Listen to Yourself: On Achieving Self-Discipline

“The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.”

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When was the last time you sat in silence and felt yourself slip into nothing? Do you ever tune out the noise around you and pay attention to what happens next? If the answer is ‘yes’ and you’ve allowed yourself moments to stall out, this cryptic message taken from a fortune cookie might stir something inside you.

The more I write, the more the yin and yang of human existence comes up as a theme. It almost writes itself. It’s no surprise, as you can probably tell by my latest blog posts, that I’ve been struggling to find my place in the world after completing my education. It was all too cozy being intertwined in structured collegiate strings – classes, professors, friends, clubs, all keeping my mind and soul active. As I walked across the stage during graduation I felt the strings snap and release their hold on me. It took feeling the diploma in my hand, celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime achievement with my family and friends, and simultaneously suffering the grief brought on from losing the safest chapter of my life for me to understand life’s dark sense of humor. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

Slowly after this shift, I began to look to myself for guidance. The discipline came to me in “the emptiness of everything” — from the moments when I had let my life become cyclical, structureless, and empty. By that I mean, clarity would find its way to me when I was stuck.

When I was a freshman in college, I developed a hip fracture from a combination of dancing for 10+ years of my life and gaining a drastic amount of weight too quickly. I had to drop out of school for a semester to live at home and keep the weight off my legs. Though this could have easily been the worst time in my life, the solitude and quiet gave me time to get to know myself again, to let my mind wander, and to make plans for a better future. It was in those few months that I dedicated time to this blog, wrote poetry every day, painted again for the first time in years, took care of my body, and got accepted into Salem State University where I would eventually complete my education.

I often look back at this time and use it as fuel when life feels uninspiring again. I remember the yin and yang and that I am solely responsible for pulling myself out of the hole, for bringing passion back into my routine. We tend to move so quickly all the time, always set to autopilot at work and in our relationships. It’s easy to lose yourself if you’re not paying attention to the voices and urges inside you. I had to learn that the hard way. I now make time for myself a priority.

When I graduated I let the ensuing emptiness consume me by neglecting the things I loved to do most of all. I stopped writing and felt the strain of that on my entire body. Nothing was expected of me anymore, no schedules were put in place to keep me in line. It was on me.

I’m writing this because I wish it had been available to me around the time my life shifted drastically and I couldn’t keep up. I’m writing this to remind everyone that “the greatest medicine” in life is you. It’s remembering to read, write, think, sit with yourself and feed your intellect, even if no one is expecting that of you.

It’s ironic how much we hate going to classes, dread doing a homework assignment, and can’t stand being graded constantly throughout the majority of our lives, but feel dependent on it all when it’s gone. Most people won’t admit it, but the void is there.

Long story short, sometimes a fortune cookie from last night’s take-out can lead to an epiphany — but only if you give yourself the time necessary to reflect. Though I don’t have anything figured out yet and feel stuck quite often, I am steadily emerging from the fog. Adulthood is intimidating and isolating, but it won’t overpower you if you fight back. Listen to yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Slowing Down

Thoughts written on the back of specials menus during a late night serving shift

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It shouldn’t be lonely to be alone. Resilience is knowing this,                      living without relying.                                  Something I couldn’t fathom as a child when all my loved ones were drinking from a fountain of eternal youth and I was certain I’d be great.

How much can a person’s light fade before they disappear?

I keep turning onto dead ends, which is to be expected when you have no sense of direction. I dreamt I found my starting point. Feeling the sweet rush of a challenge suited for me, I embraced it like an old friend. I woke up with a dull pain in my chest. It’s been hard to b r e a   t h e.  Now I draw in tentative breaths that move as slow as I do.

 

 

 

 

 

Still A Work in Progress

Last night I picked at the dry skin on my bottom lip and stared at the ceiling for hours until eventually, around four in the morning, my eyelids felt heavy. My mind was frantically planning an emergency escape from the absolute dry spell of inspiration and adventure that my current life had become.

Oftentimes, when I’ve reached the deep end of a low point in my life, I experience  random bursts of inspiration. They seem to come to me from an outside source, usually before bed, and they beg to be the fuel for something productive. Sadly, they often go unused and unfulfilled. During last night’s episode in particular, I found myself watching a TEDx Talk by Caroline McHugh called “The art of being yourself”. It was through this that a couple of things became clear to me.

