Adventures in Healing
Katie Estes is a freelance designer, art director, photographer and stylist. She sometimes writes too.
"We become so accustomed to speeding ahead that we rob ourselves of joy."
When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön, p. 30
This quote from Pema Chödrön came up the other day, nicely summarizing a visual I've had in my head for years. The visual was that of a relay race, like in high school with silver batons. I ran in the fast group, I am built for running away from things, and stood there on the track, watching, waiting with the anxiety of the coming baton. What if I dropped it? Was I going to grab it underhand or overhand? What was the very detail of the rapidly approaching future? Fuck, it's here. Then I ran awkwardly for a few seconds, wondering again if I'd drop the baton, then handed it off, panting, waiting for it all to cycle over again.
This went on for years, the pushing, failing, flailing, and I missed everything. Nothing was good enough or something was better, if I could just keep pushing on to find it. The relay race continued and I burned out. Daily. I experienced pockets of meticulously carved out joy over the past few years but was still shrouded in some sort of fear, some sort of pain, some sort of anger. I was only available for some of it, whether running relay races before bed, or creating some sort of pain simply because that's what was familiar to me. In periods of calm, I made the future a threat. I come from a family that talks about what they should have for dinner while still chewing lunch. I studied and trained in a profession where things were due yesterday. It's always tomorrow in New York City. For a while, it was enough to just stare at a mountain, but then that tickle of what's next would appear. This is beautiful but I want to find the next beautiful thing to show everyone how beautiful the beauty is. Again, missing any presence of beauty. Anything can be a relay race.
Lately, I've been confronting this. All of this. I didn't actually know this was an option. Maybe I had an idea but I would have rather suffered. Rather just keep running.
"The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face to face."
-Pema again, p.30 again
These are Pema's words, but echoed in Eckhart's teachings, David R. Hawkins's and others. And also, no? No no no no no. I never wanted to do that. Learning to let go, allow pain, be mindful, is one of the hardest (easiest?) things I've ever done. The easy part is that you don't actually have to do anything. It's the fighting and resistance that is exhausting. It's the suffering that's exhausting. Right up until the very moment of being seen, whether fear, pain, hurt, jealousy, anger, there is suffering. Intense suffering. I don't want to see. I've been through enough. I just want it gone. And that's exactly what happens. The very instant you look, the thoughts lose their power. The very second you are aware, you're no longer lost in thought.
You sit down in the middle of the relay race so that someone knees you in the face and trips over you. "Why'd you stop?" They might ask. Or in this scenario, "Why'd you fucking sit down?" And you let them run and you take two steps to the side. From the sidelines, you watch the runners and see this hell loop of thought. Except you don't judge it. You see it, it's there and you're there with it, no longer a part of it. You're beachside, with a rainbow and a cupcake no longer suffering.
This takes practice. It takes belief, commitment, and relentless awareness. It takes the utter depletion of suffering to not want to suffer anymore. Facing your shit, your relay races, in my experience, has brought a kind of peace I never thought possible. Somedays I relapse, as I call it, and buy into the thoughts. This may happen. Go fiercely back the sidelines and just watch. Allow. Be there with them, and let go.
I have the lyric from Geto Boys, Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gansta, in my head, so:
"And now, a word from the president:"
"Even when the sky is heavily overcast, the sun hasn't disappeared. It's still there on the other side of the clouds."
There are as many ways to access spirituality, the now, whatever, as there are people in the world; what there isn't enough room for is judgment of which way is right. What's right is what's right for you. For me, it's books. How do I know? Because I've tried everything else. Everything. Almost everything. I've had exquisite teachers, but nothing felt sustainable. Whether it's prohibitive costs, limiting beliefs (my own or other's,) physical location or confidence, there always ends up being a block to consistency. Books are always there. Their return on investment is immeasurable. Especially if you buy them used on Amazon or they are gifted from a friend. They don't judge. (Sometimes they judge.) You can read them over and over and the 15th time might mean something wildly different from the first. For whatever reason, I don't give up on books. I might read one for six months because I'm resisting, I swear I can read faster than that, and then I'll pick it up months later and read it again and it will make sense. Finally. I especially like books with stigmas. Like The Power of Now.
