A holiday is an odd bird, indeed. Some holidays are literally thousands of years old. Other holidays (World Naked Gardening Day, anyone?) are clearly of a more recent vintage. There are so many holidays and commemorative days with close ties to religion, politics, gender, pop culture, history, public figures, myths and legends, food....dig down far enough, and it can actually be hard to find a new holiday that hasn't already been invented! But truthfully speaking, no matter how personally meaningful one holiday or another may be (I'm personally a big fan of National Coffee Day), the majority of holidays are relatively small potatoes. And then there are "The Holidays." You know the ones I'm talking about. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Years. Literally taking over the last two months of every year like clockwork and bookended throughout by the aptly-named "shopping holidays" (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, et al), these are the holidays everyone stresses about. "The Holidays" can be enough to send some of us to the medical clinic (cold-and-flu season being another classic end-of-year tradition) and others to the morgue (January has the highest mortality rate annually out of all 12 months each year). Thanks in large part to grand-scale marketing efforts, spending "The Holidays" with family and/or friends often feels more like a requirement than a recommendation. God help the poor stateside soul spending these significant dates solo. Even if you want to go it alone - even if you don't care because holidays weren't a big deal in your family of origin - and even if you don't really have a choice - it can feel mighty odd to find yourself at visibly loose ends in the midst of everyone else's action-packed agendas. I didn't really begin to understand why I got depressed like clockwork at the end of each year until I decided to major in business marketing in college. One day, my marketing research professor rolled out a bunch of holiday ads and challenged us to decode their meanings. Suddenly, a lifelong missing piece snapped into place.
I already know this post isn't going to win me any new friends. No one really likes a music critic. But as a former serious aspiring musician, singer and songwriter, it just feels like it needs to be said - somewhere, by someone - that music really should come with warning labels (or at least a healthy disclaimer or two). A few days ago I was in one of my favorite thrift stores. I was shopping around to see what I could find that would keep me warm in the Antarctica that my normally tropical city had suddenly become. As I browsed through gently used turtlenecks, wool sweaters and endless reams of flannel, I was at the same time listening to a steady selection of the sort of hopeless, heart-wrenching lovesick ballads I honestly haven't heard since my own songwriting days. Then all of a sudden, right there in the middle of the store, my heart started to hurt. And when I say hurt, I don't just mean my eyes began to tear up or I suddenly wondered if I had forgotten to take my anti-depressant that morning. I mean it actually started to HURT. I felt physical pain in the general vicinity of my upper left chest, right in between my left collar bone and my left boob - and we all know which vital organ makes its home there. If you've ever stuck a power cord in an electrical outlet and see a brief spark of electricity fly out, that is about how it felt. My heart was ping! ping! pinging! these little sparks along with the beats of the songs.
"Where to go when you don't know where to go." At first glance, this sounds like one of those frustrating statements that initially sounds profound but ends up meaning nothing. But when the phrase popped into my mind during my yoga practice this morning, something clicked. Part of it was timing. Sometimes during yoga practice, my mind becomes calm - like when my online teacher, Adriene, specifically says "now, give your thinking mind a break." But at other times, like this morning, my mind doesn't think it needs a break. It has so much to think about! Often what it is thinking about upsets me and feels a lot like a critique of how well (or not) I'm living my life to date. So when, all of a sudden, right in the middle of a long mental monologue about how my life is going nowhere and may have actually passed me up a long time ago, I heard "Where to go when you don't know where to go?" Like one of those incomprehensible riddles meditation teachers give their students, this stopped my mind cold. "Hmmmm," it thought. "Where to go when I don't know where to go?"
As everyone knows, holidays are a time for festive gatherings with family and friends. This is great if you are an extrovert. Festive gatherings? Strangers? Crowds? Bring it on! But then, let's say you are an introvert, like, say, moie. And for some unknown and totally obscure reason, the holiday festivities planners tell you that no, your extroverted and oh-so-talkative parrot can't be your "plus one" for holiday dinner. What then? You dye your hair to look like a unicorn and hope like hell the other attendees at holiday gatherings just assume you got your holidays mixed up yet again and hand you all their leftover chocolate. But in all honesty, I have this thing about my hair.....always have had, really. When I was small and my mom was raising two of us mostly on her own (my dad was typically traveling for work) having long hair was a no-go. Not being able to have it just made me want it more. Finally, after a whole crowd of fourth-grade girls told me I looked exactly like a boy, I was permitted to grow it. Approximately 48 years of long hair later, all I can say is, apparently true love apparently lasts a lifetime. But over the last few years, and increasingly as my thyroid shut down and took its own sweet time letting me know, my formerly dark hair has begun to go grey. And not the lovely platinum kind, either....my particular greying pattern looks more like salt and pepper shakers are arguing all over my head. Post-hypothyroid diagnosis, I began to get surprise massive allergic reactions to the dark grey-covering hair dye I was using. Here, I don't just mean a smidgen of itching and a smattering of dark pillow dye stains. I mean large, seeping, oozing sores all over my head and ears that even two rounds of steroids plus antibiotics didn't fully resolve. So one day I decided - enough is enough. If I'm going to go grey, I'm going to GO GREY. I'll just dye the shit silver! Yup. Perfect plan. Until it wasn't.
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 starts running endless what/if scenarios while the rest of me goes 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.