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Category Archives: Body and Soul

All In My Head

Is it the thought that counts?

I think not.

What matters much much more is the action.

Maybe there is an alien civilization where beings connect with one another telepathically, a society of limbless heads soundlessly transmitting.

Not so humans–thank goodness.

I was reminded of this recently when a former love told me that he still thinks about me every day.

At first I was thrilled to hear it. For weeks I thought about him thinking about me and tried to convince myself that this would fill the empty place inside me that longs to love and be loved. I imagined him thinking his way right up to my front door–and then I remembered that he would have to use his legs, and not just his head, to return to my life.

Alas, the thought of a thought is not the same as a smiling face at the door, a hand in my hand, a strong embrace, a caring voice asking, “how are you?” and meaning it.

For years thoughts of thoughts and dreams of dreams and imaginings of imaginings were what passed for my love life. I was a lonely child and a lonely teenager.

A couple of times in my life, I have ventured beyond the thought into the actual sensual and tactile and real-time experience of relationship, of love between two humans. It bears no resemblance to thinking about someone thinking about you.

Being together in the palpable present is all there is when it comes to relationships. It is a sad perspective indeed that has made me believe I should settle for thoughts of thoughts instead of opening myself up to the possibility of an actual warm and loving human within reach and view.

It is time to banish these imaginings and find love not with my head but with hands and heart.

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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Body and Soul

 

Basics

It is astonishing to me how little I know about simple daily maintenance of body and soul. Perhaps you have felt the same.

I have been single for five years, and alive for more than five decades and still many aspects of my own physical and spiritual upkeep remain challenging.

For this reason I am deeply grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous, which has invented numerous aphorisms and catchwords that reach beyond the alcoholic community to help anyone who needs to take better care of him or herself.

Recently, for instance, I became aware of a favorite AA acronym that is also a powerful directive: HALT.

In AA parlance, HALT stands for the physical and spiritual states to which we need to pay attention if we are to maintain sobriety and mental health. Specifically these are: Hungry Angry Lonely and Tired. They’re the Four Dwarves that Disney left out. HALT represents self-care basics that we tend to ignore.

Let’s start with Lonely:  When I first became single in my late 40s I could not see my own solitude. After decades of being paired up and taking company for granted, I had difficulty recognizing my growing loneliness, and a shyness I had not known was there. Solving the problem was even more of an obstacle. It took me several years of solitude, before I realized that if I wanted someone around I was going to have to pick up the phone and make it happen.

HELL-OH-OH. I know.  Such basic human needs, and how to meet them, should be obvious. For me they weren’t. Training myself to seek out friends, after years of taking love for granted, was a Big Deal. I could write a magazine article on any subject. I could do a pretty good job of keeping a bunch of drunk people entertained with my singing. Making a date, however, was incredibly daunting.

When it comes to Anger, taming my ire has been a struggle  at times. Learning how to recognize and handle one’s anger is of course an essential life skill. For me, angry outbursts tend to occur when I have piled on too much stress and then one more irritating thing happens. After decades of embarrassing meltdowns, I am beginning to learn that one must never pile on so much pressure that more cannot be tolerated. Check Murphy’s Law. There is always more exasperation around the corner.

As for Tired, I used to pride myself on being a woman who never took a nap. Couldn’t stand ’em. What a waste of time. How could you possibly lie down in the middle of the day when there was so much to be done? I do not recall what changed my mind about this. Maybe it was a self-help book, or the gentle prodding of a mental health professional or perhaps it was what the folks in AA call a Moment of Clarity. Whatever prompted me to draw the blinds and lie down for my first adult nap, I found myself marveling at the sweet simple luxury of blankets and a firm but kind mattress in the afternoon.

Hunger management is a lifelong quest. The vanity-fueled dream of, of svelte-itude and chronic confusion over what to put in my refrigerator, and my mouth, has left me Cranky, Drowsy or simply Starving. All I can say now is gradually I am learning to keep myself fueled following a few decent well-known rules of nutrition: whole grains (stuff that looks like hamster food, not brown-colored bread), the proverbial fresh vegetables, lean protein, a lot of water, and a minimum of sugary, refined, processed foods. Yams and brown rice, not potatoes and pasta.

