Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. This year I had trouble feeling gratitude. It's not that I'm not grateful...well, maybe I'm not. I don't feel grateful, though. I've had so many things to do that I really haven't had a chance to stop, purge myself of all the thinking and planning, and just feel good. That's not to say I feel bad--there're lots of feelings between good and bad--but I feel genuine gratitude the most when I feel calm and collected.

The thing I love about getting in touch with yourself is the paradox involved. I've always loved puzzles, and trying to feel is a great one for me because feeling is a non-cognitive exercise, while trying (to do anything) is a very cognitive exercise. Feeling happens in a place where words, narratives, definitions, and calculations don't take place. Feeling is the remainder when cognition comes to a screeching halt. It's always there, hiding behind your thoughts and inner dialogue. That's nice because you can never lose it. You can never really lose touch with yourself, your heart, and your inner-strength.

When you see your feelings, i.e., your body and its sensations, without any thought, you see how absolutely weird they are. They're not words, they're experiences, which really gives no additional clarity to what they really are. They're changing from second to second and they have certain properties, but beyond that, everything gets weird. Each sensation seems to blossom on its own in the field of your awareness, and then dissolve into nothingness, and you're sitting here, watching it all unfold like a windows screensaver.

Then the quiet sets in as the body calms down and the heart starts to open. Different feelings cascade through your body as gradually, you are reminded that everything is okay. There are no flaws, just things that haven't ripened yet. Everything is suspended in an ocean of pure compassion as you're reminded of your purpose in life: to spread peace using whatever talents, skills, and tools you have at your disposal.

Thanks everyone, for being on this great journey with me. Peace.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Why do I get self-conscious around close friends?

Dear Edahn,

I wanted to ask you about friendship, platonic friendship between guys to be precise. Recently I spent a long time with one of my oldest mates on holiday. I’ve known this guy since the first day of high school, and consider him still one of my best friends - we were in the same class since day one, come from similar backgrounds, and have shared so much and basically grew up in each others’ houses.

The issue is we seemed to have lost the easiness and closeness one has with one’s best and dearest mates. You know, the easy banter and great chats, and the being able to hang out effortlessly and unselfconsciously for hours. Instead, it was awkward and self-conscious at practically every interaction. Our conversations had no natural flow for the most part, and I realise from my side that I was worrying constantly about what and how to say things to him, how to be funny around him, and generally contorting myself in a bloody ridiculously contrived manner now that I think about it.

I know it’s a bit naive to expect us to be as tight as the day we left school all those years ago, seen as we have obviously led different lives in different places, but what I can’t abide is my own reaction to the whole thing: that I feel I am at fault by being so self-conscious around one of the people I should be the closest to in the world, which in turns seems to drive me further away in my own mind, and become more distant from him - something he noted about this and some previous occasions, when we finally broached the topic one drunken evening.

I suspect a lot of the problem (if it’s even helpful to call it that) lies with me in any case, as he is not the first person dear to me that I’ve felt self-conscious around. There have been a number of times when I feel on reflection as if I’m putting up some kind of facade in front of my genuine self, upon which I project what I think people might like to see - which is utterly nonsensical, as I am fortunate to be a very well-liked person for who I actually am.

Thanks for your other posts by the way - a lot of stuff on this blog makes a lot of sense. 


I'VE GONE THROUGH THIS same sequence with some of my closest friends and I myself was (and in some situations, still am) a very self-conscious person. 

I'm not sure I'm really satisfied with the words social anxiety, shyness, or self-consciousness. I think what we're really talking about here is apprehension about losing connection to someone when they find something they stop enjoying us and turn off or turn awkward. Some might say it goes back to your attachment to your mother, but I think that's narrow-minded. I think it has more to do with a universal need to belong to a group (after all, we're tribal animals) combined with a genetic proclivity towards sensitivity and high levels of empathy. So underneath all this lies some real beautiful qualities that you shouldn't forget about.

I think people can sometimes get into a trap where their apprehension about the loss of connection makes them feel distant and act different, which increases their apprehension because they think no one wants to be with someone like them. Part of the reason they feel so distant is because the apprehension makes their mind work in overdrive and they become severed from their actual thoughts, moods, feelings, and body. And so, their apprehension of disconnection turns into real disconnection, both from themselves and from others.It's a horribly painful experience that a lot of people aren't enough ready to admit, acknowledge, or experience. Those are 3 separate "stages." 

It sounds to me like you're doing all 3, but having trouble making room for the experience because it's risky. And it is. It's risky to let yourself experience the full extent of your disconnection, because, well, it's not something we typically do in our culture. We're used to masking our fears, rather than revealing them. That has to do with the shame we store about being weird and different from everyone else.

Here's my take, because I think everyone's got this all fucked up. I think everyone experiences this. I mean everyone. It comes out in a lot of different ways, and at different times. A lot of people have developed strategies for avoiding these feelings, but they're there; I just think that we, as a society, haven't really done a good job of recognizing it. For example, sitting to my left are 3 girls who are talking shit about a guy who just came here and tried talking to one of them. They're not just having fun--they're strengthening their own feelings of being normal by identifying him as abnormal. And I'd bet this is a pretty common activity for each of them. (BTW, I'm at Starbucks. BTW, you should never sit next to me at Starbucks.)

