"We can all thank neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to grow and change in response to experience—for allowing us to redirect automatic stress responses and rewire our brains for better resilience. By practicing more positive human connection, body-oriented therapies, and various types of relaxation training, among other techniques, we can actually change the wiring in our brains so that we become less reactive and more open to healthy processing of emotional stress." - Jill Suttie, April 16, 2013, in Building Resistance, GGSC
I notice that "awareness" keeps tugging at me. I will have little snippets throughout the day when I recall MBSR. I will then stop for a moment and notice my breathing, try to note the sensations in my body, and how I am feeling. Then I try to sit with it for a few seconds or a minute, until it becomes too painful. When I am still and quiet and move inward to awareness, the pain of my thoughts becomes to great and I have to stop. It's like Godzilla is thrashing through my mind.
I find it immensely difficult to be present because of the Negative-thought Godzilla rampaging a whirlwind through my mind. I spent years creating a city within my mind composed of resilience, meditation, emotional openness, open-heartedness, yoga, psychological healing, exercise, ancient wisdom. The grid was filled with exit strategies and coping skills: massage shops, TCM clinics, psychologists' offices, a plethora of ice cream shops and sugar mills that were camouflaged and perfect for hiding out, and gyms to keep me strong and undo the "hiding out" times. With running and cycling paths all over the city (in fact, my city is completely car-free and 100% green with solar and wind power), I always had an outlet for stress and a way to maintain physical well-being. In fact there was an ocean right in the city center so I could lie on the beach with a Bushwhacker or SCUBA dive. Instead of gas stations or convenience stores, there were libraries on every corner with windows stacked full of self-help, spirituality, and yoga books (the stores were slightly dark because of this, but rather cozy because they were lit by candles and other warm ambient light). I had everything covered, or so I thought. Unfortunately, NTGodzilla has been running free for the past few years, I can't seem to catch him or stop him or trap him, and so my city has gradually become crushed ruins, not to mention the heaping piles of negative-thought-shit he has dumped on the streets. They stink! And so it follows that my health, optimism, resilience, ability to stay present, energy-level, communication skills, ad nauseum, are likewise in ruins. Now, blizzards of sugar blow through the streets, creating a temporary calm and quiet withdrawal. These inundations are only broken by tsunamis of wine that wash away any feeling that the blizzards have not numbed. But as with all of life, the numbness is only temporary, just like the joy.
But slowly, I will rebuild and come back to what I know. I will continue to try; I haven't given up yet. I hope and pray that the MBSR course will bring me back toward my center and my Self, reigning in NTGodzilla and transforming him to a harmless beast that is observed with compassion, like a Dalmatian pup. Yeah, that would be a much easier companion to watch and control. Then I could have OTSpots (Observed-thoughts Spots) bouncing around my brain, causing less damage and pain. Just have to worry about a little puddle now and then, rather than all-out sacking.
As I wrote this post, I was thinking about neuroplasticity and how my coping mechanisms have changed over the years; how ongoing trauma and bouts of depression have changed those abilities -- simply decreasing my resilience to stress and making the falls into darkness quicker and harder. I was wondering if the pathways in my brain had been damaged to an irreversible degree, when the thought of Godzilla rampaging through a city popped up ... what a perfect allegory ... and brilliant, thank you very much!
Video courtesy Giphy and the Conan O'Brien show
The official GIPHY channel for Team Coco. Watch CONAN weeknights @ 11/10c on TBS Network. #CONAN
Trauma reduces your resilience to stress and hardship.
Previous bouts of depression increase the chances that a person will more easily and quickly fall into depression again. In trauma, anxiety, and depression, your brain gets rewired into a holding pattern in negative experiences and reactions; AKA, neuroplasticity. With all these cards stacked against me, it is no wonder that the daily challenges of living as an expat in China, combined with stress of being a teacher in a dysfunctional school, topped with working with a toxic, bully co-teacher ... leads to me feeling like Conan looks above, starting at 6am and going full throttle 5 days a week. When the weekends come, I just want to curl up on the couch, drink wine, eat ice cream, write, and stay in my apartment. Oh, actually, that desire happens every day at the end of the workday, too! Oh yay!
Oh, I forgot to add that I've been living across from a condo construction site since September, and there are no noise-pollution regulations here (and in general, no or poor any-type-of-pollution regulations in China), which means I have been awakened by pole-driving and drilling at 5:45am every morning -- 7 days each week, 365 days per year because they do not halt construction for any holiday or on weekends. And yeah, the noise continues until or after 9pm each night. And yes, I have $300 Bose noise-cancelling headphones, sound-dampening blackout curtains, sleep with earplugs.... blah blah blah and I still am awakened on weekends to the nerve-wracking cacophony of construction. This does not help the noise-sensitivity I developed with PTSD.
