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Woe isn't me

I’m a gifted worrier. 

It’s been a perfect hobby for me. It’s not something I decided to get good at, but more of a pastime I fell into. If there were an app to track my progress, I’d have easily earned several 10,000-hour badges by now which I’m pretty sure qualifies me as a professional. 

Worrying has its benefits. It’s contributed a lot to my friendships. Comparing notes about our struggles and fears is one of the ways we bond. If we have lunch and you only share all the ways that the sailing has been smooth, it’s as if you don’t want me to know what really matters to you. 

It’s also kind of boring. It’s tough to bond on our mutual contentment. Ease is less useful than worry when it comes to generating relatable stories.  

It’s possible, though, to relate to each other by sharing our concerns while privately weaning ourselves off of our habitual internal rumination. We just have to get sneaky about it—and practice a lot. It’s a hobby you have to decide to take up. 

This involves relying on two different modes of attention—narrative and sensory—instead of just one. 

Worrying is like writing a screenplay loosely based on a true story. Direct awareness of our perceptions feels more like embodying poetry. A poem doesn’t need a villain or an unresolved conflict to be satisfying. 

When we bring our attention to the feelings in our bodies that are driving our internal storytelling, we can learn to inhabit the sensorial complexity that usually plays out in the background of our awareness while we fret the hours away.  

When I narrate my challenges, it gives you a chance to understand and support me, but it leads to me identifying with my struggle. The woe is me. A better, certain, happier me is out there somewhere waiting for the discomfort to pass.  

When I’m noticing sensory perceptions in real time without trying to get rid of them, it’s more like tracking emotional weather patterns. Fear, sadness, and embarrassment cloud my innerscape, but they’re just a normal part of life. They don’t have to define me. The woe isn’t me. 

This isn’t about passively condoning what fuels my feelings. It’s learning to stop waiting for an exemption from the emotions I don’t like. 

It can feel rude to let people know you’re not worrying, though. Even if you’re just trying it for a few seconds or minutes at a time.  

Here’s a trick I’ve learned: you don’t have to tell anyone you’re taking breaks from worrying. 

It can be your little secret. A secret you share with someone you care about and feel close to—you. It’s a way of relating to your life that you don’t have to defend or explain to anyone else. 

The relationship you cultivate with yourself is something you’ll be working on for the rest of your life—if you decide take it up. The rules can be a little different from the other relationships in your life, but it’s one that’s equally deserving of your attention and care.  

Worrying can gradually become optional—a hobby you can start to neglect when you discover the richness, vitality, and compassion lurking in not knowing how things will actually turn out.  

ICYMI Michelle Michael from the Columbus Dispatch interviewed me for a healthy living article about mindfulness. Photo: Kyle Robertson 

Recent attention grabbers

You 2.0: The Empathy Gym

"Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki argues that empathy is like a muscle — it can be strengthened with exercise and it can atrophy when idle. On this episode of Hidden Brain, he talks with Shankar Vedantam about calibrating our empathy so we can interact with others more mindfully."

How to Fall Asleep Amazingly Fast By Worrying on Purpose

I love this brief guide to deliberate worry by Nick Wignal. It makes a ton of sense and pairs nicely with using mindfulness exercises to get a better night's rest.   

The Cognitive Cost of Poverty

Sendhil Mullainathan (from The Ezra Klein Show): The more economic pressure you put on people, the worse their cognitive performance becomes. That has radical implications for how we think about inequality and social policy.

See also: "We think we need to manage time, but we also need to manage bandwidth"

Pluralistic Ignorance

This fascinating episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast explores the psychology behind why people don’t speak out against, and even defend, norms that they secretly despise. 

This Is Your Brain on Silence

Daniel A. Gross: "Contrary to popular belief, peace and quiet is all about the noise in your head."

The Erotic Is an Antidote to Death

Esther Perel (from On Being): "We all come into this world with a need for connection and protection and with a need for freedom. And from the first moment on, we will be straddling these two needs — what is me, and what is us? This constant dance between me and you, between I and thou, is at the core of being human."
How to Build a New Habit

"Understanding how to build new habits (and how your current ones work) is essential for making progress in your health, your happiness, and your life in general. James Clear created this strategy guide for how to build new habits that actually stick." Check out his book Atomic Habits to learn more. 

Microdosing on Happiness 

Researchers found that when we habitually put down our phones now and then to strike up short conversations with strangers—or to at least make eye contact and smile—it can improve our well-being and happiness.

