Presence is the Key

“When you find you are straining, whether in a yoga pose or in life, you’re probably trying too hard. Your ego is in it, and you are driven by an ambition that ultimately creates imbalance and suffering. This is the point when you should ask yourself: Where am I holding on? Am I holding on to tension, or to my ideal of what I am ‘supposed to’ be doing? Where can I let go more?”

~Baron Baptiste, in Journey Into Power, pg. 43

*

I’ve been dealing with some pretty serious anxiety recently – and couldn’t figure out how to work out of it, until it finally occurred to me that maybe re-tracing some of my steps, looking again at the path that had gotten me to my present place, might be illuminating.

So that’s what I’ve been doing over the course of my last several posts.

And it really, really has been helpful. So helpful. So useful. Sometimes emotions can get so tangled, it just impedes you from seeing anything clearly at all. And that’s where I was at. I felt it, but I didn’t know how to fix it. Luckily writing (and particularly blogging) help a great deal with the untangling process.

*

So I’ve written about some of the insights I’ve had in the writing of this series as they’ve come up. (This might be the most significant.)

And the quote above speaks to much of the rest. So that’s what I want to talk about here.

*

I’ve actually started wondering if re-reading Journey Into Power might have been something I needed to do – like, a hidden impetus for writing (coming from my subconscious or something.) Going through that book again has certainly helped me to re-frame some of the things I’ve been thinking about/dealing with in the last months – and I wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t for writing this post series. I wouldn’t have even thought about it. It was for the writing of this post that I hunted it down. And then after that, just because it was there, sitting on my desk, I started leafing through it – and finally re-reading it in its entirety last week.

The above passage, for one, resonated so strongly. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

*

So, to bring things to the present day:

When I stopped second-guessing and finally went ahead and let myself do what I wanted to do, I dove into photography.

And this has brought me so much satisfaction – and really joy. It was definitely the right thing to do for myself. I feel like I’m more than I was before…if that makes sense. Like I’ve stripped off layers (photography has stripped them off) and become a different version of myself – more honed…more clarified. The more I’ve explored photography, the deeper this feeling has rooted.

But paradoxically, it’s brought anxiety too.

It’s because, as my skills have increased, and as I’ve felt more and more strongly that I’ve actually found the right path for myself (in photography/visual art and visual storytelling), I’ve begun to fret more and more about how best to walk that path.

*

“How best to….”

That’s a bad perspective to take – trying to live to that. I do know that – when I stop and think intellectually. It’s a poisonous perspective to take, actually – because making decisions based on what seems “best” puts layers of over-thinking between you and your intuition. And that separates you from your authentic self….and before you know it, you’re walking a path that is totally wrong for you.

And I’ve been there so many times! I have a real problem with this. I’m very prone to doing it – to falling into following what seems “best” or what it seems I’m “supposed to” do next. I struggled so much through my younger years – 100% because of this.

I’ve learned so much in the last few years…but yet I (obviously) can still fall into old modes of thinking! And I don’t always catch myself in the act.

I have to improve in this.

That’s one of my big tasks in life, I think – to master this.

*

What I need to do (really, really need to do) is take this advice to heart:

“Each time you think you don’t know ‘how’ is a clue that you aren’t willing to trust your intuitions – use this question as a tip-off that it’s time to tune in and trust the light of your inner knowing.”

~Baron Baptiste, in Journey Into Power, pg. 35

If I can train myself to remember this, it would be of huge benefit to me, I think.

I’ve realized in the last couple of weeks – with the help of the blogging I’ve been doing, and re-reading the Baptiste book – that I’d gotten myself so worked up with worry and uncertainty in the last months that I pretty much stopped moving forward at all. I felt this more and more – this lack of movement – and it was very disturbing to me. That feeling of being stopped, of not knowing where to channel my forward-moving energy, contributed greatly to the growth of my anxiety.

But what I wasn’t grasping until the last few weeks is that I was actually holding myself back. I was impeding my own progress.

