If you're going to learn to heal yourself, you have to learn to know yourself.
Learning to know yourself means learning to understand your body, your mind and your emotions.
Your body is your temple. It's made up of a variety of beautiful systems that work together energetically and it's fed and powered by food, air, water, light, and energies that we cannot or do not perceive with our five senses or that we do not fully understand at this point in time.
Becoming acquainted with your own body is a life-long pursuit because as we age, our body changes and so does its needs. What your body needs at the age of 17 is different from what it needs at 65.
The environments through which our body moves change, too. And, related, the world in which we live is changing ever more quickly it seems on a daily basis. As a general example, the way your body feels in bed on waking in the morning is different from the way it feels when you're out walking in the sunshine and different from the way that it feels when you go through a grocery store or crowded arena. The world of thirty years ago (let alone, fifty years ago) is radically different from today's world. There are more people, more cars, more chemicals, and more noise and information than we could ever have imagined. Our food is different. Our means of communication has changed.
All of these things generate energy. Some of the most beautiful and least understood sets of systems in our bodies are energetic. Without even scratching the surface of those energetic systems (because they are complex and varied and differently understood and deserve separate and more lengthy investigations), you know when you experience energetic interference in your body.
Food is energy. This is a simple place to start. If you eat a bag of M&M's (unless you are really out of touch with your bodily sensations), you feel differently from when you eat fresh vegetables from the garden. If you eat half a loaf of bread with cheese, you feel differently from when you drink half a glass of grapefruit juice.
People are fields of energy. Here we have another experience of energy. You know that if you come across a person and have a sense of foreboding or a gut reaction that your body is alerting you with a warning no matter how gentile and polite that person may seem in presentation. That's one instance of energetic fields at work.
If we forget about your interaction with another person, you can also gauge your energetic fields by your experience of your environment. For example, imagine your body as you walk through the woods in springtime when nature is coming back to life and the birds are singing and the sun is shimmering through the trees. Now imagine your body in a dark, cluttered room with stale beer, urine and cigarette smells clinging to the walls and fabrics with loud rock or rap music blaring with the bass turned up, pummeling your internal organs. Is one an experience of openness and nurture? Is another an experience of defense and closing down? It's not a trick question. Your body may prefer different environments than mine. I'm just saying that differnt environments have different effects on our bodies.
What you put into your body and what you put your body into affects your energetic systems.
The same is true of your thoughts. Your thinking affects your self as much as anything. When I was a kid, we used to joke about the signs on busses in Great Britain Mind Your Head was posted above the exit stairs. Now it's used for a SAD lamp brand and mental health campaigns. But it's a good slogan to remember. Watch your thoughts.
Watching your thoughts is a practice. Certainly not a 24/7 practice but you can get into the habit and I highly recommend it as a means to learning to know yourself.
The best instruction I have ever received on learning to watch my thoughts was a long study of meditation when I lived in Boston through Shambhala Meditations. I have a wild and racing mind. Also during the time that I lived in Boston, I consulted a highly recommended docor of Chinese medicine for some issue. I can't remember what. After our consultation, he told me, "Look. You have such an active mind that I want you to do this practice." He literally brought me back into his storefront office on Mass Ave and sat me down and said, "Just start counting backwards from 100. Practice this regularly by which he meant several times a day." I'm just telling you that story to demonstrate how wild my own mind is. I've been learning meditation techniques since I was a teenager and the older crowd who'd been into psychedelic drugs were then teaching Trancendetal Meditation. It was okay but it didnt' really stick with me. Or I did not stick with it.
The thing about my years of studying Shambhala meditation practice is that, more than anything else, it taught me to watch my thoughts without judgement. In a nutshell, for this practice, we sat in a highly specific position, followed our out breath, and every time we because aware of ourselves thinking, the instruction was to label our thinking "Thinking" and go back to our out breath. Many, probably most people beat themselves up to some degree upon realizing that they were thinking. I took to heart and quite seriously the instruction of not judging myself for thinking. I can't say why. I can only say that I did and am glad of it because the practice truly allowed me to become highly aware of my thoughts. Shambhala Training has, sadly, gone the way of all things. There are many forms of meditation and what works for me is not necessarily what will work for you.
