I've been blogging a lot lately about my reptilian brain. This is not just because I happen to cohabitate with two (very cute, shelled) reptilian family members. In my personal opinion, they have a much more positive relationship with their reptilian brains than I do with my own. When Malti or Bruce get startled or frightened or irked, their responses are instantaneous. Hiss. Bite. Withdraw into their shell. Scoot backwards. Run. Hide! But when my own ancient reptilian brain stem gets activated and I go into fight-or-flight mode, instead of simply responding in kind I start to argue with my survival instinct. Of course, my survival instinct is ancient. It has its own system of smarts, for sure, but it is just way not smart by my modern mental standards. Arguing with it about whether what just triggered it to send out "fight or flight" alerts is really scary or threatening is like trying to convince my parrot, Pearl, that he didn't need to bite me for whatever-it-was that he just bit me for. He will never believe me. Clearly, biting was the appropriate response, because that is what he chose to do. Yet i persist.
My mind is definitely a prepper. From always buying two of every household supply at the grocery store to waking me up in the middle of the night to ponder a dreamed-of near-escape in more detail, it is always game for another, well, game of "what/if." When hurricane season rolls around again, it sends me to the pantry to eye the rows of bottled water and asks, "Are you sure we have enough?" If I have to go to the (dreaded) dentist/doctor for a checkup, it bribes me with a reward: "If you get out of there alive, I'll buy you a cupcake." So of course I go. My mind would make a great drill sergeant, or one of those wilderness expedition leaders so popular on reality television today. Give it a spoon, a stick of gum and a ski parka and it would make a tent and dig up a (non-poisonous) mushroom for our dinner. And then there is the rest of oh-so-modern me. The part of me that is not-mind lives in an air-conditioned casa surrounded by contemporary conveniences. No one is mashing potatoes with a rock or rolling around in citronella to ward off pests. We have potato mashers and pest spray for all that. This part of me gets routinely confused (not to mention terrified) by my mind's persistent fascination with what/if scenarios. The most ferocious predator I am likely to encounter in the average day is a voracious newborn mosquito. Yet it simply will not leave me alone. What if you leaned too far over your balcony and fell off and hit your head?
I am currently taking my favorite 30-day online yoga course for the fourth time. It is called "True." So when I share what I am about to share, you will understand that it has taken me 100+ days to catch this particular nugget of wisdom...even though my teacher, Adriene, has said it all four times I've done the course. If you want to have a good body, you have to do things that feel good. Like, seriously? HOW did I miss that the first three times she said it? Perhaps it is because she is literally chock-full of other tidbits of wisdom just like this and so I was too busy noticing those to catch this one. Or maybe it is just because, until now, I didn't really grasp her meaning. After all, you are reading a blog written by a person who spent the better part of the first third of her life either restricting or binging/purging, when not otherwise occupied with crippling bouts of depression or anxiety. So....I've been busy. I have had a lot of learning to catch up on. But today, when Adriene said this for the fourth time while we rolled around on the floor together to "give our back some love," I heard her. I took note. I wrote it down. If we want to have a good body, we have to do things that feel good. As I pondered this instruction more, I started thinking about last night's ill-advised second glass of wine, which felt very good at the time but then not so good this morning, and I asked myself, "Wait a minute. What does she mean by 'good?'" Since Adriene didn't define it for me, and given my past history of making "feel good" choices that felt good until they didn't, I have decided it would be wise to define it for myself before proceeding further. This is what I have come up with thus far:
As I get older (every single day) I find myself becoming more and more fascinated with labels. Specifically, I am fascinated by my mind's seemingly unquenchable compulsion to label everything. I mean - EVERYTHING. Tall. Short. Big. Small. Petite. Paunchy. White. Black. Red. Blue. Male. Female. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Success. Failure. It has a label for pretty much everyone and everything that crosses its path. Not only do I find this to be proof that my excessively glowing vocabulary scores on those long-ago SAT exams weren't a fluke, but I also am starting to dig down underneath my feelings that these labels are meant to serve as judgments. I am starting to really question whether my mind's continual efforts to label everything, whether the label is negative or positive, as judgmental. If I didn't take it all so personally (thank you, Don Miguel Ruiz), would I still criticize and shame myself for being "so judgmental" of others and of myself? I am starting to suspect I wouldn't. What if there was - is - a deeper purpose to all those labels? What if - crazy as it may seem today - once upon a time those very same labels could literally keep me alive?
I'll just go ahead and say it - there is a stunning, literally jaw-dropping, lack of compassion in much of today's mainstream culture. I first became aware of this while watching a blissful documentary called "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" The posthumous star of this perfect film, Mister Rogers, was my daily mentor growing up. Even as a young child, I never felt like his show was a "children's show," like I felt while watching shows like Sesame Street or Scooby Doo. I always felt like it was just a show - a show where a few of the people were tall and the rest were all quite short. In other words, we weren't "kids" and "adults" in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood. We were just people, talking together, living together, learning to love and be kind together. He was so kind! He "got" us. He listened and took whatever we said seriously. He would talk to us about the things no one else wanted to talk about. A couple of days after watching this movie, a dear friend messaged me. She is in the process of purchasing a house. If you have ever purchased a house, or ever witnessed someone you care about purchasing a house, or ever even watched a television show about purchasing houses, you know it is (all together now) STRESSFUL. Oh boy can home buying be stressful! The sheer volume of forms alone can be stressful. And this heart-friend of mine has had plenty of support from her family in the actual brass tacks of buying the home, coordinating a move between cities and completing all the requisite myriad of forms for this, that and everything else. Where she hasn't found so much support is in the area of sheer mental and emotional overload.