Can Mindfulness Save Democracy?

"Politics have a way of sparking anger within us. By introducing a little mindfulness, we begin to create the space we need to shift out of old patterns."

The Attention Diet

Mark Manson: "The goal here is to push yourself to stay more focused on what adds value to your life. If it’s not difficult, then you’re probably not really cutting out all of the junk." 

How to Be a Better Listener

Oren Jay Sofer (from the 10 Percent Happier newsletter): "Becoming a better listener may sound simple, but it’s not easy. It takes practice: we need to train ourselves, with mindfulness and other practices, to notice when we’re operating from our habitual tendencies."

Is the Media Amplifying Racism? 

Communications scholar Whitney Phillips (from The Ezra Klein Show): "Our reactions become part of the story. You can't separate the reaction to a story from the story itself...How you respond to a story is going to help determine its continuing trajectory."  

See also: This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture 

The Wrong Side of Right

Shane Parrish: "The most important lesson I’ve learned from running a company is that the more I give up trying to be right, the better the outcomes get for everyone. I don’t care who gets the credit." 

Meditative Story

A new podcast exploring “the power of personal stories with the science-backed benefits of mindfulness,"

Venom Injection: How Ant Stingers Work

Ant venom delivery captured, for the first time, in slow-motion (1,000fps) & up-close video.

Classes and Workshops 

The following sessions will be held in the Amelita Mirolo Barn (4395 Carriage Hill Lane, Upper Arlington). Sign up for as many as you'd like – or plan to attend all of them to get a thorough introduction to the basics of my attentional fitness approach to mindfulness. Registration begins on Aug. 7. 

Exercise Your Attention with Mindfulness
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Physical exercise strengthens the body. Mindfulness strengthens attention. Discover how training your attention—with or without meditation—can develop capacities for relating more effectively to the challenges of daily living. 

Develop Focus with Mindfulness
Tuesday, October 1, 2019
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Concentration is the ability to pay attention to what you consider important. What makes it so challenging is the pull of distractions. Instead of waiting for the world to get less distracting, we’ll try out selective attention exercises that develop your ability to focus.

Recharge with Mindfulness
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Most of us need circumstance to be comfortable in order to relax. With practice, however, we can learn to detect and savor rest in the midst of ordinary life. We can also learn how to “reboot” by taking mindful breaks from our constant thinking, planning, problem-solving, and remembering. 

Connect with Mindfulness
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

6:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Research indicates that empathy exercises changes the structure and functioning of our brains more quickly than concentration or relaxation exercises. In this session, you’ll learn an exercise that helps support empathy, compassion, and resilience. 

Come Back to Your Senses through the Holidays
Saturday, November 16, 2019
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Spend an interactive morning exploring various multi-sensory approaches to mindfulness. Discover how making a habit of paying attention differently makes it possible to feel more at home in your life, even in the midst of discomfort, confusion, and holiday-related stress.

I highly recommend following Mari Andrew on Instagram. She has a warm way of sharing her field notes without ever sounding smug or prescriptive.

Practice Groups

These free practice series sponsored by Mount Carmel Health are a great opportunity to practice mindfulness with others, compare notes, and ask as many questions as you want.

Mount Carmel Health Living Center
Thursdays, Aug. 22 through Oct. 31, 2019
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM, 777 W State St, Columbus

These practice sessions will be held every other Thursday (8/22, 9/5, 9/19, 10/3, 10/17, and 10/31). Registration is not required and walk-ins throughout the series are welcome. Call 614-234-4660 to learn more.

Mount Carmel St. Ann's (My Time)
Fridays, Sep. 6 through Dec. 6
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, 500 S Cleveland Ave, Westerville

These practice sessions will be held on the first Friday of every month (9/6,10/4, 11/1, and 12/6). The September session serves as an introduction and will end at noon. Join us for as many of the sessions that you're able. Call 614-234-5433 to register.

Chez Baxter
First three Wednesdays of every month
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM

If you live in the Columbus, Ohio area, I hope you'll check out the free practice sessions I host in my home. They're usually the first three Wednesdays of every month, but please check my website for exceptions.

Upcoming practice session dates: 

  • August 14, 21, 28 (skipping August 7)
  • September 4, 11, 18
  • October 2, 9, 16
  • November 6, 13, 20

Sessions include guided exercises, practice in silence, and discussion. All experience levels and meditation strategies are welcome.

Email or call (614) 284-9618 for address and parking details. 

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Take care,


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