This month’s “Good News for Eating Disorders Recovery” ezine is out, and I wanted to share it with you here as well. Enjoy!
You Have Such a Good Heart
For many years I loathed myself.
I mean – I hated everything about “me”. Just a glimpse of my reflection on the pavement could give rise to shame.
I was also convinced that everyone else felt the same way about me that I did. Oddly enough, they didn’t.
This I found especially frustrating. When someone would try to connect with me, I would wonder what was wrong with them. Couldn’t they see? Didn’t they know? So if someone said they loved me, I assumed they were as flawed as I was and I refused to give them any time or attention in return.
This went on for years. And years. And years.
Then one day, a shift began. I made a genuine connection with a single person – my first mentor – and I shared my flaws with her, and then she shared her flaws with me, and then I realized that having things to improve in myself gave me something in common with every other person on the planet.
I also, much more slowly, began to realize that having good things I liked about myself – such as the ability to play and write music, my love for animals (and birds in particular), my desire to serve others – connected to me to every other person I saw as well.
My awareness of myself as someone worth knowing grew out of meeting my mentor, and understanding from her that my very desire to improve myself, to be a likable person, to not let loved ones down or cause them worry, was proof that I had a good heart.
Only a good hearted person would long for those things, and resolve to do whatever it took to attain them.
Only a good …
In my continued exploration of habitual anxiety – specifically, mine – I have also noticed a far more disturbing habit at work within me.
I have become addicted TO emotion itself.
I am also starting to suspect I am not alone in this.
Everything in our culture, in society itself, is set up to foster a continual seeking out of emotion – its highs, its lows, its sheer adrenaline rush of unpredictability – from television to movies, books to casual conversation, relationships and more, we seem to rely on emotion for meaning, motivation, direction, and relaxation the way cars rely on gas or other fuels.
This does not feel okay to me.
As I have begun to work on this emotional dependency within myself, I look at the example of the great beings for guidance – for instance, the Dalai Lama. In the post, “Less Emotion” earlier this month, I shared how the Dalai Lama believes that emotion gets us into all kinds of avoidable trouble. He shares very candidly about both how and why he practices the art of less emotion, and he exhorts those he meets to, if they must seek out emotion, to at least seek out emotions that are more uplifting, such as peacefulness, kindness, a welcoming nature, acceptance, joy, and humor.
I really think he is on to something.
Furthermore, I am beginning to realize that my characterizations of people close to me say a lot about which range of emotions they tend to spend more time and energy experiencing. If I say someone is “negative”, “angry”, “always happy”, “loving”, or another description, this says a lot about where they are spending their emotional time and energy – and when I turn this contemplation towards myself, I can find a lot to ponder in where I invest myself emotionally as well.
Perhaps even more fascinatingly, I have begun to perceive that when I am feeling “bored”, if I can remind myself to dig a bit deeper into what I am really feeling (ie, like “fat”, I am realizing …
I have been on the warpath of late against what I now call “habitual anxiety”.
I have also discovered that anxiety (in all of its forms) makes a formidable opponent.
Habitual anxiety, by my very unscientific and totally unverifiable definition, is that inner state which occurs when a being – human or animal – becomes so accustomed to feeling anxious that any other feeling – including peace – actually feels unnatural or even unpleasant.
I suppose that the psychological greats like B.F. Skinner or Ivan Pavlov might call this “conditioning”. But since that term to me simply reminds me that I forgot to do my arm weights again this morning, I prefer habitual anxiety.
Luckily, just recently I finally found something that seems to help.
I have been doing meditations to attempt to train myself out of habitual anxiety and into inner peace. In these meditations, I affirm a set of statements, accompanied all the while by deep breathing and visualizations. I have become so good at reeling off these statements and their corresponding breaths and images that I could likely qualify for the American team for Olympic synchronized breathing-and-talking-and-visualizing, were there such a sport.
Sadly, to date there is not.
But just a few days ago, I made a breakthrough. And I am quite sure that if (when) the Olympic committee hears about this, they will move promptly to rectify the omission. In the meantime, I am so excited that I am practicing constantly.
The breakthrough I made is this: I must “feel my words” in order to accomplish my goal.
The older I get, the younger I feel.
And I’m not talking about in my body.
When I was young, I was always teased for being “a little adult”. I was so serious! I didn’t smile much, and I used big words. I’m not sure why I was like this – I just remember feeling very aware of the weight of the world beginning at a very young age. Perhaps I was depressed. Doctors today might be able to figure something like that out, but 35 years ago or so, pediatric medicine wasn’t yet thinking along those lines.
When I was almost 11, I developed anorexia, and then I became serious in earnest. It wasn’t until I reached about age 35 that I started to really lighten up. I guess I just got tired of being such a serious person. One day I discovered how much I loved to laugh, and that it made me feel good when I laughed with others. Suddenly friends (also a commodity in precious short supply until around that time – no real mystery why) started telling me I was funny.
I started to realize they might be right.
Today, I see so clearly how I am like Benjamin Button on the inside.
In my ongoing quest to pounce on and capture inner peace for my very own (a task which to date appears to require sleuthing skills that could qualify me to join the CIA) I have noticed a persistent, repetitive obstacle which it likes to hide behind.
Preferences. Specifically, mine.
I have noticed that I vastly prefer some things over others. For instance, vacation. When offered a choice between work and vacation, I prefer vacation. I prefer birds to dogs (or cats or any other creatures for that matter), green tea to black, Cape Cod to Houston.
