In-between thoughts: just breathe

Thoughts between sets at the gym.

Oh my good gravy. I am spent. I have been running on a low thrum of high-stress for months now and I am just kind of… Done? Like, my body is exhausted. My brain is exhausted. But this coming Wednesday I’ll be able to turn in my papers to my MA culminating oral exam committee and I have already set that weekend aside for pure relaxation and fun. I have a Zoom with some girlfriends planned. Chris and I have kayak plans. I have a couple fun books checked out from the library. The couch will be freshly vacuumed by then. I have a bottle of wine ready to accompany me all that weekend. I. Am. Ready. But onto gym thoughts.

Gym side note? I’m up to 9 pullups in a row. Remember when I could barely do 4?! I FEEL STRONG LIKE BULL. Anyway…

I recently completed a Mindfulness Training at work, and I cannot overstate how much the practices I am now putting in place are helping me get by during this period of being tapped out. First, the breathing. OMG THE BREATHING. BREATHING IS GOOD. Taking a minute or two to focus on taking a series of deep, slow, big breaths transforms my mental state. My whole body relaxes and I’m able to focus clearly and deeply for the first time in hours (or however long it’s been since my last deep breaths). The best part of deep breathing exercises is you can do them anywhere. In the car. Walking to get coffee. Sitting down for a Zoom meeting. Making dinner. It’s a good way to center myself in whatever task I’ve taken on

The one that is helping me calm my actual thoughts (not just stopping them momentarily in deep breathing) is the practice of saying “This also.” Observing whatever is going on in or around me and saying “This also” is a way to focus my attention on whatever thing as simply acknowledging that it exists. Speaking that statement to myself about it replaces whatever judgment of “good” or “bad” that I might be tempted to put on it in that moment. It pushes the pause button on my automatic moralizing so that I can practice acceptance and give my brain time to think it through and decide whether it deserves to be called good, to be called bad, or simply best described as simply something that is. Neutral is a thing.

I feel as though so much of my evangelical upbringing was spent learning how to put quick moral judgments on EVERYTHING. Rarely did I just notice. Observe. Accept something as part of reality. Something was either “according to God’s will” (and therefore good) or “in disobedience of God’s will” (and therefore bad). This is built into any theology that claims It just trained my brain to automatically assign value to everything I experience and “fit” things into a specific box, to be dealt with forever after as either “good” or “bad.” This is only a problem because it takes a great deal of intellectual and emotional effort to take things out of one box and put it into the other, in part because as soon as we think something is bad, we feel badness towards it and explain that bad feeling to ourselves through a set of new beliefs about the thing, beliefs that really serve to help us justify our feelings rather than to understand the thing itself. “Bad” is not just a label for various qualities of the bad thing, but it indicates that we feel negatively about the thing, and that predisposes us to collect a whole bunch of new, false beliefs about it.

I think that part of why I gravitated towards philosophy is that I wanted to retrain my brain to investigate these evaluations and assignations, and eventually to train myself to investigate them before those labels get slapped on by my brain. I can never do this perfectly or consistently, of course; I can only ever get better at it. Pursuing philosophy was my way of becoming more intellectually responsible. It’s a very happy side effect that I found I love the crap out of it, too. That shows me just how much my brain and my person are so much happier in this more investigative, open, morally-paused state. That makes me happy.

Wearing my formal flips with the best workout outfit. “Best” = my favorite, the workout outfit towards which I feel most positively out of all my workout outfits.

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