Things We Whisper to Ourselves

Early this year, I decided to dedicate the Spring to personal healing. I committed to do so when my plans for 2020 completely vaporized in a matter of days due to the COVID pandemic, and I could no longer put off addressing my declining emotional health by burying myself in commitments and deadlines. With nothing ahead of me but heaps of free time, I mapped out some parameters for a period of mental housekeeping. 

Over the course of my adult life I’ve allowed my head to get rather messy. This was the cost of transforming into a high performance wrecking ball of productivity. By ignoring the subtle details of existence, overlooking attempts made by others to forge meaningful relationships with me, and disassociating myself from my own body as a thing I inhabit, I’ve been able to achieve a lot of stuff- but nothing that feels quite like living.

I wasn’t always like this. I was a practicing Buddhist back when I was a young student; the last time I can remember being spiritual or mindful. Back then, I would actually meditate and reflect on my thoughts regularly. I’d question myself. I’d take time to understand my feelings and acknowledge where they came from. And while I do feel I’ve maintained this same level of self-awareness into adulthood, the knowledge isn’t at all organized. Rather than my mind being a tidy one-bedroom flat like it was in my early twenties, my complex adult headspace is like a hoarder’s McMansion that’s been trashed. Calling it mental “housekeeping” feels very on pointe. 

What am I? My partner has described me as an insufferable anxiety sprinkler when preparing for the exhibition of my work. My friends often tease me about being high strung. I’ve accumulated a toolbox of coping mechanisms to get me through rough patches in life, and while survival tactics aren’t necessarily a bad thing, I hope to dial them in better. It is my wish not to be eternally known as the person picking their cuticles, chewing on their cheek, or being casually triggered into a debilitating holding pattern of past trauma that sends me straight to my dark place.

(I would describe being emotionally triggered the same as attempting to dance in a room of your messy house, but accidentally tripping over things on the floor and banging into stuff that hasn’t been put away, thus accumulating scratches and bruises that you then have to heal from.)

The healing and “cleaning” at large was to become a journey. So I defined some destinations and checkpoints for myself; rules that would help me break out of old habits and potentially create healthier ones… when I was ready. My goal being: to clean up my emotions and thoughts so that I no longer live inside my head the way Gandalf struggles to navigate through Bilbo’s house in Hobbiton. 

The two major avenues I’ve broached are: mental-emotional health and social-emotional health; basically, private behaviors, and public behaviors. Young-Sarah had mantras that she would whisper to herself whenever she found her mind doing something that led to negativity. A “Mantra” is something uttered to aide in meditation or concentration. Usually a sound, word, or phrase. Practice is of Hindu or Buddhist origin. Here are some of the new ones I’ve been whispering to myself since this Spring:

Want what you have. So much of living in a capitalist society prompts us to desire things that we don’t have. Whether that be material objects, the perception of success, or FOMO in the form of longing for a more involved social experience… we’re constantly reminded that there are others out there who seem to be doing life “better “and enjoying it more than we are. 

The only way I’ve found to shut this negative thought process down is to remind myself of something in my life that I truly appreciate and rub my attention all over it. If I find myself wishing I had more friends, or more professional opportunities, or clothes that fit me better- I’ll stop and remind myself that even when I’m at home with my partner in my paint-stained pajama pants working on a part in CAD for a robot, that too is actually pretty great in and of itself.

Allow yourself to just exist. Much of my anxiety in life stems from feeling like I aught to be making better use of my time… or that others are somehow ahead of me on the racetrack of life. Any time I receive a complement, or encouragement, I translate that into the idea that I could and should somehow be achieving more. At any moment, I could be moving in the direction of greater success, or “better” fulfillment, such that if I have any downtime at all, I feel a stark sense of guilt that I’m not being more productive or responsible with my time.

