Thoughts on Spatial Awareness 5/1:

Today’s Qi Gong session really underscored for me how a large part of my observations this semester have been focused on the idea of spatial awareness.

As someone who grew up doing a lot of ballet, I have a strong sense of where parts of my body are at any given time. That sense helps me out when I have to speak in public, or navigate large groups of people, but it also makes me very conscious of the ways in which other people can take up space. Some examples: men on public transportation, people sprawling out over library tables, people taking naps outside, construction workers on their lunch break, people with food in a cafeteria. All of those examples are physical, but I’ve been starting to puzzle over the idea that people can take up mental space too, whether I want them to or not. I’m trying to figure out how to not necessarily resent others for taking up space in my head, or how to give my own priorities more space in the arrangement.

In another sense, I’ve been thinking about space in relation to the spaces I share with other other people. For instance, I act very differently around strangers and people I don’t feel particularly close to; I’m not about to go hug everyone I meet. Then again, when I’m around family, friends, or people who seem to be on the right sort of wavelength, I change the way I navigate our shared spaces; I’m more likely to give them hugs, touch their arms, or just put myself in closer proximity to them.

The fact that different groups of people know my relationships to space very differently strikes me as me presenting myself to others inconsistently — and that inconsistency frustrates me (probably because I like to imagine myself as a consistent person). Maybe this means I need to reconceptualize my definition of consistency, but until I figure out how to do that, the feeling is definitely unpleasant. Hand in hand with that is the frustration I feel around people who don’t understand that while I might be fine with other people in a shared space, I don’t necessarily want them in my shared space. This goes a bit further when I think about people who are unaware of the amount of space (physical or mental) they are taking up — and who seemingly don’t realize they are imposing upon others by doing so.

Week Something:

The general theme from the last few weeks is probably blocks — in thinking, doing, asking, wondering, and (most relevant to this journal, perhaps) writing.

In my mind, blocks are typically associated with building, organizing and shelving — all ideas that I like and find constructive — but I’ve lately been struggling with blocks as a source of frustration instead of construction.

These frustrating blocks take shape as people who unavoidably cause me to feel negative emotions, often at the cost of necessary productivity or optimism, or as tasks that don’t bring me much joy — but that have to be accomplished.

I’ve been trying to address frustrating blocks in a few different ways:

  1. Telling myself in advance that an interaction might be negative, but it doesn’t have to affect me

  2. Avoiding very negative interactions entirely

  3. Planning ways to make negative interactions go away in the future

  4. Thinking about more things that actively bring me and the people around me more happiness

That said, I’m also interested in finding approaches to turning frustrating blocks into constructive ones. The best one I’ve found at the moment (silly though it sounds) is painting my nails. Nail painting is an activity that forces me to sit silently, in one place, for a set amount of time. I have to focus on what I’m doing to avoid getting nail polish everywhere, and the time I spend thinking – especially about using my left hand to successfully paint my right fingernails — is time that I subconsciously spend letting go of the frustrating blocks around me. That said, I can’t always be carrying around nail polish (and I feel like twice weekly nail painting might be a personal upper limit of some sort since I like to hang out with the colors on my fingers for a while) so I’m actively seeking similarly frustration-to-construction block transformation activities.

Aside from this one, steady, routine thing, the blocks have been building themselves up in all sorts of way. I do think a lot of them are in my head (I printed out all the pages of my thesis written so far yesterday, and was baffled to find out that the printed pages had heft — I’ve actually done work!) but recognizing which blocks are in my head and which blocks need to actually be addressed is proving challenging.

Practice Notes:

I’ve been consistent with my practice in these blocky times. I’ve found that meditating right before bed actually works really well. I’ve fully recognized that the day is over, so I don’t feel bad about taking time out of the day and it’s something I look forward to, so it keeps me going as a day wraps up. This is a practice that I’ve been able to maintain consistently as well; even if I go to bed at different times each night, I can control the action I choose to take right before bed. My regular schedule has much more variability, so it’s harder to make that happen at other times of the day.

Week 5:

I really appreciated our discussion of destructive emotions and the ways in which we can manage those emotions. It helped me frame some ideas that I’ve been working to verbalize for the past few weeks. (I guess this goes to say the syllabus is well-timed?) I found three ideas from our discussion particularly thought-provoking:

  • Addressing the dominant emotional states in our own lives.

    • I’m really interested in sitting down this week and trying to figure out what my dominant emotions have been over the past several weeks. This semester has felt very topsy-turvy, in that there have been very high, happy peaks, and very low, difficult ones. Since I’m in the middle of thesis writing, those peaks are interspersed with the myriad emotions that accompany this process. And while I recognize that all the emotions mentioned here are all part of the process that is this semester, experiencing them all at once — and in such volume — is a bit whiplash-inducing. I have a pretty good idea of my own general “happiness threshold,” but I think the impression other people have of my threshold, and the impression I have of that threshold are two different things. I’d like to think about this further given our conversation this week, and see what I come up with.

  • There’s a difference between “suppressing” and “disempowering” our emotions — and the latter is healthier, overall.

