on bargain bin happiness.
I’ve been trying this new thing lately. Its brand new. well, brand new to me at least. and its called trying to freak out less often.
I know right, revolutionary.
Freaking out, dropping into pits of anxiety, letting my brain shoot me across the universe with nothing but a flimsy parachute made of worry and irrational fears. Its basically how I have lived most of my adult life. Anxiety and worry and visions of the worst happening have been my reality for as long as I can remember. not quite sure when it all started, no freudian event which I have been able to unearth yet, I just know that at some point it became my normal.
We’ve all got some of it. I’m convinced we’re not alone. but recently I have been asking myself why the fuck I have so much of it. and why do I let it paralyze me over and over again? Back in college, I took the usual prescribed meds and they just made me feel crazier. like quit your job and dream about suicide crazy. also sad. Instead of being anxious, I was just heartbreakingly, earth shatteringly sad. I know they work wonders for some bodies and minds, but it seemed that mine was not one of them.
In the years since, Its always been a series of ebbs and flows.
Last year, in a hotel room halfway across the world I wrapped myself up in scratchy white bed sheets, dug in, recoiled away and completely freaked the fuck out. about everything. ever. I had a workshop to teach that evening and I simply could not get my shit together. I couldn’t. hours passed under those sheets and instead of ever even trying to see the light, I just spiraled farther and farther into myself. Into the fantasy, the worry, the anxiety, the dreaded unknown.
eventually I peeked out of my Carling-shaped blackhole. I was getting paid to show up and teach in an hour. so I did. and i wanted to crawl out of my skin every. single. minute. of it.
we just get so lost sometimes. sometimes its all of the time. like we’ve crossed over into The Upside Down, except that there’s no epic soundtrack or clean shaven Eleven to help bring us back.
This fantasy world that anxiety resides in can be a cruel and untrue one. And even if we’re not purely in fantasy land, when that fear and anxiety take hold - and boy do they take hold some days - it can be nearly impossible to see reality in any clear and present way. The combination of false understanding or misperception (viparyaya) and fantasy or imagination (vikalpa) creep into our psyches in a very real and pervasive way.
Translations (some of many)
1.8 Misperception arises when you accept the unreal as real
1.9 Fantasy or imagination (vikalpa) is a thought pattern that has verbal expression and knowledge, but for which there is no such object or reality in existence.
Maybe we’re lost in imaging countless future scenarios, (hey that's me!) thinking of times when we could be, or finally will be, happier. (yep, also me.) or pulling the wispy threads of memories, reengaging in what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ have done, recalling how much happier we once were, or embodying past feelings and experiences of trauma and shame all over again. Wherever we go in our minds, drawing ourselves further and further away from the only chance we have at the present moment.
Like an abusive relationship, we justify. I certainly do at least. Its just a bad day, everything will be fine again tomorrow. If take a nap, I’ll wake up and it will be better, it has to be. our brains are so full of the fluff of false understanding and the density of our rationalizations, that there doesn’t seem to be any room for anything else. there's simply no room left for the good stuff.
It seems we’ve sold our most prized possession to the lowest bidder.
My happiness has been so damn cheap, I’ve been giving it away for free.
My entire adult life, I’ve been giving it away for next to nothing and I didn’t even realize it.
Instead of charging a premium for our happiness, holding it dear and keeping our mental bank accounts nice and full - we tend to allow the pull of uncertainty and fear to consistently sap away at our valuable savings. The anxious thoughts usually run rampant and take over not only the narrative, but encroach on our self worth and ability to participate fully in the lives we’ve worked so hard to create. It has cost me so much joy. Precious, worthwhile, joy that I had allowed the bullshit to crowd out over and over again. Trading presence and contentment for pennies on the dollar, giving it away in favor of the anxious inner narrative at even the slightest hint of turmoil.
and typically, the turmoil outside pales in comparison to the turmoil we allow to churn on the inside.
we’re so stuck in the mind, in the cycles and compulsions we’ve created, that we don’t even know - that we don’t know - how much more life and joy might be available to us. Yoga in particular gives a powerful lens to at least begin to see our true essence, but often times we don’t realize that ‘fixing' ourselves is not the same as being ourselves. that in fact, seeing ourselves as needing fixing in the first place, is a false understanding in its own right.
I’m not entirely sure how or why it took me so long to notice how much happiness I’ve squandered. and it felt utterly terrible to realize. for myself sure, but mostly for everyone I’ve spent so much time even the least bit absent from truly experiencing life with. It didn’t matter how many times some one rationally told me to “let things go” or “don’t dwell on it”. Rolling my eyes on the inside and thinking, nope, you don’t understand, this is just how my brain works. I suppose I just didn't believe that there were other options for me, that there were other inner roommates I could have conversed with.
Maybe I wasn’t ready to catch a glimpse of it yet and maybe its all part of the process but man, this whole process thing is hard. Holding tight to my overvalued stories, bolting right back to them and resisting the idea of staying here with myself. Its just so damn easy to bolt. to cling to our past, drop our happiness and run back into the illusion of safety in our minds.
At the risk of sounding like one of “those” yoga people or like a broken Tony Robbin’s CD, I’m not saying I’m miraculously cured and no longer riddled with anxiety (If that was the case I suppose I’d have to shut down this blog altogether since it seems to be my main topic of writing lately) - I am simply saying, holy shit how did I not know that things didn’t always have to be so hard. That even just the agency I’ve gained from taking small actions instead of running unproductive scripts on incessant loops in my head has been profound.
Honestly, more than anything, more than some effervescent glittering happiness coursing through my nadis, I just feel relieved. so damn relieved. and as it turns out, relief is a glorious and liberating thing.
It’s not about complete and total positive visualization, or about only allowing for “good vibes” and trust me, there is no “secret” - even if the bookstore tells you there is. Fear, and pain, and hardships are an integral part of life and they aren’t going anywhere, nor should they. Pain is inevitable, but suffering, that's usually the shit that we create all on our own. I’ve talked a lot about the necessity of truly feeling the full spectrum of emotion and the human condition. I’m just focusing on shifting that balance a bit more right now.
Day to day, I’ve been working to consciously acknowledge my anxiety. Give it space to air out, but only for a short while. I give it a few minutes, lets call it five. No more than 5 minutes to tell me about all the shit the world is going to throw at me, about all the messes I’ve made, or will imminently make, and I listen half-heartedly. When the minutes are up, the conversation is over. I need room to experience all the rest, and as it turns you have to actively create room for the good stuff in the exact same way you’ve created too much room for the crappy stuff. When I feel a potential bad transaction coming on, or realize one has already begun to transpire, I have to step back in a very intentional way. Sense myself directly. tangibly. how, what, where do I feel RIGHT NOW? trying to feel it in my body, in my gut, rather than in my reactionary mind. no bolting, no running. Taking myself for the me that is right here, right now in the moment in question.
Its a practice of steping back into the present moment rather than careening around inside our heads while the instant slips by. Sure, there will still be unexpected sales, but its about working to raise the prices on our happiness bit by bit. making it so expensive that we can’t afford to give it away. We have to value it as an utter necessity, not just as a perk. Our potential for joy is worth staying present for, we have to believe that we are worthy of bringing ourselves back into the moment, again and again to see what is truly there.
Our happiness deserves be top shelf.
top. fucking. shelf.
even if it takes some hard work, yoga, a few punching bags, doctors visits, medication, or a few million blog posts about it.