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On Intrusive Thoughts

#HonestyAlert: I have these things called intrusive thoughts. My mind will hit upon a worry and then bring it up over and over and over and over again, whether I’m cool with that or not. The negativity piles up and piles up until wham, panic attack.

When I experienced this for the first time last year, I had no idea what has happening. It was total paralysis.

But the internet is awesome, and I found a counselor who works with this particular sort of obsessive anxiety.¹ From her I learned that the conscious mind prefers to panic over things that it perceives as within its control rather than deal with the muddy stuff below the surface—the stuff that really hurts.

Panic is an indication that it’s time to get quiet and investigate on a deeper level. Easier said than done—we avoid stuff for a reason—but when I accepted the idea that my anxious thoughts weren’t 100% true and started looking underneath at what was really causing the feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness, things got really interesting. They also got much, much better.

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My left hamstring’s been feeling a little funny for the last two weeks, and a few days ago my anxiety latched onto it hard, panicking over the chance that it might get worse and render me useless for farm work. I did due diligence in ruling out injury, and then I realized just how relentless and negative the thoughts had been.

Oh, right.

It’s way easier to obsess over physical symptoms than drop down into the big groundlessness that comes with leaving home.

Seeing the chiropractor did help. But so did a big dose of self compassion. Taking some photographs. Talking to Mark. Cooking up a vat of sausage-tomato soup with my cousin at the shop. Sitting on the porch this morning, listening—being here, rather than camping out in an imaginary future. The hammy feels great today.

This won’t be the last anxious thought of the trip, and that’s a good thing. When we stop being so scared of it, anxiety becomes a pretty awesome teacher.


¹ If you are any combination of anxious, sensitive, and creative and have ever experienced intrusive thoughts, do yourself a favor and visit Sheryl Paul.

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Good Dog / Three Days

Today’s my last day in Bethlehem. Tomorrow, this guy and I head to Kneehigh so I can fill my best friend tank before I go, then it’s dinner with Mark’s family. Saturday, he and I are putting finishing touches on the car and taking a trip to REI. Sunday I leave for D.C.

I’ve been thinking about this weekend for a long time. I’m ready to go: prepared and feeling positive. But today the dog and I stayed in bed until 11 because I’m still sad as hell.

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Dogs are the best. I wonder if he’ll recognize me on Skype.

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We Could All Use A Little More Woo-Woo

We’re taught mythology as part of ancient history. Gods and goddesses, astrology, prayer, shamanism, mysticism, ritual, spirituality—anything that breathes of the supernatural gets relegated to the past that we’ve left behind. We’re “better” now, more “advanced” without all that. We roll eyes at New Age and scorn woo-woo as a bunch of emotional nonsense. Why?

Every advancement in technology has been a step away from the primitive. As our clothing, homes, travel, and work have gotten more comfortable and convenient, we’ve distanced ourselves more and more from a reality that humans used to live closely with: Death. This is nowhere more obvious than in the (awesome) advancements of modern medicine. We just don’t die like we used to. It’s gotten easier to pretend like we might not have to die at all.

Capitalism preys on this denial—couldn’t exist without it—since everything that the free market preaches is worthless when we’re gone. If you want to be accepted by the culture, you’d better hop on the death-denying train and start making some money. The life you can’t yet afford but that will definitely make you happier is waiting.

It’s a promise that offers control. There’s a reason we pursue wealth and status for decades, sometimes our entire lives. The path is straightforward and safe. It’s material, external. You can walk it forever and never have to face the messy stuff—you know, feelings. And yet we still hurt. We’re unhappy and we don’t know why.

Woo-woo work is emotional work. It’s healing, and healing—the confronting and stripping away of self-limiting beliefs—involves the death of how and who we used to be. Feelings and death? No wonder we write this stuff off. It’s straight up ego murder. It’s terrifying.

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For most of my life, I’ve snubbed all things spiritual. No chanting in my yoga classes, please, I’m here for the pushups kind of deal. The idea of God made me squirm. Love and peace was for delusional hippies; I was after progress and a raise. I hurt all the time with depression and anxiety, but I was achieving all the right things and so I told myself that my pain was wrong.

Pain is never wrong, and it’s not for sissies. We all have it, and pretending like we don’t doesn’t make it go away. In fearing and ignoring our hurt, we feed it. In facing it, we heal. That’s where woo-woo comes in. The tools ask us to reflect on our emotional world so we might make it a more hospitable place. And when we heal, we make room for others to do the same. We find compassion.

I’ll take that over a Cadillac any day.

 

On Projection, Compassion, and Yoga Selfies

I’d like to share photographs of my practice this year, which isn’t something I’ve done much in the past. I want to talk about why.

Images can be empowering, but they can also be exclusionary. There’s an ongoing debate about “yoga selfies” (photographs of yoga practice—they come in varying amounts of clothing). Do the images inspire people to get on the mat? Or do they fetishize the body and fuel the ego? Do their typical depictions of thin, young, white, and very abled bodies just push society’s message that everyone else is not enough?

