Numb (& Sickeningly Aware)
“The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb…” -Pink Floyd
Ever notice somedays all you can think about is a beer and diving onto the couch to watch anything on TV? We men have a deep need for release that is part of our survival instincts. When we are overwhelmed or have pushed too hard, we either retreat to regenerate or we continue to push and then collapse in some area of life: health, relationships, or professionally. Genetically evolved for war and hardship, we men instinctively push harder and harder, we can even do without sleep when necessary. But as we know, living in this state of stress regularly will carve a deep behavior groove. Habits form – what relaxed and refreshed you at one time becomes grasping desperation. You find that you have become numb and your habits no longer serve you.
In talking with men recently about ways they relax after a long day, there was a common thread of dissatisfaction about their habit patterns. One friend felt he had become dependent upon his two glasses of wine in the evening to wind down, he felt he should stop it but had not been able to change his pattern. Another man confessed his late night fix of television to zone out, and felt guilty about it. Yet a third highly productive man, pushes hard until he collapses, then limps along at work while he tries to regenerate and recover – dragging on at only half capacity for weeks. None of these men were happy with these patterns in their life.
All three of these men are remarkably deep spiritual practitioners and hard working – the kind of men people look up to and want to emulate. Why can’t otherwise successful men find balance and nourishment in their life? Why is this so hard?
All three of these men noticed that something felt off or incongruent with their patterns. All three of these men also deserve and need relaxation in order to recover. Rest and some activity to balance their output and focus after work is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. How to proceed then? Begin with honoring this inner feeling of something being off – listen to the body. That glass of wine or TV show didn’t give you the resulting refreshment you sought. Accept the wisdom in this much like you were a scientist who had just performed an experiment. “Hmm… that experiment with wine (or TV) didn’t work.” The next step is the hardest – deciding to not to repeat the experiment again hoping for a different result. If your behavior is habitual, you have already repeated it many times. Realize that you need to try something different.
Most habits that we use to numb out are easy to access: alcohol, television, FaceBook, porn, video games – all work through distracting the mind. What if you dropped in deeper to the level of the body? Often these easy distractions are our go-to because you can do them in the house or apartment and they take little effort. The problem is that these still keep you in your mind.
One of the best ways to relax the busy mind is to move your attention and focus into the body. Even more powerful is to get the body moving to actually burn off all the stress chemicals you have accumulated through the day. Often stressful work situations are stimulating our fight or flight hormone system – these chemicals were made to be discharged and metabolized through movement. Yoga and moving forms of meditation, even walking are ideal for this. A simple stretching routine, foam roller workout, or going for a long walk will be more beneficial than zoning out. It takes conscious choice however to notice the habit, actually choose to do something different, and then really do it!
If you are genuinely exhausted and don’t want to move, then there is the hardcore warrior option of doing nothing. REALLY doing nothing. Remove your shoes and go to your favorite couch or La-Z-Boy recliner and plant yourself there. No TV, no wine, no beer, no newspapers or magazines, don’t pet the dog. Just sit. Do not move until you absolutely have to. Let the whole day replay through your mind if it has to, just keep still and let everything unwind. Notice it all, but don’t hold onto anything. If you find your mind running in circles and making you more crazy and agitated – wiggle your toes. Bring ALL your awareness into your toes. See how much detail you can feel in your feet and toes. Feel the absurdity perhaps of this practice, but keep with it. Your job is to relax. Let all your muscles go soft. Actively release any knots in your body, keep breathing. Take in a deep breath then let out a loud sigh, and yawn. Stretch your mouth wide open, open your chest and stretch your arms and legs as you yawn. Go back to wiggling your toes, and feeling your feet. Don’t get up until you literally feel you can’t sit still anymore. If you drift off into sleep, know that you needed it and don’t make any excuses or apologies to anyone about falling asleep. Relish in your relaxation. If you do feel compelled to get up – you will know precisely what you HAVE to do, and you will find yourself surprisingly energized. Go do that one thing that was bothering you so much you could not relax. Don’t do it because you “have to” – get clear in your mind and own that you chose to get up and go do it. This one thing you get up to do should energize you and refresh you. Do not get up unless you feel like you will die if you don’t do this one thing, otherwise, honor your need to relax and let go of the day.
This is a hardcore warrior practice because it can be incredibly challenging. Done right, it frequently will feel like you are dying. Go into this death willingly. Unfinished business from the day will come to mind, possibly issues with your intimate partner, or the laundry list of unfinished home to-do tasks. You have to practice honoring your need for rest, realize if you are not relaxed you will not be helpful to anyone. It is difficult as men to admit our need to nourish ourselves – this is particularly tough to do around rest. Because you know you need to rejuvenate – honor this practice time. Keep pulling your awareness down into your feet and let the mind thrash around until it gets quieter and realizes you mean business about slowing down and resting. Don’t let any part of yourself push you around. Be firm in your commitment to just sit still – until you are refreshed, fall asleep, or something or someone else makes you get up.
The last option for shifting yourself out of the numb zone, is counter intuitive and worth trying if you are desperate for change. It’s the kamikaze warrior path: when you feel overwhelmed and needing to check out and be alone – consciously enter into relationship with another person. This will seem insane to the mind that has been busy all day at work, but try it anyway. However be prepared for directly confronting an area in your life that you may be avoiding or fearing – possibly the root of your numbness. Often your exhaustion comes from being completely spun up inside your mind, your thoughts, by pushing all day to make things happen, or by spending energy trying to avoid some area of your life. Turning to another person with the sole purpose of conducting love through your awareness, brings you into a deeper source of energy and potential refreshment. It also holds the potential for revealing blocks to the joy and ease in your life. Relationship will shine a light on numbness and illuminate the dark corners you might never examine while zoning out alone. This practice is for the bold, and not the faint of heart. It can help to visualize you are wearing a kamikaze hachimaki headband: a symbol of perseverance, effort, and courage.
Here’s how to do this as a practice: bring your full attention to bear upon this other person. Feel their breath, look into their eyes, and with your body – not your mind – see if you can connect with what it feels like to be them in this moment. Let your internal dialogue fall away along with any specific purpose you have for this interaction. Just practice being fully aware and present with this other person. This takes some energy, but when you engage with another person fully, you tap into something more vast than yourself. Recall the joy of receiving a new toy as a child and being lost in the moment as you immersed yourself in play. Instead of focusing upon a childhood toy, let this moment of contact with another carry you into the flow of love conducted between the two of you. This practice could lead to a conversation with your roommate, or bring you into intimate flirting with your wife, or it could be simple moments with your child building legos. Use relationship to shift your awareness outside of your contracted inner self. We are frequently the source of why we feel tired and need to escape – in times of numbness there’s often too much self-focus. Relaxing into simple time with another can be surprisingly rejuvenating and enlightening.