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Little boxes, little boxes...

Still in quarantine. It's been 6 or 7 weeks. I never really started counting because I didn't think it could possibly extend this long.


We have made the decision to leave New York and move to LA for a while to see what shakes out both in NYC and the rest of the country. I'm deeply conflicted about the move, but know we should probably go and am trying to see it as the adventure and fortunate opportunity that it is.


You'd think that since I'm locked in the house and barely working that I'd have a lot of time for thinking and self-study (svadyaya's literal translation), but I've been remarkably busy cleaning up after other people who are also staying home all day. The only time I can be alone for a few minutes of thought is when I'm out on a run. I am the type of person who needs A LOT of alone time and I've had very little over the past two months. The space for deep contemplation that Svadyaya requires is hard to come by.


Week 3 instructs me to examine some of the "boxes" I've wrapped myself up in. I am to do this by "tracing all ripples of disharmony back to [myself] and notice what personal belief system caused the disharmony." I am advised to keep in mind words of Anais Nin, "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are".


I feel like weeks 1, 2, & 3 are just slight re-wordings of the same task: To connect every issue I have, whether with myself, another person, or an aspect of my existence, back to myself. That my reality is just my perception is something I've always believed and evangelized to others--especially my sister, whose perception is exceptionally unique--but I'm not entirely sure I practice it myself.


Still, the challenge feels redundant. And it feels extra repetitious because I've had no interaction with the outside world through which to practice these challenges. All I can do is come back to the same few irritations, disharmonies, and projections I have regarding my husband and trace them back to me. Not that I've come even close to exhausting the task, I just don't think I can get the full lesson by practicing in such a limited scope. And I feel bad using my husband and my complaints about him as the sole subject of my blog challenges.


I'm reading Glennon Doyle's book Untamed right now. I have to keep putting it down because she forces me to confront my choices, path, and 'boxes', and that makes me uncomfortable. She was up against so much, had so much to lose, but she was brave and bold enough to walk away and try to be happy. She very eloquently describes how women are 'tamed' from birth--even before birth, as our mothers and grandmothers have been tamed--by all of these boxes of expectation, pressure, and lies we've been told to keep us down. And I am no different. So it's appropriate timing for me to be reading this book and practicing Svadyaya (self-study), all quite uncomfortable and as always, deserving of much more time than one month.


Week 4 asks me to strengthen my "witness" power by observing my thoughts and actions as though watching a movie. This is the ultimate goal of meditation and Zen Buddhism: to be a witness to ourselves in the world but not get caught up in it. Adele says that by "distancing ourselves from ourselves...we begin to see how we have made up our realities". She goes on to point out that Western culture is obsessed with fixing ourselves and our problems to maintain control, whereas Eastern thought practices witnessing ourselves act and respond, "to watch the ego rather than identify with it". Why? Because it allows us to see our true selves (which is divine, of course) as separate from the thoughts, stories, conditionings, and beliefs that we so strongly identify with and really build our identities on. But we are not these things and "seeing the conditioning is the victory. Knowing that we aren't who we thought we were begins to open up the possibility of knowing our true self".


This always sounds so much easier than it actually is to put into practice, especially when in the thick of an emotionally tense situation. I'm not even a highly-reactive person, but when someone hits my pressure points at the wrong time, of course I go on the defense and react in a way that is decidedly not channeling the divine. I did several times this week, and it ate at me long afterwards. Being more aware of what I was doing just made me feel worse! Will it prevent me from making the same mistakes in the future? Maybe someday.


It feels like Adele is asking a lot of me when she goes on to instruct me to "Begin to experience yourself as 'supreme strength, the fulness of wisdom, unquenchable joy' (Huston Smith)". Maybe it's because these are hard times for everyone right now and trying to feel just one of these hyperbolic characteristics is challenging at best, impossible at current reality. But maybe it's because I'm personally struggling a little in my mental outlook and mood right now, too.


I guess I could pretend to feel all of these things this week and see how that goes. I know that pretending to be happy and forcing a smile actually does change your mood. Yesterday I found myself in a very negative place. I was overtired from a big move across the country + jet-lag, I was hungry all day and unable to procure myself food because I don't have a car or a kitchen right now. It's only going to be a few days before I have either, but I hate feeling powerless and dependent on other people to supply my most basic needs and desires. I got into a bad mood. It was Mother's Day, which made it all worse because consumerism tells me I should expect to be showered with presents and attention all day and instead I got dragged around Home Depot.


What did finally get me out of my rut was popping into a dispensary here in California (my first!) and getting some CBD (+ a tiny bit of THC), going for a very hilly run, and taking a shower. I am a person who needs physical action to balance my anxiety and mood. If I don't workout or run for three days I am ON EDGE. All this 'observing', 'noticing', and 'experiencing' I am tasked with this month hasn't honestly been that effective for me (yet). Of course living by the Yamas and Niyamas is a practice--of a lifetime--not a one week or one year gig. But still, I really don't know if I've gotten any better at not reacting negatively--internally or externally--to my circumstances.


However, by the end of the month I finally had the opportunity to put this work into action! Upon moving to CA, I kept getting into minor conflicts with my sister-in-law and it was REALLY getting to me! Probably because I was jet-lagged and exhausted on top of it all, but I was disproportionately bothered by our clashes, which were over the most ridiculous, minor things, such as how to mop a floor. I kept trying to figure out WHY I was getting so worked up, why I cared and reacted, and how to deal with future disagreements that are evidently inevitable.


I went for runs.

I meditated.

I told myself I was Strong, Wise, and Joyful.

I still felt irritated.


What finally brought me peace and allowed me to detach from my stake in the disputes was to see them for what they really were: a mere difference of preferences. Everyone has preferences for everything. One isn't fundamentally better or more 'right' than another, and it's not worth getting upset over. I wouldn't stew over someone liking the color pink (gross) more than green (my fav); it wouldn't matter to me at all, I wouldn't judge the person who likes pink for that preference and I wouldn't feel judged by her for liking green. Once I put everything in that perspective, instead of projecting my desires, preferences, insecurities, control issues, etc. onto her, I was able to make peace and move on, much less affected by these little frictions.


Or maybe it was just the passage of time and a few good nights' sleep that did it.


Overall, I guess I was finally successful in putting into practice all of the challenges for my month of living by Svadyaya and am ready to move on to the last of the Niyamas (and the last month of the first round of this project!), Ishavara Pranidhana.


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