I love the phrase "good company." Hearing or saying or even thinking these two words immediately brings up a vision of me, surrounded by the best beings I know. Only, I don't always actually know - as in a "hi good to see you" kind of know - these beings. Some are alive in spirit form only. Some are alive in body and spirit but we've never met face to face. Some are homo sapiens like me and others are bodies of water, areas of land, or beings with feathers or shells or fur. These beings give me wings to fly and flippers to dive inside and scales to shake it off when the need arises. They are my inspiration, my mentors, my teachers and best friends and soulmates and life partners. If you have a minute, open your browser and type in "you become like the people closest to you." See what pops up (pages and pages no doubt). Everyone has their theory on why we become like those we keep company with. When I first heard this hypothesis, it was under the umbrella of my studies (at that time) into social connectivity - how the various degrees of connection that loosely knit us all together can unsubtly or even unconsciously influence the choices we make. Back then, this concept was electrifying to me. It felt like one of those "manual of life" mysteries from that very same manual everyone else had already gotten and I was still looking for.
It is hard for me sometimes to realize that I have nearly half a century of living under my belt and I still have so many doubts. Oh, and fears. And also so many worries. I should have done this. I could have done that. Am I doing it right? According to my yoga teacher, Adriene, by the way, the answer to that last question is YES. Of course, here she is talking about a mat maneuver called "cat/cow" and not about whether I should have attempted to spray paint my car without reading the instructions first, or whether it was a good idea to spend all of last night reading my stack of tiny house library books rather than writing to earn rent money. So I suppose it is all relative. Still, this morning when I heard Adriene say, "If you are wondering if you are doing it right, the answer is YES," it felt really GOOD. I felt so reassured! For just a moment, the tiniest instant of instants, the merest flash of flashes, all seemed right with my world. I am doing it RIGHT. Oh. thank. goodness. And yet it seems somehow, well, wrong that doing things wrong has gotten such a bad rap.
Sometimes I think I will never learn to love myself, and most especially the part of me that I reside in, my body. Although I think perhaps I knew how to do this during the first decade of my life. Early pictures of me show a girl who seemed quite comfortable taking up space, letting it all hang out, employing creativity to accent my person (oh such creativity!), asking for what I needed and just generally living fully as me. But around age 10, something big shifted - specifically, my hormones. I was an "early bloomer" and as I bloomed physically, the way those around me related to me changed. Oh how they changed! Suddenly it was all about boobs and butts and boys and girls and rules and dress codes and shame and secrecy. I remember one day in elementary school the teachers showed this video - yup, it was "that" video. Boys and girls were segregated to watch it separately. We were warned never to talk about it after we'd seen it - especially not with the boys. After the video, which was made quite a bit scarier by how the adults all seemed to be tiptoeing around it, we all filed by each other, boys in one line and girls in the other. All afternoon, we watched each other to see who would be first to step across that silent line and just say it - MAN. That was WEIRD. I grew up and out in all the ways a tween begins to do about a year earlier than everyone else in my class, both boys and girls. To say that got me noticed, especially in the wake of the school-wide viewing of "the film," was an understatement. I might as well have painted a target right over my heart. Even the teachers got in on the bullying, whether by joining in or simply not saying a word. The adults in my life at that point were good at silence. I got good at it too. I got so good at silence I didn't really talk to anyone about much of anything for years. It would be another decade before I opened up to anyone again. By that time, as I attempted with all my might to disentangle myself from a mind gripped with an endless feedback loop of thoughts about eating-not-eating-weight-calories-size-shape-body-body-body, I was really out of practice with forming friendships. So I didn't really have any of those for awhile.
When I heard my yoga teacher, Adriene, say this in our class this morning, I thought, "Well, that certainly explains it!" It was like I was hearing this for the very first time. And I can guarantee you that in 47 and nearly three-quarters years to date, this definitely isn't the first time I've heard it. But perhaps it is the first time I've really listened. Adriene likened this to how the whole body, lungs, ribcage, chest expands when we draw breath in, and then as naturally contracts as we let our breath go out again. Expansion, contraction. Expansion, contraction. Expansion, contraction. As I pondered this more, I began to suspect something in my perception is off....very off. If every expansion is naturally followed by a contraction, then every contraction should be naturally followed by an expansion. Yet it doesn't feel like this, often or hardly ever in my life. If I had to describe how an average day feels to me, it would go something like this: Expansion, contraction, contraction, contraction. Expansion, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction. Expansion, contraction. Expansion, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction. You get the picture. So what's up? Is my perception just off? Or am I the exception to natural biochemical law? Am I just doing something way bad and wrong that is causing all these extra (alleged) contractions? Do I maybe not know enough to recognize expansion in a contracting disguise, so I am mis-labeling the two?