The Experience of Change

It seems like a lot of people that I know are currently going through big changes in their lives, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how change is experienced (well, and I’ve been experiencing my own changes, too!). Change, whether it is self-imposed or imposed by the universe, can feel very scary. I think change is scary because it feels lonely. Even if it’s a positive change. Even if you have a lot of support. Even if you feel cared-for. Even if you know that you are loved. The experience of change is very personal, and nobody can know how it feels to you. Depending on where you are at, or what the change is, your perception of the situation can make the responses of others feel very thoughtless and mean when they are actually quite innocent. Also, you know that nobody can really know how you feel, because they aren’t walking around in your head. So, even if people are trying to give you support, your mind can twist away from it, just because you know that they don’t really understand how it is for you. Finally, change is transformation. It is moving away from what your loved ones, and sometimes society in general, expect from you, and a lot of us have a very hard time tearing ourselves away from what other people want from us.

For me, the changes that I’m intensely trying to make in my life are imposed by me. They are only loosely dependent on my relationships. Nothing catastrophic or sad has happened to me. The process is, for the most part, under my control. I feel lucky for that: not only do I get to choose own perceptions about my results, but I am also the instigator of the change in the first place. However, it can be a little bit confusing sometimes. I get frustrated or sad because I feel isolated. But I’ve been isolating myself deliberately, so I can’t really go shaking my fist at the sky! I chose to take it easy on the social front because I needed some space to get into a new groove before putting myself in situations where I’d be likely to derail myself. When I look at it that way I am forced to acknowledge that feeling sorry for myself is silly and unhelpful and not a real problem but one I’m creating in my head. And then I feel like an asshole and immediately make myself feel better by laughing at what an asshole I am being. Problem solved!

Another side to the loneliness of change is that my default is still, though much less so than at other times in my life, to want to put the desires of others before my own needs. I struggle with guilt, and feel like I have been a terrible friend/daughter/granddaughter/sister/etc. But, as cheeseball as it sounds, I’ve grown to really believe that you can’t really love others fully if you don’t love yourself – kindness isn’t as kind as it could be if your acts of kindness are, deep-down, about self-validation. This concept is totally self-help 101; I’ve frequently heard it on The Biggest Loser, for god’s sake. But for some reason it’s a hard one for a lot of people to grasp.  Ultimately the thought that helps me get through those moments of guilt is that I want my relationships to be about mutual love and support and happiness. Not about validation or control on either end (I realize that there are some relationships that are dependent by nature – they have to be! But I am not a parent yet, so now is a good time for me to get a grip on these concepts!).

Are you experiencing a big change in your life? How are you feeling about it? Is it scary? Lonely? Exciting? Invigorating? All of the above?

The I-don’t-wannas

When I was a kid I was in a lot of activities. I mean, I tried a lot of things: Ice skating, ballet, softball, saxophone, guitar, cheerleading, etc. Not one of those things stuck. I wish that at least the guitar would have. The things that I ended up kind of settling into in jr. high and high school were writing, visual art, choir, and a little flirtation with theater (I was part of the drama society but was only in two productions in high school. I couldn’t be bothered with all that rehearsal time!). So basically, the only activities I did as I got a little older were the things that came naturally to me. I can write (so I’ve been told!), I can draw reasonably and am good with colors/arrangements, and I can sing. Those are the things I could do as a child without any lessons or a lot of practice. They are also the same things that I love today.

The problem with having only done things that come naturally to me is that I never really learned to practice. After two or three sessions in a given activity, I would usually decide that I must not like it because I wasn’t enjoying the practice. I still wish that my parents would have made me stay in one of those things…dance or guitar or something. I don’t blame them, though. How would they know? Neither of them was ever able to be in any activities growing up, and by the time they were 21 they had a kid and had thrown personal development out the window in favor of getting by. They had no idea what a big deal it is to learn how to practice! Oh, actually, my mom did make me stay in softball for eight years because she thought I needed to do something less sedentary (I did – I was chubby!). That didn’t really help me though, because the ultimate truth is that even after practicing enough to be O.K. at it, I hated softball.

