Sometimes I feel like I spend a majority of my time trying to figure out why I'm not feeling especially well. In those stretches of time I sometimes forget that feeling light and excited is even a possibility. The little colored bars in my Google Calendar become hordes of scary bugs that I hide from rather than declarations that yes, here is a fun thing to look forward to. I wake up exhausted, feel anxious or indifferent to the day's latest practice, show, or work assignment. I mechanically move my body through strenuous and tiring motions at the gym because I know it helps a little bit. I read at breakfast and before bed and remember little of what I read. I inhale food at the appropriate quantities and intervals because I know that if I don't, it makes the day just a little harder to bear.
A week or so ago I realized that that feeling of trying to escape a nameless, difficult, and suffocating situation was missing. It happened so gradually that I didn't really realize it until I was several weeks into it. So, I'm writing this as a signpost that declares that, yes, being happy is a thing that is real and here is what the creature looks like. And that maybe I can return to it if I need to. As far as I can tell, here are some components that make up my current pleasant situation.1.
I am doing what I want to do, not what I believe I have to do. Unconsciously trying to follow a standard American storyline produced a lot of stress for me. The storyline being: find a partner, move in with that partner, eventually get married, save up for a house, buy a house, prepare for the eventual decline of health of my parents, all while being both generous and financially successful. Not that I'm not open to actually doing any of those things, but I think I was trying to force myself to follow that pattern without actually feeling in my heart that I wanted to do those things. (The downside to this attitude is that I probably paid too much in taxes and that I don't have health insurance right. Oh, and an oil change and visit to the dentist are way overdue.)2.
I am playing music. Lots of music. Thanks to wedding season and a couple big gigs, music paid the bills last month. I am playing in several great bands with great people. Nothing better than a week full of what I love to do best. I am also trying to take on a more active role in rehearsals which I have found has helped me to feel a greater sense of reward and closeness with my fellow bandmates.3.
I am doing interesting work, but on my own terms. Software engineering keeps my inner eight year old Lego self happy. I'm not in the office forty hours a week, though. This means I don't make much money, but it also means that when I work, I work. I don't waste time on FB, reddit, etc. when I am too tired or burned out to be productive.4.
I am working from home and can set my own schedule. This is huge. If I am tired, I can take a nap! If I am hungry, I can cook food that I make myself. I save money and can code while the rice timer ticks away. If I need to concentrate, I don't have to crank up (distracting) music in my headphones because I can work in total silence with zero chance of interruptions.5.
It is not winter any more. Being thrifty and allergic to clothes shopping means that I probably don't dress warmly enough for winter. Being cold makes my body feel contracted and my joints stiff. This tightness and contraction of the makes me feel anxious. The coming heat of summer makes me feel pliant and pleasantly drowsy. Note to self: buy a couple cold weather hats, thermal underwear, more long-sleeve shirts, finger gloves, and warm slippers.6
Close companionship and friendship. My number one fiddle friend has become a very dear and important person to me. More than simply providing me with a distraction and a remedy from loneliness, my relationship with her has helped me to uncover and address some painful emotional places and has helped me develop a better idea of the kind of relationship style I may want to continue cultivating. Here are some highlights:
- Space. Having my own place and often sleeping in my own bed lets me preserve a sense of identity and emotional support that I cultivate on my own. This means that I don't have to lean on my relationship partner for all of my emotional needs which can lead to problems and often feels unsustainable.
- Shared projects. Sharing a big project with a relationship partner is really a wonderful gift. I find that it creates a shared sense of excitement and provides an opportunity for bonding and intimacy that can transcend the unpredictable flaring and ebbing of physical attraction. It can create friction and frustration and conflict, but this friction is its own reward in that it produces an opportunity for personal growth in a way not possible when I am single.
- Revisiting painful or difficult subjects. Carefully revisiting difficult or painful areas helps prevent buried ill feelings from fermenting and bursting out in unpleasant and unpredictable ways. While it is necessary to cultivate letting go of difficult feelings, letting go is not a silver bullet. Confronting the feelings head-on is vitally important. Only close relationships drive up painful emotional habits. I find that even "unsuccessful" relationships are a gift and a blessing, as long as I keep a sense of humility and willingness to learn.
- Loving in an open-handed way. Maintaining physical and emotional independence and not letting my feelings of self-worth be connected to my notions of how the relationship should work is tremendously freeing. And lets the relationship evolve and adapt rather than abrubtly terminate because it doesn't meet some narrow preconceived notion of what a relationship should be.
- I realize that I have a passive / accepting / following personality. This makes it difficult for me to find a romantic partner because I almost never make romantic advances and because this passive role is not considered masculine by typical American norms. However, I feel best when I am supporting and often taking direction from an individual with a strong sense of vision and drive. My musical persona as bassist and supporting instrumentalist is an expression of this strongly Yin character in my personality. Deliberately stepping outside of this Yin role (as with the band Blackfire) can be energizing and empowering, but I find nourishment in the nature of supporting, following, and being receptive. Every woman I have dated is also attracted to women. Coincidence? ^_^
An evolving meditation practice. I still meditate every day, but I am less worried about doing it *right*. I scratch myself. I pause my timer and get a glass of water. I crack the bones of my feet and knuckles. Looking back, it's the same attitude I have toward music practice. When I practice the cello, I play intently for a while, take a break, jam a little bit and get distracted, return to practicing intently, etc. And results come even if to an outsider I am not practicing as efficiently as possible. If I were to judge myself for not being able to engage in laser focus for hours at a time, I probably would not practice much at all. Bringing the same attitude to my meditation practice has helped eliminate a layer of anxiety from my day. Who wants to meditate if you are cultivating self-judgment the whole time?8.
Working on something big and kind of scary. I am going to tour with Blackfire and ...Y Los Dos Pistoles
in June and this is my first time booking a tour. It really triggers feelings of unworthiness and vulnerability and a part of me screams to not want to do it at all, but pushing through those feelings and seeing it slowly come together has been really rewarding.