Kim Nelson: Breathe and Slay

Breathe. Breathe in, then out, focusing your awareness on the way your lungs expand, the way your ribs contract.

This is what my meditation app tells me. I began meditating on New Year’s Day as part of a resolution. Previously, It was never something I was remotely interested in, or felt I had a need for. But until recently, I’ve never felt this angry. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a few years away from 40 and have run out of fucks to give, combined with the current state of affairs, but I’m pissed off all the time.

Growing up, I always had a problem expressing anger. Out of my siblings, I was usually the peacekeeper when fights broke out. My younger sisters squabbled constantly and viciously. Being three and half years older, I was the cool cucumber who mediated their disagreements, usually by telling them that they were both wrong.

Anger seemed like an aggressive emotion, a loss of control. Somehow, I’d tamp it down, let it dissipate, shrug it off with a laid back declaration “it’s all good.” Of course, I’d feel anger from time to time; I’m a human. I just seemed to have a really high boiling point.

Now, I feel my anger roiling at the slightest provocation. It rises suddenly, catching me off-guard, embarrassing me with my own loss of control. It happens in front of loved ones, co-workers, strangers. If I walk into the office kitchen and see that someone left their dishes in the sink despite the dishwasher being empty, I feel my blood pressure skyrocket. When I get cat-called while walking my dog on my street, I want to bust some skulls. When I log into social media and see the way that people can be hurtful, ignorant, and grammatically incorrect, I want to reply and tell them everything that’s totally fucked about their information and opinions and grasp of grammar.

Social media is often one of the biggest sources of my anger, because it’s a synopsis of frustrating and/or terrifying news filtered through the hot takes of everyone you know. I can start my day feeling refreshed and upbeat, my mind like an animated cartoon field full of sunshine and bunny rabbits, then 5 minutes of Facebook scrolling later, the cartoon scene turns dark with explosions of thunder and flaming dumpsters. You find out things you wish you never knew, like that a relative follows Milo Yiannoupolis. Or you open your timeline and see that the photo you posted of your vacation to the Badlands sparked a heated debate between your liberal friend and your old high school classmate who apparently grew up into a climate change denier. 

And those are just the people you disagree with.

Even among my own social circles of people who mostly have the same politics, there’s the cycle of call-out culture and thinkpiece fatigue. Suddenly, I’m second-guessing myself all the time with thoughts like “When I said that Legion was my favorite new show, was I not being intersectional enough?” And yet, I still check Facebook multiple times a day. Not only that, I find myself purposely returning to heated threads to see responses, even though each one bumps my blood pressure up a notch.

I think that I’ve become addicted to the drama, the fighting. We’re all in a constant battle of trying to be the most right about something, whether it’s Russian conspiracy theories or what if Bernie would’ve won or if Nicole Kidman deserves an Emmy for Big Little Lies. And no matter how eloquently we argue our points, or vehemently hit the ‘like’ button, or gang up on that one troll, it never feels like anything’s been accomplished. Instead, I just feel exhausted.

And so, I decided to turn to a different kind of app. I downloaded the Calm app to my iPhone and gave it a try while sitting cross-legged on my bed, channeling my inner white-lady-on-a-beach-in-Bali instagramming herself in mountain pose. During each 10-minute meditation session, I try to think about nothing except my own breath, flowing in and out, again and again over the white noise of the app (I like Mountain Lake and Suspended Droplets). I focus on exhaling for the same amount of time I had inhaled. My mind becomes a blank canvas. I picture roots shooting down beneath me, connecting me to the earth, and branches above my head extending into the sky. I tell myself that I am one with the earth. I am every Instagram post hashtagged #onelove. I am every college freshman’s Bob Marley Legend poster. I am chill AF.

After 10 minutes, the app chimes, signaling the end of the day’s practice. A photo of a serene mountain scene appears on my phone screen, with a quote by Ram Dass, some parting words of wisdom to help me carry my newfound tranquility throughout my day.

image via Calm App

I also added a yoga app to my phone, and began waking up at 5:30 a.m. to practice for an hour before work. In the darkness of the early morning, I tiptoe to the basement, move the couch away from the TV, and unroll my yoga mat onto the carpet. For the next hour, I breathe and sweat, tying my breath to each movement. I think about nothing except what’s happening in each exact moment: how my right leg shakes in Warrior 3, a remnant of a past injury. And how I feel my quads fire when I rise into crescent pose. Or how much I’m sweating into my eyes. Or what does it even mean to knit your ribs together while lengthening your side-body? Even though I stumble my way through the more complicated transitions and dread every second of plank pose, I relish this time on the mat. There’s no distractions, no judgement, just a timer marking these minutes as all mine. I’m sort of shocked that I became this person, this woman who actually says “Namaste” out loud in my basement to the voice of the yoga lady on my phone app. After all, I love gluten and sugar and I hate Lululemon.

The big question is: does all this hippie shit make me less angry? I still get enraged when someone leaves their unwashed dish in the office kitchen sink. I still lose my temper while driving, all the time. But I am also still motivated, resisting against everything going on in the world that I adamantly disagree with. Feeling rage each time I read the New York Times is probably going to remain a fact of life for some time. But I’ve come to peace with my anger, if that makes any sense. I feel more aware of how I let people and their actions affect me. And I think (I hope) that I may have a little more patience and empathy in my heart, because we’re all hurting while trying to live in this world together, and yes, we all think we’re right about everything, but we also just want others to hear us out for a minute. I don’t want to lose my anger entirely; it keeps me focused and motivated. I just want to feel in control of it. I want to Namaslay.

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