As I review the trouble I have had paying attention to the basics of physical and mental wellbeing, and the challenges I face still, I start to recognize how out of it I’ve been for much of my life. I guess I really did need to HALT and think it over.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2010 in Body and Soul, Essays

 

Gracias

Humans want to be happy. We are not comfortable walking around in a constant state of rage or anxiety. The challenge is how to stay upbeat in the face of people and circumstances that provoke negative feelings. Gratitude is our answer.

With gratitude, we detach ourselves from the source of irritation to the point where we can focus on what is happy in our situation. Gratitude is grounded and reliable. No matter how trying life becomes, we can always find a reason for giving thanks.

How do we get there? Recovery guru Melody Beattie advises us to arrive at gratitude by discovering a gift and a lesson in every relationship, every circumstance. Deepak Chopra counsels us to let the hurtful people in our lives be our teachers. Having these specific tasks in mind gives us a coping strategy for tough times.

Recently I found myself feeling a peculiar pang of thankfulness toward a most unlikely person: a former beloved who had, I felt, crushed my soul with his rage. How could there possibly be a gift in this?

The surprising moment of thanks came during a quarrel with another individual: a friend who, with no obvious provocation, began railing at me. In the past I would have allowed her to bash away until she had pulverized my sense of wellbeing. This time, however, I stopped her, countered her statements, and got off the phone. I felt slightly wounded but still confident that I could take care of myself and not let the incident ruin my day.

Gratitude arrived when I realized that, compared to what I had endured with my ex, the tiff with my girlfriend was nothing. It was a squeak and I had survived a roar. I felt oddly thankful that my pugnacious prince had helped me form a better shield around my feelings. He did not teach me to put up with more garbage. He taught me to never put up with it again.

This example may sound like a stretch and maybe it is, but I am using it because it shows that gratitude really has no limits. Of course I wish I had seen only sweetness in my ex. On the other hand, he was an invaluable teacher.

There is a another way to experience the healing force of gratitude, and that is to notice the  simple miracles in daily life.  I have a good friend who charges himself to “find something beautiful to look at every day.” This is gratitude. When you encounter light or beauty on your ordinary rounds, pause to take it in and allow yourself to feel thankful. Gratitude is ego surrendered, life simplified. When you say thanks, you exhale.

The brilliant children’s author and illustrator Dr. Seuss understood this when he wrote:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Certainly there is nothing more scorching than a sense of loss, whether it is the departure of someone cherished, or an experience that has come to an end. Seuss teaches us that endings do not have to be so woeful. He shows us that by altering our perspective we can get to a place of thankfulness instead.

The wisdom of Dr. Seuss makes even more sense when we remind ourselves of the simple truth that all experiences are fleeting. If we keep that sense of transience in our awareness, it allows us to feel grateful for places and people we have known. Once we make peace with the temporary nature of things, we recognize how important it is to be fully present and appreciative for love and life.

One recent morning, I woke up feeling anxious and blue. I was hungover emotionally from a stressful series of events, including a wrecked car, a blizzard and a tiff with an old friend. Grumpily, I pulled on my boots, clipped the dog onto her leash, and dragged myself out the front door and down my slippery front steps into the snow.

The walk was a revelation. As I crunched my way along icy sidewalks, I noticed that the first buds were pushing their way out of branches: tiny redbud leaves were starting to unfurl. Early spring was on its way. In a couple of weeks, crocuses would be poking up, followed by a steady parade of  miraculous flowers, from March daffodils and forsythia blooms to the chrysanthemums and lingering roses of October.

The spirit of faith and courage that seemed to emanate from these little leaves gave me hope. I returned to the house feeling lighter, brighter, and very grateful indeed.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2010 in Body and Soul, Essays