time crying in bed, I couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings, and had to go through some suicidal thoughts. This scared me into spending a few sessions with a counsellor who helped me get out of my depression using a primarily cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approach (a technique which I later learned is promoted by insurance companies by its “quick and easy” results). The CBT approach primarily focuses on uncovering negative thoughts and distorted thinking patterns (cognitivethat lead to negative behaviours (behavioural). I began a journey of self-healing that included grieving a loss, taking a break from mood altering drugs (alcohol) and the hard work of facing the tidal waves of negative, self-pitying thoughts in which I had indulged.

I tried my best to work on being more positive. I was very strongly motivated to change my negative habits I had taken for granted so often. I was doing it to avoid another episode of depression. The episode of suicidal thoughts had a very deep impact on me, and I had felt a deep sense of terror–the terror of self-destruction. The experience is still with me today. I later realized that I was strongly motivated to save my own life and I was willing to do whatever it took.

I made little room, time, or space in my life for practicing meditation. Other commitments got in the way of travelling to any regular sitting groups. What little sitting practice I was able to do seemed to have some effect. I enjoyed the emphasis of letting go of thoughts while sitting. I was starting to feel empowered over my compulsive anxiety. What a relief to be trapped in a never-ending tangled web of thoughts, to notice it, and consciously and effortfully let them go. Aaaah, relief…  It was a lot of work and at times uncomfortable, but I could see some potential.

The busiest semester of my undergraduate career ended and summer approached. Memories of a painful previous summer made me motivated not to repeat history. There were a number of factors (working a new job with new coworkers, new training, lots of overtime) I could foresee as possible risks to leading to another depressive episode, and I was motivated not to let it happen.

At the time, I was surrounded by friends and peers that seemed to be endlessly complaining in a self-centered fashion about their final exams and reports: “I have three exams in two days,” “I won’t be done until the end of the month,” “I have to write organic chemistry,” on and on and on. My life is so awful, this life of scholastic and financial and social class privelege… (Ooops, sarcasm…not right speech!) This was not the environment I wanted to be in if I wanted to avoid falling into old negative thought patterns and attitudes.

On TV late one night I happened to come across a news episode on A Complaint-Free World. Someone had made a vow not to utter a single complain for a span of 30 consecutive days, eventually achieved their goal after several months, and found it so personally rewarding they were spreading the message to others. Sign me up! I ordered a free rubber bracelet online and wore it proudly for a long period of time, happy to share the message of positivity to anyone who asked.

I’m happy to report that I didn’t experience a depressive episode that summer (despite many 70 hour work weeks), nor anytime since. My past experience with professional counselling showed me the usefulness and effectiveness of therapy and psychology. Yet I was still aware that there was a whole other realm of experience that psychology missed, and I was still seeking some answer or place that would show me the way.

 

Dealing with Uncertainty: What to Rely On? July 15, 2012

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

For the first time in my life I am searching for a “real job,” a permanent full-time job reflecting all of my education and training. Consequently, I am also face-to-face with uncertainty, as I really don’t know what the future brings with regards to my location, my job, my coworkers, my friends, my sangha, and my distance from family.

Here in this incredibly uncertain future is where my usual tendency to resort to projecting into the future and building myself up with planning is no longer applicable. I have to admit that I no longer am in complete control of my future. I can’t simply decide an answer to all of the above open questions.

I’m seeing quite clearly how this sense of not knowing is uncomfortable, it makes me uneasy. It is not a place I am used to. The blessing of my modern life is that I can have a great deal of control over my own personal situation.

My usual reaction to dealing with anxiety is to resort to routine in my daily life. I structure what I do, the tasks I complete, where I go, the people I spend time with, as a way to cushion myself against the unpredictability of human life. I take comfort in the familiarity of going through each day exactly as I can plan it, and as a result, I get stuck in grooves, repetitiveness, and habitual patterns.

Therefore, the curse of this modern life is that the control can create an illusion of certainty. It can always appear that I have things entirely planned out, arranged, put in place, but then something will come along and tip the boat, shake things up, take the rug out from under my feet.

I am seeing exactly the type of situation that this routine is explicitly trying to avoid:

I haven’t encountered this situation before/ recently.

I need to make a decision about what to do, the best way to proceed.

