I was talking with my brother the other day and we realized that it had been a while since I’d finished a painting…we actually had to consult my Instagram feed (follow @outlawyogi if you like) to find out that it had been since May.
I felt a mixture of emotions…shame, defeat, hopelessness…all mixing in a cocktail of despair.
Life is weird right now. Weirdly difficult.
The difficulties are weird and moving through them provides little-to-no sense of accomplishment and purpose.
If you are feeling a measure of this you are not alone.
When I look back and remember some of my ‘big’ accomplishments I can clearly trace the long line of little steps it took to get to the top of the mountain. I can remember the sense of pride in the discipline done…
In talking with other good friends about these hard times, I am hearing a lot of the same.
The challenges we now face lack a discernible outcome, and because of that the day-to-day can end up feeling pretty goddamned hollow as a result.
Getting through a trip to the grocery store…taking out the trash and recycling…doing some work or watching a movie…maybe making a well-received social media post…
Here I’m listing my ‘accomplishments’ from last week.
On the other side of the equation are challenges that are SO big they are daunting in their scope. Cleaning up our fouled environment, healing the fractious wounds of a nation, connecting with the people we care about when we are actually inhibited by law and regulation from doing so…
These are big, daunting challenges that sometimes feel like they don’t have possible positive resolution in our lifetime…so they are ignored, swept under the rug, or left in the closet like stinking, dirty laundry to fester for another semester.
When coupled with a creative, sensitive (read yogi) spirit the result is often a less-than-pleasant sense of purposelessness and hopelessness that can quickly turn to depression in even the most equipped persons.
I want to state that again for emphasis – even the most equipped (e.g. naturally positive) person is unfortunately, unconsciously succumbing to depression in the face of these challenges.
In fact, in the face of our fouled existence, you would rationally expect to see more addiction, suicide, and depression occurring as the environment becomes dirtier from actual pollutants, to the preponderance of negative attitudes and manufactured political fallout.
We sensitive souls are essentially the human equivalent of the canary in the coal mine.
If this inherent connection between organisms resonates with you, then do not be surprised as canary’s start to metaphorically and literally croak the world over.
As an artist and a yogi, I am more sensitive than most even if the tattoos, mohawk, and muscles seem to bely this fact.
(In fact, I have to remember that some of my most sensitive friends are my tattoo artist buddies. Those fellas look tough as nails, but deep down they’re artists who like to draw and color. They crank out piece after piece only to have people haggle over the monetary value, and bitch about how it heals. Don’t get me started on how sensitive my cage fighting/tattoo artist friends are – some of the biggest softies on the planet!)
At the beginning of this year I optimistically took on some massive commissions. I published a novel, and started writing its sequel.
Daunting tasks in the best of times…
In these worst of our times, other people’s massive projects like home ownership or parenting, home-schooling or pet ownership can start to amass this energetically draining mass all its own.
Like a black hole running right through the middle of life, making menial tasks more difficult and monumental ones seem impossible.
Add to it the loss of loved ones, businesses or lifestyles, the pandemic presence of addiction, the challenge of weight loss or simple physical wellness, the increased presence of alcoholism…insert your own vice/ingredient here and we’re making a noxious stew for ourselves to…well, stew in.
You’re not alone.
And, if you need someone to talk to, our good friend and fellow Outlaw Yoga teacher Cristen Malia conducts counseling sessions by zoom.
What you might try first, is generating some momentum…
Life requires a relentless forward motion…it gushes all at once, and on everyone.
Harnessing this force is sometimes the true challenge for, like the old zen parable illustrates, otherwise the horse of the mind will runaway with the cart of the being.
My principal medium as an artist is as a writer.
Yours might be as a mother, or as a physical therapist – whichever your occupation or passion, or whether the two coincide, you are playing with a particular pallet.
(If you’re looking for clarity there, I have another great book that can help you find it.)
My principal distraction is as a painter.
This on purpose, so that as I avoid writing I have developed a talent with the other. They both feed the creative fire and thus I have two stores of fuel with which to keep it burning.
(I also have three guitars in case I need another distraction from my other distraction, or just wood for a fire.)
But aware as I am of my mind’s tendency for subterfuge, distraction, self-rebellion, and depression I often find myself succumbing to the feeling of overwhelm – fabricated or otherwise.
If I am on top of my yoga practice, then I find I can catch this slippery slide quicker than later.
I drop a tool into place meant to redirect the focus of my mind. Gratitude journals, movement, breath work…
I don’t meditate. When you’re depressed isn’t the time to sit in stillness – you may only end up more despaired.
Instead, I set accomplishable goals…
I write them on paper and place them where they will be most visible (usually on the fridge).
I set my tiny set of weights where I will literally stub my toe on them to remind me to pick them up and move them around throughout my day.
I open the word docs of my current writing project/s, and place a canvas on the easel that doesn’t automatically daunt me when I see it…
A ‘momentum piece’ I call it. Something simple to get the hand moving…
It’s sort of the journalling equivalent to painting…
I wrote and illustrated a kids book a few years ago all because after a bad breakup I just needed to paint something that would make me smile.
Stacking elephants one on top of another, my mother saw the fun piece and casually quipped, “looks like a children’s book.”
The Adventures of Babu the Elephant was born…
Whatever is ailing you, there are steps out of it…they may not be easy, simple, straightforward, timely, convenient, or fucking cool…it may represent the hardest work you’ve ever done…but, you’re worth it.
Identify them and start taking them. They don’t have to be big, but they do have to be done.
And, as the saying goes, ‘it beats the alternative’.
Sometimes it feels like life is one big exercise in coming to terms with loss, and I don’t think that’s too far from the truth. Everyone you know, one day, will die…including you.
When that time comes, maybe we’ll be grateful for all the great practice we’ve had in letting go of that which we can’t control?
Or, maybe we’ll be fucking terrified as Mt. Saint Helens blows?
(It’s easy to forget that thing’s been due for a few.)
Spoiler alert – the times ahead will be tougher still. Get – or, keep – your mind right while you can. You wouldn’t wait till the house is on fire to dig a well…
Good luck, Yogis!
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Justin “Jud” Kaliszewski is the best-selling yoga teacher and renowned creator of Outlaw Yoga. Author. Artist. Adventurer. Though his studio is currently closed per state order, you can still take his class NOW at outlawyogaclub.com and www.youtube.com/outlawyoga. Find his writing and art at www.justinkaliszewski.com and his presence all over the internet – for an outlaw, he’s shockingly easy to get ahold of.