Category Archives: zen

Do the anxiety (fixed version)

*quick apology: Sorry to anyone who experienced any errors the first time this went out. I was trying a new offline up loader and made a mistake.

Anxiety. It’s what I do.

To the people who know me this might not seem right. I don’t usually appear too anxious, apart from the fact that I talk pretty fast (but that’s also a relic of my childhood stutter) or sometimes I may seem busy. But those who know me really well know I can be a very anxious person.

I hid it well. Actually, I don’t really hide it at all- it’s similar to someone who gets overwhelmed and zones out. That’s how I deal with a lot of anxiety. I zone out. As an unintended side effect I appear to be cool.

There is a secret to doing anxiety well. That secret? Be anxious about things you can’t change. It’s perfect! By worrying about something you have no control over you will be perpetually worried, perpetually occupied. Plus, 99.9% of things in your life you have no control over anyway, so you never have to worry about running out of things to worry about. Also, shallow quick breathing does wonders for destroying any sense of calm. Try it! No, seriously, don’t.

I am in one an anxiety vortex as of late. I am stuck in a moment in time where I have huge changes coming (leaving my job, moving to start grad school again), any number of things to worry about, and essentially zero influence on any of it (at least at this moment). It’s the doldrums of anxiety – no movement in our out. Just sitting.

Sometimes I can simply recognize this happening. At that point I try to jump start myself out of it by visualizing things working out perfectly, by just focusing on doing something else that I can have control over (writing a blog works perfectly there), spending time with others, and meditation (that really works- it’s like Drain-o for your brain). But sometimes, despite my best efforts, my brain won’t listen. It’s like muscle memory movement, but instead of muscle it’s my neurons repeating the same paths over and over again. Or, sometimes I just don’t realize what is happening. Despite the familiar surroundings I just don’t recognize how much anxiety I am holding.

Then, like a curtain being thrown open, the anxiety is dissipated by an outside force. Usually different things can cause this, but a majority of the time it is music. Just a few simple notes and I am grounded. Add in a few deep breaths and it’s all good.

Today, I had one of those brain Drain-o moments where everything was un-clogged, and I was suddenly relaxed, okay with how things are going. So I will share it with you.



No more excuses

I have no problem with heaven. I long for it. But, it makes me lazy, unfocused. It provides a fallback position that undermines my relationships, my loves, my life. Some people think without an afterlife, without a judgment, people will live wildly, recklessly. As if no afterlife would mean our lives have no meaning. This might be true, but it wouldn’t last long. If nothing exists on the other side, it only ADDS value to our lives now. If there is nothing else, then THIS IS IT!!! Take a moment to process that- THIS. IS. IT.

Everything is precious! Everything you don’t tell your loved ones- they will never hear it. What if they are not looking down on us. What if they’re gone for good. What would you change RIGHT NOW if this were the case? Who would you call? Who would you spend more time with? Less time with? I think about times I’ve been with Angela, stressed or angry over some meaningless detail and missing out on our time- missing out on her when she was right in front of me. A rude waiter. Being cut-off in traffic. Being too picky. Just being in a ‘funk’. What terrible excuses those are. Excuses to not recognize the great things right in front of my face. I am changing that. I suggest you don’t wait, I suggest you change it now. What do you have to lose? How much more do you have to lose before you stop giving you life away?

I read somewhere that Buddha said that everything is burning. Coming from my Baptist upbringing this initially reminded me of hell- as if the intention is negative. But it isn’t. Everything is burning isn’t supposed to be a negative, painful, or punishing statement. On the contrary, it is meant to elucidate how quickly everything is changing around us. Even how quickly we are changing – our bodies, our minds. Imagine how rapidly your home would burn up if set on fire. All your possessions, gone in a flash. Our lives are like that. We may not recognize it because we live it every second, but everything is changing.

Is this change stoppable? No. Is it a bad thing? No. Many people would say that it sounds bad, almost hopeless. I think it can be hopeless- hopeless if you do not recognize this change. Hopeless if you resist the change. Hopeless if you ignore the change. I think it is liberating to take notice, to be aware, and really live . . . really appreciate those things we have and the people we share our lives with. How unfortunate for all those souls waiting on heaven to have a better experience. How unfortunate for those souls who set their eyes to the horizon, hoping to reach it. The horizon is unreachable- an illusion. You never get there. Like tomorrow- you never live in tomorrow, only today.

So take a few moments today, look away from the horizon. Look at your feet, then slowly gaze upward. Focus on what is in front of you RIGHT NOW. In THIS moment. What do you see?


Dilemma of choice

Options. Choices. Alternatives. Stresses.

I love ’em. Even if I don’t/won’t use them, I just gotta have ’em. In everything.

Just take a look around my home. Two laptops. Two types of coffee, with two ways to brew them. Two different work bags. Multiple pairs of shoes. Multiple boxes of cereal. Three MP3 players. Two external hard drives (hey, that’s practical). Two beard trimmers, four types of shaving cream, two types of razors (and one has multiple types of blades). Two types of undershirts. I even wear two types of underwear (boxers and boxer briefs, now you know).

English: A modern safety razor, based on the c...
A safety razor, which I have about 10 types of blades for. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anytime I buy a new item, I want whatever version gives me the most options. It’s all about flexibility, really. I like my stuff to be utilitarian, and usable in many different situations. I blame my parents, well, actually I blame Boy Scouts. “Be Prepared” is the motto. So I am.

