“Think of all the joy you’ll find
When you leave the world behind
And bid your cares goodbye
You can fly, you can fly, you can fly!”
– Peter Pan
“I’ve been thinking ’bout catching a train,
Leave my phone machine by the radar range,
‘Hello it’s me, I’m not at home,
If you’d like to reach me, leave me alone…’ ”
– Sheryl Crow
So, since my last post on mindfulness/meditation I have been thinking a LOT about intention.
Intention is basically your inner, true, bottom-line reason for doing everything. There is sort of “immediate” intention (your reasons for doing specific individual actions) and that changes depending on the action, but there is also sort of an over-riding, underlying intention that arises from your own personal experiences and wants and fears, etc. that doesn’t give a crap about what you think you want or what you think your intention should be.
The issue with this “bottom-line” intention is that even if you disregard it, or don’t both to identify it, it still drives your brain. It’s hard neuroscience- it’s called confirmation bias. Meaning, once you get a indication of something that might be true, your brain automatically preps your nervous system to be on the lookout for things that confirm that it’s true.
For example, they did a test with people who believe that they have some form of luck- good OR bad. They gave them these specially printed newspapers with five “you have won!” messages hidden in them. The people who believed they had good luck found the messages very quickly, EVERY time. However, the people who believed they didn’t have any luck rarely found the messages. The brain was running the show.
So no matter what you say your intention is, your beliefs about life and the things you want from it run your brain, and your brain runs your behavior, so you’re sort of doomed to follow that intention whether it’s good or bad. It’s like a script that you wrote for yourself without even knowing it. And bad-da-da-dahhhhh (my attempt at spelling what a drumroll might sound like) – meditation and mindfulness are one of the few things you can do to change the script. Because you are paying attention to how your brain is working and also training your brain to operate differently.
And the reason meditation and being regularly mindful is so freakin’ hard is because you are taking years and years of conditioning and habits and these thoroughly deep tendencies and basically forcing all those behaviors to STOP and rewire themselves.
Anyway, some people know their deep intention. For me, I couldn’t figure it out.
In addition to my Buddhist Studies program, I’ve also been taking the Awakening Joy course once again (this is my eighth time, I think- it’s really a game-changer) and the first thing in that class is determining your intention. And every time I take the class, I get stuck on that.
I mean, generally, we all want to be happier. I think that drives a lot of is. So, in the past I have declared that my intention is joy or well-being. Pretty boilerplate stuff. It never sticks, though, because it’s not genuine. Don’t get me wrong- I really wanted it to be genuine. I just couldn’t figure out what the hell my genuine, deep-down intention was.
Honestly, I knew anxiety was part of what drives me, because for a long time anxiety has been part of my reaction to almost everything. But I’ve also been in a lot of situations where I couldn’t listen to anxiety and I’ve powered through, so there was that aspect of it, as well.
Last year I tried to really puzzle it out and I came across a prompt somewhere online that recommended thinking about the last time I felt “childlike wonder” and look deeper into that for a clue on intention.
For some reason I thought of the song “You Can Fly” from the Disney film “Peter Pan”. I’m not a big fan of Peter Pan or anything (I don’t even think I have ever seen the film, to be honest), but at Walt Disney World there’s a thing called “Philharmagic” which is a 4D attraction with a bunch of famous Disney songs in it, and every.single.time. they do the little tiny Peter Pan bit with them flying near Big Ben, and play a few lines of the song, I get goosebumps and melt a little bit. I’m not really a big joyful person, so to feel a sense of complete joy and awe at that tiny bit of animation and that snippet of vintage song… it’s so weird and random. Something about it hits me in some place I don’t normally have access to.
So, based on that experience, I picked “delight” as my intention for last year, because I felt like it delighted me. I even printed out a couple of copies of the image to put in my journal and on the wall behind my desk to remind me of the intention for delight. It was a nice word, and I still have the image up, but it’s definitely not my intention. (I will say that I *do* consider delighting in things – especially nature – up there on my list of “excellent experiences that make life worth living.”)
The sort of weird thing is that until I was writing this entry, I never realized that the lyrics of the song (“Think of all the joy you’ll find, when you leave the world behind…”) pointed DIRECTLY to my actual intention, I just didn’t pick up on it until now.