Knowing how to practice would have been a great skill to have in college. I majored in writing and minored in art, which was pretty much best-case scenario for me, but I squandered the opportunity. Here I was paying all this money to learn the practice of writing, the practice of visual art, but I didn’t have the patience or understanding to practice there. I took all the time that I had to really sink into the things that I love and used it to party like a rock-star. I could have just split the time I spent partying in half, still had plenty of time to party, and have learned earlier and easier what it takes to be successful in the areas where I dream of success. I didn’t develop as a writer or an artist because I didn’t have balance; a theme that would continue through the rest of my twenties.

All that aside, this isn’t a post about broken dreams; it’s a post about hope. Several times over the years David and I have talked about how both of us are resistant to just doing things, even when we enjoy them. We call the feeling that we have about showing up to practice “the I-don’t-wannas.” An example is that I have really had to talk myself into going to yoga for the first two months, even though I liked it once I was there. Something has happened in the last month that has opened a door for me: I have actually begun to want to go to yoga. It’s the first time I’ve actually stayed with something long enough to want to practice and improve.  Suddenly a light-bulb lit up: the same thing will probably apply with writing and art. Even though my skills are rusty, and I’m frustrated with it, if I just make to time to practice, and just do it whether I want to or not, I will probably eventually start to enjoy the practice.

“Learn to love the process” is said so often it has become a cliché, but apparently I still had to go and learn it the hard way!

What has been your experience with practice, or with “enjoying the process”?  Has it been hard for you? Or does practice come naturally?

No Regrets?!

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with my cousin and she brought up how she hates it when people say they have “no regrets.” No regrets! We decided that people who really believe that are either a.) really shallow, and/or not self-aware enough to realize the consequences of decisions, b.) pathologically optimistic, or c.) super egotistical (ie., “everything I do turns out golden, regardless”). O.K., O.K., I get why people say “no regrets.” For some people it is a mantra, a kind of “seize the day” sort of thing, so they don’t end up on their deathbeds regretting too many things that they didn’t do.  For others it is to convince themselves that everything happens for a reason, and it all turns out for the best. And for others it is to convince themselves or justify to others that it is alright that they acted like a total shit, because everything turned out for the best.  In some circumstances it simply means that whatever the outcome of a specific situation is was worth the hell someone had to go through to get there. But do people really believe it when they say it?

Personally, I think that as a mantra the phrase is a set-up for disappointment. I understand that the point is to live life to its fullest, but why wouldn’t your mantra simply be “seize the day,” or “live every day like it’s your last,” or something? Even when things turn out well, you will probably regret at least some things.  As far as the “everything happens for a reason” argument: I guess I do believe in fate, destiny, or whatever you want to call it. BUT! I don’t believe that we don’t have a choice in how it affects us. So, if you go through hell, and the outcome is ultimately positive, that’s all fine and dandy. However, often times you could have chosen a path that wouldn’t have put you through hell, may have had a different outcome, but the outcome could still have been positive. If someone says it about a specific goal; well, I guess I can understand that, like, “I went through hell to stop smoking (or lose weight, or whatever it is), but I have no regrets.” Although I do think that in a lot of those situations the hell we go through is the hell we create for ourselves, so it is still a choice. Obviously I’m not going to bother refuting the whole thing about using that phrase to justify being an a-hole.  There is no excuse for being a jerk. Everyone acts like a jerk from time to time, but there is no goal that justifies it. Sorry.

For your entertainment, here is just a small sampling of things I regret (despite the fact that they had some positive outcomes):

  1. Starting to smoke. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! (However, I may have never met some of the people who are my best friends now!)
  2. Paying so much money to go to a private liberal-arts college (With a couple exceptions from high school and being related, I would definitely not have met any of the people who are my best friends now!).
  3. Paying so much money to go to a private liberal-arts college. Again. (No particularly positive results thus far…well, I guess I know what the edge of sanity looks like now! And I did meet one person I’m still friends with. Otherwise, I’m not using my expensive MA at all!)
  4. Caring too much about what other people think of me. (Results: Eating Disorders. Lots of mental anguish. Lack of confidence. Fear of failure Etc.. But, I guess it could have saved me from doing lots of stupid things, too. I will never really know!)
  5. Having Credit Cards. Well, I guess I got to go on a couple of trips thanks to these. Too bad the most recent trip that I can attribute to a credit card happened 6 years ago! Also, my hubby and I put some stuff for our wedding on credit. I had a pretty kick-ass wedding day; so I’d say that was worthwhile. Otherwise, there is nothing that I have used credit for that has been particularly memorable or necessary.

