"The Universe is not only queerer then we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." — JBS Haldane
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  • Always Returning

    Posted on June 3rd, 2020 alexwashoe No comments

    “Meditation is not about being perfect” — according to the calm, soothing voice on the meditation app I sometimes use. “It is the nature of the mind to stray. When you become aware of your thoughts straying, just gently bring yourself back and focus on your breath.” These lapses, the app assures me, are not failures. The endless process of noticing my straying thoughts and bringing them back IS meditation. That’s the whole point.

    I am also a runner. And, of course, a writer. These are both activities I have strayed from over the years. In the early 2000’s I ran a lot. My peak was 2008 when I ran a half-marathon. But a series of set-backs starting that year led to a long period of depression and running stopped being part of my routine.

    Until about a year ago. After going back into therapy for gender dysphoria and body issues, I finally got serious about losing weight. As my weight decreased my desire for activity increased. I started running again, gradually increasing my times and distances. I ran a 5K in March of this year, and I’m still improving. Running is a healthy, pleasurable space for me that I can’t believe I ever let myself stray from.

    The same is true of writing. No other activity has been as constant in my life. I started composing stories before I could write, dictating them to my father, and taking them to school to share with my teachers. I have always written in some form or another. But the seriousness of my commitment has waxed and waned. When I was young, I was devoted to writing, determined to be the next William Faulkner (I grew up in the south) or Carson McCullers. As I got older my models changed but the ambition remained.

    As with running though, life got in the way. I got distracted by other things, bad choices, all the business of living. I always wrote, but for years it was just dabbling. It wasn’t until the last ten years that I got really serious again about writing and publishing professionally.

    Running for any distance — or writing at any length — has a lot in common with meditation. We face essentially the same challenge, to deal with the mind’s straying nature and constantly bring ourselves back to the original intent. When I start on an afternoon run, I tell myself “just settle in, we’re going to be doing this for the next forty minutes”. And I know that during that time I’ll have a whole cast of thoughts floating through my brain. About the weather, about what I’m writing (or why I haven’t written), health, friends, bills that need to be paid, and every twinge and minor pain throughout my body. Thoughts about the hill I’m running up, how much my legs muscles burn, how hungry I am, what’s for dinner, that time I fell right here and skinned myself up on the sidewalk. I’m tired, I can’t make it, I have to stop, not today.

    Any one of those thoughts can stop me. If I latch onto it, buy into it, I’ll stop. I might feel terrible about it or I might feel justified, but I’ll stop. It’s easy, like tossing an anchor out behind the boat.

    The same is true of writing. On days when I’m having trouble getting started or staying focused, I often do sprints. Set the meditation timer and start writing. Fifteen minutes, thirty minutes (depends on how hard it is to commit that day). Put your head down and run — type — and don’t stop until the timer goes off.

    Then here come the thoughts. I’m tired. I’m sleepy. I’m hungry. This sucks. What am I even doing this for? I messed this piece up in the last paragraph or the last chapter. I don’t even like this anymore. I’ll write later.

    Every single one of those thoughts can stop me dead.

    The solution — the only solution I know and the one that spiritual and mental health teachers have been touting for centuries — is to just keep bringing the mind back. The thoughts float up and I watch them like TV commercials (unfortunately without fast-forward or mute) and I say to myself, “That’s very interesting. Right now we’re running though.” And keep running.

    Or, “Yes I am anxious about how people took that comment I left on Facebook this morning, but I don’t have to check it right now. I’m writing.” And keep writing.

    On the good days. Other days, I lose myself in distraction entirely and those days disappear and hardly leave a trace on my memory.

    But as soon as I become aware again — I haven’t run this week, I haven’t written in a while — I bring myself back. It took me ten years to come back to running. I’ve spent a lifetime straying and coming back to writing. But the meditation teachers insist that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s the nature of life. That’s the nature of the mind. If you spend an entire session sitting on the floor, dragging your mind to your breath every few seconds, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. That IS meditation.

    So I used to have a blog. Actually, I had two blogs, “Books and Beasts” which was mostly reviews of books about (I bet you can see this coming) animals. The other was called “Birdland West” which was about birding and related topics. Then I combined both of those blogs into a single writer’s blog and that continued for a while.

    And life happened. Distraction happened. I concentrated on writing books, I got caught up in therapy, in coming out … and I didn’t blog very much for a long time. Every once in a while I would remember and I would bring myself back, write a review or a post, and then I’d drift away again.

    Now I’m back.

    My intention is to blog here regularly. I suspect it will be filled with the things I care about. Pop culture, issues of representation, Queer politics, literature, superheroes, baseball, birds, running, dogs, my cat. What the world looks like through my particular window.

    That’s the plan. I’ll keep you posted.

    If you want to stay up to date on my projects and posts, you can join my mailing list HERE.

    I am the author of the “Westbrooke Siblings Western Adventures” available on Kindle.