My body fits the culturally praised mold, and until recently, I thought that meant I shouldn’t show it—that sharing images of my practice might make me self-centered or (way worse) hurt somebody. I don’t ever want to hurt anybody.

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There is shame in this kind of thinking. Women have been made to feel it about their bodies and themselves for a long time.

There’s also a tricky and fascinating thing called PROJECTION that I’ve been learning about. Projection is when we say, “You’re hurting me” instead of “I’m hurt.” It’s when we blame others for things in ourselves that we are afraid of or that we dislike. It’s an abdication of responsibility. I’ve been saying, “Nobody wants to see this,” when my hesitation to share really comes from a very long history of self-criticism—feelings of my own not-enoughness. I want to admit this because maybe you’ve done it, too.

First of all, this culture will tell you at every turn that no matter who you are, you are not enough. Second of all, I’m realizing that truly all I can control—and thus all that matters—is my intent. I will always share in the spirit of growth and kindness and truth, even when that space feels so vulnerable (kind of like now).

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Also, let’s be real: A selfie is a self-portrait, and artists—not just millennials with smartphones—have been taking self-portraits for a long ass time. Why are we so huffy about them now?

Yoga (and Jungian psychology, but more on that later) has been teaching me about compassion, self-love, and honesty. I want to share what I’m learning: that no one determines the kindness of your inner dialogue but you; that taking pride in your life and beliefs isn’t narcissistic, it’s vital; and that everything that you are and everything that’s happening right now actually is OK (political climate aside). No more shaming.

This is the practice. Sometimes it comes with a side of booty shorts, and why the hell not?

Preparing for the Road

I don’t know my blood type, but I’ll be shocked if it isn’t type A. I leave in thirty-three days. At one point, I had four to-do lists (now I’m down to two). I’ve budgeted down to oil changes.

In mid-March I pack up and head to see family in D.C., Virginia, and West Virginia. I’ll hit Tennessee by April to WWOOF for a month, then mosey to the Ozarks to spend two at a yoga school. Afterwards it’s off to Colorado by way of a southern detour through White Sands National Park, then north to Wyoming to meet up with friends. Plans get fuzzy after that, but I’m hoping to spend at least a month WWOOFing in Montana before heading northwest through Washington and Oregon. Eventually it’s south to Santa Cruz, and then…?

Everything could change on the road. For that reason, detailed preparation feels both a little silly and also grounding. Things that are mostly complete:

    1. Figure out how to fit a year’s worth of clothes, books, and gear in my car.
    2. Remove my car’s backseats. This one I owe entirely to my boyfriend (see also #8 and #13). No #vanlife for me—I’m bringing too much equipment to fit a bunk.
    3. Sell the stuff that I’m not painfully attached to.
    4. Pack the stuff that I am painfully attached to for long-term storage.
    5. Donate the rest.
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      I’ve moved over thirteen times in the last six years, but transience can’t seem to stop me from nesting.
    6. Replace my old paddle board with an inflatable. Toting my board inside the car rather than on top should save (some??) gas.
    7. Research insurance. This is the really, really fun part of going on an adventure!! I had to find a new auto policy to cover me in all 50 states. While I was at it, I got my personal property insured (mostly camera gear). Insurance feels like a rip-off/bullshit, but I’m sure I won’t feel that way if a dickhead swipes my whole life out of my car. Least favorite to-do list item by far.
    8. Replace my blown out car speakers. Did you know that cars are actually just Legos?
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      Car guts
    9. Back up my data—I’m leaving a hard drive at home.
    10. Finally get zippers fixed.
    11. Buy things. As much as I’ve been trying to get rid,* there were still things I needed/wanted: a new lens, a National Parks pass, just a couple of books…
    12. Work freelance (see #11).
    13. Learn how to not get lost in the woods.
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      Orienteering training
    14. Narrow down my wardrobe. I found Project 333 right before getting started, and while I haven’t gotten my clothes corralled to just 33 items, I’m not far off. This shedding/streamlining feels very good.
    15. Somehow stay sane amidst the news cycle.
    16. Meditate. 10 minutes a day, every day. It helps. A lot. Yoga, too.
    17. Cuddle with the dog.
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      Maybe even more necessary than the yoga

Things still on the list:

  1. Learn how to change a tire, check my oil level, and check my tire pressure.
  2. Build a platform to even out the car floor for easier storage and maneuvering.**
  3. Do my damn taxes.

I’m not someone who easily uproots, but in what’s difficult is growth.

See you in March!

*The theme of preparing has definitely been STUFF. For a while the Kinfolk/Marie Kondo-fueled minimalist movement made me feel really shitty about my things, but in the process of assessing what I’ll keep and what I won’t, I’ve determined that it’s OK if your belongings feel like a piece of who you are. It’s also OK if you can’t afford to throw away your stuff. Ask yourself the hard questions that you need to in order to get rid of what isn’t worthwhile: Why am I holding onto this? What do I believe this thing will give me? What does this thing represent? Do I really use or need it? Ditch what feels stale and embrace the rest.

** By which I mean watch my boyfriend build me a platform to even out the car floor for easier storage and maneuvering