It is possible to adapt our fears so that they serve us rather than dominate us.
Today on the drive to one of the schools where I teach English, I rolled down my window to enjoy the fresh mountain air. Unfortunately, I also startled a giant huntsman spider (literally the size of the palm of my hand) who proceeded to scurry from the window column just behind me and scamper back and forth across the inside of the front windshield looking for a way out of his predicament...
Luckily for both of us I've spent the last several years building up an immunity to giant huntsman spiders, so I was able to calmly find a wide turnout on this narrow, winding mountain road and stop safely. He was totally flipping out, looking desperately for a place to hide and finding none on the wide expanse of the front glass. Fortunately I was able to reach across the car to open the passenger door just as he started to drop down, and he jumped right out.
Unfortunately, because I had stopped on the opposite side of the road, this put him right on the edge of the roadway, and because I prefer not to drop off passengers directly into danger, I got out to find a way to coax him into the bushes on the shoulder rather than crossing the street and getting run over... Well, he wasn't willing to climb onto my boot (understandably I suppose) for a walkover, so I looked around and found some random bamboo branch to scoop/chase him in the right direction. In the end, my stowaway and I were both saved from high-impact deaths and I happily arrived just in time for my first class.
If you detect a whiff of affection for my unwitting passenger, you wouldn't be wrong. I do actually admire and respect these gentle but impressive giant spiders that share my environment and home. But it definitely wasn't always the case. In fact, I used to be terrified of all spiders as a child and young adult, and killed them on sight, without mercy and no questions asked.
So what changed? How did I trade such a common spider phobia for my current calmness in the face of giant arachnids? Well, there were certainly stages to the process...
First of all, there was an odd but practical decision to be made. I went through a pretty serious goth phase during which I thought authentic spiderwebs made for excellent room decor. And of course, having authentic spiderwebs decorating ones house means that there must be some real live spiders dwelling there at least part-time. So I made an uneasy alliance with the smaller spiders that as long as they stayed (and decorated) in the corners, they could stay. If they ventured out into the living spaces I frequented, they would be killed immediately. I also began carefully researching which spiders might actually be safe so that I could sort out the truly dangerous ones and continue killing them with extreme prejudice.
Along the way, through research and simple observation I learned some things about their lives and habits and the fact that, like my predatory pet cat with mice, they kept the local fly population down. Slowly, I began to get used to them and got lazy about enforcing my territorial death sentencing. Around this time I also became a vegetarian and eventually began thinking that if I was changing my diet to avoid killing cows, I should also probably start applying that same logic to the smaller creatures in my environment...
By this time I was moving out of the cobwebby-style goth and into more glamorous goth stages and instead of killing the spiders whose spinning services I no longer required, I was catching them in a glass and relocating them outside where they could continue to keep the local environment pest-free and I could feel good about not murdering them unnecessarily. This kind of constant close contact with them helped retrain my physical aversion to them so that I could calmly scoop them up without any fear or loathing. I had befriended the spider.
This process came in very handy when I ended up moving to Japan where lives the giant huntsman spider. These spiders are confrontingly huge and shockingly fast. And they are everywhere. They don't spin webs but just hide out in corners and then suddenly run across the floor or wall or ceiling... I was certainly intimidated. But I had already researched what creatures are dangerous in Japan and these monsters are definitely not on that list. So I knew I just had to reapply my previous training on a larger scale...
Through research and observation I found that they are actually pretty much blind and they run after things that vibrate the floor like bugs, or my feet. So yes, they do sometimes run at my feet aggressively but as soon as they notice that I also happen to carry a big shadow they instantly retreat with equal speed from whence they came. And if I try to move them off with a broom, they rear up and try to look like bid baddies at first, but on the second try they give up, flop over, and pretend to be dead, just big and dead. Oh, and they eat cockroaches, which are also big and everywhere here...
So by the time I moved out here to the mountains of Japan, where relocating each individual spider would be a hugely pointless waste of time, I had made my peace with the giant huntsman spider. Now we coexist in a kind of partnership with them eating the more unpleasant pests of the humid summers and me providing them with plenty of corners to hide in during the cold winters...
So what is the point here? Well, first perhaps something about how a reasonable concern about something as dangerous as black widow spiders needn't prompt us to also kill cute little helpful jumping spiders on sight. And how that can be logically extrapolated up to more intimidating but equally harmless creatures as well (including, umm, the infinite variety of humans).
