What if?

I don’t like public speaking. I despise it, hate, abhor it, one might say even terrified, mortified, petrified by it[1]. Every time I need to speak publicly (and cannot avoid it), the same train-wreck pattern of a thought is coming to my mind – What if?

What if I forget everything?

What if I will start stuttering and talk nonsense?

What if I will be ridiculed by my co workers because of it?

What if I will get fired because of it?

And I can dive deeper, the longer I think and ‘what-if’ about it, the more stressed I get, and the more stressed I get the worse the what-if become. This with all the physical symptoms of stress makes public speaking not fun for me.

This always remind me from a quote from The Time Machine:

You’re a man haunted by those two most terrible words: What if?

I recently read another blog post which has a different perspective, a positive one regarding ‘what-if’ – what if I try and succeed, as a way to push yourself and take that risk. My what-ifs limit me and scare me, his what-ifs give him a push to go further. I wonder if I can change my perspective.

[1] As paraphrased from the movie “A Beautiful Mind

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Quoth the Blackness, Nevermore

One of my favorite poems is The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe[1]. I’ve read it again not long ago and some of the sentences there really hit me. Maybe because they remind me of my anxiety, my sadness.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

This feeling, that catches you unprepared while doing your day to day things. You notice it creeping just a little too late. Just a second later and you could have fight it, but now it’s too close, caught you off guard. It’s tapping at your front door now.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;
— This it is and nothing more.”

You’re off guard but still trying to avoid it, the terror, the anxiety. Like closing your eyes and mumbling that there’s no monster under the bad, just a visitor.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Hello?”[2]
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “”Hello!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

You’re surrounded, the anxiety, the sadness, are within you. You try and take look there in order to understand that blackness inside of you, try to see if it has a form, something you can grab and throw away. Nothing helps, what you throw at it, what you shout at it, nothing helps.

And the feeling[3], never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

It’s here to stay this time. It’s not going away. You will slowly lose your mind.

It doesn’t matter the numerous times that I thought that this feeling won’t go away and they did, the next time such a feeling will rise it will be here to stay. I guess that this is the nature of this blackness, makes you think that you will never get it out. Nevermore.

[1] This sentence might indicate that I read poems all the time, knows a lot of them, and from all of them I like The Raven. I’m familiar with just a few poems, and really like this one. Don’t get me confused with a poem expert.
[2] The actual word in the poem is “Lenore”, a little out of context for this post since I’ve excluded some of the poem.
[3] The actual word in the poem is “Raven”, changed due to it being out of context for this blog post.

Treatment is Simple, Pagliacci is in Town Tonight

Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown, Pagliacci, is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor, I am Pagliacci.”

This line is from the comic Watchmen that really got to me.

I believe that most people that I know would describe me as funny, confident, with a short fuse from time to time and very good at his work. People come to me for advice regarding work and other things.

People don’t know the amount of… of… of black that I have in my stomach from time to time. That most of the time what they perceive as anger is really anxiousness, is really a terrible feeling that things are falling apart and I’m trying to prevent it.

People don’t know that behind the smile and confidence sometime I want to burst into tears.

I can understand Pagliacci completely.

Non Reactivity – Practice

I’m trying to practice non-reactivity and I find it very difficult. It is split into four lessons: Non-reactivity to body sensation, to sound, to thought and finally to feelings.

Body sensations – almost every session I find myself aching or itching, want to move myself to a more comfortable position or simply scratch. Eventually, as mindfulness suggest, everything passes, even the most persistent each. You need to make a note and let it pass. Problem is that if the itch is too strong I can’t simply nod it off – it’s painful. In the time during a session when it itches I find myself going back to the itch over and over. It’s hard to concentrate that way. I do progress though, at the beginning I had to move and each, and now I can sit still and not each during the entire meditation.

Sounds – I find it easier to get over sound and not get distracted to much by sounds. One thing is that if the sound is loud and very sudden I get startled, my heart start pumping, simulating the same reaction my body has when anxious or stressed. Take a little while to get back to the breathing and let my pulse get back to normal.