This apprehension that you have--painful as it is--is expressing itself in a very beautiful way. It's not turning into hatred or anger. It's not being suppressed. And it's not turning into blame. It's actually bubbling up to the surface in a pretty pure form, which is exactly what you want so you can do the only thing you can do to bring peace to your situation--allow it. Allowing it doesn't mean you lose your shit and start crying in your bro's arms. It's more of a dignified, genuine, compassionate acknowledgement. 

That kind of acknowledgement isn't manufactured from your mind. It's not forced into your perception with a mental crowbar. It's not a trick. It comes from wisdom and insight, and the insight is pretty simple: this is hard for me, but I'm a good person, and it's okay to love myself.* 

Again. This is hard for me, but I'm a good person, and it's okay to love myself. Again. This is hard for me, but I'm a good person, and it's okay to love myself. When that starts to sink in, your discomfort may not disappear, but it stops running the show and becomes a little more tolerable. Your heart opens up a little bit and makes more room for yourself and your struggle--the universal struggle. Remind yourself as often as you need to.

You, me, and the rest of us people are all good people. When all the bullshit is cleared away, we just want to smile beside people we love, and help others smile too.  It's shared peace, and it's a beautiful thing.

Thanks for writing in. I mean it.

Edahn


* Ah fuck now I'm crying too.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Some things to remember about life to make you more happier (sic)

Here's a list of things you can keep in the back of your pocket and pull out as needed.

1. Things tend to work out. 

True, times in life can become challenging and often we feel lost, confused, stressed, in a bind, or not sure when the hell it'll ever change. But things tend to work out on their own. Usually it's hard to have faith that things'll work out, especially when you're stressed, but they tend to. Look at your life for evidence of this. Things may not work out the way you originally intended, for example, your relationship might fall apart, or you might lose your job, but those losses play a role in creating new opportunities. You only see it in retrospect, so it's good to remind yourself sometimes that things'll be okay.

2. Problems become easier to manage.

Whether it's self-consciousness, overthinking, chronic sadness, frustration, or feeling lost, things improve because you have a mind. Even just thinking about these things helps. Why? Because you're becoming more familiar with your own experience, and as that happens, you're able to see more of what's going on. You can start to make connections between your reactions and their causes, even if it happens slowly. As your awareness starts to grow, you're able to step away from your automatic reactions, as you're having them, and look at the situation differently with fresh eyes. New perceptions, new reactions, new experience. Now we're cruising. 

3. Mood changes are normal and healthy.

We like to pathologize everything, i.e., make everything into a disorder. There's a lot of reasons why that happens: pharmaceutical industries wanting to create more opportunities to push pills; a legacy from our pessimistic Freudian days; strong cultural (and biological) pressure to fit in and compete; and other people who rely on your fear of inferiority to make money (sorry, Oprah, but it's true). But the truth is, feeling happy and sad and scared and joyous are all part of the normal spectrum of human emotions. Life is hard at times, and it's scary at time, and it sucks at times. And having reactions to these changes are expected. They don't need to be "fixed." At all. So relax, dammit!

4. Things don't have to change in order for your feelings to change.

This is a big one. We tend to think that our situation needs to change for our feelings--stress, fear, anger, frustration, jealousy, gloominess--to change. But it's not always true. Our moods aren't just based on the events that happen to us, they're based on how we perceive and choose which events to recollect. 

There's a ton of information we experience on a daily basis, but to make sense of our lives, we have to collapse this information into chunks. The chunks are strung together into stories (narratives) that we tell ourselves and share with others. Think about how you talk about your career, or your luck, or your relationships, or your moods. There's a story we tell people that summarizes these aspects of our lives, and each story has certain key moments and interpretations. For example, "I have the worst luck in dating. Everyone I meet looks great at first but then has something seriously wrong with them. Three examples..." The examples we pick help shape the story and what we expect in the future.

Some narratives skew negatively; you know these people, that always have 100 things to whine about. Sometimes they skew positively (and sometimes a little too positively...I'm looking at you, New Agers), and sometimes they wobble. I'm kind of a wobbler myself. The point is, the way we interpret and recall the events that shape our lives, both good and bad events, influences how we feel and think about our lives--whether we're optimistic, pessimistic, confused, stressed, frustrated, fearful, or whatever. That's why people who watch the news (like me) become cynical hopeless bastards (I stopped)...their memories and narratives skew negatively, so they're moods and thinking start to skew negatively too. 

So pay attention to your own stories about things, about your relationships, your "issues," your successes and failures, your conflicts, about others...your loved ones and especially your enemies. Try to identify your own narratives and examine them. Are they accurate? Are you recalling events in a biased way? Are you discounting or ignoring evidence that contradicts your narrative? Sometimes that's all it takes to change a relationship, a problem, or a slump.

Hope you enjoyed. Questions > askedahn@gmail.com