So I have this acquaintance in my life. Now my recollection is not really the greatest but I’m pretty sure I’ve known this person for most, if not all, of my life. For as long as I’ve had this relationship I have yet to determine whether it is specifically beneficial, harmful or a weird chaotic mixture of the two. One thing I am pretty sure of is this: after roughly 37 years of constant bickering, wild accusations, audacious conspiracy confirmation, second guessing of almost everything I do or say and the occasional nudge in the right direction I’ve finally learned how to coexist with him to the benefit of us both.
That sounds pretty awful right? Why the hell would I still let this person in my life? Let me first explain the juxtaposition. He’s one of my closest confidants. I maintain complete and unequivocal trust in him. For instance, I’ve told this guy things I would not imagine uttering to any other soul without expecting severe ramifications or repercussions. He just hears what I say, nods his head as if in compassionate understanding and then proceeds with his castigation. Regardless, I never make a decision without first consulting him. He does, however, have his wise moments. There have been several times over the course of my life when he has stepped in at the last minute, speaking in relatively harsh judgmental tones of course, and quite literally saved my life before I made reckless or just plain careless decisions.
This person is the fiercest champion of my spiritual/emotional/physical well-being as well as the first to step up to the plate to mentally destroy me and paint nearly everything I do in multiple vibrant shades of negativity. The majority of our conversations consist of one sided diatribes of down spiraling circular logic aimed at dismantling my psyche, never willing to see or hear my point of view or perspective, just blindly hurtling harsh judgments and comments. If ever I find myself mulling over a past regret, a difficult memory or analyzing a situation to see what I could’ve done different, he is there to remind me of exactly how messed up I truly can be at times and reassure me that regardless of what I do, it will be wrong; a ceaseless chatterbox spewing ugliness and pointing out my flaws. He’s helped me circle the emotional drain time and time again and I’m pretty sure he’s the one who got me all tangled up in the YEARS of binge drinking from which I thought I never wanted to escape.
This is the kind of guy whom, when I tell him I’m considering trying something new, only sees and points out the negative sides. For example (and I’m not fishing for criticism and/or feedback here just using this as an example) I’ve ALWAYSAWLAYS loved writing. Fewer things in life give me more satisfaction than putting my words to print. When I first started kicking around the idea of blogging the only thing he had to say was: “Why bother? It’s not as though you’re any good at it anyways? Do you seriously think anyone gives a crap about what you have to say?” Along the same lines, he also hates being questioned. I would fight back with: “Well even if most people don’t read what I write, I still enjoy putting it out there and I feel like I’m decent at it.” His reaction to that blow back is to lead me down a dark and oft treacherous mental path of self-loathing and purpose questioning. It can be quite a while before I come back from those depressive sojourns but it is great for him. He’s pulling the strings, an emotionally vampiric entity setting the conditions for self-induced mental Stockholm syndrome.
I feel like most of us know someone somewhat like this. A being whom occasionally drapes your overall outlook with an almost tangible miasmic film. Someone who takes your otherwise good mood and flips it on its axis simply because you made the mistake of wondering: “How could I have done such and such differently?”
Now back to the questions I posed earlier. That sounds pretty awful right? Why the hell would I still let this person in my life? That answer is simple and if you haven’t deduced it yet, I’ll tell you. This person lives inside my head. He goes by many names: self-doubt, fear, anxiety, but also self-preservation to name a few. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get away from myself. Trust me I HAVE tried. Doesn’t work. I have spent countless days/nights/weeks/months trying to reason and argue with my inner monologue to very little avail. It always seems like the harder I try, the more I unwittingly double my efforts against myself. I can’t tell if it is because I’ve always felt a strong bond to a negativity bias or because I lost positive control of my emotional state a long time ago. Whatever the answer may be, I know I have finally found happiness and achieved an emotional equilibrium.
The inner monologue can be a runaway train experiencing perpetual and cataclysmic collisions at each car; the surface of an otherwise still pond disturbed in a torrential downpour, not much can stop your mind from thinking. That’s what it does. It thinks, analyzes, deduces, comprehends, consistently takes in information and produces byproducts with it. The problem I run into is that of quality control. I have the tendency to take everything my mind produces to be gospel truth. Obviously if it comes from my head, it has to be applicable to me, right? Heck no. Your mind constantly thinking doesn't necessarily mean you have to take everything it creates in to account; although in its defense, most times it is just attempting to keep you safe in whatever way it was conditioned throughout your life thus far.
Through the practice of meditation, I’ve learned how to simply observe the thoughts in my head as mere words not necessarily applicable to my happiness or well-being. It’s almost like watching the crawl at the beginning of a Star Wars Movie. Those words seem like they will never end, covering the screen from top to bottom, and giving off a sense of never ending continuity. But eventually the letters begin to fade out, the screen wipes to an interstellar shot of some planet or space station, the words are gone, you’ve moved on to a new scene and it is very likely that you forgot most of what you just read, gleaning only what was important and necessary for understanding of the plot, and it had no major impact on your enjoyment of the story. That’s how I have learned to look at the majority of my thoughts. I can, mostly, pick out what is truly applicable to my well-being and self-preservation and enact those things while also determining what is just an automatic crawl of nonsense derived from my own infernally operating internal monologue, attempting to keep me locked safely in the comforts of my own head, never to branch out or experience things outside of my preexisting comfort zones.
Through the practice of quietly sitting and objectionably observing my thoughts (meditating, although admittedly when I first started the practice I disliked that word so call it what you will. Seriously it always conjured up images in my head of goateed bald men in robes floating mere inches above a mountaintop) I have been able to see that most of what my inner monologue throws my way is merely self-destructive white noise. Knowing and applying this has been one of the biggest sources of joy for me in recent years. If you have never tried (meditating) sitting, observing, noticing and simply being, give it a try. Honestly, five minutes a day at first; just sit in a quiet place free from distractions. It really helps if you turn off your cellphone. Nothing is going to happen in that five minutes that can also only be solved in that five minutes. Do yourself the favor of briefly severing that tie.
Make yourself comfortable in a chair (not leaning against the back rest or slouching) or in a laying or sitting position. If you're sitting, don't slouch our cross your legs. Now just close your eyes for five minutes. Focus on, or pay specific attention to, the rhythm of your breathing, count each in-breath and out-breath, notice your thoughts as they arise (and holy crap will they ever) but don't actively try to chase any specific thought thread or, conversely, shut down your thinking altogether. Just notice whatever it is you're thinking then go back to focusing on your breathing. At first this will happen continuously, to the point where it might get frustrating, but don't let it bother you. It happens to everybody, not just beginners. Just notice your thought, then return to noticing your breathing.
If/When you feel comfortable with going longer, adjust your time in five minute increments. AJ and I each meditate for 25 minutes a day and, while relaxation isn't the main focus of meditation, it is the most relaxing part of my day.
P.S. I also feel like pointing out that the practice of meditation isn't a specifically religious practice, although it is tied most commonly to Buddhism. Meditation can be practiced by practitioners of any religion. I personally feel as though prayer is a form of meditation, or vice-versa if it pleases ya ;)
So, do you do any form of meditation currently? If not, give it an honest try and tell me what you think in the comments. Or if you have meditated before and no longer practice, why did you stop?