The Morning Malistair

Mindsprings Anxiety Malistair Blog

I’ve written before about the dread anxiety that can overcome me when I wake from sleep.

Working with anxiety in a number of ways, I have managed to largely calm that morning dread down – but nowadays, what I am discovering is another morning entity: the Malistair.

As I surface from the dim waters of sleep, it is a dark and malodorous version of myself that greets the day.

No matter what mood I go to bed in, it seems that when I awake in the morning the least appetizing and most critical parts of me have lurched out and taken up residence in my brain. As I surface from the dim waters of sleep, it is a dark and malodorous version of myself that greets the day.

On reflection, I think it might be the same gremlins that, directed inwards, used to cause my morning dread. But now, – unfortunately for my husband, slumbering at my side, – they come out fighting. They are looking for targets to blame.

It’s a malevolent thing, the Malistair. And its mental clutches can extend well into mid-morning if I’m not careful.

Usually, that target is Daniel. I can lie there for substantial stretches of time loading my unhappiness and frustration onto his sleeping shoulders. I get out of bed and creep downstairs and fume silently at the unwashed plates, or his unfolded laundry (I mean they’re my plates and laundry as well but in the morning they are only his). The cold kitchen floor is his fault. As is the palaver of waiting for the kettle to boil.

For ages, I truly believed this bilious stream of feeling and half-formed thought. He’s so messy. He’s so wrong for me. I need to be on my own. He’s this, he’s that.

It’s a malevolent thing, the Malistair. And its mental clutches can extend well into mid-morning if I’m not careful.

Daniel himself has learned to ignore it. Or flag it up. Or if his “Malaniel” is up and about, we both steer clear of one another.

But it’s no way to live, is it?

Where does all that negativity come from?

One of the benefits of being a long-time Buddhist is that – by hook or by crook – you start to believe that the self is not so permanent.

I’m sure there was a time before I turned 30 that I fully bought into the myth of the permanent and substantial Alistair that extended through space/time in a continuous and coherent manner.

Long-term Buddhist brainwashing has flushed that illusion out of the works. I now, habitually, incline towards the sense that if I’m one thing in the morning, I might well be something different by the end of the day. It’s taken a long time and I often find myself still falling for a more fixed sense-of-Alistair. But, on the whole, I’m a bit more forgiving and fluid around my self-ideas.

But this Malistair is a habit that is hard to shake.

Where does all that negativity come from?

There are so many interesting theories about sleep and dreams that I’m sure one of them will cast light on the mystery. But my gut sense is that the sleep process – and especially dreaming – is all about future-proofing the organism’s survival. The dreaming brain combs through our experience, linking together clues to find the answer to one question: how can I thrive socially?

It’s important for future survival that we remember to put our trousers on.

Even though we don’t care to accept this – social situations (how we fit into the tribe) are the most important things in a human life. We thrive – evolutionarily – because we connect and work in groups. And so, each night, our trillionfold synaptical brain looks at each moment from a dozen different angles – some bizarre, some familiar – to crack the puzzle. How can this bit of information, this memory, this person, this situation be parsed to make us better at being social?

Shame, humiliation, embarrassment – (arriving at school in just your underpants, for example) – are the basic stuff of dreams because shame, humiliation and embarrassment are crucial signposts in a socialised world. It’s important for future survival that we remember to put our trousers on.

Likewise: fear, anger, lust, panic. All these things are the emotional forcefields that spring up to help us negotiate the social world successfully. They teach us where not to step in the minefield of relationships. This is why they are so useful (and prevalent) in dreaming. If your dream-self can negotiate a maze of shame, fear and panic unscathed, then perhaps our waking-self will be safer.

This might also explain why we often wake up pickled in a marinade of ‘negative’ emotions.

In running our dream-self, like a crash-test dummy, through an assault course of possible negative scenarios, we are left better-informed but also drenched in adrenalin and cortisol, the body’s stress hormones.

Now, we’re awake but unable to remember our dreams, we are left with a skinful of stress. And then our waking mind steps in to find scapegoats. Ourselves or others. Hence, the Malistair.

I have found extra succour in a little set of Buddhist rituals that help clear the Malistair more profoundly.

As always, the Rumplestiltskin effect of naming a baddie often obliterates its power. Recognising the Malistair’s murky presence often is enough to dispel its malice. But I have found extra succour in a little set of Buddhist rituals that help clear the Malistair more profoundly.

When I started Buddhist practice I was definitely not a fan of all the Tibetan bells and whistles: endless chanting, visualising four-faced, 12 armed deities and burning incense, ringing bells and offering cakes.