Because I didn’t see a clear path unfurling before me, I started freaking out and worrying and over-thinking. And in that, I completely forgot one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last few years: and that’s that a clear path is an illusion! It’s a trap – like a siren call. I don’t even believe in a clear path. Everybody has to make their own path. When the way is too clear (because somebody else forged it, perhaps), that’s the quickest way to start operating on auto-pilot. And when you’re on auto-pilot, you miss stuff – like, for example, remembering to look critically at whether or not you’re happy or growing/expanding. You lose your sharpness, your clarity, your edge.

I don’t want to coast. I want to be awake and aware and savor each step.

*

I’m really annoyed at myself that I fell back into old (and bad) ways of operating in the last months. It’s not fun and it wastes time….pure and simple.

For example, I haven’t even taken my camera out much lately. And that’s because (I see now) I started to look at photography more as a commodity – at the expense of the soul-satisfying side of it.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with pondering ways to support yourself doing something you love. I think it’d be foolish to ignore those kinds of opportunities, as a matter of fact! But I was getting imbalanced. My sense of wonder, all that joy and zest and creative flow, were all getting lost in these onerous “maybe I should…” kind of thoughts. (“Should” is a dangerous word!) The less creative and joyful I’ve felt, the more difficult it’s been to advance as a photographer. Which is completely counterproductive!

Baron Baptiste relates this sort of happening to yoga:

“Postures can be achieved through struggle, but the struggle itself limits both your immediate opening and how far you ultimately grow in yoga. Struggle creates tension in your muscles, which constricts you, and in your mind, which limits you. If you relax and stop resisting and reacting, you’ll just know what you need to do in the pose.”

~Baron Baptiste, in Journey Into Power, pg. 43

I know this. I know this. I’ve learned this through some really hard trial and error over the last few years. But yet somehow I got off track anyway.

I think it began as early as September, when my daughter started Kindergarten. I felt like I ought to be making great strides forward or something, now that I had several hours a day I could count on to be mine alone. It all spiraled from there.

At least I’ve caught myself now.

The trick is to not go to that place again…or at least to catch myself more quickly. (Much more quickly!)

That’s my challenge.

*

I think the way to effect this lies in presence.

I think it has to…doesn’t it? If I’m in touch with myself and what’s happening around me, really in touch, then I’ll catch when there are things coming at me that are causing me to detach. (Like those awful “should” feelings that run counter to my intuition.) And then I can analyze and discard and negate them before they unwittingly add up and start causing me real trouble.

Yes…that’s my challenge.

*

Yesterday, thinking of all of this stuff, I pulled out my camera on the way to get my kids from the bus stop (the one on my phone, so not the best quality image-making device…but it was there!)

I hadn’t actually done that in a while – taken pictures just as an act of absorbing my surroundings. Which is sad! And something I should have noticed in myself before.

But anyway, I noticed it yesterday and took steps to fix it (“steps” being pulling out the camera I had on hand and using it!)

I walked slowly, noticing the sunshine and the warm breeze (it was in the upper seventies in Virginia yesterday), and as I did, I snapped pictures of things I noticed.

And it felt so nice. It was so (for lack of a better word) edifying.

I got a few nice shots, too – which was just icing on the cake!

This one, for instance. Baby leaves!
This one, for instance. Spring blossoms!

I took some of my kids after school, too – which is another thing I hadn’t done in a while. And that also felt strangely good. Like, nourishing.

Here's one of those.
Here’s one of those.

It was something about the act of embodying the moments I was in. It felt very…rich.

And I realized I’ve been denying myself the pure pleasure of taking photographs. Like I had to earn it (the taking out of my camera) by making some money first or something?? I don’t know. I wasn’t consciously thinking that. But I definitely had lost the feeling that I could (or certainly should) be immersing in art for art’s sake.

Which is awful! Whatever I do, I’m going to work really, really hard to make sure I don’t fall into that again. It’s almost like bullying myself – taking something away from myself that I deeply love, in punishment for not reaching some place I haven’t even consciously decided to strive for (like, making a certain amount of money or something.)

I read something recently (via Twitter….but I forget where) where the question was being posed: Would you be friends with somebody who talked to you the way you talk to yourself? Would you even like that person?

