Mind The Gap

Guys, I am so sick. I’ve been down for the count with a really nasty cold for almost a week now, only now it seems to be morphing into a sinus infection or something similar. It started with coughing, fever, sore throat and chest congestion, and has grown into intense sinus pain and pressure, reduced hearing in my left ear, dizziness, so much sneezing (!!!) and a stuffy nose.

Sometimes when you have a cold, you just power through it and go to work and school anyway. It’s more of an inconvenience. Then there are times like this last week, when at times, walking from the bed to the couch seemed almost too much to bear. I felt awful on Wednesday and Thursday, OK on Friday, pretty good yesterday (not great, but like I’d be back to normal soon), and then I woke up today feeling the worst I’ve felt thus far.

I sound like a cartoon character when I talk. There are tissues all over the house. I’ve given up on all of the regular cold medicines I’ve been trying out, one after the other, and have moved on to a homeopathic remedy that I found in the new age section of my neighborhood grocery store. I’m drinking a kombucha to wash it down. Honestly, if I could hook some sort of nozzle up to my sinuses to drain them, I’d be doing it. I don’t have a neti pot, unfortunately, and I don’t trust our water safety here, since in years past it’s tested positive for a brain eating amoeba (I’ll take the sinus pressure, thanks). I must go back to work tomorrow, but right now I’m not finding comfort in dealing with feeling like this all day at the office.

There has been one positive thing about being sick, though. I’ve been going through these intense waves of thinking too much (mental overload), tempered by not being able to think at all (ultimate relaxation). I’ve found that being a bit doped up on cough medicine puts you in a forced mindful state, giving you less ability to multitask and drive yourself mad with mental options. It’s created opportunities for me to think about mindfulness and get a better understanding of where it is in my normal life (sans cold medication) that I manage to hone in and simplify my thought patterns, helping myself create tiny pockets of calm.

All of this talk about mindfulness is mostly related to a couple of things: a class on the chakras that Boyfriend and I have been attending, and a book that I’m currently reading called 10% Happier: How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works – a true story, by Dan Harris. Here’s a video from ABC’s Nightline, where Harris provides a great synopsis of the book:

Or if you’re not really a fan of reading, here’s a talk Harris gave at Google (pretty much along the lines of a long TED Talk) about the concepts covered in the book. Note: I don’t have the patience for long videos, so I won’t vouch for it being as entertaining as the book has been:

Thus far, my personal attempts at meditation have been similar to Harris’s first attempts, as described in the book. Irritating, full of doubt, not very effective, physically and mentally uncomfortable, basically something that I keep trying and then being annoyed by and saying I’ll never do again. Reading his book has put this in perspective for me, because instead of thinking that everyone’s getting it and I must just not be built for meditation, I’m suddenly understanding that it’s difficult for everyone. I’m not a failure, I just need to keep trying.

The other part of it is that my attempts to meditate have (up until now) been guided by spiritual practitioners, and I have a very hard time feeling comfortable with that. I love that Harris spends a great deal of his book talking about his own discomfort with the hippies and guru-types, and was looking for something solid, more scientific, and less touchy-feely. And he found it. Finally – a place for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pagan, I believe in magick, I use crystals and sage and listen for the voice of my ancestors. But my path is my own, and meditation primarily needs to be about shutting down my ego’s voice for long enough to calm down and think clearly each day. I don’t need some self-proclaimed “highly attuned, goddess-in-training” type to lecture me on how to love my fellow man. I need to be able to quiet my mind long enough to figure that out on my own.

One of the things I’ve learned is that while I need to be working so much harder on being mindful, I actually do have several things that I do on a daily basis that are self-taught mindfulness techniques. For a long time now, maybe my entire life, I don’t remember, I’ve had this practice of paying attention to a tiny detail. When I start to get stressed or sad or overwhelmed, I turn my attention to one small thing, and ruminate on it for a minute.

For instance, a few weeks ago I was having a HORRIBLE day. Boyfriend and I were meeting up to go to a yoga class, and I was feeling weepy and sad and a little angsty and maybe a tiny bit like hitting something, and we were running late, and it was just shitty. I knew I was acting like a brat. I hated myself for it. This was all internal – he just saw that I was dragging, and was being very supportive about quietly helping me get from point A to point B without forgetting my yoga mat. So we’re walking along, and I knew that I was internally being awful, and I naturally let my gaze fall on this tiny flower that was growing out of the sidewalk. I stopped for a second, and let myself appreciate the flower. It was a beautiful little dandelion, still brand new. It was bright yellow, and slightly fuzzy, and the leaves were very strong, this lovely shade of deep, deep green. The edges of the leaves were jagged, and had little sharp protrusions that wouldn’t hurt my skin but would hurt something more tender. I saw the dirt that the flower was growing out of. I saw that the flower’s stalk was the only life that that tiny patch of silty soil was supporting (visible to my eye, at least). I thought about how tough the flower’s short life would be. I realized that I was happy and calm, and none of the things that I was thinking about were actually important. I asked Boyfriend how his day had been and we walked on to yoga class. The troubles of my day weren’t over, but they didn’t matter to me so much anymore.

The other thing that I do is appreciate where the tops of buildings meet the sky. I call them muffintops. No clue why, really. Both make me happy? The roofline is as attractive and delicious as the top of a muffin? I don’t know. For years, I’ve been taking photographs of my muffintops, admiring the lines, the depth, the colors where red brick seems to touch (but never actually does) the robin’s egg blue of the sky behind it. Even when I’m not taking photos, I still look up, and every now and then I tend to fixate on a point that pleases me. I’ve tried to explain why they’re so beautiful to me, and what happens when I look up and see a lovely roofline, how sometimes my mind just seems to float away for a bit and I am awestruck by the beauty. I feel a little loopy when it happens. I know that sounds crazy, and I didn’t quite get it, myself, until yesterday. Boyfriend and I were walking down the street. I saw a particularly pretty muffintop, and I stopped to examine it. My mind was clear. I saw the roofline, I saw the sky, I thought of the distance between the two, how they touched and never would touch. I saw the roofline, I saw the sky, I saw the roofline, I saw the sky, I saw the roofline, I saw the…”holy shit,” I thought, “this is what I’m supposed to be doing when I’m meditating.” The reason it always feels so good to examine a muffintop is because I’m being mindful, and nothing else intrudes. So there’s another piece of my personal puzzle, solved.

Now it’s time to finish the book, and figure out which one to start next. Studies have shown that meditating changes your brain. I’d very much like that. But honestly, if I had a choice between increasing my gray matter and finding an instant cure for this cold, I’d have to fix the cold first. It’s going to be great to breathe again.

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