Mindfulness and Your Favorite Color

Mindfulness and Your Favorite Color

Buddy gifYesterday at my psychiatrist’s office, I knew I was in bad shape when she seemed baffled and disheartened by my current state. She started throwing out words like “treatment-resistant depression,” “ECT” (electric shock therapy), and “alternative methods.” Eesh. What to do? Every therapist or doctor I’ve ever seen ends up saying to me, “Yours is a complex/difficult case, Tim.”

I suppose this is because there are no clearly-drawn lines inside my head. Between bad brain chemistry and a complex personality, I’m apparently somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to my psychological well-being. As a very tangible example, I submit this: The two strongest drives within me are for a) authenticity and b) people-pleasing. Ponder the paradox of those impulses for a moment, and you see a bit of what leads therapists to tell me my case is a tough one. On the one hand, I simply cannot stand fakeness in any form, within myself or others. I am compulsively honest about who I am (thus this blog!). Yet I am also petrified of disappointing people, and even the slightest hint of disapproval from those I love leads me to intense anxiety. Argh.

Another of my “complexities” is my inability to let go of the “big questions” in life. I ponder them incessantly. Just this moment, as I sit at Einstein’s Bagels, one of those cute, sweet little old men is talking to whoever will listen about what an answer to prayer it is that so many Republicans won the elections yesterday. One of the people he’s managed to engage seems to agree with him, but another is annoyed by how many incumbents kept their seats. And I’m sitting here thinking, “Do you honestly think that God answered your prayers by letting Republicans get elected? Do you realize that there are countless Christian Democrats and/or Independents who were praying for the opposite result? And if God is willing to answer your prayers, what does that say about those whose prayers aren’t answered, like my friend Riley’s prayers for relief from his brain that were never answered, leading to his untimely death? Or the 6 billion other examples every day of valid, urgent prayers that fall on deaf ears? How can a reasonably intelligent person possibly believe that ‘God answered his prayers’ with Republican victories?!'”



At this point, you’re probably, and rightly, thinking, “Geez, Tim, let it go. It’s just a little old man looking for someone to talk to.” Ohhhhhh how I wish I were able to do just that, but you see I have this “beautiful brain” (that’s what my doctor calls it; I call it a piece of shit.) that refuses to be still or quiet or peaceful. Ever. Even when sweetlittleoldman expresses his silly views, I’m wandering down the road of who-is-God and how-does-this-all-work and how-can-well-meaning-people-come-to-such-different-conclusions?

I’ve thought about these big philosophical questions for so long and from so many different angles that I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me at least, these fundamental questions simply do not have satisfying answers. Why do children get kidnapped and sold into sex slavery? I have no idea. Why do people like Hitler slowly rise to power while God does nothing about the situation until 6 million of “his chosen people” are dead? No clue. Why do I often hurt the people I care most about through my own foibles and demons when all I want is to do what’s right for them? Don’t know. If a god exists, s/he has never felt the need to explain things to us in any satisfying way. Every religion will tell you that theirs is a truly satisfying answer, but I beg to differ based on the simple fact that there are sincere seekers of God in all religions who have come to fundamentally different conclusions. At the very least, this makes God a not-so-stellar communicator.

All this, of course, leads me to this question: What’s your favorite color?

Here’s what I mean: You probably have a favorite color, but if I were to ask you why it’s your favorite color, you’d probably laugh and say, “It just is” or “I just like it.” There’s no answer to why you like it. You just do. And maybe that’s the same for the big theological and philosophical questions. There are no answers. Or at best, the answer is the cliche: “It is what it is.” Could anyone really explain why green appeals to them more than red?

It is what it is.

Maybe it’s the same with all of the big questions, too. It just is what it is. Don’t bother trying to understand why 9/11 was allowed to happen or why the Kardashians seem to be rewarded for being shallow and selfish (that one’s intended as a bit of levity in a heavy (so far, but be patient with me) post…I don’t actually equate 9/11 and the Kardashians’ fame). Some things have no discernible explanation.

Lately, I’m working on “mindfulness” – a practice born out of Buddhism that seems like one of those “duh!” concepts not worthy of giving a lot of thought to as it’s so simple. I have long believed in the idea behind it, but I have never pursued it or made it a daily practice until recently.

Here’s the basic idea: Whatever you’re dealing with right in this very moment is the hand you’ve been dealt for right now. Rather than trying to wriggle free of the negative aspects of your current experience, accept it, AND give yourself grace both for experiencing it and for the difficulty you may have accepting it. Put more succinctly, mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the current moment with a non-judgmental attitude.