    • Generally speaking, I’d say that I’m a master emotion procrastinator, something I’d classify as the murky midpoint between suppression and disempowerment. I’ve found that it takes me a long time to go through emotions and really disempower them; I’ve also found that suppression doesn’t work very well. Honestly, it probably works the opposite of well. That said, since it takes me so much time to really disempower emotions, I’m often inclined to push the emotional processing off until I’m at a less there-is-so-much-work-to-do sort of place. Today’s discussion made me wonder if there’s a way for me to more intentionally address emotions rather than procrastinate on them. It’s given me some ideas for how to use my practice time over the next week.

  • The ways in which we can communicate with, and address, people in our lives who are going through difficult times.

    • In point one, I mentioned that there’s a discrepancy between how I perceive my happiness threshold and how others view it. This perception gap is usually not much of an issue — if I’m aware of how I’m feeling, then that’s really most important — but it’s become puzzling to note lately. I kind of touched on this in last week’s post, so I won’t elaborate too much, but the gap is a bit confusing. It can also make me feel exhausted, especially if the people who misunderstand my emotional state at a given time expect me to have the capacity to address their own emotional state. This isn’t to say that I don’t want to be there for my friends or people I care about, but I think I’m also reaching a point where I’m maxing out on emotional space. Thinking about how to reconcile the need for emotional space of my own, without alienating or failing to recognize the people around me, has been challenging, and I’d like to try and reframe this puzzle in terms of some of the ideas we’ve worked with this week.

General updates on sleep/practice:

I’m getting at least seven hours of sleep a night! Sometimes more! It’s great! I’m still really struggling with getting to bed earlier each night. Grad student schedules are not conducive to early bedtimes — but I’m optimistic that this will get better.

I’m happy with my switch to a morning, unguided practice and an evening, unguided one. Generally speaking, the placement of the practice times/structures is working out really well. The larger challenge now is thinking about that practice in the place of my day, particularly the evening one. My evening schedule varies so much that it’s hard to find a consistent time/place to do this. I guess I either have to embrace some form of spontaneous practicing or try changing up my schedule, but I imagine embracing the spontaneity would be much more logistically practical. (Has anyone else had to deal with scheduling practice time into messy schedules? Have you found a way that’s worked better than others?)

Week 4:

I’ve been thinking more intentionally about my habits and ways of reacting to situations this week. I’ve noticed that the 7-8 hours of sleep a night is helping a lot. This past week has been the first time in a few years that I’ve found myself consistently waking up before my alarm — it’s an amazing feeling! (I still want to jump back into bed after realizing this, so I guess this is still a work-in-progress, but we’re getting there!)

It’s also becoming easier to integrate my practice into everyday life. Switching the guided and unguided meditations has turned out really well so far. I’m more consistent about doing both, and it’s much easier to start doing both in their flipped-around places. My mind automatically wants a quiet moment in the morning anyways, so the unguided meditation is working well in that place; in the evenings, the guided meditation helps me feel much more calm during what I’d consider the most stressful part of the day. (In the evenings, I start worrying about the work I still haven’t done and whether or not I’ll get to bed on time. I also feel guilty about not having done more work during the day — even if it was a day stuffed with meetings, or even if I’d actually accomplished things that day.) The guided meditation helps me sit down and turn off this very negative frame of mind, and I’ve been finding that incredibly relaxing and helpful — it gives me a bit more perspective.

That perspective has been particularly helpful in terms of thinking about my own reactions. [A short aside: A comment I get often from people who don’t me particularly well runs along the lines of “Oh! you always seem so calm and composed. I’m sure everything is fine” Generally, when I’m being told this, my head is going through some version of the this-is-fine meme, and I find the comment generally irksome. I’ve also lived in the Southern US long enough that my instinct is to just say “thank you!” and move on, even though I find this comment troublesome.]

The aside goes to say, I generally react to things very strongly (both positive and negative) and I’m not entirely satisfied with the way these reactions tend to take over my actions. Over the next week, I’d like to pay more attention to why I’m reacting the way I am, and give more thought to the ways that I can pay more attention to the moments I’m in without losing sight of bigger pictures and larger goals.

Week 3:

This week has been a week for switching things up. Given that I have two versions of my practice — the morning, guided one, and the evening, unguided one — I’ve been observing how both have fit into my life and how I might tweak things to make it easier to implement my practice.

In the couple weeks I’ve been doing my practice, I’ve found that it’s easier for me to focus in the morning, and the guided practice (basically, the ‘guiding’ part) feels more like an interruption. The evening practice is challenging because I find it hard to draw myself away from the feeling that I should be working, not necessarily spending time on the unguided practice. I’ve decided to try mixing the two up (unguided in the morning, guided in the evening) to play to these observations and see if the change helps me cultivate a better sense of awareness about the way I move through my day.