Second, fear itself. Fear can certainly help keep us safe, but it can also harm us. My old fear of spiders could have just killed me on the road if I hadn't already dealt with it. Yes, that's a rare case of serendipity, but fear can easily push us into poor choices in the mundane situations of daily life, and it can limit us in some of the life-changing opportunities that do sometimes come up.
And finally, adaptation. I adapted to living with spiders (and a lot of other creatures actually) through the practical realities, then research and observation, and then familiarity. It is possible to adapt our fears so that they serve us rather than dominate us. Each fear and each person will have a different process, and some will probably benefit from including therapy of some kind... But if you have some fears that are limiting your life, consider processing them too. It can be so freeing--
After injuring my back in early summer, I finally started running again this morning. It was only about one kilometer, and it was basically three short runs interspersed with three short walks... but it felt great to be breathing hard and sweating a little from physical effort (rather than just sweltering in the summer heat). I followed up with some easy yoga and then a bath with relaxing epsom salts.
If you have also let your exercise fall by the wayside for some reason, now is an excellent time to start it up again... Why? because Fall brings back cool mornings that are refreshing but not too cold to easily get moving. And if you can get out to a park or other natural space, experiencing the change of the season can give you a fresh, motivating feeling. There's just something in the air...
A bit of advice though, don't let that invigorating feeling in the air overstimulate you into jumping right back in where you left off. Autumn also says, "Take it easy..." Start slow and gentle so you don't injure yourself and set yourself back even further. If you do muscle training, maybe start with just your body (pushups, etc.) before doing the heavy weights or machines. If you run, begin with long, slow strides that gently stretch and warm up your muscles, and intersperse your running with periods of long, slow walking. Or try some leisurely cycling... Focus on your breathing, and don't forget to enjoy the air and signs of the changing seasons around you.
Autumn with its colors, smells, foods, and traditions is my favorite season and no matter your favorite season I think we can probably agree that there is a certain magic in the early fall. If you are able, I urge you to get out there and soak up that magic right into your physique with some refreshing, reinvigorating, but also relaxing physical activity--
Toxic positivity is a negative relationship with negativity
The key to true positivity is a grounded, balanced positivity. Neither rejecting negativity outright nor wallowing in it, but respecting its place in this world of duality.
For example, when I used to start feeling depressed I would down a bottle of cabernet, light up the black candles (literally), set Leonard Cohen or Nine Inch Nails on repeat, sleep until noon, and turn my general corner of the neighborhood into a shadow realm of sorrow for days...
Naturally, that didn't feel so great and it took a considerable toll on my health, so I eventually gave it up for some sunny positivity--
Instead, I would put on some upbeat flamenco music, burn a ton of white sage, and blast everything with reiki while chanting some positive affirmations. Well, that certainly seems nicer and healthier, but it was also obsessive, controlling, and based in fear: fear of falling back into that old shadow... and it also wasn't lasting without constant repetition and upkeep, which made it start to feel inauthentic and ineffective...
Now, I'm finally much more (but not perfectly) centered. My general outlook is that positivity is a long-term movement with daily fluctuations, and so I worry less about the transient presence of negativity. When I feel down, I'm more likely to go ahead and honor it by listening to a few songs by Coldplay. Maybe I'll sit down and take a 15 minute break on the couch with some tea and a deep mood. Then I'll eat something sweet and get doing something productive but easy like washing the dishes, organizing my desk, bringing in some firewood,... and I'm back in the long-term movements of positivity.
Of course if something truly terrible happens, I will be broken for a longer period of time and just have to deal with it as best I can. But as an example of daily life, it really can work something like this... even for someone like me who leans towards depression (but without being clinically diagnosed as such).
It's about finding all the small, practical ways to take back some conscious control from our natural negative-bias (which has probably been amplified by our social and lifestyle environments) so we can make more balanced choices and develop more balanced mental habits. And this is not an "always look on the bright side of life" kind of thing... It's a clear-eyed acknowledgement of the functional place of negativity in our lives combined with the rich enjoyment of pleasurable moments and harnessing the motive power of positivity to take actions that can lead to more successes in this challenging world.