Lately it’s my depression that lays on every cell of my being like one of those lead blankets you get when having X-rays taken. As I feel the weight settling in on me, I tend to think, “Not again!” or “Dammit, this medication isn’t doing its job,” or “I want out of this brain/life!” After practicing mindfulness for a few weeks, I have developed the hint of a new attitude toward my depression. Instead of the normal thoughts, I been trying to say this to my pal depression: “Ok, depression, I will just allow you to exist today. Instead of running from you, I will actually sit here and allow your presence without judging what it means or asking ‘why me?’. Since this is the hand I’ve been dealt in this moment, I might as well be fully present with these feelings, and I might as well forgive myself for feeling this way as I can’t force it away.”

I’ve spent my life looking for ANSWERS that will solve my inner turmoil once and for all. Usually, these supposed answers are religious in nature. How many times I have thought, “Aha, now I know why God has given me this struggle!” But those religious answers have all been drained of substance and meaning for me. At the end of the day, French philosopher Albert Camus is right: No philosophy or theology has solved the age-old philosophical quandary about God: S/he is either not entirely good or not entirely powerful. But Camus, believe it or not, has an optimistic conclusion very similar to the philosophy of mindfulness. Camus uses the ancient Greek character Sisyphus to make his point that any existence can have meaning and purpose, even in the absence of Cosmic Direction. You might remember that Sisyphus’s eternal fate (damnation) is to roll a giant boulder up a hill for eternity without ever reaching the top. Camus concludes that any fate, even rolling a rock up a hill or battling depression or facing a tragedy or simple daily boredom…can be assigned meaning. In fact, it is when we say that one fate or existence is inherently better than another that we get in trouble. For now, the rock I must roll up a hill is called depression, and the hill feels unclimbable. So what do I do? Camus says I have two options: 1. Kill myself (He really does say this; I’m not being dramatic). Or 2. Quit expecting a divine answer/explanation and roll my rock up the hill, not in order to get to the top, but because any and all fates can be imbued with meaning through our own freedom to choose to opt IN to each moment rather than OUT of the moments we consider unpleasant.

Camus called his philosophy Absurdism, by which he meant this: If there is a Big Meaning to all of our questions, we as human beings have never and will never have access to it. It is, therefore, “absurd” to continue beating our heads against the wall of “Why?!” Just like countless religious mystics, Camus concludes that this moment is all we have access to, so we’d better get busy “making meaning” in this very moment, whatever it hands us. To put it in more supernatural terms, this moment IS eternity. NOW will never quit existing, but if you wish NOW away, you have chosen to “kill” this moment and/or yourself. The choice is yours, every single moment.

One final thing: I’m a seasoned veteran in new-ideas-that-will-supposedly-fix-me, so I’m not remotely offering this as The Answer or The Solution. But I will say that this particular practice has led to one very tangible benefit for me…I’ve quit picking at my fingers until they are raw and bleeding, something I’ve done for my entire life. The practice of “being present with my breath,” as mindfulness teaches, along with the practice of accepting what each moment brings, good or bad, has alleviated a lot of my nervous energy. For the first time ever, there are no scabs on my fingers. So, whatever else may come of this new practice, at the very least, my fingers have appreciated the reprieve offered by mindfulness.

Since I grew up in Southern Baptist churches, you’ll forgive me for having a 2nd final thought: If you’re interested in doing some of these “mindful meditations,” there are lots of apps and lots of stuff on YouTube that will get you started. Plenty of the instructors are ridiculously annoying – like they’re trying to sound mystical and magical. But there’s so much out there that if you don’t like one person, just move on to someone else. I highly recommend the app called Headspace. It walks you through 10 minutes of mindfulness for 10 days. It’s a British guy, and he talks in a completely normal tone so as not to annoy easily annoyed people like yours truly (you can check out Headspace here). Whatever “instructor” you choose, I’d love to hear if this helps you make some tangible progress. Give it a couple of weeks and, if you’re so inclined, let me know.

 

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Tim

After summiting Mt. Everest at age 7, Tim Blue went on to earn a PhD in Physics from Oxford by age 9. After cloning the first emu, Tim became bored with science and decided to pursue his passion for lemon farming. This led to a long-time guest spot in the Kardashians' show where Tim helped Kim accept herself and quit being so shy. Now, of course, Tim is an English teacher at Georgia Perimeter College.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I’m going to check out Mindfulness. I’ve been having success with yoga recently & after reading this I’m thinking my favorite instructor may be infusing some mindfulness concepts into class.

    1. Thanks, Jen! Glad you’re having some success and I hope mindfulness brings you more. Today I had an absolutely shitty day but I was able to just let it be shitty and not attach the usual cosmic despair to the chemical mayhem. Let me know how it goes for you. And thanks for commenting!

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