It’s become easier in the past couple weeks to realize that I have a tendency to react to my emotions before I wrestle with them first. This isn’t to say that something makes me grumpy and I dump that grump onto the people around me; it’s referring more to — if something positive or negative happens — I let it sway me from the place/people I’m with at a given moment. I get distracted by the feeling and try to shove it away. I’ve been nothing the “trying to shove it away” part more in the last two weeks, and I’ve been trying to think about the emotions that trigger that feeling more than I have before: why do I actually feel this way? what do/don’t I like about this current situation? how might I respond that either makes this better or addresses my core feelings about it? Having a better mindset around pausing and reflecting for the past couple weeks has really helped with this process, and I’m interested in seeing where it goes.

The third thing I’ve noticed this week relates to our class discussion on Tuesday. I’ve been pushing and pulling the idea of wishing happiness for people you don’t like around in my head, and I’ve honestly found it to be a bit of a struggle. While I found Tenzin and Joi’s thoughts on wishing people for a happiness that doesn’t necessarily impede the happiness of others really helpful, I’m still finding the idea difficult. (And figuring out the ‘why’ of that difficulty is similarly hard.) For instance, if it’s a person who has been hurtful, I’d find it very difficult to wish for their happiness without an apology. On a large scale, it seems like a puzzle between being the better person and being stuck in the weeds of the situation, and it’s something I’m still puzzling out. Thoughts on this would be super appreciated!

Week 2:

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my most memorable experiences with meditation, which took place in — of all places — Orlando, Florida.

During my fourth year of undergrad, just as I was busy with job applications, final projects, and generally stressing about The Future, my parents decided the time was nigh for a family trip to Universal Studios. They’d realized that they had some extra hotel days to use up, those points had to be used up before the new year, and they had to be used up before the holidays, since we already had holiday plans. (Fortunately for us all, we lived in Georgia, so the drive to Orlando wasn’t that bad. My brother and I did homework in the car, and our parents adorkably dorked out over Harry Potter World on our behalf.)

The trip was great, and it was an overall testament to two things: 1) when you take a break, your brain is happier for having done so, and 2) the busier you are, the better you budget your time. (As an side note: someone posted in the Facebook group that they noticed we say ‘you’ a lot when referring to things that actually refer to ‘I.’ I read that at first thinking ‘hmmm, maybe,’ and just came across my own example of it.)

Harry Potter aside, my dad did sneak something into our trip that’s been coming to mind a lot this week as I try to have a daily practice of my own: a meditation exercise. After a day running through Diagon Alley, we were all ready to go back to our hotel and sleep for hours on end before another busy day of theme parking (and possibly applying for jobs), when my dad did a 180 (literally — he turned us in the other direction) and took us to what appeared to be downtown Orlando. We were all a bit puzzled (was there a restaurant here?) when he turned off a street full of convention centers and into a residential neighborhood.

As it would happen, my dad had found a retreat (temple? monastery? I’m unclear on the word best-suited to describe this place) amidst all the chaos of Orlando, and he wanted to take us here to meditate. It’s not the oddest thing he’s ever done, so we went with it, and found ourselves taking our shoes off and sitting down in a tastefully decorated Orlando home, the windows smothered in overgrown tree branches, and surprisingly distanced from the city — even though we were in the middle of it at that very moment.

I can’t say I’ve done much meditating since that moment — sitting still has never been my strong suit unless I’m doing something (ex: reading, painting, playing music) — but the memory of that peaceful moment in a time where I was feeling very frazzled is still soothing. As I work on my own practice, I’ve been coming back to that memory more often, as a sort of incentive to keep at it, and also as a “hey, I’ve done this once, I can do it again” sort of thing.

The verdict’s still out on how well that’s going; I still myself in the fuzzy-focus state quite often (described more in my first post). But, I’m in the fuzzy-focus state less often than before, so I’m hopeful that things are heading the right way.

Week 1:

(I joined this course a week in, so this first post is a bit late. Things should be on track going forward!)

I’ve been noticing that my ability to focus has been fuzzy of late. Although I usually think of myself as someone who is able to focus (when I’m working on something, not all the time) well, I’ve been feeling distracted by different commitments/directions during times when I’m trying to focus on other commitments/directions — even when I know that I’ve sorted out time to do one thing, then another.

To help find a fuzzy-focus fix, so to speak, I’ve decided to split my practice up in two ways, since the fuzzy-focus issue is manifesting itself in a couple different ways during my practice as well.

What do I mean by that? I’ve noticed that when I do a guided meditation, I tend to get very absorbed by it — to the extent that when the person doing the guiding starts talking once again, I find their presence jarring and disgruntling. I’ve also noticed that when I meditate without the guidance I have a much harder time trying to meditate, or reach a place of stillness; I keep thinking and thinking and thinking, until time’s up.

The first few times I tried meditating with both methods, I realized that this might be something I have to address from two different directions, since I’d like to become much more still and rested when I’m meditating, but also give applying the concept of stillness a shot when it comes to become more focused and aware of what I’m doing in any given moment. To that effect, I’m going about this two ways: in the mornings, I’ll do a five-minute guided meditation using Headspace, and in the evenings (before bed has been working pretty well), I’ll do a 15-minute meditation on my own.

I’m hoping that by approaching this from two directions, I’ll find out what works best for me and become more aware of how I can become most focused while meditating and while not meditating.