Enjoy the Silence

Woman who meditates to enjoy the silence

Enjoy the Silence
It’s the name of one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands, Depeche Mode (a band that plays a prominent part in the plotting of my still-work-in-progress novel I’m currently revising).

But learning to “enjoy the silence” is also something I’ve grown to crave the older I get. More and more, I’m realizing that success in life has everything to do with how good you feel, and success for me is about feeling inner peace inside, to shut down the “fight or fight” sympathetic nervous system and to instead activate the portal to the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system.

photo of asian woman enjoying the silence meditating
Photo by Le Minh Phuong on Unsplash

 

Below are some thoughts on enjoying the silence in your life — portals that transport you to a magic time that brings about relaxation, ease and bliss:

Meditation
Many times in my life, I have tried to meditate. The first time I discovered meditation, I was in a yoga class at San Francisco State University. My teacher told us that yoga was a way to enter meditation, which we did as a class in the dark. As someone who is perpetually tense — toes tightly gripping the floor, calves pressed against the legs of my chair and stomach clenched in agony — meditation was the first time I experienced inner peace.

I had heard that practicing regularly can help make you more calm, more focused. After all, I dreamed of the day I’d finally be comfortable in my own skin. I was sick of drowning in my own negative thoughts. So I began to meditate more. With CDs, on my own, I read books my writing mentor gave me on Kundalini, a book by Jack Kornfield. I attended sits at spots in Marin County at Spirit Rock. POC sits in Oakland. Day-longs. Walking meditations. I signed up on a waiting list for a 10-day silent meditation retreat near Yosemite in Northern California but didn’t get in. I thought about signing up for TM, but it seemed too expensive. I began to use apps from Calm and Headspace and Shine. They were all amazing. But then I found Ziva. I had read Emily Fletcher’s book, watched a few of her videos, loved her soothing-like-honey voice, so decided to give her online course a shot, on how to cultivate a regular daily meditation practice. I liked the part about actually including manifesting into the meditation, along with breath work and mindfulness, for cognitive performance. Now, since May of 2019,  I’ve been meditating for about 20 min almost daily, and for a while there, I was meditating twice a day. It’s made such a difference in my mood and sleep, as well as anxiety around to-dos and people. Since we moved from living full-time in the RV to an apartment, I’ve fallen off the wagon and just meditate mostly once a day, first thing when I wake up. My goal this year is to meditate twice again, to fit that second meditation into my afternoons. I did it yesterday and really feel the difference today. I may look into a group meditation place in Austin…

NADA (aka AcuDetox)

Yesterday I sat in a large circle of strangers and shut my eyes, patiently awaiting the needles in my ears. he first time I did it, I was nervous. I didn’t like needles and I didn’t like pain. But the needles are so tiny, thinner than thumbtacks, and as the volunteer from the graduate school of integral medicine in the acupuncture school gently inserted paper-thin acupuncture needles into both ears, I felt a buzz of bliss. The NADA protocol (ear acupuncture) is a non-verbal approach to healing emotional trauma, as well as addiction. It was even used with healing children after the disaster that was the Nepal earthquake.

Early Morning Solitude
There is something about being awake in the morning surrounded by darkness that feels so healing. With no one around, no chatter around you, this solitude wraps you up like a warm blanket, comforting your nerves, your mind. It’s almost 7am CT here in Austin, TX, but it is still dark outside. Of course, I can see cars with their headlights blaring whiz by outside the windows, where I sit and write. But there is no one within proximity. No one awake. My kid is still sleeping. Soon, I’ll make coffee and breakfast for him. But for now, I bathe in this healing solitude, parked in front of my laptop, breathing in sheer ease.

I am realizing I’m actually most energized in the morning, actually enjoy the quiet mornings when I wake up early. The other morning I awoke at 4am to drive my friend who was visiting me to the airport. After dropping her off, I decided to drive myself to a 24-hour diner (Magnolia Cafe) on South Congress and eat an early breakfast of eggs and meat. It was still around 5am. I was one of a handful of people eating that early, and even as I yawned, I marveled at being up, actually awake, eating while most people were still dreaming. It brought me memories of my early twenties, when I worked in San Francisco doing tech support for an online stock trading company that required its customer-facing employees to be up the same time as the stock markets opening in NYC. Back then, I was living in an apartment in San Francisco with about four others my age (my share of the rent then was merely $300, unheard of now, I’m sure). And every morning, I’d drive my bike toward Market Street from where I lived near the Castro area, carefully maneuvering my bike so as not to get caught in the Muni train tracks, so as not to fall. My sister, who was a bike messenger in San Francisco, had warned me about that. I remember the quiet of the dark mornings as I rode to work, greeted by a shock of bright florescent in-door office lights as I walked to my cubicle area to answer calls from traders at home who were still making sense of the internet, in a time of Compuserve, AOL and Mozilla.