To start, I’ve wasted too much time comparing myself to and appeasing others. McHugh attributes this habit in particular with a female-driven desire to be liked and appreciated. As a child, I never cared what people thought of me and it made me seem bizarre to other kids, especially to other young girls. In fifth grade while my “normal” female classmates were learning to straighten their hair and passing notes to the cute boys in class, I was designing identification cards for my three best friends as official entry into our magical world. We were young witches in a Harry Potter-based universe one week and ghost hunters trying to break into the haunted house behind the gym the next. I remember mustering the courage to ask the one boy I had a crush on if he liked me back and he laughed in my face. “No. You’re weird,” was the response I got before he sprinted back to his herd of cool boys. I shrugged and walked back to my friends unscathed. We had adventures to continue and the rest of our lives to fantasize about. Sure, it would’ve been nice if dreamboat Nick liked me back, but his opinion held no power over my confidence. I’ve been searching for that strength inside myself ever since. (P.S. Nick has since added me on Facebook and flirted his way into my messenger.)

My fixation on what others were thinking of me or what others were doing with their lives only held me back. Instead of allowing myself the time necessary to focus and think about who I wanted to become, I filled my time with Youtube videos of other people making their dreams come true. I soaked up the lives of the fictional TV and film characters that I adored and envisioned seeking out the same adventures and success. I’d often say things like “I could easily do what she’s doing!” or, after a random surge of inspiration, attack my parents with lists of ideas and dreams I hoped to accomplish to which they would nod and reply “It all sounds great Mariana. I want to see you do it.” I don’t regret soaking up all the inspiration, but I do regret not giving the same attention to myself that I gave/give to the people I admire. I realized that I need to build a relationship of admiration with myself to start making real strides.

Self-discipline is a bitch. I’ve been struggling with it my entire life, but more as a postgraduate than ever. Someone recently told me that talent is only 30% of what we can each rely on. The rest is how much work and dedication we are willing to put in every day to bring whatever dream we choose to fruition. I had been failing at this miserably, blaming bad luck and fate for how stagnant my life had become. The truth was right in front of me and I knew it all along. I was the one thing stopping me from moving forward.

So, what now?

As the title of this post would suggest, my path to pushing my limits and “making my dreams come true” is still a work in progress. I plan to make this blog my guinea pig, a place where I can track my creative productivity. I strongly suggest anyone who feels road-blocked or lost to watch Caroline McHugh’s Tedx Talk. She reminds us that we each have something powerful and unique to bring to the world. The first and most crucial step is to see it.

Temptation

Have you ever felt like doing something in a specific moment that would be utterly insane and ridiculous to everyone around you? This feeling comes and goes in my life. It creeps up from the depths of my unconscious, threatening to break free into my civilized day-to-day life. For example, earlier today I was having a normal conversation with a friend at the dinner table. Out of nowhere I felt this undeniable urge to pick up the cup in front of me and throw it at the wall. I don’t know where this urge came from and why I felt the desire to do this. Yet, the temptation to be uninhibited and “ridiculous” in that otherwise average moment is so inviting. Freud insisted that we had all of these thoughts, beliefs and desires repressed in our unconscious wanting to make themselves known in our lives. I’ve always found this theory fascinating because it implies that there’s more to all of us as individuals than we fully understand. We’re like incomplete puzzles, completely unaware of where our missing pieces are and what the finished image would look like.

Sometimes, these random bursts of temptation to do something completely out of the ordinary make me feel alive, almost primitive in a way. If you think about it, humans have found ways to fill this void by doing things that don’t quite make sense but that feed the temptation. Such things like skydiving, bungee jumping, reality altering drugs, etc., mimic that feeling of losing control. Why else would we do these things if not to feel completely uninhibited and why does that make us feel so good? I also find it interesting that for me, personally, moments of temptation come mostly when I’m in formal settings, social settings or in situations where I want to conduct myself well. It’s almost like part of me unconsciously strives to “misbehave” or desires to stop following any kind of guideline or social rule.

I’ve been in countless situations around big groups of people where I imagine myself screaming “FUCK!” at the top of my lungs. I visualize what would happen if I did it and how the people around me would react. Other times, in business settings, I’ve wondered what would happen if I started taking my clothes off, mainly because of how absurd it would be in that moment. I realize all of this might make me sound insane. I honestly thought there was something wrong with me until I asked my friends if these thoughts ever crossed their minds. To my surprise, most of them laughed when I asked and shared the temptations they’ve encountered in their own lives. One of my friends shared her desire to jump when on the ledge of a tall building or bridge. She insisted that it wasn’t a suicidal temptation but something that came from wanting to feel weightless, like flying. Research I’ve done also shows that I’m not alone in having these “absurd” temptations. All of this makes me want to look more into the subject of unconscious temptation. The human psych fascinates me, especially the areas we don’t know much about or fully understand.