So, what exactly *is* my true intention? The thing that runs the show for me? The thing that pops up in all the choices I make and behaviors I exhibit etc. ad nauseum?
My intention is my desire for autonomy. Definition: freedom from external control or influence; independence.
In other words, I kinda wanna be left alone. I don’t mean alone alone. Just… I want to fly under the radar. I don’t want to attract any attention. I want to live my life autonomously without fuss. I don’t want to be picked apart or examined. I want to engage with other people – don’t get me wrong- but in a personal, genuine way. I’m not interested in being part of the Larger Conversation.
This intention most likely stems from my experiences as a child being poked and prodded by a myriad of doctors, answering questions, being brave, living with the unknown of having the health problems I did. Blah blah blah. I knew the doctors were ultimately there to help, but usually the poking and prodding would result in a surgery or a treatment that was pretty traumatic. Luckily, I had parents who took their job as my caregivers *very* seriously and so I know I could have had it a lot worse. Almost every one of my health situations was often misdiagnosed at first, and my world would be ALL suffering if not for second or third opinions. But, the flip side of that is a LOT of doctors and examinations and procedures and evaluations.
The problem is, when you are a kid in that situation, you can never ever say “LEAVE ME ALONE” to a doctor or nurse or adult or whatever because you know that they are ultimately trying to help you. Not even when they hurt you. I had my share of scared crying fits as a kid, but ultimately whatever it was that I was crying about had to go on, so as I got older I realized it was pretty useless.
God, there have been SO many times I have wanted to say “LEAVE ME ALONE” and couldn’t.
And at that time, doctors didn’t coddle. For example, if you needed a cast removed, they came at you with that giant electric saw -the same kind your dad had in the garage for cutting wood or metal- and didn’t explain that it was designed NOT to cut your leg and skin off along with it. You’d think they would explain that to a tiny kid, but they didn’t, and it TERRIFIED me. And then the doctors got frustrated at me for pulling back my leg in fear and freaking out. Little things like that happen often enough, and then they begin to add up.
I finally did say “enough”, actually. After the foot reconstruction I had in college (the one in which they took my hip bone out and build a new foot with it), I was getting prepared to finally be discharged from the hospital and go home, but they had to remove the central IV line from my chest. I’d had the thing for about six months, but it was supposed to just slide out. Regardless, they were supposed to come early in the day in do it in case there were complications since I had a flight home to New York from Atlanta first thing the next morning.
The on-call doctor sashayed in after 6pm with an all-male gaggle of medical students. I was an 18 year old who had gone through about eight months of pretty significant health stuff, starting with a bone infection that precipitated all of this, so by this time I felt like a GIANT walking pincushion.
And of course, the line did not slide out- my body decided to just integrate it into the tissue of my chest and grew around it.
Anyway, the doctor, went ahead and cut my chest open without sedation, in an effort to try and dig the line out from under my breasts without having to scrub in for surgery. He decided to just go ahead and open me up right in my hospital room right in front of all those med students. I thought I was going to just go along with it as usual, even though I knew it was way wrong (he should have brought me in for surgery, or at least into a procedure room) but when I felt the scalpel hit my skin, something in me snapped. There was absolutely pain, but what I really felt was pure rage. I was just SO angry. And he kept digging at the line, in my chest. Cutting at my skin, tugging on the tube.
All the sudden, I heard a very loud scream. Not pain screaming, but “get the f*ck away from me” kind of screaming. And it was coming from *me*. It shocked everyone, including me. I’m NOT a screamer, and I knew the last thing you want to do when someone has a sharp medical instrument near your body is make a sudden loud noise. But it was like the Big Girl Chel finally came out and took over the show.
My orthopedic doctor heard me from another floor and came down to rescue me, throwing the other doctor out of the room, and swept me back into surgery to have the IV line properly removed and my chest sutured up. Very simple, in and out, and I was awake for most of it and it was so much better than the hospital-room pseudo surgery. I went home the next morning, as planned, with two extra sets of stitches to heal.
But I also went home with a new knowledge- I could, and SHOULD, say “no”. To doctors, to “adults”, to whomever. If it wasn’t right, then I was allowed to protest it.
That was pretty profound, and that little seed of “ENOUGH” had taken root and has been growing steadily ever since.