I prefer pants to jeans, blue to all other colors, and I would choose creative writing any day over the client-directed business articles I am frequently asked to write.
So, I have preferences. Who doesn’t? The problem with preferences is, they are seemingly incompatible with attaining contentment. How can I be content when I am also discontent – when I am looking forward to this, but dreading that, longing for the company of this person and ducking behind a building to avoid that person?
I have concluded that I can’t. Bummer.
I have learned something quite surprising over the last couple of years.
It seems that inner peace – solitude, stillness, equipoise, contentment, serenity – is QUITE hard to maintain. At least for me personally.
It is not hard to learn, it would seem – we all have those split-second glimpses (or I am assuming we all do) of a sudden blindingly clear sense of “all is well”…like finding the perfect comfy warm spot in the sun, we in that very instant become absolutely determined to never again move from THIS SPOT. Ever.
And then we move.
Why do we move? Why do I move – this is what I have been pondering of late.
You see, I desperately want to not just fleetingly feel but steadfastly maintain inner equanimity. Peace feels so GOOD. It feels, well, peaceful…and quite unlike any other state I can expect to experience during any average day.
But it would appear I am not programmed for peace. Rather, my mind, my expectation, my awareness is more biologically-set to continually seek out danger, change, instability, sudden doom….there is a part of me (and it is quite a bit larger and more powerful than I had realized until recently) that is still quite furry, walking on all fours, and out in the woods, constantly scanning the perimeter for hungry tigers.
This part of me does not want to be lunch, and has become convinced that if it drops its guard for one. single. minute. it will be.
Recently I watched a surprisingly wonderful movie called “10 Questions for the Dalai Lama”.
I am not sure why it was so surprising to me that it was wonderful – perhaps because on that particularly night I was browsing my new neighborhood’s vintage Blockbuster store (perhaps the only one left in my part of a city of six million residents!) for much lighter fare.
Yet, in an odd and weirdly wonderful way, I found exactly what I was looking for.
The Dalai Lama, just four when he was “discovered” and just 15 when he assumed the full weight of his responsibilities, could honestly be the Adam Sandler of Buddhism.
He is just so funny! He smiles, he laughs, he hugs and chuckles and jokes his way through discussions on the most ponderous, serious, and heart wrenching of topics.
This is not because of any lack of awareness of the gravity of his people’s situation, nor the precarious state of all those under the threat of persecution today. It is because, in his many hours and days and years of deeply solitary meditations and studies, he has discovered that violence, hatred, and anger do. not. work.
Of course, anyone who has ever endured the challenges of recovering from anything (like us, for instance) already knows that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again while expecting different results.
The Chinese government, and other world powers both established and, um, not so established, are still figuring this out. Or not, as the case may be.
But this doesn’t stop the Dalai Lama, who, throughout his 45-minute interview with independent filmmaker Rick Ray, repeatedly counsels, “less emotion, less emotion.”
It recently occurred to me that I have spent most of my 41 years to date expecting far too much from my family.
I have also been willing to give far too little in return for what I was expecting them to be able to offer me.
Family, I have discovered, is comprised of people. My people (much as I may wish to believe otherwise) are not programmed differently than other people – they are not more adept at reading my cues or lack thereof, more tolerant when I act out, or better endowed with the precise levels of patience or wisdom that my often erratic progress through life may require of them than the other people I see moving about around me.
They also have their own challenges to face and deal with on any given day. My family members are not going to be able to just “keep it together” if I decide to have a bad day. Again. They may be having their own version of my bad day, and may – gasp – actually need MY support.
Or maybe we just need to stay out of each others’ way for awhile.
The point is, my family has limits, just like strangers, just like acquaintances, and just like close friends.
My bird, Pearl, is always freaking out about something.
Whether it is the sight of a butterfly flitting by outside, the sound of my large silver hairdryer, or the experience of watching Mommy round the corner and disappear from her line-of-sight view, the phrase I speak most frequently to my diminutive grey and white avian companion is a soothing, “Don’t worry”.
She never listens.
Freaking out is in a cockatiel’s nature, as it turns out. Every cockatiel I have ever known or owned has behaved similarly. What I marvel at is how the continual influx of stress doesn’t seem to bother Pearl much. If I spent my days freaking out as often as she does, I would be a nervous wreck. I might be dead.
But 10 healthy years into a predicted 20+ year lifespan, Pearl’s vet says she is doing just fine. She freaks, deals with it, and moves on. Like a small child or a tropical storm, the stress blows in, through, and out again, leaving no trace of its presence behind.
This is soooooo interesting to me.
What does Pearl know – and others of her kind – that we humans do not? Why is stress toxic to our collective systems, yet while Pearl experiences twice as much stress as I do (at least by all outward signs) she has to go to the vet in inverse proportion to the number of times I land in the doctor’s office annually?
Biologically speaking, repeated bouts with stress can build up a substance called cortisol (frequently dubbed “the stress hormone”) in our systems that can weaken our immune systems and leave us vulnerable to illness, disease, and death. The biological “fight or flight” syndrome that we share in common with our avian and mammalian counterparts is the trigger that causes our collective bodies to release cortisol, but that in and of itself is not negatively impactful to our health. Studies have shown that short periods of elevated cortisol levels in the body are not harmful in their own right.
What impacts our health is how quickly we can return …