I read Power of Now and it didn't make sense. I so desperately wanted it to make sense. It didn't. I even bookmarked key ideas with colored tabs to motivate myself. A year later, I opened up to some of those tabs and they started to make sense. I noticed that a closed book is sort of intimidating. Sitting there, taunting you with, "I'll change your life, all you have to do is read 300 pages and pay attention." That's a hell of a lot of pressure to take with you while turning each page. Of course you're going to resist. One excerpt that made sense to me, that cleared an entrance into understanding was the following:
"The reason why some people love to engage in dangerous activities, such as mountain climbing, car racing, and so on, although they may not be aware of it, is that it forces them into the Now—that intensely alive state that is free of time, free of problems, free of thinking, free of the burden of the personality. Slipping away from the present moment even for a second may mean death. Unfortunately, they come to depend on a particular activity to be in that state. But you don't need to climb the north face of the Eiger. You can enter that state now."
-Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, p. 42
I can? Because I've been doing it this other really ineffective way. When I was in grad school, I'd numb myself into a stupor in between projects by watching survival shows about climbing Everest. I didn't even climb the mountain, I just thought about other people doing it. Tolle's statement seemed to me like a relatable activity: creating a rush in order to feel. Just fill in the blank with whatever suits you—drinking, drugs, arguing, blaming, overworking, overthinking. Overthinking! This I can talk about. My go-to method is over analysis in attempt to get to the present. I tear myself down, exhausting myself with berating thought after thought until I'm so empty that I can do nothing but cry. And I mean cry. Cry until I believe every thought I came up with, and all negative future scenarios that I believe I deserve. It looks a lot like this:
I create this vicious, brutal, terrorizing cycle that leaves me with nothing in the present but suffering. By replacing thoughts with awareness, the past and future lose their power over me. The need to control them, to cling to, to claw at them lessens (with practice.) The addiction to thinking subsides. In the past I've worried about what I was going to worry about. The past was my present. The future was my present. The more it hurt, the more true it was. I don't share this to be a victim, I've tried that and it didn't work either, I share because this was my version of "climbing the Eiger." And being conscious of thoughts instead of thinking about thoughts and what they mean is just simply an easier, better way.
I've talked about the now with some people and it usually takes a direct negative, sometimes mocking turn. How can I not plan for my future? It's irresponsible. Tolle addresses it as well. He refers to necessary planning as your life situation. Whereas Tolle is sometimes hilariously blunt, I see it as a valid question with some degree of truth. There's a quality of defensiveness in that question. No one is saying you're doing anything wrong. There can be presence in planning for the future. If you are planning a trip, a move, a project, that is what you are doing. If done with full presence, you are researching, finding the best deals, weighing out options, completely aware and retaining information. You might find the more present you are, the more you practice being present, the more you remember. Clarity sticks around a little longer. It's no longer a means to an end. It's not resistant planning that needs to happen in order for the fun or the release to happen. Treating it as a means to an end will practically guarantee that the suffering will continue once the event does arrive. Being present while planning practically guarantees that the future will be good as the present you planned it in.
I'm far from perfect and am only a week deep in doing my best to be intensely present. So far this is a more accurate representation:
The past and future come knocking, and it takes a constant conscious effort to see them, but not attach to them.
And I would be lying if there hasn't been a day of just this:
It's hard but it's better than suffering. And better than watching these looped animated gifs. Staying present has been the ONLY thing that has provided consistent relief from recent and life-long overwhelming emotions. I'd love to hear any methods that have worked for you as well!
Pictures compliment retrospect, everything makes sense after the fact, especially if you take a picture and color correct the memory. Things are brighter, guns are shinier. Sunsets remain a mere suggestion of their reality. Below is a lump of pictures that make it seem like I knew what I was doing while I was doing it.
Day Four. No Tylenol, no Guaifenesin, maybe some powdered witchcraft, but mostly torrents of phlegm exiting my face. I get these colds when I'm overwhelmed. Too much happening at once with no answers, paired with our little 3-legged heeler waking us up every day at 6 am, plagued by the same answerless questions. "What's that noise outside?" "I can't see, I can't see!" "Why aren't you awake yet, I've been barking for 10 whole minutes?"
I put the baby/pet gate up last night (same thing according to the people at Walmart) at the bottom of the stairs, uh huh I have stairs in this house, and it worked. No barking, no forceable quarantines in the softbox. When I woke up, questions were answered, my head cleared and I found myself experiencing that momentary calm when everything makes sense and everything will be fine forever. Amazing what sleep (and Valerian) can do.
Lingering of course is the knowledge that there will always be overwhelm, no matter how hard I try to excise all the tumors out of my life. I'll have another cold, I'll be stressed out, I'll be lost in the fog of indecision exactly when an important decision needs to be made. But right now it doesn't matter. Because I slept. And I'm drinking coffee.
