which number would this be, i wondered.
my sister was peacefully sleeping in bed beside me so i couldn’t ask her for an exact figure. “again,” she would’ve said, too.
fuck this, cant hold it in any longer, i thought.
so i sucked in a huge breath- a humble attempt at pranayam and breath control- and orchestrated my tears with exhales so that i could cry but not bawl/ wail/ moan. so i could let the pain out but not rouse my sister and the rest of the household from sleep.
would i be crying for the 28,867th time in bed, i asked myself.
all of this was too much, much too much for a single, solitary moment.
nothing felt figured out, there were no answers, no inspiration, nothing certain, and nothing comforting. for the 31,789th time?
on top of that, i was not my favorite person at this time. you can handle yourself better you know, i thought. people do it all the time.
why the fuck did i have to end up like this again and again?
my five foot + some inches frame is capable of over-thinking/ over-feeling at times, carrying out both activities with flawless perfection, and digging a pit deep enough to reach the doors of Hell.
in my defense, though, i had never been taught how to deal with this inescapable consequence of having a mind, and what to do when faced with it. no one talked about being affected by their thoughts or the happenings around them, so i had no one to discuss coping strategies with.
hey, i just had this bout of fear last night due to an existential crisis because i cant figure out what to do with my life or answer what my ‘God-given purpose’ is. what can i do that does not involve me blaming someone or taking a bad decision or thinking i am doomed and far behind others?
yes, never had that conversation. everyone seemed to have it together. but, really, i knew- everyone, everywhere was terrified of something.
so, i figured i’d run my own experiments.
i tried to rationally calm my very irrational feelings. its okay. not knowing is a part of knowing. “how long till this not-knowing ends!!?”
asked my friend what he did today and planned to do for tomorrow. “me? chill.” well, not much ambition there.
read books/ saw other people struggle/ slept it away/ despaired it away/ did nothing.
my experiments yielded no reliable solution.
both suffering and happiness are of an organic nature, which means they are both transitory; they are always changing. the flower, when it wilts, become the compost. the compost can help the flower grow again. happiness is also impermanent and organic by nature. it can become suffering and suffering can become happiness again.
-Thich Naht Hanh; No Mud, No Lotus
if my twenty years have imparted me any wisdom, i’d say this is it. things are always changing. and i’ve seen and felt enough changes to no longer sulk and cry like a spoilt child when life takes a 360. again.
monday might see me brimming with faith. by wednesday, i might be struggling through deep, dark shit and a few pesky doubts.
saturday might find me making love to and with my Muse. by tuesday, my Muse would’ve departed on an unaccounced holiday for an undefined period of time, leaving me alone and flummoxed with a half-finished project.
january might be a month of endless family celebrations and bonding time. june might see the heat within my home rising with arguments and fights.
i might be convinced he loves me unfailingly but around 1:01 AM doubt the truthfulness of his words and actions.
a lot of turbulent waters, wouldn’t you agree?
now if i were to chase and follow and act on every thought and feeling, heaven knows what foolishness(es) i might have committed and the disasters i might have invited.
and now after n number of experiments, i’ve finally found a way to help me through these stormy waters and manage my overwhelming thoughts and emotions.
whenever i feel fear, first step: breathe.
despair and hopelessness? breathe.
angry and full of blame? breathe, baby, breathe.
when i feel any emotion that makes me feel like i am drowning, the first thing i look for is refugee, a tiny silver of calm. not this will get better or this was meant to be or to simply ignore it.
i want to acknowledge it and take care of myself without being swept away by it.
i am not perfect at this nor do i remember this every time, but now whenever a strong emotion comes up, i take in a full breath, focus on that sensation only, and then release. and i continue doing this until my attention is more inclined towards my breath than my unhappy thoughts. then i can give up on taking in purposeful, deep breaths and just settle on feeling my normal breaths.
the idea is to let the emotion be- not magnify it, not belittle it- but also to take care of yourself (and your sanity in the process).
Feeling flow in us like a river, and each feeling is a drop of water in that river.
i’ll let Hanh explain the practice:
when you look at a tree in a storm, if you focus your attention on the top of the tree, you’ll see the leaves and branches blowing wildly in the wind, and the tree will look so vulnerable, as though it could be broken at any moment. but when you direct your attention down to the trunk of the tree, there’s not so much movement. you see the stability of the tree, and you see that the tree is deeply rooted in the soil and can withstand the storm. when we experience a strong emotion, the mind is agitated like the top of the tree. we have to bring our mind down to the trunk, to the abdomen, and focus all our attention on the rise and fall of the abdomen.
breathing in, you notice the rising of your abdomen. breathing out, notice the falling of your abdomen. breathe deeply and focus your attention only on your in-breath and out-breath. if there is anything to be aware of, its that an emotion is only an emotion, and that you are much more than one emotion.
sometimes, you might feel a sense of calm real quick. other times, it might take a while. but the important thing is to keep yourself company, to not bury an uncomfortable emotion, and to be there for yourself the way we want others to be.
you might cry. again. but you’ll know it’ll soon end (like every time). this time however, you’ll have handled it oh-so-differently. and beautifully.