And those are just things that I regret doing! I won’t even get started on things I regret not doing!

I guess there is one possible way that “no regrets” is meaningful to me: that regret is a waste of time and life. Whatever choices are in your past are already in your past. They’re done, so there’s no use thinking about them.   So, “no regrets” could just mean “The past is over. Live in the present.” I can get behind that. But I still think it would be more accurate to stick with the wisdom of the Beatles :“Let it be,” or just “let it go.”

What do you think of the phrase “no regrets”? What are your major regrets? Did they have some positive outcomes?

An Unusual Time for New Awareness

David and I are now nearing the end of phase one of the detox/elimination diet. If I would have been thinking carefully about timing, I might have considered that I was still going to be in the most difficult phase of the diet on the one day each month (well, the one reliable day, anyhow!) that I go batshit crazy. A day that has been known for years in our household as “Crazy Thursday,” though this time it arrived one day early. In case you haven’t figured it out: “Crazy Thursday” ushers in my “time of the month.” Don’t worry, Gents, this isn’t going to be terribly graphic (unless you are one of those guys that likes to pretend that periods don’t happen at all).

Typically on my day of PMS, I am a cryer, not a fighter. I don’t get irritable (unless some jackass is foolish enough to say “whatsa matter, that time a the month?”) I have meltdowns. Like, everything that I have been frustrated, sad, or angry about for the last month wells up and I just have to cry it all out for about two hours. This is best done by myself. In fact, David doesn’t even react to it anymore (we’ve been together nine years – I give him a pass. After it’s over, of course. While it’s happening he is a total asshat in my head for not trying to comfort me!).

When the sadness hit me on Wednesday, I thought “uh oh. Without any of my usual self-soothers, am I going to go totally nuclear?” Strangely, I did not. Rather than having an epic meltdown, I just maintained a certain level of blue all day. I didn’t even shed any tears! So weird! I almost felt robbed! “WHERE IS MY MELTDOWN?!”

Then it hit me. My obsessive thought is gone. I haven’t been turning and turning the same thoughts over in my mind for a few days. Without the obsessive thought, there’s nothing to fuel a meltdown. The reasons for being sad or angry or frustrated occur to me, and I feel down, but I’m not beating them to death enough to sit and cry for two hours. Reason sets in at a normal enough pace so that my brain is going “huh, that sucks, but your whole life doesn’t suck.” Wow.

So, I guess that’s positive detox result #1! Of course, I have no idea what it was that was contributing to my racing mind. I won’t know that for several weeks (if ever I can get that specific – elimination diets are a limited tool of measurement)! But it’s pretty cool to check in on my brain and find that it’s thinking about whatever it is I’m doing at the moment, instead of obsessing about a million things I can’t do anything about!

Whoooo Aaaare Yoooou?

Yesterday I addressed some identity issues that I’ve been having related to detoxifying. I have written a bit about who I have wanted to be, and who I have been, but I haven’t really addressed who I want to be now. The truth is that I have been hazy on that point, and that’s been a problem. I have said something about who I don’t want to be: I don’t want to be a sanctimonious health nut, and I don’t want to party my spirit away. So, perhaps it would be helpful to me to further dissect who I don’t want to be?

To me, the definition of the sanctimonious health nut is a person who is not open to further explorations in how to live and does not respect where others are on their journey. So, I guess that tells me that I want to do my best to remain receptive to different ways of doing things, to be non-judgmental about opinions that differ from mine, and to be compassionate towards those who are struggling on their path. God knows that I have been grateful for the kindness I’ve been shone by some others on my path. If I’m in a place where I can be helpful to someone else, I definitely want to do it. But I don’t want to be preachy; I intimately know how feeling judged can contribute to derailment. Furthermore, I don’t want to be culty, subscribing to a rigid set of beliefs about the right or wrong way to live.