For some of you this may be a simple adjustment in lifestyle habits, or it may involve therapy or medications. I even offer a course of my own HERE in which I share my recommended playlist of analytical and practical tools for rebalancing your positivity/negativity index... but whatever you end up doing, I hope you find your path to a more pleasant space for living and breathing in.
Part of the joyomancy motto is "...in the direction of your highest possibilities--"
But why not the usual "Manifest your maximum potential !" ?
Because though I am not here to encourage you to wallow in your difficulties, neither am I here to push you into some life of success and happiness that I think may be best for you. In fact, I don't really have personal thoughts on what is best for you... I am leaving that up to you. Deep within, you already know what you want to achieve, and you eventually will achieve it. It's inevitable. And if not in this life, then in some other... I'm not really worrying about it, and I think neither should you. But when you are ready to advance the timetable on your purpose, I am here ready to help you clarify it and begin charting the course--
Last week I had some dental worries that got me down and a little anxious (I've always felt kind of weird and anxious about my teeth: are these little rocks in my mouth really a part of me? and why do they seem so willing to leave early?). Luckily they got resolved this Monday with just a normal filling, but the whole thing got me in a very thoughtful mood, and I was very happy to be able to lean on my partner for a little comfort... In that overdramatic mental space this song surfaced in my memory from more than 20 years ago and I've been listening to it a lot the past few days...
And then this morning I heard of the very sudden passing of an old high school friend. I saw his wife's final message to him on social media... It was simple and heartbreakingly earnest grief.
I'm not suggesting that you make this song your anthem, because you should ideally ground your happiness and health in your self. But we humans simply are not solitary creatures, and if you are lucky to have a truly great life-partner please take the time to be thankful for it and to celebrate it. And if you don't, that's fine too. Do the work on yourself to be your own best partner, and be grateful for the friends that give you an extra boost when that's still not quite enough for life's sometimes overwhelming events...
London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do) by Heather Nova
♪ a very lovely acoustic version
♫ original version backed with some moving rock guitar
World Mental Health Day is here and more important than ever. We need more chances to talk freely together about our mental health because it's the foundation of not only a healthy, happy individual life, but also the health of our families, communities, and societies. And mental health is unfortunately something that is not guaranteed to us... so many of us suffer silently with a wide variety of mental health issues. Not everyone does, but it's hardly unusual. In fact it's actually quite normal to be carrying around underlying mental issues that eventually impact our physical health, lower our quality of life, and damage our relationships.
Even though I have always been pretty high-functioning, I have suffered from anxiety since my earliest childhood memories and depression since mid-elementary school... I don't talk about it a lot (except in my bad poetry...), but I feel no shame in it. And neither should you. Like everyone else, I power through my daily life as best I can, and try to find ways of dealing with it. And thankfully, there ARE ways of dealing with it. a wide variety of ways to help our wide variety of issues and personalities...
If you are currently in the self-medicating stage (as I was with alcohol for many years), this era of social distancing is a great chance to change tactics and start some kind of formal therapy. There are many different options such as medication-based psychiatry, talk-therapy based psychology, group-based counselling, and alternatives like hypnotherapy, etc. For me it ended up being hypnotherapy, but really, just pick one that resonates with your general world-view / personality-type and go for it. Now. Unfortunately, I don't really know anyone who saw life-changing improvements without taking this step, and some of them tried a few different types before seeing those results, but it does seem to create a necessary turning point.
And if you are currently in this formal therapy stage, please do realize that even though it is a necessary step, it probably isn't going to be sufficient or enough to bring you long-term stability. You've got to get some new habits to expand and extend whatever positive results you have gained. And again, this current era of social distancing is actually a prime opportunity to do so. For me it has been a daily 15-minute reiki meditation, making sure I get enough sleep, and trying to schedule some regular light exercise. When I keep these simple habits up fairly regularly (not religiously), I'm pretty golden. When I let them slip for weeks at a time, my mind starts slipping back too. For you this might be medication, a support group, some spiritual practice, a significant hobby, or just a focus on healthy exercise/diet/sleep routines. Again, just find something that resonates with you and actually makes you feel good sustainably and commit yourself to it.
Commit yourself to you. and accept your commitment to you.
You totally deserve it.
Whenever they hold or direct our intentions, all symbols are magical--
Symbols help us focus our will. And that helps us create and manifest our reality--
Basically anything can be a symbol. Anything that focuses your will can become a personal symbol, and anything that holds the image of an idea can become a social, cultural, or religious symbol.