It’s funny, because a lot of positive psychology emphasizes the whole “Yes!” approach to life. Being open to the world and embracing new adventures and venturing forth and being welcoming, etc. But for some of us, learning how to say “no” is where true happiness lies. Peace comes in figuring out our boundaries and honoring them, no matter what other people think. And a lot of people don’t understand it, because the word “no” seems generally constrictive. But it’s not. Learning how to say “no” has freed me. The space in which “no” exists is peaceful and not-chaotic and still contains all the wonder and contentment (and cats) of the “yes” world.
There’s a Sheryl Crow lyric I have loved since the minute I heard it in college. I mean, it *really* resonated with me.
“I’ve been thinking ’bout catching a train,
Leave my phone machine by the radar range,
‘Hello it’s me, I’m not at home,
If you’d like to reach me, leave me alone.’
I know it plays off as her sort of saying “buzz off” but what I always took it to mean was that she was saying “if you truly want to reach me deep inside and actually make an impression, you’ll give me room to be myself.” (and you won’t require tremendous phone interaction, because all introverts hate that with a passion.) Or like a shy cat- you can’t chase it around because you will scare the crap out of it. But if you sit and blink your eyes at it, eventually it will become your best friend.
So, I actually embrace this intention, as unpleasant as it may seem, because it’s authentic and I truly understand it. It makes so much sense to me and I can *feel* it deep down. And I can see how my behaviors and choices ultimately come from a place of “what would be the least fuss?”
My thing is this: because I allow myself to say “no” so often, if I do say “yes” to something, it means I love it. I embrace it. It’s the Real Deal for me.
Art. Cats. Family. Friends. Certain books. Music. Swimming. Gardening. Science Fiction movies that aren’t cheesy. Buddhism. The color blue. Being a vegetarian. Whatever. If there’s a “yes” inside me for those things, then I know it’s something worth investing my time in. If you are part of my “yes”, then never ever wonder if I actually like you or am invested in you, because I am.
I don’t know what it means as far as my personal and spiritual path, but I do think coming clean on the fact that I feel this way isn’t a bad thing. There’s something about being my age (42) and understanding myself and how I tick that creates an ease of being for myself, and in a lot of ways being so comfortable with my quirks and shyness makes it easier to be open to different ideas and teachings and see more clearly how I can apply them to life and actually make a difference.
“When you put yourself out there in a way in which you aren’t really functional, then that is not going to most benefit the universe.” – Adam Yauch (MCA from the Beastie Boys, who was a Tibetan Buddhist.)
I think this “lay low” is the reason why I have always had such a hard time posting my art online. Someone I know encouraged me to give Instagram another try this week, since it has a good reputation for being a positive place for artists without the political thing that has taken over most social media at the moment, and which I am avoiding like the plague.
I tried posting a snapshot of my studio to my Instagram and it was *so* hard. Posting my art has always made me cringe, no matter where it is. (My cats? YES. my art? not so much.) I only post about 1% of the art I make, if that. I just don’t want to draw attention, in a way. That’s why I know I could probably never be a successful commercial artist because those folks *hustle*. They work for it. They work their asses off on social media.They are willing to put on their big girl (and boy) pants and put themselves out there. I never understood why I had such a reluctance to post my art, but now I do. It’s because my instinct is to lay low, not go in the opposite direction.
So I have an issue with posting my paintings or sketches or watercolor experiments, yet here I am, writing these LONG-WINDED posts about all the junk going on in my mind. [And losing readers. I’m *fairly* at peace with that because I kind of feel like I’m getting more out of this experience by being genuine and using this as a place to truly express what’s going on in my head at the moment. I’ve used this place as everything from an art blog to an adoption log and a whole bunch of stuff in between so it’s like me- it evolves. I’m trying to honor that.]
It think it’s because my art comes from a completely different place than these thoughts do. The art is kind of a vulnerable, extremely private thing. It comes from a different part of me. And lately I have been creating with the emphasis ON the process of creating and not finished project, so my work sort of reflects that gesture rather than a very definitive end-point. It’s about the flow and the experiments and the mess rather than a finished product.
Yet another LONG and winding entry. Why am I writing these? To answer my own question- because I will be curious. I wish I had written more about mindfulness and meditation when I first found out about it- if I had written more, maybe I could look back and see any progress I made instead of sitting here and wondering if I’m just treading water.
I hope you are having a wonderful week.