Updated: Nov 10, 2020
You Are The Sky. Not The Thunder, Lightning, Clouds or Rain. You Are The Sky.
I’ve written before about a little fall from grace I took a few years back. Some may call it a mid-life crisis. Some may call it rock bottom. Some may simply call it life. Poe-TAY-toe. Pah-TAH-toe. I fell flat on my ass no matter which way you slice it. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Somewhat by choice and somewhat out of necessity, I took a big time out and then embarked on a deep, emotional and spiritual archeological dig. I underwent some intense therapy, and when I came out on the other side it seemed I had opened a whole big can of worms and they all lay wriggling at my feet. Those little suckers are slippery and refused to go back in the can. No matter how hard I tried.
There were times when I became so completely overwhelmed by the unearthing of buried emotions and scars and the influx of information and advice that I felt like I was losing my mind. The incessant chatter - processing the revelations and feelings, recriminations of past actions, guilt over present paralysis and inaction, anxiety about my ever present and seemingly never dwindling to-do lists, fears and uncertainty about the future, and the certainty that the path I was on had not been the right one. The gerbil on a wheel analogy cannot be overstated. And I’d be lying if I said I’ve managed to kill that little fucker. An animal lover, I am (just check my Instagram feed) - but I’d happily put his cute little head in a mouse trap if I could. And my gerbil, unlike the other 80 million in the world, is not nocturnal. He still gets on that wheel sometimes and goes round and round and round - day or night - and it is one squeaky ass wheel.
One of my problems was that I started looking in every direction for answers, guidance and healing. I started dipping my toe into waters I’d avoided like the plague my whole life - self-help books, spiritual quests, mantras, yoga, sessions with clairvoyants and mediums, and maybe just a couple of healing crystals and some sage burning. It was too much, too fast. At times I felt like I was coming apart at the seams instead of stitching myself back together - it was just too much to take in. It’s one of the reasons I began writing. Writing is cathartic for me. And it’s also the reason I began writing the way I do - taking off bite sized pieces and digesting them through the lens of clichés, quotes and truisms. It makes it feel a bit more manageable.
Another thing I started doing a couple of years ago, as a healthy replacement for my Netflixing habit, was listening to podcasts. One of them is Dan Harris’s Ten Percent Happier. Dan Harris is a self-described “Type-A Striver.” So am I. Or at least, I was. He speaks openly about his past dismissal, and even disdain of all things self-help, much like me. As an ABC news anchor who very publicly melted down on national television, suffering a panic attack during a live broadcast, he turned to meditation after he “… realized that the source of his problems was the very thing he always thought was his greatest asset: the incessant, insatiable voice in his head, which had propelled him through the ranks of a hypercompetitive business, but had also led him to make the profoundly stupid decisions that provoked his on-air freak-out…[He] stumbled upon an effective way to rein in that voice, something he always assumed to be either impossible or useless: meditation, a tool that research suggests can do everything from lower your blood pressure to essentially rewire your brain.” Like me, he’d crashed and burned. Albeit a bit more publicly than I did. And he began his self-improvement quest, much like I did. Albeit with a bit more gusto, him being a best-seller author now and all. His subtitle to his synonymously titled book, 10% Happier - How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self Help That Actually Works,” summed up everything I had been searching for, and it came from a source with whom I felt I had much in common on a quest for emotional intelligence level. So, I decided to give meditation a try.
One of the things I learned very quickly, and was thankful that I had already been tipped off to from listening to the podcast, is that there can be a very steep learning curve to meditation. There are lots of schools of thought, lots of techniques, and in many of them, lots and lots of quiet. Some people, they say, are afraid of their own shadow. I, it seems, have become afraid of my own thoughts. Well, not afraid of my thoughts, but afraid of being alone with them and their overwhelming nature. Quiet is not my friend. I will use any excuse to avoid the inundation of chatter in my head. I need noise, diversions, music, social interactions, phone games. Netflix! Podcasts! Sudoko! Happy Hour! As a writer (and reformed lawyer), not a such good trait… Meditation teaches you to observe your thoughts and let them go, but when there are enough of them that if they were balloons I’d be cast as the old mad in the movie Up, it can feel a bit self-defeating.