China is a very difficult couuntry to live in as a foreigner and they keep tightening the noose of restrictions on expats (banking, visas, etc.) each year. That said, the many small benefits outweigh the gross drawbacks, and I'd rather be here than in the US, where one worries about being shot every day and it's hard to make a living. All the challenges are described in my other posts related to living in China:
Why do I stay? Well, I've written twice the amount of posts about why I love it here, in contrast to the amount of posts about why it's extremely difficult!
Beyond all that, I loved the stressed-out-Conan meme, as it perfectly exemplifies my state of mind a lot of the time. And shows the reason I need the MBSR course!
Some of the worksheets and reading referred to during the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction course. The course is offered free through Palouse Mindfulness. Access videos by clicking "Read More", bottom right.
Written by Roberta F Lewis for Spirit of Change magazine
© Spirit of Change Magazine source: http://www.ofspirit.com/robertalewis1.htm
I am at the point where I recognize the damage I am causing myself by not managing my stress in a healthy way-- or rather reacting to the stress in such a way that I am believing my thoughts about situations and plummetting downward along The Deadly Spiral of Negative Thinking. I seem to have no control over my thoughts or reactions or emotions. I swing between antipodes of fury and depression. I cannot accept situations that bother me, especially at work. Things are going on with my body that I refuse to accept. Simply, I am once again at war with reality and the world; all the fighting and disclaiming and inward screams of "No!" are causing massive suffering in my mind, heart, and body -- especially my body!
I haven't been able to re-establish a daily routine of yoga practice. I can't find my inner disclipline to exercise regularly. I can't dig into my strength reserves to follow through on the commitments I make to myself on a daily basis (I no longer have strength left), which results in a feeling of failure and the first step toward The Downward Spiral (no, this is not the NIN album). I can't depend on my resilience because it is lost somewhere in the same place as my inner strength. I have lost the map inward that leads to both. My resilience, strength, dedication, power, discipline, are all so diminished they barely exist.
I started this MBSR course a few years ago, as one way of trying to work through the multiple traumas I experienced while living in ATX from Oct. 2014 - February 2018. The combination of PTSD, extreme anxiety, and a nearly life-ending bout of depression, makes it impossible to stay present and be mindful; the pain is too extreme, the present is too awful, and the mind is too muddled to focus (neuroplasticity at play here). Unless you have experienced these first hand, you really have no clue what a person suffers, so it is also rare to receive much needed empathy and understanding. But returning to the present of 2019, I have started the course again, because everything else I am doing is not working, because I can't find my follow-through, and I can't find an accountability partner to hold me to my self-care commitments. Plus, I am at the end of my rope! I can't stand how I feel nor how I act. I am truly miserable at work and at home and the suffering is a direct result of thought-patterns I cannot end and negative coping mechanisms which are killing me.
Without going into too much detail, Mindfulness-based Stress Relief (MBSR) is an 8-week mindfulness meditation course that will lead me back to being able to cope in the present moment and bring awareness back into my life, so that I don't follow my thoughts down the rabbit hole and I can build resilience and strength. I want to uncover the part of me that recalls my connection to others; the inner self that gives me the self-compassion to relate to others with compassion; the mind that remembers not to take anything personally and does not make assumptions, but rather, asks for clarity; the one who does not react from her lizard brain, but who is able to pause, breathe, and remember with love that we are all just doing the best we can... and of course, so much more...
There are meditations, readings, videos to watch, and journaling to complete. I've already set up a realistic schedule for each of the daily practices. It seems that now is the time to accept that I am not going to do a long morning yoga practice. I need to accept that I will sit down and write in the morning, and not stop writing until I am about to be late to work. I need to accept this as part of my current lifestyle and a habit, rather than fighting it on a daily basis and feeling guilty, lazy, and awful because I am not carrying out my morning practice. I can continue fighting myself and feeling like a failure, or I can accept that this is where I am now: I want to focus on writing -- and I enjoy it damnit! -- so where can I place the yoga practice in my daily routine so that it actually gets done without struggle or guilt? It's easier to change my current nightly routine (AKA: Detrimental Coping Strategy) of tuning out with a film and wine or sugar, so I will complete the requisite reading in the morning or during the day, then watch the videos and perform the mindufulness practices in the evening prior to bedtime.
The video is courtesy of University of Massachusetts Medical School http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/
I grasp intellectually all the aspects of who I am, who is witnessing, and of identification with that which is not the True Self. My challenge is maintaining a conscious grasp on who I Am, and remaining in awareness. It's too easy to fall back in to habitual modes of thoughts and action. Stay up a little too late, get up a little too late, miss a practice here or there becomes missing most practice and sinking deeper into unconscious living.
