Monday, September 24, 2012

Busy Semester

Don't expect many blogs in the next couple of months--this semester I'm trying to pull off a mad sprint to finish early in the SFSU premed post-bac program while also working part time and doing EMT training. One motivation for this plan is to prepare for next year, when I'll be working and applying to med school, and another motivation--probably the more important one, personally--is just to see if I can handle the workload and stay sane. Succeeding at the challenges ahead will give me some confidence that medical school and residency will be manageable.

Only two weeks into this crazy schedule, I'm experiencing an emotional rollercoaster ride. Initially, it was exciting to push myself beyond my comfort zone academically while also taking on new professional responsibilities and some leadership roles. It felt great, actually. Empowering. Like I'm finally figuring out a pragmatic and creative way to match my needs and abilities to the opportunities available. In that regard, I have no doubts that this is the right track.

This was last year's meal of choice.
It has only gone downhill.
However, with the challenges of multitasking and striving for achievement, all my beloved zen composure has gone right out the window. I had to stop going to Young Urban Zen, I barely find time to meditate, my thoughts are scrambled, my patience is nowhere to be found, my diet is terrible, anxieties and frustrations pop up everywhere, and I keep catching myself acting rudely and arrogantly toward friends and loved ones. It's like I'm turning back into a 4 year old.

To a certain extent, this was expected. We don't actually solve problems; we just turn old problems into new ones. I'm turning my old problems--being bored and restless--into new ones. I'm not bored anymore, but that came at the cost of becoming rather unpleasant to others.

However, there's some benefit to a change of pace. Old habits that went unnamed in easier times became so visible that I had to pay attention to them. The crazy thing that I'm feeling this week is that, no matter how proud I am of myself or my actions, I end up feeling ashamed soon after. In some previous posts about fear and The Blahs, I've alluded to a feeling of doubt that creeps into my mind soon after I get excited about something. It's a lot like shame. Maybe they're the same.

The cycle in
progress, Las
Vegas c. 2005
The mind tends to oscillate between extremes. Suzuki called these oscillations "mind waves." The more proud I make myself, the more ashamed I'm going to feel when my mind rebounds. The pride has a real object; the shame doesn't. It feels like the shadow of the pride, perhaps arising when the neural circuits for one emotion get tired and the opposite feeling is perceived, like the phantom spot you see after you look at a bright light. The phantom shame still burns like a real feeling and I get defensive about it, and that compounds the feeling. If I act on it, I will start creating situations to be ashamed about, and then it becomes real. I have plenty of memories of this cycle from the past--some indulgence in my arrogance, then the let-down, then the shame, then the craving to get F'ed up so I could stop feeling ashamed, then the getting F'ed up, then the stupidity, then the real shame, then the scramble to find something to be arrogant about so I could overcome the shame... and so on indefinitely. 

Sure, it's natural to feel shame after acting arrogantly, but my shame is never in proportion to the rudeness of my behavior; it's in proportion to the intensity of the pride that I felt. That's why I suspect it is a shadow feeling rather than a genuine emotional reaction.

The problem with being really busy and suffering from shadow feelings is that I don't take enough time to recognize that these feelings are not real. Instead, I keep charging forward, acting on illusions, getting defensive for no reason, twisting relationships up into a big jumble of knots, spewing emotional chaos everywhere I go.

Where is the control point? In moments of pride. It has to be that. I've been haunted by shame my whole life, but I've also been arrogant my whole life. The arrogance comes first. It is the cause. This is a wake-up call for me to do something about it.

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