I saw a meme on Facebook a couple of weeks ago with an inspirational quote to the tune: “a dulled sword can be mended, a broken sword cannot.” – Any time I catch me shaming myself over time spent doing something frivolous… or time spend doing nothing for that matter, I have to consciously rationalize that energy is like breathing. You can only inhale if you exhale. And similarly, I can only be creative and productive, if sometimes I am not.

Be honest with yourself. I hate how much policing of my own thoughts I find myself doing- STILL. From talking myself out of feeling what I feel, to ignoring it all together, I encounter countless opportunities to suffer from what I’ll call micro-denial. Some thoughts and feelings are inconvenient, but they don’t go away just because you’re good at cherrypicking the ones that suit the desired perception of your life better. 

The hard truths are the things that prompt growth. If something hurts or stings to think about… I’ve found that is exactly what I need to meditate on in order to do so; to grow and become better.

Some things in life can be just for you (you don’t have to share everything). As a content creator (someone who makes their livelihood by actively packaging their life into nuggets for others to consume), over the past five or six years, I’ve cultivated this habit of finding the right “angle” to make everything I do and create into a performance to publicize for others. It’s been an effective way to promote engagement in my work, and develop a reputation for myself as an artist- BUT it has utterly robbed some aspects of my life of having any meaning whatsoever. 

This year especially (and this is part of the reason why I haven’t been creating videos, or streaming, or publishing much of anything for others to see) I have taken my life back. My experiences are mine, and it’s okay if sometimes I don’t share them. They’re more special to me if I don’t. – hand-in-hand with the previous mantra, It’s okay to just exist and enjoy things for myself.

Slow down when you’re talking. I have a lot of energy and my mind tends to go a million miles a minute. Every one thought that I have immediately branches out into infinite threads of supplemental thoughts… and for some reason I feel a need to try and say all of them at once. Of course, I can’t, and I usually end up picking the wrong thread when I speak. 

A lot of this would be fixed if I’d just slow tf down. So I’ve made a conscious effort to say more by saying less.

Look into the person’s actual eyes. I usually don’t have a problem with this… so, what I mean is: remembering to establish a connection with the person I’m conversing with. In daily life, it seems that we have so many shallow interactions with other humans, that we shrug them off like fodder or empty calories. Whether that’s the barista who made your coffee, or the store clerk who rang up your groceries, or your waitress at the place you just ate, we have gotten really good at running a “socially-digestable and on your way” script to get us through these moments so that we can move on promptly to the next important one. 

The truth is that, all of our interactions with humans are important. Especially the ones that don’t feel like they are. The subtle interactions we have with others define the temperature of the water we swim in. This hasn’t been more apparent to me than now, within the past two years of social-political unrest here in the United States. People generally aren’t okay, and you can feel it. The subtly of others really does affect my energy… which means my subtlety must affect the energy of others as well. If I go out into the world, now more than ever, I try to have a certain mindfulness about the slight impressions I leave on strangers. What energy am I feeding them?

Everything Matters, even the smallest details. I am paraphrasing… but this is a quote from one of the NPCs in WoW- lol. Which eventually sunk in after hearing it so many times while playing again this spring. One of the philosophies I’ve established in life, I call the “Shit Mountain” theory. In certain contexts, I think it’s better to try more things that result in a less than ideal outcome, than achieve fewer with a slightly more ideal outcome; basically, the opposite of quality over quantity. Where this might sound absurd at first, as an artist I’ve found that it’s better to fail hard and fail often, than to be paralyzed by the anticipation of a potential failure. The idea is that, if you keep piling up failures, eventually you’ll have a mountain of shit… but the view from the top is the same as from one built only from calculated successes.

This way of thought has led to a strange byproduct: I overlook details like crazy (in fact, this is probably an extension of the previous mantra). Everything we do for ourselves, and for other actually matters. 