This is where the triumphant music montage would kick in, reinforcing this statement. And because this is a blog with links and stuff, I'll do just that.
I love food. So much. I like cooking it too, but I didn't used to. Mostly because there was usually someone more skilled available, and then I couldn't make dainty lady food without meat. Sometimes I feel like this when it's time to cook, even though it will likely be cheaper and tastier if I don't go out. I've never mastered a pantry, never had space for something like that, or the ability to keep it stocked. Dinner comes from the store, usually because I just purchased it an hour before. Today, because I'm dog sitting in Land of Endless Pots n' Pans and Viking Stove, cooking is far less daunting. Also because I didn't visit any grocery stores today, bitches.
As follows, a recipe for thoughtless tasty meal:
Chick Peas from a can
Quinoa from the Costco bag bought two months ago
A shit ton of curry powder
More powders: turmeric, chimayo chili powder, cayenne, coriander and turmeric, because there is never, never too much turmy.
Sweat that shit! Make it soupy! Quinoa needs all the help it can get. This is actually quite filling for the lady dining alone. Lots of protein here. The beer as always, is optional but suggested.
Olga der hund.
Risa the dog.
Me and the fat white wolf.
Go to mountain.
(Do not alarm authorities.)
Let the mountain have it.
It's what they're there for.
Then take a shit ton of pictures.
The place I'm staying at has two comforters, right on top of each other, different duvet covers and everything. It's unbelievably fluffy. I feel like the yams roasting comfortably under a marshmallow topping. It's the perfect weight too, although I'd sleep under a bookshelf if someone would help me out in the morning.
I'm fairly off grid here in my temporary quarters, like camping, but not glamping. Like responsible isolation. It's been super cold, but I'm learning how to do that. At least I have my double comforter. And kimchi. Put kimchi in everything--eggs, tuna, rice--and everything is ok.
Take a picture of it!
I was driving across Texas, going 90 I'm sure, when I noticed that an outrageous sunset was setting up. Picture anxiety started to appear, my immediate thought being well sunsets last all of 15 minutes, so I'm already too late. Had I known sunsets in Texas last an hour and half, I would've calmed down a bit. I was armed with my phone, clicking away while driving, but the camera roll was already full of 17 identical windmill pictures in a not amazing pink and purple sky. Then that little dialogue box, "storage almost full" popped up, as it has been for the past year. Then the camera stalled with the blurry background, taunting me like maybe I'll let you take a picture, but I haven't decided yet. Nope. No more room, no camera for you.
So I anxiously deleted, decreasing my speed to a responsible 85. (If cruise control is on, I just go in the back and read a book.) Noticing that the sunset was actually getting better, I made a last minute decision to swerve off to an exit and unleash the big camera. Big Camera is such a source of anxiety. It's so powerful and I use it to about 25% of it's power, so more often than not I just keep it tucked away like that fancy coffee table book you don't want open or touch too much for fear of it actually looking, you know, used. I pulled over, got out without a jacket, the temperature dropped 40 degrees as I was driving, and shivered while setting up Big Camera. I had that mind argument with my camera that I'm sure other photographers have that goes something like, "why aren't you seeing what my eyes are seeing!!!" Or maybe good photographers just change their settings and patiently wait for the perfect photo. :)
Below is the best I got before retreating back inside to the heated seats. The sky melted into deep pinks, purples, blues, and finally into a fiery magenta as I hit Amarillo. Even though I stressed about not being able to properly capture exactly what my eyeballs recorded, I was able to enjoy the sky show quite a bit.
Sale cheese (hard or soft)
Jalapeno (without regard to heat potential. Chop and dump, seeds and all, deal with it later.)
Salted honey, oil, champagne vin, salt and pep for dressing
Mountauk Driftwood Ale
Cup of bone broth (optional)
Obviously the beer and broth are separate but advisable to drink in succession of each other. Broth first. (The link is for a 6-pack, beware, but very worth it.) Best eaten in front of laptop. (See pic.)
Everyone should take a Thanksgiving to themselves. No work, no loved ones, no travel, maybe a dog. Ok I'm talking about me. I'm taking a solo Thanksgiving, suspending reality for a good four days. I couldn't be more content. I've never been in the city for Thanksgiving, or alone, but I'm happy and it's quiet. So, so quiet. No Biggie, no Mariah, just birds. I'm grateful, I'm clearheaded, I can hear. After making the grits (see below,) all there is to do is walk the dog.
