My parents never had much money. Their jobs were not well-paying and rearing six kids siphoned off every cent they had. To my knowledge, they never had much in savings and they had no retirement income except Social Security which, for them, was not much. They never had money to take vacations or to build or buy nice houses or to live real middle class or, would that it could be, upper middle class lives. I was quite conscious of the fact that the house I lived in for most of my formative years was not as nice or new as my friends’ houses. I was aware of the fact that we never took the same kinds of trips my friends’ families took. I assumed we did not visit relatives in distant places because we could not afford to make the trip. Maybe that can explain, at least in part, why I am so sensitive about money. I am extremely wary of over-spending. I worry about depleting my retirement reserves before I need them. I may be over-conscious of the fact that I have only my Social Security and my personal savings to carry me through until I die, so I tend to try to preserve my personal savings and rely solely on Social Security to the extent possible. That trait can lead to being teased about my miserly tendencies and my hesitance to spend money on things other people might not think twice about: new clothes, etc. One of the many reasons I decided not to have children can be traced to witnessing my parents’ poverty relative to the parents of the kids who attended school with me. I did not want to work my entire life, only to reach retirement age with little to no money to enjoy the time I had left. It’s hard to know how much, or how little, to spend when the amount of time I have left is a complete unknown. That’s true of everyone, I suppose. What the hell am I rambling about?
Thinking about my own upbringing (and the few memories I have of that experience) leads me to wonder about the early lives of my friends and acquaintances. I listen to my girlfriend talking about her youth, so I know a fair amount about her experiences. But what was Steve’s early life like as an adopted child? And how about Jim’s childhood? And other people, both face-to-face friends and online friends? What about them: Patty and Ducky and Roger and Deanna and Rhonda and Janet and Mark and Robin and Phil and on and on and on. I think it would be interesting to read a “my life until right now” summary from each of them, roughly ten pages in length, that might offer a glimpse into their very personal histories. I realize how little I know about so many people with whom I’ve had long-standing relationships. And, with the exception of what I’ve remembered and exposed in this blog, they probably know little about the early experiences that shaped me.
I think I suffer from anxiety. “Suffer” may be too strong a word, but whether it is or not, lately I feel anxiety far too frequently and too deeply. A little anxiety is good; it’s motivational and requires a person to look out for his own well-being. Too much, though, can be debilitating to some degree. So, before my sense of being somewhat overly-anxious becomes more intrusive and destructive, I decided to explore how to reduce or redirect it into something else.
I assessed the extent to which I exhibit these symptoms, said to be elements in the diagnosis of anxiety disorder:
Difficulties sleeping & restlessness—check
Irritability & tension—triple check with exponential emphasis
Increased heart rate & palpitations—not that I notice
Sweating & hot flashes—no
Trembling & shaking—nooo…welllll…a little…sometimes
Chest pains & shortness of breath—check
Feelings of terror or impending doom—not quite that intense, but…
Some of the signs simply are one’s normal reactions to the world around us. To what extent does one have to exhibit the symptoms to warrant a diagnosis of anxiety disorder? I haven’t a clue. Whether I have an anxiety disorder or simply feel more anxiety than normal of late, I have no interest in taking medications to control the symptoms. Instead, it occurs to me that a simple and deliberate meditation-based approach might be just as effective or more so. So, I depend on Google to lead me to resources. The number of resources that ostensibly help with anxiety through meditation or mindfulness is stunning; dozens of online and other resources that promise to change the purchaser’s life. After skimming several fee-based meditation offerings, I decide to stick with resources that seem genuinely informative and do not ask for money. And, importantly to me, do not offer extravagant and absurd promises.
The Mayo Clinic’s discussion of anxiety—and dealing with it through meditation—surprised me a bit with its inclusion of religious components (which I interpret as suggestion options, not as demands). In a pretty lengthy online article, it offered suggestions on how to develop a meditation practice. (What follows is mostly verbatim from the website, but with a few personal edits):
Breathe deeply. Focus your full attention on your breathing. Concentrate on feeling and listening as you inhale and exhale through your nostrils. Breathe deeply and slowly. When your attention wanders, gently return your focus to your breathing.
Scan your body. When using this technique, focus attention on different parts of your body. Become aware of your body’s various sensations, whether that’s pain, tension, warmth or relaxation. Combine body scanning with breathing exercises and imagine breathing heat or relaxation into and out of different parts of your body.
Repeat a mantra. You can create your own mantra, whether it’s religious or secular. Examples of religious mantras include the Jesus Prayer in the Christian tradition, the holy name of God in Judaism, or the om mantra of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions.
Walk and meditate. Combining a walk with meditation is an efficient and healthy way to relax. You can use this technique anywhere you’re walking, such as in a tranquil forest, on a city sidewalk or at the mall. When you use this method, slow down your walking pace so that you can focus on each movement of your legs or feet. Don’t focus on a particular destination. Concentrate on your legs and feet, repeating action words in your mind such as “lifting,” “moving” and “placing” as you lift each foot, move your leg forward and place your foot on the ground.
Engage in prayer. Prayer is the best known and most widely practiced example of meditation. Spoken and written prayers are found in most faith traditions. You can pray using your own words or read prayers written by others. Check the self-help section of your local bookstore for examples. Talk with your rabbi, priest, pastor or other spiritual leader about possible resources. [John’s comment: In my mind, a secular “prayer” that acknowledges benefits I did not earn and offers appreciation to the “universe” for the day would more than suffice.]
Read and reflect. Many people report that they benefit from reading poems or sacred texts, and taking a few moments to quietly reflect on their meaning. You can also listen to sacred music, spoken words, or any music you find relaxing or inspiring. You may want to write your reflections in a journal or discuss them with a friend or spiritual leader. [John’s comment: My blog may serve this function, though perhaps reading others’ thoughts will be more calming.]
Focus your love and gratitude. In this type of meditation, you focus your attention on a sacred image or being, weaving feelings of love, compassion and gratitude into your thoughts. You can also close your eyes and use your imagination or gaze at representations of the image. [John’s comment: While love and gratitude are, I think, essential, focusing on a “sacred image” seems unnecessarily religious.]
Based on what I have read and my intellectual and emotional response to it, I think the outcome of working on the new house will be beneficial to an anxiety-relieving “meditation” practice. A comfortable and quiet place in the woods, in an area well-suited for walking without concerns about traffic, can be calming in and of itself. I can already envision taking daily walks that double as meditative acknowledgements of my good fortune. Repeating a mantra (something I would have considered no more than a ridiculous ritual in years past) that has some special meaning to me is an intriguing idea, though I’m not sure just what that mantra might be. I’ll think about it. I like the idea of reading and reflecting. And I already know and feel the importance of love and gratitude for everything I have—including physical possessions, a sense of being safely “at home,” and my life experiences that molded me into who I am and continue to shape me every day.
Obviously, I wouldn’t devote so much time to reading about and reflecting on anxiety if I did not feel its effects on me and on others in my sphere. I don’t think my anxiety is any greater than anyone else’s, but regardless of its severity or lack thereof. But any time it crosses the line between giving me a healthy awareness of my life’s situation and making me feel wary of “what comes next,” it merits attention.
Secret longings. Fantasies. Wishes that, though in conflict with one another, provide the fuel for desire. These are things I will write about when I find the perfect place to think and view what hides behind the curtains in my mind. And I will return to Struggles, Arkansas and to my life and times when I was Kolbjørn Landvik or a dozen other characters on whom I may have modeled my life. I wrote a piece I called Fikshun, but I’ve never posted it here. Perhaps I will one day before long. I’ll get back to writing. I will.