Here I am, four months from publication of my memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, having skipped my five-month post due to the holidays.
On January 4, my husband and I took off for a desert spa retreat—a Christmas gift I appreciated and needed. My intention was to relax. To stop moving fast. To do nothing for four days. And listen.
But when I got to the desert and lowered myself into a hot water mineral bath, I realized I had brought my stress with me. The title of Jon Kabat-Zin’s classic book entered my mind: Wherever You Go, There You Are. And there I sat, with my busy, worried mind, looking for a way to accept myself the way I am and feel okay.
We stayed in “digital detox” rooms with no TVs or even coffeemakers. But it wasn’t a true digital detox because they didn’t confiscate our phones. I wish they had. Even though I left mine in the room most of the time, I checked in several times a day. Aside from updates from our daughter, who’s touring the East Coast with her college a cappella singing group, these check-ins were only helpful insofar as they made me realize, much to my dismay, that I look to my phone for hits of pleasure, for good news, connection, opportunities, for something that will lift me. In other words, I’m still looking outside myself for validation, support, and maybe even love. This gave me pause.
That said, I received this lovely Hafiz quote in an email from Embodiment Coach Tarnie Fulloon: “I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days.” This was what I planned to do, although I didn’t intend to slog through the swamplands of my mind. I longed to find the quiet underneath the noise, to journey beyond my distracting mental din to a truer, deeper place. But first I knew I had to be okay with everything I felt. Accept my angst and fear.
I was just getting the hang of it when, on the second morning, I checked my phone and read a disappointing review of my memoir. I completely missed the positive remarks and focused only on the negative ones. So I was back to square one, practicing how to be with unpleasant feelings. Feelings that came from thoughts I made up in my head, thoughts that landed me in emotional quicksand for hours. My thinking, wild as an ape on steroids, sounded something like this: I suck and so does my book. I’ve wasted my life pouring my soul into my writing. I should just shut up, slink off, hide, and live a quiet, unassuming life. Thoughts like these do not create happy feelings.
In his book, Seduced by Consciousness, Jack Pransky says that we literally make up our reality with our thinking. This gets tricky because when I’m feeling crappy I think, I should know better. I’m making myself miserable. But the flipside to this is that I’m human, and the best I can do is to not take my low moods seriously, to wait them out and let them pass. The less I attach to them, the more quickly they lift.
Pransky says that when we change our thinking, our feelings change right along with them—and we can choose our thoughts. For example, thoughts like these would yield another experience: My book is wonderful. It may not be for everybody, but no book is—and lots of people have reached out to me saying how much they loved it. The book is nuanced. Readers love it. Lots of people have negative default thoughts, but with awareness of our mental habits this is something we can change.
On day three I received a glowing book review, which made me realize that much of what is and will be said about my book has more to do with the person saying it--and nothing to do with my worth as a person.
By the fourth day, my thoughts and emotions finally settled, and as I soaked and floated blissfully in warm water I considered nothing but shredding palm fronds, fuchsia-colored Bougainvillea, Desert Indian Paintbrush, hummingbirds, butterflies, and soaring hawks. I gazed at clouds drifting so slowly it was hard to tell if they were moving, or if I was.
I followed this buoyant presence with an exquisite breath work session that left me buzzing with well-being. Remember to breathe, I told myself as I left the desert, sun setting over purple-pink mountains. BreatheDeeply.
I’m happy to get back to work, but need to remember to stay connected and grounded, meditate and move my body. Especially when I get busy. I want to remember, too, not to take my thoughts seriously when I’m in a low state of mind—and although I love connecting with others via technology, it’s essential to keep turning within for support, sustenance, and love.
How are you feeling as we start the new year? Is there a project you’re starting? Or continuing? Or completing? Where and how do find your bliss? I’d love to hear from you.