Well this is upsetting. I woke up fearful, a few times, from checking the results and then having nightmares of being followed. Trump Triumphs was likely the beginning of most people's mornings, followed by what happens now? I spent the past year voluntarily oblivious to the campaigns, but truly believing that hate and fear wouldn't prevail. Now that it has, I have a choice: continue to be afraid or offset the mania. Help. Help in any way possible. Plant a tree? Sure. Volunteer? Absolutely. If you're worried about what is going to happen, start with the why and apply it to everything you do.
I'm grateful to have spent the past weekend at Kripalu, where I was able to spend a lot of time and give a lot of space to the why. The mountains are much more receptive to such questions. I can hurl all my worry, all my stubbornness at them and they respond with comforting silence.
There, I watched a baby squirrel chase a momma squirrel through Swami Kripalu's leaf covered meditation garden. It was 45º and I sat for a little over a half hour. The squirrels circled over the crunching leaves, threatening at first to be a much larger animal. They darted across the stones and up a tree. The mother slowed to a stop as the baby continued some circles. Around one tree, then another, then directly towards me. He stopped abruptly three feet in front of me, and stared at me as if he wanted me too, to chase him up the tree. He moved his little squirrel paws one in front of the other, slowly inching closer and closer to me. He angled to the right and in a wide berth passed me and continued slowly up a nearby tree, his eyes on me the whole time.
A silent conversation with a squirrel gave me more hope than the newly elected president. We may be transitioning to a leadership with a devolved perspective of the world, but I simply choose to not operate from that frequency. And encourage all to do the same!
The past couple of years I've been living a life similar to a monk or hitman, depending on how you look at it. Or as I noticed when camping and only had two pots — it's just like at home! I have two pots, three really, because I ordered the wrong size and couldn't return it, so sometimes the tea pot has popcorn in it. Or vice versa. My washer is a dryer, and as we often joke, a urinal.
"I thought you had to pee?"
"I did, you were in the bathroom, so I used the urinal. Never seen one with a door!"
Everything has its purpose, preferably many. Little by little I've been adding luxuries like juicers and blankets and plants. I move so often I was looking at things in volume and weight and simply skipping the present. That's going to be a pain in the future so don't even bother now! This compounded by the stuff-packed apartments of the dog owner's I sit for. Stuff in place of substance. Stuff instead of feeling.
This is the first year in a few where I'm not planning on fleeing. I like the idea of my bed with the very heavy frame staying right where it is. My books at arm reach, seem happy to remain where they are too. Saves me the trouble of giving them away and then buying them again, another odd habit I've adopted.
The latest coincidence coursing through my life right now, as there are happily many, is one of "both." As in you don't have to give up ________ to have _________. I've always been a wholehearted believer in pick one, as noted in the rigid lifestyle. An argument between Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs in the movie Steve Jobs, says it well:
Wozniak: "It's not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time."
You don't have to be an asshole to win. I don't have to live immobile in one spot and sacrifice living. There's many things I'm skipping over here like frugality, budgets, and proper planning, but ultimately, I can have all the elements of a home AND a space to keep them in. I can wander and not sacrifice the security of knowing I have an apartment to come home to.
Maybe I'm behind and this doesn't resonate, but it's what I needed to learn. It's easy to overlook the lubrication that commonly makes these things flow: dual incomes, a dominant partner, (a partner for that matter,) wedding registrations, roommates. I had (some) of that and lost it all, twice. It was deathly important for me to know I had my own back; that I could survive, comfortably, through full leases in apartments I searched for, paid for, furnished and loved, completely on my own. I'm proud of myself for that whether I should be somewhere further in mindset or status.
(All dog names have been changed, in this case to other fictional dog's names.)
I'm sitting for a dog who's head and waist are bigger than mine and am convinced he is juicing at night. I've been considering wrist and shin braces when walking him. That or reins. My bed is shoved up against two almost floor length windows, and he has taken to darting through the entrance doors at full speed then waiting at my door where I remove his leash and stand back. He runs full speed to my bed and one of these times I fully expect him to shoot through the window swim across the Atlantic.
Of course though he's a big snugglebug and scared of things, like small spaces. Me too, bud. Maybe if I chewed through my airplane seat, I'd feel better about flying. He's a dog though and I have a love all dogs policy, no matter what. Working on translating that to humans, stay tuned.
UPS, It's me
Katie, with the vestibule
Please leave the package
Not another note
stuck to my door, I'm here now!
Packages! Not Notes!
do you use to determine
a packages worth?
Because I was not
aware shower curtains were
Save a tree, leave a
box, not a tracking number
or an aneurysm
Thank you UPS
for the curtain, used books and
Thank you UPS
for top security in