As I get older and less inclined to scrubbed-clean rationalism, I find myself drawn profoundly to the magic and ritual evocations of the vajrayana.

There’s a tiny tin cup of hot tea, some incense and a candle for Mahakala

It’s not for everyone and I rarely recommend it unless someone has a hankering. But first thing in the morning, in the winter darkness, before I’ve drunk a drop myself or made coffee for Daniel, I make a pot of tea for the various deities I’ve come to love.

There’s a tiny tin cup of hot tea, some incense and a candle for Mahakala, the fierce many-fanged protector deity beloved by so many Tibetans. In making the connection, I’m psychically feeding him all the stinky, murky aspects of Malistair. And he happily gobbles them up, transforming them – as all these beings do – into bliss-and-emptiness.

Next there’s a glass of equally hot tea, more incense and candlelight for Chenrezig the four-armed deity of loving-kindness and compassion who steps willingly into the space that Mahakala has just cleared. He’s the Christ-like figure of pure love and compassion that is so venerated in Tibet. It’s said the Dalai Lama is an emanation of his energy. And so – in the Newhaven darkness, through a few simple offerings, – I take the time to connect my mindstream with his.

It’s a welcome and literally blesséd relief after the morning Malistair.

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  • Diane Marcil says:

    Dear Alistair, I appreciate and so relate with your malistair. Thank you for your candid sharing! Happy holidays! Diane XX

  • Belinda says:

    I realte to this strongly! I often awake angry… angry at being woken, at having to face a day that already feels difficult, tiring, unpredictable. Recently I’ve changed jobs for something nearer home, so I now have time for meditation and movement ritual before going to work, and it’s radically shifted the Malinda. So thanks for this. From one morning Mal to another

    • alistairappleton says:

      Hi Belinda, it’s funny how many Mals there are in the world. I thought I was the only one.
      Morning rituals are essential in this weird time we’re living in. It’s so easy to get laden with other people’s energy or darker energies from our own past. Giving them up and making space for the light is a lovely way to start the day. There’s a lot of light out there – even in these shortest days.
      Hope you’re well.

  • Jane Bell says:

    Oh this is lovingly tender. I know all those feelings! Thank you. It’s made my heart smile!

  • Zana Lamont says:

    I love this blog, and the rituals you describe.

  • Carolyn says:

    Thankyou Alistair for these beautifully written words. They will stay with me 🙏

  • Dear Alistair,
    I love this blog. I love your honesty and how that honesty connects with those of us with the Morning Maladies. My morning Malex isn’t anger, but more of a shame base (have I done something wrong type) but I also find having a little morning ritual really helpful before I start the day; I welcome the dawn and give thanks for another day. I am really interested in learning more your morning rituals and it would be lovely to witness and learn about your little ceremony if you felt ok about sharing more about it. I remember you mentioning that you might be starting a new group on studying the Dharma. I think sharing our little rituals and discussing tools we can use to help evaporate our negative sleep scenarios would be really helpful. Thank you once again,

    • alistairappleton says:

      Thanks Alex,
      Yes, I am hoping to run 4 Dharma Days over the Spring where we can dive into more explicitly Buddhist territory. Just trying to decide what to cover. If you have any preferences please let me know.
      Re. my ritual, I work with a little shrine (picture, candle, incense, flower) in the kitchen which I present fresh tea each morning. Then I offer up the negative thoughts and patterns into the mouth of the ferocious Mahakala and let them go. He, of course, turns them into pure energy and then I can get on with a more positive day!

  • Just read this and had a think about why there are “happenings” in the mind during sleep. On one of countless group walks I have been on, I always remember a chat with a lovely man. His wife always went on at him in a less than pleasant way. He irritated her. I said to him, “What if there was some kind of herb, that if she took it, would take away the tension from her and she completely changed.” It’s like there’s either one internal chemical too many or there’s one chemical short. The Malistair could disappear so easily, for evermore. That chap laughed when I came out with my wonderings, but I still thought …… Well why not it be true……. It’s always such a relief to learn bits about a person which makes you feel you are not alone. Relating to others is what we all must seek. How nice if when we felt like we are alone in how we feel at any one given moment on time, that we could go to a box, put our hands in it and become completely cloud-like where the weight disappeared and the feeling body, external and internal returned to its natural wonderful and restful state. It sounds so far fetched doesn’t it…….. A magic box……..but why not it be so………

    Thank you so much Alistair for your blog:-)

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