Many of the symbols that dominate us and create our reality for us have been inherited from our societies through family, teachers, and stories.
But you can also create symbols for yourself. Or let go of ones you no longer need...
You just have to manage the process with a little more intentionality.
When a symbol comes up and introduces itself to you, first ask your heart what that symbol means to you...
Start by trying to understand what your subconscious already attaches to that symbol. Then consciously decide what you really want the symbol to mean. and why. Maybe it matches, maybe it's new... That's up to you.
Next, get your subconscious to support how you will be using the symbol. Visualize the symbol and imagine its feeling during these 4 natural convergence times: waking, showering, driving, falling asleep--
When you feel like your subconscious has aligned with your intentions, then you can start to make the magic happen--
How to begin--
Notice synchronicities and let them amaze you.
Recognize unfoldings and let them fill your heart with awe.
like a chance meeting with an old acquaintance,
or this rare water lily tea
--light, sweet, and magical
It's the holidays-- Yay! Many of us will be visiting with family and friends we haven't seen in a while. This time of reconnections is a wonderful thing, and after we've shared a nice feast of food and drink, things usually go pretty smoothly. But those opening lines of conversation leading up to that... Well, they can actually be quite stressful for some of us.
For a surprising number of people, the "small talk" that helps get conversations going between strangers, occasional acquaintances, and distant relatives can be unbearably awkward and dissatisfying.
Some people offer strategies for overcoming this such as asking lots of questions about the other person and just listening to them carefully. This is not bad advice. But if you implement these strategies the wrong way, things could get even more awkward as you subject your unsuspecting uncle to an accidental interrogation...
I used to hate small talk too (even as a child), but now that I'm here living in Japan I find that small-talk is everything... and I have come to realize that it's just the process of building the temporary emotional connection between people in order to have a better talk about something more important, or even just to have a more connected experience of something that will not be primarily verbal (eating a meal, playing a game, or a watching a movie).
So whatever side of the awkwardness you are on, don't get too wrapped up in the content of it (how unimportant or uninteresting it might be) and just focus on the safe, caring connection that is being built by the seemingly trivial surface speech.
As a Gemini-Cancer cusper, I am both blessed with the gift of gab and yet deeply concerned with serious authenticity. So I am very aware of the struggle between wanting to communicate but being less interested in discussing the weather, the latest sports scores, or the tea we are having... and I don't want to fake it because that makes me feel unsatisfied, dishonest, and guilty.
But I also came to understand that small-talk isn't really primarily a content-based form of communication. It's really much more like animal calls, purrs, and tail-wagging. With this realization, we can be more committed to the authenticity of the underlying emotional experience than to the details of the surface statements... Commit to the connection rather than the meaning of the words.
I'm not suggesting to lie about stuff, but just let the surface flow lightly while you engage authentically at the deeper level of the emotional connection.
This change of mindset really freed me to heartfully meet anyone engaging me and connect with them where they were at, without feeling like I might be faking something...
...after that, the conversations themselves simply fell right into place without any effort at all--
I hope this helps you smooth out your enjoyment of the holidays and joyfully reconnect with your family and far-flung friends! Happy Holidays!
Last night I went to a local poetry reading for the first time in almost twenty years. I felt wonderfully outclassed and it was so pleasant to have that chance to be swimming in the spoken words and emotional currents of such skillful artists. An enthusiastic ¡Thank you! to those poets who shared their hearts with us--
I was also confronted with the reality that while my literary critical sense has grown richer and more nuanced than ever, through my personal reiki and hypnotherapy work I have successfully therapied my internal complexity and tension right out. I'm still a fun and interesting person, but I have released the layers where the engine that drives powerful poetry is moored. Along with all those wonderful books I ended up shedding through Marie Kondo, I have no regrets --I'm surprisingly happy being deeply happy-- but I suddenly realize that I am now doomed to sketching out well-crafted but simply pleasant moments in haiku.
Oh, yes, and then expressing my surplus poetics through densely complex prose in these blog posts... sorry!
Photo evidence of me smoothly rolling out one of my English haiku just after fumbling through my Japanese tanka version of the same ...all gracefully wrapped up "saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry" sharing my favorite Robert Hass poem 'Meditation at Lagunitas'