But why? Why do I have 5 different jackets when I live in Georgia? Yeah, I’ll be moving to New York state soon and they’ll definitely come in use there, but that was an unforeseeable change. They’ve been essentially useless to me. Is it materialism? Eh . . . maybe. I really do think that it comes down to my inner anxiety about any new situation. Gotta be prepared! Gotta have all the angles covered! But why?

Why not just roll with it? What do all those options matter? Occasionally I suffer from option paralysis (and not the awesome math-metal album by Dillinger Escape Plan, which I’m sure many people would count listening to as a form of suffering). No, I’m talking not being able to pick out an outfit because I am endlessly going through the combinations of pants/shirt/shoe/tie combinations in my head. My wife has seen it happen.

Cover of "Option Paralysis (Dig)"
Cover of Option Paralysis. Warning: Album May Kill You

It’s borderline obsessive compulsive. It get this inner compulsion to just check, to see if there are other options I am missing out on. There always are.

Enter this blog. I spent soo much time today pouring over other themes (that is, pre-packaged design templates) for this blog. Which ones had the best gallery looks, custom headers, post types, blah, blah, blah. I got this way because I was thinking that my current theme wasn’t customizable enough, that maybe there were other ones that would have better color schemes, more readability, easier accessibility, etc. Through my search I realized that the current theme was actually pretty customizable, and just like that, *snap*, I was out of my frenzy, content with this theme.

I could easily be one of those people who hoards stuff, waiting for the “just in case” moment when I need to use it.  Thank God for my need for aesthetic simplicity. I can’t stand a bunch of stuff just sitting everywhere. If Angela would allow it my whole house would look like a Zen monastery, with clean lines and no clutter. At least that’s what I like to think. Why can’t I snap out of it the rest of the time?

I think sometimes I just need to breathe. Just take a moment, breathe, and ground myself in the here and now. Not in all these future possibilities, not in all the possible combinations or uses of something, but it the now. Not judging, hoping, or worrying, but just living.

Anyway, what do you think?  What in your life do you have trouble making decisions over?

Why I can’t write songs

I feel like I am good at a lot of things. Not trying to sound braggy (if that is even a word) but when I sit down and tally it all up I am proud of what I can do. I am pretty good at academics (just applied for PhD programs) and I enjoy studying. My drawing/art ability is in a moderately good range. I was lucky enough to be born healthy and my body responds well to diet and exercise. I also love to play music and listen to music. As I said, I am not trying to brag. I think the relative anonymity of the internet is what is allowing me to say all these things. If you were to ask me in real life about any of the above I would probably severely downplay it all. Heck, I’ve been married for 4 years and my wife’s family didn’t know I had any artistic ability until about two weeks ago.

However, there is one nagging thing I can’t do- write songs.

Well, let me rephrase that- I can write instrumental songs, I just can’t write songs with vocals. I’m not sure where the breakdown is. Most likely it is in my poor ability to sing and thus create vocal melodies. Given all the above cool stuff that I am at least okay at it really shouldn’t bother me. But it bothers me.

Some of my favorite memories are of me and my friends (Cory, Chris, and Kyle) jamming in Kyle’s basement. It was very Zen. We would just pick a riff (usually created by Cory), and just go. We would create songs from nothing, without speaking, just reacting to each other in the moment. It was so freeing to just let go and play, letting the music make itself. Quite the opposite of the experience when I sit down to write a song by myself. Trying to write a song myself is like starting an engine that has rusty parts. Even if it seems to get started it just never performs right- always disjointed, kinda jumpy, no flow. I want it to be a Zen experience, or cathartic at least. That’s what it should be, right?

Me and Cory. I'm trying to sing back up.

A huge part of Zen is interdependence, or interdependent arising. This means everything is co-created, affecting everything else, and in turn being affected by everything else (sorry to any Buddhist scholars out there, I know I kinda butchered that). I think that our band was like a little microcosm of interdependent arising. We created music, both affecting the music the others were creating while simultaneously being affected by the music created by the others. In my mind I believe this may be one of the invisible elements that I long for but cannot achieve (or at least, appear not to be able to achieve) on my own.

I think my real issue, though, is a problem with reality. Reality just won’t be what I want it to be, what it should be. I am creating my own problem with my point of view. When I sit down to write there is a subtle internal “turning away” that happens. Sort of like when you are unhappy with your body and you stand in front of a mirror- you don’t want to look directly at yourself, but just kind of peripherally acknowledge that the image you see is you. I am probably only peripherally acknowledging that writing lyrics and melodies is hard for me to do. Actually, I suck at it. There, that feels better.

At my usual place in Kyle's basement.

Buddhists would probably call that a samskara. It’s like a film that goes over your perception of reality causing you to not be fully in the present. And the funny thing is that it is all internally created. I do this a lot actually (and you probably do too). I go to work expecting an easy day and when I arrive I find my schedule is suddenly packed, so I get frustrated. Why am I frustrated? I like my job and what I do, but I turn away from the reality of it. It’s the expectations I have, and having to let go of those expectations, that can be frustrating. Actually, the letting go is the liberating part. The frustration is when I still try to apply that expectation and make it fit over a contradictory reality.

As I write this I am already feeling better. A lot better, actually. Letting go of expectations is refreshing. Managing all those expectations, having to work to make those expectations fit, and having to react when they don’t takes up a lot of energy.

So next time I sit down to play guitar or bass I won’t worry so much about writing a song. I’ll just let the music make itself.

One of my favorite.

Thanks for the read,