That’s something really important to think about when you start feeling beaten down or dejected, I think. How much of that are you putting on yourself? And what can you do to negate it? It’s not always possible to silence that little voice (it can be incessant) – but maybe you can do something nice for yourself, to run counter to it? Just let it say what it wants to say while you, say, put makeup and a nice outfit on and go immerse yourself in taking pictures in the sunshine? Or light candles and take a nice bubble bath? Whatever…just something kind to offset all of that terrible self-criticism.

I think I perhaps need to do a better job at the self-care. I think that might help – and might also support the whole being-in-touch-with-myself thing, too. If you don’t feel good or happy inside and you just ignore that in yourself, how can you expect to cultivate presence? I don’t think you can.

Part of living fully in your moments has to do with self-awareness. It’s about the way you’re breathing, the way you’re occupying space…and also about the way things make you feel. You can’t stuff yourself into a box and expect to live richly. It doesn’t work like that.

*

One thing I think maybe I should seriously consider doing for myself is starting a serious yoga practice. I toy occasionally with doing that, but I’ve never fully committed to it.

But I think the time might have finally come to do it – and that’s because of everything Baron Baptiste says in his book. It’s his argument that all of these powerful mental principles are supported by a yoga practice (and vice versa) – that the physical and the mental are intertwined:

“Awakening in one realm feeds the other…”

~Baron Baptiste, in Journey Into Power, pg. 32

Photography helps me enormously when it comes to remembering to live in the moment, to center, to breathe, etc. To live with authenticity and thoughtfulness. But clearly (as the last several months prove) photography isn’t enough in and of itself to keep me in this place – and it (the photography) can actually suffer when I get too far off track in this area. I don’t want that!

I like yoga anyway. I enjoy it. If it can be another tool toward this goal of presence (which the older I get, the more I realize might be my most important goal in life), I really have no reason not to embrace it.

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8 thoughts on “Presence is the Key

  1. So…I read this last night and numerous things struck me. I’m not sure where to begin. I re-read it just now and I can’t begin to describe how much I relate to everything you’ve said. But I’ll try or at least toss out some stuff because…just…wow…

    It’s crazy how we’re almost programmed from birth (by society I suppose) to engage in things that are worth our time and effort — NOT because they bring us joy or feed our soul but because they have the potential to support us — financially, materially, egotistically — as in for fame and recognition or to make us *somebody*. I’ve been going through my own trials with some of this — different from what you’re going through but similar at the same time. I’ve more or less quit the job that was actually paying me (a meager amount, but still) and while I fully believe it was the right move since I’d been pondering doing so for quite some time now, it’s been a blow to my ego and has plunged me into a darker place than I’ve been in ages. When I’m not depressed over my lack of *success* I’ve been ridiculously anxious because I have no plan occupationally for the future. I’ll be 40 in June and all of a sudden I’m looking at my life through this bizarre lens and having to face the fact that I’m no longer a 20-something who has what feels like unlimited time to figure out my path — this in itself brings up panic and anxiety like nothing I’ve ever experienced. In short: I’ve been the biggest hot mess ever. Then there’s the reality of having to move forward on the basic life stuff — getting kids to school, checking homework, packing lunches, laundry…on and on and on. Life doesn’t stop so we can have our breakdowns, does it?

    I’ve been seriously asking myself if I really need to work in a field that might be my *passion* or where I’m talented or whatever. Maybe if I really am feeling pressure to make money and bring in income, perhaps I’d do better to do something totally different — who knows, like work in a bookstore or coffee shop or retail. I thought I had landed my dream part-time gig of editing and helping people turn their dreams into reality, but it was SO different from what I envisioned. It made me hate writing. It also annoyed me that I was spending ungodly amounts of time helping mediocre writers who weren’t willing to work to improve their craft. Many of the writers were doing exactly what I was trying to avoid with my own writing — they wanted immediate rewards in the form of publication, money and ultimately success. They had defined goals but they were going about so much of it in the wrong ways. Obviously this is MY opinion, but it was soul-sucking to be part of that. Additionally, I was abandoning my own writing. I just had no energy for it anymore. And for what it’s worth, I’m not sure I really want to be a writer, but it’s certainly something that has and always will be a part of my life in some capacity. Hope I’m making sense — seriously streaming here…