Now, I practice a Kundalini Yoga breath meditation at the end of my morning routine of yoga, physical therapy exercises and waking up my chakra system with essential oils and spinal exercises. I'm quite sloppy with my routine but I do it!
Also, one of the best meditation practices for me is drawing. That's why I taught drawing for over twenty years. Drawing forces you to sit still, observe an object or become involved in the drawing process and, when you allow it, completely bypass the thought stream. Most of the time, I try to draw on a daily basis without worrying about the outcome. Just for the sake of moving the pen or pencil across the paper and for the time it takes to do so.
Speaking of moving the pen across paper, I also journal every morning. This practice is such a part of me that I cannot imagine my life without writing every morning. I feed the animals, make a cup of strong (now Bulletproof) coffee, sit down with my Lamy Safari pen, commit the date and day of the week to the top of the page and start in. I'll write a good post on journaling as a means to self-knowledge later but suffice it to say that it works.
As for getting to know your emotional self, it's complicated and definitely relies on regular practice of paying attention to your emotional state as a practice and working to understand what triggers your emotions. That being said, the simplest way I have learned to discover your emotional self is to understand that emotions are a result of thoughts which is why it is critical to pay attention to your thoughts. I learned this from my brilliant coach and teacher, Brooke Castillo who devised her model after the work of Byron Katie, Pema Chödron and others. Essentially, the "model" is Circumstance, Thought, Feeling, Action, and Result. More on that later. But if you can get that your emotions are a result of your thoughts, you are well along in the game of knowing yourself.
Practice. Getting to know yourself is a practice. Learning to heal yourself is a practice that follows on gettting to know yourself. It's life long dance and it's worth everything you put into it.
Learning to know yourself and to heal yourself is not about trying to be happy. It's about being as healthy as you can be.
Life is short. Life is a gift. You are in a temporary body in temporary situations for a temporary blink of an eye .
Learn to know yourself, love yourself and experience your life for all it has to offer. There is only one of you and you're a glorious expression of cosmic energy come to earth for a fascinating ride.
Just before my big fall in 2010, against my better wishes I started taking Effexor for depression. Big mistake. Big mistake because it led to me picking up a drink again for the first time in seven years. Big mistake because picking up a drink led to a series of really bad decisions that sent my life tumbling in more ways than there's room to describe here.
One thing I really liked about that drug, though. I felt relaxed in a way that I could never remember having felt before. I thought, Is this how normal people feel? I could get used to this. Caveat: when I realized what the drug was doing to me, I went off it and that was like putting myself through electroshock therapy and that convinced me to never, ever go on another psychotropic drug again.
But back to that experience of relaxation... I bring it up because that's the way I've felt all weekend. It worries me. Not because of the aforementioned experience. Because feeling relaxed actually concerns me.
I think that it works like this. I am responsible for everything. If I don't do it, it won't get done. If I don't hustle, I won't make moola. If I don't make moola, I'll land on the streets. If I relax for a moment, the whole world will fall apart. More, but you get the idea.
Yes, I know this is ridiculous but this is how I feel most of the time. Also, I'll drink coffee to rev myself up because, hey, if I'm not revved up, how am I going to do everything that needs to be done? I am actually addicted/allergic to coffee and it wreaks havoc with my skin, eyes and energy. The complexities of addiction are almost endless.
But this leads me to a key ingredient of sobriety. Also a key to the anxiety that is one cause of wanting to go unconscious with drink.
Thomas Merton once said that
"Anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity."
So, for me, thinking that I have to get everything done on my own, by myself and all of the anxiety that creates within me means that I don't trust in god (or the universe or the great creator or what have you) to take care of all things beyond my control. And almost all of everything is beyond my control. Except for example the cat hair collecting in a dust bunny on the floor. I could sweep that up.