The words tend to pour out of me in the morning, which is a fantastic time to do your Morning Pages, as Julia Cameron suggests is a way to empty out your mind, to clear out the debris, like windshield wipers does to grimy car windows.

HeartMath
What do I want to say about HeartMath? It’s a biofeedback tool I discovered that helps you meditate from your heart, bringing your heart, mind and nervous system together to reduce anxiety in a state they call “coherence.” I don’t use it everyday, but when I do, I feel more compassion and kindness for myself and others, similar to how I feel when I practice the kindness meditation (when you say to yourself and others in your mind: “May you be happy, healthy and filled with ease”). You use a sensor you attach to your earlobe and open up the HeartMath Inner Balance app which senses your pulse and heart rate variability, able to tell you if you’ve reached a coherent state. It’s interesting to practice when you’re anxious or angry, because you can see your heart rate variability in real time, jagged, at first. But then as you focus on a memory of a happy time or place in your life, the jagged valleys turn into even sine waves, reflecting inner ease (I think about the one time I tried LSD for the first time as an adult with the intention to heal while at Burning Man and experienced the utmost of peace and tranquility, completely egoless and suspended in a space where time was never running out, an example of how integrating psychedelics into your regular daily life can be useful). I even ordered their book on how to use Heart Math to manage anger, which has been helpful as a parent of a teenager.

All this is to say that cultivating silence, truly learning to enjoy the silence more in my life, is key to my sanity, my mental health and physical health. After all, everything is linked!

Inspiring Writing Quote from John McPhee on Mark Twain

book art mural on wall in Utah with Mark Twain book among other classics

“Repeatedly, he tells his reader how a project such as this one should be done—randomly, without structure, in total disregard of consistent theme or chronology. Just jump in anywhere, tell whatever comes to mind from any era. If something distracts your memory and seems more interesting at the moment, interrupt the first story and launch into the new one. The interrupted tale can be finished later. This is what he did, and the result is about as delicious a piece of writing as you are ever going to come upon, and come upon, and keep on coming upon, as it draws you in for the rest of your life. If ever there was an old-man project, this one was the greatest. It is only seven hundred and thirty-five thousand words long. If Mark Twain had stayed with it, he would be alive today.”

— John McPhee on Mark Twain’s autobiography

Taken from The New Yorker (Personal History section)

“TABULA RASA: Volume One” by John McPhee (Jan 6, 2020)

Happiness Is …

Happiness is a woman smiling

Happiness is …

Discovering a brand new song (“Neon Moon” by Cigarettes After Sex)

Keeping promises to yourself (ex. writing every day, eating carnivore)

Sipping homemade bone broth

Singing old songs on the top of your lungs (Toni Braxton’s “Un-break My Heart”)

That surge of pride after doing two almost-perfect chin-ups

A giant heartfelt hug from your teenaged son

Spending time with a close friend laughing out loud

That sensation of ease after meditating for more than 15 minutes

Being able to articulate on the page a knot you’ve been trying to unravel

Basking under the stream of sunlight coming into your apartment

Learning about how you can improve your vagal tone and sharing it with loved ones

Not giving a f*ck about what anyone else thinks!

 

 

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

Press the ‘F*ck It’ Button

giant red f*ck it button

I won’t lie. Even after all the books I’ve read on how not to give a flying f*ck about what other people think, I still care. A lot. In fact, just a little bit too much.

A personal incident came up recently with my child and I was telling my friend who was visiting me about it. I didn’t want to make a big deal but I cared too much about what the other parties thought. About how I was parenting. About how I was possibly perceived. “All you have to worry about is you and your relationship with your child,” she counseled me. “Not about the other parents. Do what I do. Press the ‘F*ck It’ button.” With a dramatic push of an imaginary button with her index finger in the air, we sat side by side in my parked car.

I realized a lot of my anxiety, especially social anxiety, revolved around others’ perceived judgements, criticisms, and disappointment in me. Shame would automatically bubble up from out of nowhere like a geyser at Yellowstone, and this would arise from my own thoughts. It’s uncanny how your own thoughts can keep you imprisoned.