    As far as the yoga — and I definitely need to check out that book — for me, the mind/body connection is critically important. Yoga forces me into the present moment and gets me out of my head. Integrating breath and movement works for me like nothing else. I’ve gone through phases of committing to a serious yoga practice and I’m absolutely better equipped in life because of it. At the same time, I don’t know if it’s possible for me to *do* yoga this way right now, but this might be my perfectionism creeping in. What HAS worked is consistently starting and ending my day with yoga — 10-30 minutes morning and evening. I mostly do YouTube videos. I also read a lot of Yoga Journal magazine articles. You might be in a better position to commit to a yoga practice, especially since you say you never have. Classes worked really well for me in the past — my challenge right now is finding a good class. I can’t handle distractions and home practice helps me stay consistent. I become entirely too goal oriented if I’m in the wrong class. I’ve been in great classes and others where i felt that competitiveness creeping in — that’s just bad for me all-around. More on this later… You are likely in an area where you have access to some great classes.

    Last random thought — have you read any Eckhart Tolle books? I read A New Earth years ago and it happened to be exactly what I needed at the time. He also wrote The Power of Now, which is also good, but I read it after A New Earth (PON was written first) and found it less helpful, but I know others who loved PON. I read it first when my oldest son was born. I was pretty depressed and having a difficult time nursing around the clock. I felt SO confined and like I would never move past nursing and changing diapers. Someone recommended A New Earth to Me and it was extremely helpful. I ended up getting the audio copy and would play it constantly — sometimes I need media in multiple forms to truly *get* it. I still pull it out from time to time, especially when my ego takes over (like now — I need to read it again) and I start fearing that I’m washed up and will never achieve anything worthwhile.

    Okay, this is SO long, but I know you don’t mind and I’m glad I finally took the time to respond. I’ve skimmed through several of your posts in this series and I’m so glad you’ve written about all this — it can’t help but be helpful to you, and this one especially has helped me tremendously. Thank you!!! Your pictures are beautiful. You really have an amazing eye and talent for photography. I so want continued joy from this medium for you — whether it becomes a lucrative gig or not. I REALLY get that whole struggle… More soon. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your feedback!! And you’re of course totally correct that I don’t mind a long comment in the SLIGHTEST. I love long comments! The more stream-of-consciousness, the better!! Free thought flow is always a good thing!

    I have a few comments back to you, too – in sort of backwards order here:

    I have NOT actually read Eckhart Tolle. I worked in bookstores for years, so I’m familiar with his titles and the general gist of his message (in a very superficial sense.) But I’ve never picked up a book. It’s so funny that you would recommend him right now – because I’ve run into his name like half a dozen times at least in the last week. At the library, online, etc. Weird! I’m aware that I’m leaning to a very superstitious angle lately (a side effect of re-pondering The Alchemist for these posts!) – but I’m just going to go with it and take this (your comment) as a sign that I should actually go and pick up an Eckhart Tolle book now, purposefully. I’ll see what titles are on-hand at the library this weekend. Thanks for the recommendation!

    As far as yoga: I like the idea of a consistent morning and evening practice, as you said. If I could be that disciplined, that would probably (I can see) be really, really good for me. I don’t do very well with a lot of regimentation in my life; I thrive on the free flow better. But I’ve actually been thinking that that might be another area where I’ve gotten imbalanced. I think I might need more touchstones in my day – just a LITTLE bit more of a routine. A morning AND evening yoga routine might be really good.

    There’s a yoga instructor from California whose blog I follow. I’m HORRIBLY behind on all blog-reading right now – but when I get up to speed, she’s one of my favorites. Very inspirational, very good writer. (This is the blog: http://blog.yogisanonymous.com/) And she has online classes available from her studio, I think. I’m thinking I’m going to start with Baron Baptiste (I’ve never actually done any of his videos, just read his book! I want to try to track down some videos.) And then maybe move to include her as well. We’ll see how it goes! But I really think I need a yoga practice at this point. The more I think about it, the more obvious it seems. I think it’s probably past time to add something like that to my life.