Thought – At the beginning this was the hardest thing to control. Thoughts come and go, and the bad ones just stay there, make you more anxious. Endless thoughts that seems to be extremely important, and I have to pursue them or they will be lost forever, seems to come exactly when I need to be focused on the now, on my breathing, on anything but them. Every thought just stayed there, making me more anxious, more stressed. I couldn’t count the seconds until the session would be over, in order to write down everything. I wrote them down, everything that I remembered. I put a pen and paper near me because I knew that I’ll become anxious to write. Slowly I saw that some thoughts repeat themselves, some thoughts are the same thoughts that I think when not meditating. Slowly, I could let go and focus on the breathing, on the now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard, some thoughts cling, some thoughts make me a little anxious, but I can note them and let them pass. Sometimes a little label help ‘worries’, ‘thoughts about the future’, etc. I try to note them, not ignoring them (especially the bad ones), and let them go, let them drift away while I focus back on my breathing. It’s not easy, but it’s becoming easier.

Emotions – The hardest no doubt about it. I am always stressed. Most of the time I’m stressed but not in a sense of panic, but in a sense of being alert, always suspecting something to go wrong, one might call it ‘survival mode’. It’s very hard to put this emotion aside and surrender to the now during meditations. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t alert that something might go wrong, that things won’t go as planned. When any event rises, let’s say a thought or sound, I can be non-reactive to it, but usually the process will cause stress to rise, just from being alert that this time I might not be able to be non-reactive to the event. Being non-reactive to one event triggers another event which is harder to ignore.

When I’m anxious I’m trying to meditate, and during the process of the meditation other events might cause me more stress and anxiety. There were times, not too many, that I think I ended the meditation with more anxiety than when I started.

Hope that it will become easier as I practice more.

Sadness

Horrible day yesterday, woke up this morning tired and sad. Not sure if I’m sad because I’m tired or sad because I’m sad. Want to close my eyes and sleep, feel like I’m almost crying. Maybe I’m sad because I know there’s one hell of a busy day today and I’m sad because I’m stressed?

I hate starting days like this.

In the Space Between Stimulus and the Response

In the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“, Stephen Covey talks about the space that exists between the stimulus and the response [1]:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

This reminds me a lot about mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches us to see events such as thoughts and emotions as a stream that we are looking on from the side, instead of being inside of it, pulled by the current. Being pulled by the current is simple reaction, without choosing – the same reaction my cat has when I open his bag of treats. Having the ability to choose in that space between stimulus and response is as if looking at the stream, acknowledging the event, and deciding the response.

As mentioned in my first blog post, this is the description of mindfulness I find most accurate (at least according to my current understanding of it):

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations – The good ones and the bad ones, happiness and anxiety. I have to admit that currently I find it making more sense only regarding the bad events – why not embrace the good ones and let be carried away with them? I hope I’ll find a good answer as I continue to practice.

Regarding the bad events that we wish to accept, I have found this other quote regarding mindfulness that I like:

Mindfulness is not the absence of discomfort – it’s our reaction towards this discomfort. We cannot avoid these emotions, and there is nothing wrong with them. What creates suffering is never a feeling, but our reaction towards it.[2]

Doesn’t it sound very familiar? Mindfulness is our reaction towards discomfort – reaction, our choice in how to react.

Mindfulness is how we choose to respond, in that space between stimulus and response.

[1] Covey mentions this as a fundamental principle introduced by Viktor Frankel.
[2] Description taken from this blog post.

Non Reactivity

Non-reactivity is to observe your thoughts and feelings and any environmental circumstances with a more detached outlook. Instead of labeling events (such as sensations, thoughts and feelings) in your life with ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you learn to accept things as they are without reacting to them.

I’m having some trouble with the concept and with the practice itself.

To accept things as they are without reacting to them seems like a sure way to not make a difference. You move and change things in your life as a reaction to events. If you would accept (shrug and nod) anything that happens in your life, you would not progress, you would not evolve, you would not improve. How can you be non-reactive to everything and yet be stimulated to progress and improve yourself?