So much of my life I’ve self-sabotaged because I fretted over what others might think about me. One of the reasons I have trouble putting my writing out there is because of this perceived shame and judgement. I’m afraid of rejection so I don’t even try. And even with social media, I’ve decided to take a giant step back from it because it’s suddenly become much more daunting since we’ve stopped our full-time RVLife. Suddenly I don’t want to be in that perceived spotlight anymore, afraid we’d be seen as failures for stopping a life we had dreamed up so dramatically following my husband’s cancer. Which in itself is stupid beyond f*ck for caring. Life is essentially full of stops and starts. We fall and we get up. We go and we stop. There is no linear path for happiness or success. We’re still the same people we were before we began our trip. Yet at the same time, we’ve grown. And it will never be perfect.

This year, I’m going to press that ‘F*ck it’ button much more often. Life really is too short to care so much about other people’s perceptions of who you are. If you’re a good person inside, that’s what really matters in the end, right?

 

How Remembering to Allow and Detach is Simply Learning to Trust

A lone egg in red background knowing how to allow and detach

Allow and Detach
Allow and Detach
Allow and Detach
Allow and Detach
Allow and Detach

This is the phrase that kept popping up in my head during and after meditation this morning. I realize I’m oftentimes pushing for things to happen. Stuff on my to-do list. My kid to clean up his room. Wishing I was faster at finally finishing my novel. Catching up on all the stuff I said I’d do for clients, for work. Wishing I had put more effort in how I showed up for this or that.

But then I remembered the “Egg Wisdom” I read about in the book by Kate Northrup (Do Less), recommended to me by my amazing nutritionist who is also a life coach. I’m paraphrasing here, but in the book, she talks about how the egg released inside a woman’s body naturally knows how to do things in its own proper time. She doesn’t obsess or fixate on whether or not the sperm is coming along. In fact, she’s not waiting on him at all! She’s not calling all of her friends wondering why the sperm isn’t there yet, hasn’t called or responded to her text. She’s not rushing to get where she’s going, stressing and worrying along the way that she isn’t doing enough. She’s simply enough.

Enough.

She’s demonstrating the ultimate in TRUST. She’s allowing and detaching.

Allow and detach.

Trust.

I want to do more of that this year. This decade. This life.

I’m tired of rushing, stressing, worrying, ruminating, nagging (either myself or others).

And isn’t there a better time to practice allowing and detaching–to simply trust–than now?

A Tiny Story about Tigers from a Tiny Book

a bengal tiger sits calmly

Today I read a tiny story from this tiny book I bought many years ago in Berkeley, the same tiny book I let my friend who will be visiting me tomorrow in Austin read while she was in the hospital in Oakland, birthing a tiny baby. The name of this tiny book? The Pocket Pema Chodron.

The tiny story I happened to flip to resonated so much that I feel compelled to share. It’s the story of a woman being chased by tigers. She runs away but reaches the edge of a cliff on a mountain. With nowhere to go, she glances down and finds a sturdy vine to climb down. But as she hangs onto this vine, she becomes aware that there are tigers below her. And what do you know? A hungry mouse is nibbling that vine. That’s when she sees a patch of wild strawberries. She looks up and sees the tigers up above, she looks down and sees the tigers below. She sees the mouse, still nibbling away at that vine. What does she do? She snatches a strawberry and savors each bite.

The title of the story is this: “Tigers above, tigers below.”

“This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of birth and death,” Pema Chodron writes near the end of the page.

“Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

The next time I feel stressed, overwhelmed or worried that time is running out, I’d like to remember this story. You can be chased by beasts with sharp teeth from above and below, everything seeming like doom and gloom, yet at the same time still enjoy what is right in front of you: this life, this moment, what is.

The Next Time You’re Stressed, Ask Yourself: So What?

so what is the question this woman is asking in the snow with both hands in front of two trees

The next time you wake up in the middle of the night, worried and stressed about disappointing others, try this helpful stress-reducing tool:

Ask yourself: So what?”

Example:

So what if so-and-so is disappointed in you because you didn’t do x, y and z. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, so-and-so may never want anything to do with me again.

Then you ask “so what” again. Repeat it again until you get to the bottom of it.

So what?

So … if that happens, I’ll probably feel like crap and be depressed for a while.

So what?

I guess that after a while, I’ll eventually get over it and move on.

So what?

So you know what? I’m going to be okay. I won’t be stressin’ about this person being disappointed in me 30 years from now.

By the end of this self-interrogation, you realize your problem that you’re worried about really isn’t as worrisome as you initially thought, quelling any tightness in your belly, replacing it instead with ease.