I only have a limited amount of information at this present time about what is the best decision.

Any decision I make has no guarantee that it will achieve my desired end result.

For me this circumstance of uncertainty and novelty is quite scary. For that reason, I’ve carefully and purposefully engineered it out of my life situation.

This type of job search is new and uncertain for me, as I’ve never before had to look for a “real job. I have no guarantee that in this whole process I am proceeding in the “right” way or making the best decisions.

Although I think that so far I have been doing better than I expected in dealing with the uncertainty of not having a job lined up, I do experience some low points. At times I feel hopeless, my mood becomes more depressed, and I lose my motivation:

I give up. I don’t care. I’m not doing this right now.

I’ve also been noticing some thoughts and feelings that I suspect may be due to what I label “internalized classism.” The thoughts and feelings go somewhat like:

I don’t belong here. I don’t fit. I’m not wanted. I have nothing to offer.

At other times in my life (applying to university and graduate school, applying for awards, working in an academic setting), I’ve had similar feelings where I’m not the right type of person (i.e., not the right social class) to be accepted here. I see how these thoughts have been a story that has been playing for much of my life, and is a result of deep conditioning.

What else do I rely on to tell myself that things are working out exactly the way they are supposed to?

A sense of hope and optimism for the future.

Faith in the process unfolding before my very eyes.

Faith that the world I perceive outside of me has a place for me.

Faith in myself and my abilities, skills, and personality.

Faith in other people who have helped me thus far, who have shaped who I am. In all of my past experiences that have shaped who I am, I carry their instructions, their example, and their teachings inside of me.

That sense of faith is actually a familiar place for me from when I was struggling to complete my degree. Often I felt so much like giving up, and I wanted to stop pushing myself to work to finish. I wanted desperately to stop using fear, anxiety, shame, and guilt as motivation to push myself to complete the work I found dissatisfying.

As much as I could at these times, I tried to motivate myself to complete my work by having faith that my talents and abilities would combine with an intrinsic human need to direct activity outside of oneself. Now I am trying to use a similar motivation on my job search. I am trying to have faith that there is a place I can align myself with to receive my talents and abilities.

 

Depression and Anxiety: Reasons for my Spiritual Practice May 4, 2012

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

I once heard a meditation instructor or Dharma teacher quote someone saying that people come to spiritual practice for different reasons: they are running away from the light, they are running toward the light, they are running away from the darkness, or they are running toward the darkness. I knew when I heard that that I was running away from the darkness.

I have a personal history of both major depression and anxiety. I also share a family history of major depression and anxiety.

I have experienced major depressive episodes twice in my life: once when I was in high school at age 14 and again when I was in university at age 19. At both times I had suicidal thoughts but never suicidal intentions. I found both of these experiences to be quite painful and extremely scary, and I know for a fact that I am not completely over them or I haven’t completely made peace with what has happened in my past.

I experienced a great deal of social anxiety in high school, in part influenced by bullying as well as being what the psychologists label as “neglected” where my classmates didn’t pay attention to me, both of which started as early as elementary school. I can recall in high school sitting at the breakfast table having to force myself to eat because of a pit of nausea and tension in my stomach at the thought of going to school.

My social anxiety started to improve gradually, and much faster once I went to university. After I recovered from my depressive episode in university, all of the negative energy I was carrying in my consciousness turned from depression into anxiety, and I noticed eventually that my symptoms fit the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder.

It was at this stage of my life that I came across Buddhist meditation. At the time, I had made a change in my life to start being more positive in my thoughts and actions as well as with the people and activities which I surrounded myself. I remember wearing a rubber bracelet from a website I saw featured on the news called “A Complaint-Free World,” where the wearer was committed to not complaining for as long as 30 days!

I found Buddhist meditation to be a framework to support my intentions to have positive thinking. I also found valuable aspects to the spiritual tradition that my earlier reliance on self-help and clinical psychology couldn’t offer: Acceptance and compassion.

Before coming to meditation, if I was depressed, I couldn’t accept it and I judged myself for somehow bringing this on myself. I also judged my family for passing down the tendency to me in my genetic inheritance.

The Buddhist spiritual practice allowed me to just accept what was happening in the moment as what I had been handed in life, and that was what I had to work with. It gave me a way to help free me from judging myself, and instead allow myself to have some compassion for my suffering.