If I quit trying so damned hard to solve every problem or to go unconscious in some way because I'm out of my mind with trying to figure out solutions and let god or the universe in on the game, wow, solutions, people, miracles, opportunities beyond my wildest ken might arise in response to my saying, hey, god... I have no idea what to do here, why don't you work it out? Yes that's one sentence. William Faulkner.
Therefore, my lack of trust in god creates my anxiety. I've become accustomed to feeling anxious (big-time, long-term). My anxiety has, in the past, caused me to drink. I am not used to feeling relaxed. Feeling relaxed makes me nervous. That's an oxymoron if I've every read one.
And, the basic key to quitting drinking via the A.A. program is to turn my will and my life over to the care of the god of my understanding. I don't buy everything in the program but I do think there's a lot to be said for that particular practice.
It's interesting that the same issue (not trusting) that made me anxious, set me up for drinking, and is the solution (trusting) for both anxiety and drinking. I think there's a scientific term for that sort of dynamic.
My job right now is to practice trusting the universe, the great creator, the all almighty that cannot be named to take the wheel. This is not a foreign concept to me. I just need to put it front and center as a practice.
All of that is just to say that I've felt remarkably relaxed this weekend. This feeling of relaxation concerns me a bit but that may just be habit. Probably is.
Great. Another habit!
Honestly, it's really great to have some project or to create some project for yourself in early sobriety. Work off your early days creatively.
I've had the fortune of a painting commission. I've been working at it for about four or five days interrupted by two teaching days. I think that it's complete now but I'm going to sleep on it.
I'm happy with it and grateful for the project. If you're in early sobriety and biting your nails or something, make a list of everything you could do. Draw, sing, make up a song, make up a dance, knit, leaf through a Martha Stewart Living magazine if your imagination is not in gear. Cook some great meal just for fun. Practice an instrument.
Get involved with a creative project for the sake of doing the thing not to be great at it. This is definitely not the time to be saying that you're no good at anything. Who cares? It takes a gazillion hours of practice to get good at something. Just start for the fun of it.
Pick up a pencil or pen and start making marks on a piece of paper. The marks don't have to look like anything at all. Start a doodle diary. There's an idea.
Watch your crazy thinking evaporate and your energy flow into making something. It's a good thing.
After the first few days of adjustment, you may notice that time becomes more available.
Sure, it is now possible to do more because you are no longer knocking yourself unconscious but even better,
you become more available.
When you start regaining consciousness, life opens up. You will be reminded of anxious thoughts that may have once made you want to knock yourself out. You will also notice more details in your environment. You may experience fatigue but you will also find a drive to do, to take little actions. Do take little actions. Don't try to conquer anything major.
About those anxious thoughts that arise... I encourage you to allow them to be. No, it's not always going to be easy.
Sit with those thoughts. Notice their images, texture, words, placement (if they're in the past or future). Notice how familiar they feel. Feel what is happening in your body. Where are they making you tense? How are they making you want to react?
You are going to be uncomfortable. Be uncomfortable. The discomfort will pass. It'll come back again. Then it will pass again.
In fact, you've gotten into a habit of being uncomfortably sick from alcohol. The discomfort you notice now is the weirdness of not knocking yourself unconscious when habits of thought arise.
Is that too convoluted? Basically, you're trading one way of dealing with discomfort with a different (better) way of being uncomfortable.
So what are you supposed to do about it?
Breathe. Just breathe. Then notice where you are. What's in your room? If you're outside or in the car, notice the trees or buildings. Feel your hands on the steering wheel. Connect to your immediate environment. Get into your body (and out of your mind).
See what that does for you.
Here's what you're doing. You are starting a practice of putting your higher mind (as in your pre-frontal cortex) in charge. Much, much more on that later. But for now, every time you have a thought that makes you want to react by reaching for a drink:
Notice where you are
Get into your physical body
Sit with the thought until it passes
It's a practice. Practice doing this.
Time will open up.
Join our Tribe
Quick tech note: If you're on Firefox browser, you won't be able to see all images.