Fireworks

fireworks - Photo by Anthony Roberts on Unsplash

Happy New Year! Can’t believe it’s the end of another year. A decade, in fact. As we watch the fireworks from our apartment in Austin, my family and I, we are reminded of the differences in experiences where we have resided in our lifetime so far. In the Bay Area in Northern California, where I was born and raised, we would see a handful of fireworks erupt in the Berkeley Marina, usually shrouded by thick fog. Or Jack London Square in Oakland surrounded by a crowd of people. Or the Embarcadero area in San Francisco.

Here in Austin, TX, we watched fireworks erupt around 10pm blast with abundance, reminding us of our one and only time at Burning Man in 2018, when seemingly non-stop glitter and gold and sparkles shattered across the darkened sky to everyone’s delight. Then right at midnight, we saw fireworks erupt all around Lady Bird Lake, far and near, something we’d never have seen in Berkeley, CA.

But then we remembered the non-stop nightly fireworks in the Mexican cities of Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende earlier this year, when we lived in a RV full-time. At first we were delighted by the flurry of festivities every night dotting and lighting the sky, a crescendo of brightness, color and noise. But then we grew weary, popping in squishy ear plugs to drown out the sound. Yet over time, it became part of the nightly landscape, the culture–the norm.

It’s funny how fireworks can bring about such pride, delight, yet can also, become the norm over time. I thought about how when I was going to an undergrad program at San Francisco State University, trying to get my K-8 teaching credential, I wanted to learn more about multicultural studies and was curious how cultures over time adopt and modify what other countries and cultures had invented, such as gunpowder by the Chinese and how it evolved into fireworks and instruments used for war.

Tried Improv for the First Time for My Writing

improv for writing - Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

Just got home from my first improv class. It was a free improv class at ColdTowne Conservatory in Austin I found while googling “free improv classes near me.” On a whim, I decided to go by myself. I did it for my writing. I did it to get out of my comfort zone. I also did it as someone who struggles with social anxiety. And I figure with my naturally awkward and goofy self, I might actually be, dare I say, comfortable?

It was strangely comforting to be there, yet also intimidating, and at moments, highly anxiety-provoking. Especially when it’d be my turn to respond to another person, like a game of telephone that also involved physically re-enacting what the other person did and said with their body and voice. I had never done anything like this before. When anxious around people, I tend to smile and laugh a lot, so much so that my face hurts like that swollen feeling around your cheeks after a visit to the dentist. But fortunately, there was plenty of genuine laughter too, so by the end of the night (it was only an hour-long class), I walked away smiling, relieved I had left my comfort zone, both physically and mentally, to try something so drastically new. And weird. But weird is good, right? After all, this is Austin.

I had decided to try this because I had read somewhere that doing improv helps you with your writing, especially with dialogue. Having to come up, on the fly, with something else to say, riffing on what another person orally lobs your way, is a skill that fiction writers can definitely use. Something that required active use of your imagination grounded with a semblance of reality. Also I learned that there were different kinds of improv, and the one I was learning tonight was some kind of “Chicago-style,” as opposed to “narrative style,” which focuses more on coming up with a beginning, middle and end. That sparked my curiosity, since my intent on improv is to improve my writing, so I may have to try that style next.

Our teacher was excellent, making everyone feel immediately comfortable, having us introduce ourselves with only our first names and an accompanying physical gesture, which everyone in our circle had to emulate. When it was my turn, I was a preschooler all over again, throwing up my hands as if burnt by fire, adding: “I’m Lily!” My cheeks certainly blazed an internal inferno as soon as I said it. And I watched everyone, one-by-one, like dominos cascading, copy me with an exaggerated lift of their two hands, simultaneously worried I was being mocked yet also self-congratulating myself that my physical intro was closer to Kramer from Seinfield — so not a bad start! (When my 15-year-old son found out I was trying improv for the first time and I invited him to join me, he shook his head no. He said something about it being “too cringe-y” to watch. Whatever. His loss.)

I really enjoyed trying improv, and later, chatting with others in the class about why they were trying it too. One guy said he was trying to get into his “right-brain” more, and another young mom said she had worked in tech for years, but needed to add more creativity into her life. There were a mix of ages in our group. Afterwards, we were gifted free tickets to watch three comedy troupes do improv on the same stage we had taken our free class. Watching them perform made me appreciate just how difficult it is to think on your feet without a script or direction yet make the audience laugh. In my case, I almost cried from laughing so hard.

And when I walked away to head back home, my cheeks were sore yet my heart was happy. I realize that laughter combined with trying something completely new (namely, getting out of my comfort zone) helps me grow as a person. Plus I’ve been reading that laughter activates your vagus nerve, great for depression and anxiety. (Another reason to laugh more!)

In the end, I came for the writing, yet left with my heart full and my spirits invigorated. Have you ever used improv for your own writing?