    I’ve thought, like you, about just getting “some job,” to ease the pressure of worrying about money. I still don’t know what I feel about this. I can’t decide. The steady paycheck WOULD be a relief. But yet, those kinds of jobs can be so taxing. I’ve worked so much retail…and food service (even coffeehouses, which is what I’ve mostly done in that area) are even worse. Customers can be really, really awful. They can also be sweet and wonderful…it’s true! And there’s something to be said, as a creative person, for putting yourself in a position where you’re expected to mingle with all sorts of different people. I just don’t know!! I keep hesitating about it. It’s slightly problematic, schedule-wise, as I need to be there for my kids after school, and all day in the summer, and I need to accommodate my ex when he has to go out of town or work long hours; that’s the deal he and I have. So I don’t know if it’s worth it to shoehorn a retail job in to that, or even if I feasibly can – as NICE as the extra money would be. There might come a time (possibly in the not-too-distant future, if I don’t start making more money) when I don’t have a choice in the matter. But for now I still do – and I just can’t decide. If there was something I really, really wanted to do (if there was some awesome little bookstore, say, that would be a fun place to plant myself) then I think I’d do it in a heartbeat. But that’s not on the table at the moment. There’s nowhere like that in my vicinity. I’m curious to know what you ultimately decide to do!

    EVERYTHING you say – literally everything – in that first paragraph (about being programmed by society, and about the unique pressures of this age we’re at, and about the way life doesn’t stop to let you figure things out, etc, etc!) I completely and utterly empathize and agree with. I can tell myself all I want that age is meaningless and you have to just take your life as it comes, etc, that I don’t accept limits based on things as arbitrary as age (and so it’s totally okay that I haven’t “progressed” career-wise as far as other people I know/see/read about)…I can’t ultimately escape the fact that if I were thirty instead of forty I know I would be much less concerned about where I’m at in life. Even 35 instead of 40 would feel different. It’s stupid. It’s all in my mind. I truly don’t believe that there are certain ages where things are supposed to happen. You should just live your life…follow yourself…see where you go. That’s so much more fun!!

    But still…there’s something about turning into that new decade that is a little freaky. So I feel you.

    I do actually feel better about it now than I did a year ago (so perhaps the sharpness of the feeling will wear off for you as well!) I do think there’s something about contemplating entering your forties that is way, way more stressful than actually BEING in your forties.

    But as far as finding meaningful work and progressing on a path (not about being 40, but about just DOING something with forward movement): Part of my problem, I think, is that I’m entrepreneurial at heart. I don’t ultimately WANT to work for somebody else.

    I don’t mind the idea of working for CLIENTS – offering my expertise (whatever that actually is) to fill in a gap they have. That’s more of a working “with” than working “for,” though.

    But I also don’t mind the idea of working for a nonprofit or some other kind of organization that does good in the world (like I saw this ad recently for a job I didn’t QUITE have the skills to apply for, doing photography-related work for the National Wildlife Federation. That would have been totally worth pursuing, if I’d been able to make a case for myself, skills-wise. That would actually have been AMAZING.) I guess it’s that I feel like an organization like that can do things I can’t do on my own – and so it would be totally worthwhile to mold myself into part of the structure there, as it supports something I believe in – and I’d never be able to accomplish as much solo as I could by joining the group. I could work in a traditional job within that framework.

    But otherwise, I want to create my own work. I always thought I wanted to open my own bookstore and/or coffeehouse and/or art gallery (or a combo of the three.) I still think that’d be fun…and that I’d be really good at it, actually. But it just requires putting down roots in a way that doesn’t really match the way I’m compelled to live these days.

    And I’m really okay with being rootless. I actually really LIKE rootlessness in many ways. I like the freedom of it. (I seriously think I might have gypsy blood somewhere!) But it does narrow my options – like, I can’t even consider doing something like starting a physical business.

    I don’t know!! I don’t know what I’m doing, really. I’m totally winging my whole life.

    And sorry to stop abruptly but I got caught up here and now I have to run!!! Talk to you soon!

    Like

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