There are so many other important aspects that the Buddhist spiritual and meditation practice offers that helps me to heal my depression and anxiety. One other aspect I will mention is the need to not make up a story about what is happening to me. I don’t label myself as a depressed person, a survivor of depression, or an anxious person. I make every effort not to focus on my family history of these disorders or else I feel that there is no way to avoid inheriting them myself. I try my hardest not to focus on my lifetime history of what has happened to me, or to project into the future: “If this has happened for so long in my past, it must mean that it will continue to happen for a long time in the future.” Nothing fills me with more despair and grief than this type of thinking or feeling shackled down with an unbearable burden. Thankfully, I’m able to recognize the effect of these kinds of thoughts and try my hardest to not spend time there.

I continue to work on these memories of the painful times in my life, and know for certain that they have been transformed and will continue to heal. All I know now is that I can say my motivation for my spiritual practice is to run towards the light: I have known the joyful, peaceful, and fulfilling experiences that make up human life, and I have started to trust this as my true self.

Book Review: Women and Zen March 22, 2012

Posted by Living Abundance in review.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

I just finished two excellent biographies by women authors who also happen to be Zen (Buddhism) practitioners.

The book I first read was called Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up In America by Natalie Goldberg, who apparently is a well-known author and writing workshop leader. I really enjoyed this book I think in part because I identified with the author quite a bit. She wrote about being introverted during her childhood which led her to do a lot of reading and writing on her own. As a writer, she found herself being quite independent and often alone most of her life. She also spent quite a bit of time in the midwestern U.S. and describes trying to deal with the freezing cold temperatures. In contrast, she ends up moving to the hot, sunny, Arizona desert, and falls in love with the wide open landscape.

One passage I particularly enjoyed was her criticism of “New Age” spirituality and workshops offered by different teachers, which she contrasts with her diligent Zen meditation practice. She describes New Age spirituality as commercialized and consumerized by giving people what they want to hear, but letting them off easy without providing a daily, disciplined practice, which results in people forgetting everything they learn in the workshops and always needing to come back for more.

The book described some very intruiging stories of strange “coincidences” or happenings that couldn’t just be explained by chance. One story I really enjoyed was where she started writing a book about Zen Buddhism and relationships in a restauraunt near her house. She wasn’t sure why she was drawn to that particular restauraunt of all the places she could go to, but just found she could easily do her writing there. Only later did she find out that almost everyone who worked at the restauraunt (servers, cooks, owner, etc.) were Zen practitioners themselves! Crazy!

Another quote I really liked was where she told her teacher that she felt the more she sat (meditated), the more Jewish she became (her parents were Jewish European immigrants to America). Her teacher said, “That makes sense. The more you sit, the more you become who you are.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!

The other book I was so happy to come across by chance at the library wasHand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for An Ordinary Life By Karen Maezen Miller, a Zen priest and stay-at-home mother. I had read about this book on the internet recently and didn’t know I would find it on the shelves so soon. The book is basically an autobiography of how the author found Zen Buddhism practice and how it changed her life for the better. I could identify with this author, as well, because she found herself caught up in trying to achieve a perfect professional career, which only ended up in her becoming depressed after her divorce. Also, in the book, she criticized psychology as an option for helping people, because she claims it doesn’t make people end up any different from what got them in trouble in the first place (thinking in order to understand ourselves, and understanding ourselves in order to change the way we think).

A main message of the book is a criticism of the materialism and consumerism of modern society and western culture that makes us always strive for money, social status and achievements and leaves us feeling we have never been able to find our “life.” The message is to value and be satisfied with the simple things in daily life, instead of always trying to achieve something better or become a better person.

It also emphasizes doing things like housework and chores yourself instead of just hiring other people to do them for you (or, as Karen puts it, “outsourcing”). According to the author, doing things yourself is an act of love and care towards yourself and the people close to you. A very intruiging concept that I have been contemplating a lot lately…

And, as always with any book on Zen, there is a huge emphasis on slowing down, stopping, and taking the time to savor life’s daily joys and pleasures. The author contrasts this with her life before Zen, where she viewed time as money and was always trying to cram as many things into as small a space of time as possible.

There you have it, two highly recommended books for anyone interested in biographies, spirituality, or meditation.