Medicines and Poisons
what to accept and what to reject
Hi to the new subscribers who found this newsletter from the piece that was published yesterday at Write More! I’m so happy to have you here. The Write More piece is a kind of sequel to my post from this past Sunday on “short bursts of writing.” If you have a bunch of drafts and aren’t sure what to do with them, you might find it useful.
Today, I want to share with you a mindfulness exercise that has helped me tremendously. I came up with this exercise after reading a few lines in Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape that resonated with me:
She writes, “Even though there are so many teachings, so many meditations, so many instructions, the basic point of it all is just to learn to be extremely honest and also wholehearted about what exists in your mind—thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations…Nobody else can really sort out for you what to accept—what opens up your world—and what to reject—what seems to keep you going round and round in some kind of repetitive misery…”
The practice of meditation helps us get to know this basic energy really well, with tremendous honesty and warmheartedness, and we begin to figure out for ourselves what is poison and what is medicine, which means something different for each of us.”
When I read these lines, I decided to make a list of my medicines and poisons, just to see what came up. I asked myself: What opens me up and brings me energy? What closes me off and keeps me in the corn maze?
A few things from my lists:
Medicines: music, reading, writing, hugs, dancing, family time, connecting with friends, getting started on something that scares me
Poisons: comparison, negative self-talk, cycling through my mental to do list, procrastination, not moving my body, perfectionism, social media (except for when a friend sends me the perfect memes/gifs, which are medicine)
We’ll get into the practice of meditation in this newsletter soon enough, but for now, I want to encourage you to try the following exercise, which brings together reflection, meditation, and writing.
Take a few minutes to reflect and write your own lists.
What are your medicines: What opens you up and brings you energy? What makes you feel more alive, or safe, or most fully yourself? What helps heal you when you feel stressed or overwhelmed?
What are your poisons: What closes you off and keeps you in the corn maze of your own mind? What makes you feel trapped or small? What are those things that you can convince yourself will feel good, but actually, ultimately, make you feel bad?
Reflect on these for a few minutes. What emerged that surprised you? Is there anything on your list that you have known for a long time, but keep doing anyway? How can you mount another effort to not take that poison? Think of a tangible way you will try to avoid or limit it.
Consider sharing with a friend.
If you find this useful, you could also apply it to another aspect of your life. For me, applying it to my writing life was illuminating and helped me to name what I need to be healthy (community, focus on process rather than publication, celebrating progress no matter how small), rather than to keep taking the poisons that I know don’t serve me (comparison, going it alone, procrastination, perfectionism).
I hope this yields something good for you! I’d love to hear how it goes if you give it a try.
Be Where You Are is a newsletter about how to use writing and mindfulness to be where you are. I’ll be back on Sunday with a mini-essay, and coming soon, our first interview! You’re always welcome to reply to this email, comment below, or find me on instagram (@mohnslate) or elsewhere. If you enjoyed this, I’d love it if you would share it or send it to a friend.