There are moments of peace and gratitude, but then I move about my day, forgetting; allowing little things to irritate me, getting attached to my view of how reality should be playing out. I return to identification with so much of human life: my body, my job, my happiness, my unhappiness. How can I maintain continuous awareness in such a loud, distracting world? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the answer already damnit! Prioritize my practice!
To maintain awareness of That I Am, I must dedicate myself to morning practice, without wavering. This means going to bed early so that I can get up and not feel rushed. This means doing Agni Sara before lunch. This means abhyanga and pranayama before bed so that I sleep soundly.
But still I feel stuck in continual identification with all the distractions in life. I want to keep my attention on the fact that I AM Life! I must remember this and remember that Grace will meet me as I reach; all the benevolent forces of the Universe are with me.
...That I am not a person!
Life takes care of Life
Grace will move to meet me as I reach
Water hits a rock, and it doesn't argue, it flows around.
I can be happy wherever I am, even in the cold dreariness of Chengdu; even at this job that is misery.
I need to:
Keep my attention on the fact that I am life.
Ask Grace to Open my heart
Keep my attention inside
Keep my attention on my heart
All the benevolent forces of the universe are with me
I am getting attached to circumstances at school again-- attached to the need to have my work environment be positive and fulfilling.
I need to remember who I am, and that I get in trouble when I forget that.
Maintain my positive habits, so that the momentum of negative habits do not sink my awareness.
...And still I struggle...
And yet, there is an answer!
Since renewing and refreshing myself in Rishikesh, I have been able to access long-forgotten tools that help me overcome my Egoic Self and its attachments.
Well, it is a work in progress of course, I haven't yet achieved enlightenment...though I keep moving toward freedom!
I've started using Byron Katie's "The Work" process again--that helped a great deal with the frustration I continue to feel with my co-teacher, L. (See Backstory, below.) Then of course, something else happened in the last few days to set me off. I was feeling angry and frustrated at the lack of collaboration, and how she just makes decisions without consulting me for feedback. Then I realized that perhaps I was overly attached to collaboration. Yes, collaboration is positive and creates a great working environment for co-teachers; however L. is the symbolic Rock I come against in my peaceful flow. And as Mooji stated: "Water hits a rock, and it doesn't argue. It flows around. It is flexible." This is what I keep my recall and heart upon: remembering L. is the rock, and I am the water--why argue? And if insisting I have a collaborative work environment creates stress, why hang on to that attachment when it is not going to happen? Why fight reality? Why not go with the flow? What underlies all of this is my Ego's need to Be In Charge. That's what is really going on. I feel disempowered and it seems that my voice does not matter. That creates pain, which makes me feel angry as a result. Of course, this all stems from my upbringing where I truly Had No Power as a child: I (my voice) was To Be Seen And Not Heard. Yes, perhaps I am still quite sensitive -- not, perhaps, overly, but still the full embodiment of sensitivity -- to having my voice squashed, ignored, or otherwise deemed irrelevant and unimportant, which condensed, translates to the expression of personal power.
Click READ MORE below!
What I am trying to keep in the forefront of my mind is:
A fabulous response by Deepak Chopra to a reader inquiring about abundance visualizations and meditations:
"Your true self is not a belief or thought of abundance, your true self is the recognition of who and what you essentially are. The aim of the meditation is not to give you thoughts and beliefs to bring you money, it is to awaken a recognition of your unlimited ever-present awareness so that it reorganizes all lines of physical and emotional support in your life. Self-realization manifests abundance in life from the recognition that your true nature is the source of all support and abundance. When you know and feel that your consciousness is abundance, then you will find that support all around you. Initially, until you are fully established in that self-awareness, that support may vary from one day to the next as you reported. But as you relax more fully into your real self, it becomes steady and reliable.
"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." Eleanor Roosevelt
"The Spiritual Law of Least Effort tells us that we can do less and accomplish more, an idea that seems at odds with what many of us have been taught throughout our lives. In general, we hold the belief that success is the result of hard work, struggle, and sacrifice.
As we’re learning through our time together, the universe has infinite organizing power and as conscious beings, we have ready access to this realm simply by spending time in stillness and silence. The same consciousness that orchestrates the myriad rhythms of the whole world dwells within each of us. By aligning ourselves with consciousness, connecting fully with the present, and staying open to the many opportunities life offers, we have the power within us to realize all our dreams with effortless ease. "
~from the Chopra Center Meditation: Desire and Destiny, 21 Day Meditation
I had the power all along! Remember the line from The Wizard of Oz? Glenda tells Dorothy that she had the power within her to get home all along...!
... asana, pranayama, meditation and the true Self.