There were a lot of things that I neglected during the quarantine this Spring. I was wildly depressed for a compound heap of reasons, and as such started putting off showering since I wasn’t leaving the house, or trimming my nails… because lol why bother. While I was tricking myself into believing that none of those things mattered, I came out of the fog of depression due entirely to the fact that I had readopted all of those subtle routines, learning that yes, they did matter. They never stopped mattering. In fact, they may have mattered most.

Don’t be afraid to show people you care about them. Huge. What I’ve come to realize about the human experience is that it really is all about discovering what has meaning to us. I find that meaning is intrinsically linked to my relation with the people I know. I recently read an article that iterated this rather nicely and caused me to have a good nod.

I find the most meaning when I establish a sense of continuity of consciousness with another person. This experience could be called a level or relation… which is the basis for a relationship. All of the humans I hold dear to me and couldn’t have become who I am without knowing, are others who I relate to. They are the meaning. So, the way I see it, if this is so, I better not take that lightly. I should probably even go out of my way to show those people that I appreciate the connection we have. It’s precious after all.

All other previous mantras combined: Appreciate the people in your life. We are living in a time of massive uncertainty. Nothing has ever been guaranteed, but this hasn’t been more terrifyingly apparent than now. Sometimes having something taken away is the only way to realize that you’ve been overlooking it all along. On a collective scale, we have all gone through this it seems; sacrificing time with the people who give our lives meaning for the sake of everyones safety and well being.

There is so much I used to take for granted (and might still if this hell-scape lets up ever ever). A lot of those “things” are people. I hope I wont let it take something as insane as a pandemic to make me remember that again.

I’m writing and sharing all of this because I really do think that the things we whisper to ourselves shape our reality. I know since I started practicing a certain mindfulness this year, my attitude has improved slowly and I have healed as a result.

We are all experiencing a rough point in time with bigger storms looming on the horizon. This is my way of saying, “chin up, fellow soldier of the forgotten wasteland”. Take this chunk of coaching and encouragement with you into the coming days. I truly hope it helps in some way. -And remember that you aren’t alone on this journey.

lol- after looking through memes that I’ve saved on my desktop I just found this one, which pretty much sums up the entire article I just wrote. regardless, this:

Readers Comments (3)

  1. Thank you for this post Sarah. I’ve been following your various projects for a while now but just recently found your blog and it’s kind of ridiculous how much of your writing I relate to lol.

    “The subtly of others really does affect my energy… which means my subtlety must affect the energy of others as well.” This line in particular really stuck with me. I spend so much time sprinting between rooms in the McMansion in my own head that I forget about the world outside it. Then depression starts telling me that nobody cares and nothing matters anyway, while at the same time my anxiety is telling me everyone cares way too much and is analyzing all of my mistakes RIGHT NOW and they’re all gunna come yell at me and now I need to rehearse what I’m going to say to them when they confront me and and and…. I don’t know how I lived so long not realizing the chaos my brain was going through all the time wasn’t my personality but a real problem that other people also deal with.

    Anyways, I just wanted to leave a comment and let you know that your writing is really appreciated and has been helpful to at least one rando out there in the world. 🙂 I’m not spiritual or religious but I am sending good thoughts your way and hope that as the year keeps going that it gets easier and easier for you to shut the intrusive bad thoughts down.

    Reply
  2. Re: “What energy am I feeding them?” For what it’s worth, when we first met as complete strangers at Defcon 26, it was in front of Giada’s busy restaurant at one of the busiest intersections in Caesar’s Palace. And even though we were strangers, I found you to be refreshingly authentic and real. Our interactions since haven’t changed my mind and I hope that our joint collaborations have been rewarding/enjoyable (or will be :)). I’m a firm believer of intentionality and I find that if you live life intentionally, even if the intentionality is to find rest in the mundane things of life, then that’s where contentment lies.

    Enjoyed this reflection of your experience, thanks for sharing it.

    Reply
  3. Matt Szmaida 28.07.2020 @ 12:56 am

    Thanks Sarah. I’m going to go add to my shit mountain now.

    Reply

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