I’ve been working at meditating for about a year. I’ve tried apps like Buddify and Calm. I’ve used HeartMath - a science based approach to heart/mind connection. I attended a yoga retreat that included daily morning meditations. Fortunately, they took different approaches each day so that newbies like me could get a feel for different types. Silent, music only, guided meditations, mantras, chants. One thing I quickly learned is that the traditional sitting position - criss-cross applesauce, straight back, hands on thighs - is not for me. At least not yet. Most of the thoughts I’m observing and trying to let go of are how much my “sits bones” (read: ass) hurt and whether numb foot is danger of turning gangrenous from lack of blood flow. Although at least when I’m sitting I’m not spending the entire meditation fending off all of the other crud rattling around in my brain. Silver lining, I suppose.
The meditations that seem to work best for me are guided ones. I especially like Kenneth Soares (you can find him on youtube in the Powerthoughts Meditation Club), because he gives me license to lay my ass down. At the start of each meditation, he tells you to get comfortable and that there is no wrong way to do it. So I lay down under a plush blanket, put my heating pad around my shoulders and sometimes a crystal or two on my chakras areas that need some healing. Don’t worry, I’m not going into a diatribe about chakras. Still too newbie for that.
One of my go-to favorites is on Buddify. It’s a 4-part mindfulness meditation called Rain which stands for Recognizing, Allowing, Investigating and Non-Identifying:
Recognizing: recognizing what is happening in your mind and giving it a name such as anxiety, sadness, or isolation.
Allowing: letting whatever is happening right now happen rather than pushing it away or adding a second layer of negativity by piling on judgment to it such as “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.”
Investigating: using interest, kindness and curiosity to investigate what is happening in your mind and body at that moment such as tightness, tension or accelerated heartrate.
Non-Identifying: understanding that what you are experiencing is just that - an experience - and that it is not who you are, using the analogy of the sky.
I have a friend who has a 13-year old girl. Being a 13-year old girl is, by definition, a shit storm in and of itself. But she’s also struggling with the social isolation of e-learning and missing being a part of the middle school band. I got to spend a few minutes with her and impart upon her some of my newfound wisdom. Before you eyeroll at my loftiness (you know you already did, and that’s okay - I would too), let me share that I prefaced my spiel with “Listen. I’m going to let you in a on a little secret your parents probably aren’t going to tell you. Life can suck. Like really suck. Like it can suck chicken balls.” Say what you will about whether that’s appropriate, but if you ever want to get anyone’s attention, especially a 13-year old girl, I highly recommend a chicken ball reference. And that little nugget was the part I was pretty sure her parents weren’t going to divulge.
But then I got serious and shared with her the sky analogy:
You are the sky. You are not the rain, the clouds, the thunder, the hail or the lightning. These things are all weather. You are not the weather. You are the sky. They are just parts of a storm that is passing through you. And it will pass. It always does. There is always a calm after a storm.
And never forget, that weather also includes warm sunshine, gentle breezes and glistening snowflakes. There will be stunning sunsets and sunrises, shimmering stars and vibrant rainbows. And while these things will pass through you too, they will always return. All of these things are within you. But they are not you. Because you are the sky.
Of the techniques I use to quiet the prattling in my head, the mantra “You Are The Sky” is among the most effective. It forces me to pause. It gives me space to recognize and observe whatever negative emotion it is that I am feeling or experiencing. To allow it to be and to sit with it. To breathe, be present and come back to the moment I am in. To realize that it is not “me” and that it will pass. That this too shall pass. I remember that there will be a calm after the storm, and that if I recognize the weather for what it is, I can hasten in the calm. I try to remember that April showers bring May flowers. And that the sun will shine within me again. And maybe, just maybe, a big beautiful rainbow too. Because I am not all of those negative thoughts and emotions. I am just a container for them as they pass through me. I am me. I am the sky.
When I'm stuck with a day that's gray and lonely
I just stick out my chin. And grin, and say, oh…
The sun'll come out tomorrow. So ya gotta hang on'til tomorrow.
- Tomorrow from the musical Annie
written by Martin Charnin & Charles Strouse