• “Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak”

    self portrait

    Self Portrait, 2013
    Eva Johnson
    Acrylics on Paper

    It takes courage to express myself in writing. It takes even more courage to share my paintings. It takes yet even further courage to express myself when I am vulnerable or weak. Therefore, this post is a great act of courage for me.

    On these bitterly cold days of Winter, I usually face the darkest parts of myself in the night. This is because I have long struggled with insomnia, especially in the winter months of the year. The sleepless nights become a harrowed journey of darkness, marred with my own fears that I can’t run away from. Insomnia turns my usual ‘level-head’ into a maze of screaming mind horrors. The darkness illuminates my worst fears and magnifies my anxieties. And…I have to face myself alone, my mirror of haunts staring at me all night, for all others are asleep and blissfully unaware.

    Even though I am a very healthy person, the insomnia wasn’t curable with lifestyle changes. In fact, sometimes my exercise would rev my mind into a frenzy, causing lack of sleep. Eliminating caffeine in the afternoons helped some, but not completely. My sun lamp (aka, the SAD light) worked a bit, but changed my nocturnal rhythm and caused me to fall asleep at 7:30 pm, not practical as a wife and mom. It seemed that I would have to live forever as vampire.

    My life fell apart and the insomnia got worse. I was stressed out all the time and my anxiety increased exponentially. I began to have increased panic attacks.

    It seemed I had to find a new dance to avoid the shards of jagged glass that were raining from the sky and shattering around me. I knew that a new positive life was waiting for me, if I only had the courage to chase the light. I began to research various ways to simply remove the stress from my life. I began to take mild iron pills (as recommended by my doctor). I began to voraciously read ‘positivity’ books and quips. I cut out anything or anyone who contributed negative ideas or made me feel less-than. I leaned and nested into my wonderful family, who I knew supported me and loved me unconditionally. I turned to my painting and my gardening to reconnect with my simpler and natural self. I began to explore new welcoming pathways, places and people that would encourage my creativity and rather ‘unconventional’ point-of-view. I made a deliberate choice to live like the optimist I knew I could be.

    I then began a morning ritual that included mindful meditation.

    Each morning, I began to play relaxing classical or jazz music. I set my alarm 30 minutes earlier just so that the house would be quiet and I could be mindful. I’d start the coffee water for the press. And, then, I’d practice being still.

    In the beginning, I was absolutely horrible at stillness in every possible way. My inner fears would leap out and throw daggers at my heart. I would start going over my daily to-do list. I would be regaled all those negative words I had ever heard about myself and chime in with some of my own new insults. Being a creative person means I was creatively crafting new methods of self-sabotage. I would cry and kick the table legs in frustration. But, yet, I continued to try and get to a peaceful state before I would start each and every morning. Sometimes, I would find a bit of brain ‘quiet,’ even if it was for just a teensy millisecond.

    Over months of practice and many comforting words from Buddhist meditation ‘black-belts,’ I have begun to find my more ‘centered self’ in the morning, even if my mind never turns completely off. I don’t experience an ‘ohm’ or a glorious sunlit ray of intellectual ‘well-being.’ I don’t hear a lilting opus voice epiphany. I experience quiet interludes. I try to clear away those invisible cobwebs of insecurities by brushing them gently aside. The wet fibers of fear still appear. I now think of insecurity and doubt as a shelf of harmonious mind clutter high above me. When things get too full, I give the excess away to the void. I dust off the fear and celebrate what remains.

    What I unexpectedly gained from this meditation practice? Sleep. Blissful, uninterrupted sleep.

    From the very few days of ‘bad’ meditation, I noticed that I was sleeping better. I couldn’t understand this change. I was only meditating 5 minutes a day. I thought it was a crazy fluke that would change after I adjusted to a new routine. But, it hasn’t. Even now, if I start to ‘forget’ my mindful practice, my sleeplessness returns rather rapidly.

    Can I say that meditation saved me? No. But, it did make me realize that I can sit still and be okay with that. I don’t have to fidgit or hide from myself. I can face myself alone and feel full and refreshed. I don’t have to distract myself or busy myself with a phone when I am waiting in line at the bank. I can enjoy moments of stillness and solitude without fear. Fear is not going to hold me back anymore.

    I didn’t share this story to sell training packages. I didn’t share this story for any other reason than an honest want to share my humble story with others. I live in hopes that we can all be more communicative about our struggles. My life isn’t perfect. In fact, it is pretty damn messy sometimes. Messiness is human. I am a human with mess and I am not too scared to admit my truth.

    I have presented a painting I did during my worst time of anguish. This is a self-portrait of my sleeplessness. For a time, I was hanging this in my house. However, it now just remains on a high shelf…

     

     

     

     

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