I don’t want to submit to the false belief that being healthy is synonymous with being boring. I live in a neighborhood that is chock-full of artsy hipsters. A lot of partying happens here, and a lot of the glamor that I fell victim to in my twenties is all around me. As I’m walking around the neighborhood, I often wistfully observe my neighbors and wish that I was still young and in that exciting go-go-go phase of life. I feel like a dowdy old lady in my yoga pants and sensible running shoes. There needs to be an adjustment made in my perception of excitement and balance being mutually exclusive. I’m not 22, I’m 32, and I have had a painful time of realizing that the go-go-go lifestyle does not work for me. I need to be O.K. with that. But I also want to be sure not to grind to a halt and live my life in the past-tense of shoulda-coulda-didn’t.

O.K., so I need to strike a balance between partying like a has-been rockstar, and being too rigid. Good, that’s a start. Essentially, I want to be a person who is still fun, silly, crazy, weird, and joyful while also being observant, sincere, loving, diligent, and kind. I know that I have all those things in me because that is where I started from in my late teens. I just have to remember that all of those things are in me without having to involve any “props.”

A Time of Preparation

Although I frequently allude to spirituality here, it’s pretty rare for me to talk much about religion. Overall, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not big on organized religion at all. I’m not into dogma; though I believe religion can do very good things for people, I don’t think that any particular religion has the golden key to “salvation.”  That being said, I have no problem still self-identifying as what is perceived to be one of the most dogmatic faiths around: Catholic. There’s some further clarification in this post, if you care to know more about my perspective on the topic!

Anyhow, today is Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. Lent is a 6 week time of preparation before Easter (the resurrection of Christ, and for a lot of Christians and our not-so-subtly-hidden pagan histories, the official start of spring). It is meant to be a time of contemplation, and a time of penitence. I am fine with contemplation part, but penitence (which essentially means deep remorse and shame for what a rotten person you are) doesn’t really jive with me so much. Personally I feel like Jesus would be more down with me spending this preparation time getting ready to be a better person than beating the crap out of myself. So, contemplation of where I’ve gone wrong and where I can improve is fine.  Self-punishment: not so much.

Since I’m not into penitence, I haven’t really given anything up for Lent since I moved out of my parents’ house.  Even when I did live at home, my parents weren’t that big on it either. We did not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but that was about it. However, this year it has dawned on me, in relation to Lent, that giving things up doesn’t necessarily have to be self-punishment. It can be an exercise in contemplation and preparation as well. Duh. Fasting has been used in all sorts of spiritual practices for a billion years.

Accordingly, I have chosen this time to do an elimination diet. This means that I am giving up a lot of stuff. However, rather than punishing myself, I look at this as a a time to face some demons (physical addictions as well as emotional struggles) and come out with better clarity of mind and vitality of spirit. Seems like a perfect Lenten practice for me!

I will be posting about the diet, and lots of other wellness-related things, in more detail on my BRAND NEW health and wellness blog, The Cranky Hippie (more tomorrow about the decision to start a new blog on top of this one that I haven’t been consistent with)!

Finally, on top of the elimination diet and being a more consistent blogger, I might try to delve back into The Artist’s Way as a means to kind of jump-start my spirit/intellect a bit.The hubby and I have made a point of keeping our social calendars pretty clear during this time so we can rest and have down time to recharge our batteries for spring. But I will have to see how I’m feeling with the other changes.  Elimination diets (also somewhat of a “cleanse”) can be kind of difficult and draining at times, so I want to be sure to not press myself too hard. We’ll see how it goes!

Is “Ridiculous” kind of like “Crazy”?

Like, if you’re aware enough to know you’re ridiculous, you’re probably not that ridiculous? I hope so! Because:

Recently I gave everyone in a five block radius downtown a dirty look. Especially the ones that looked too cheerful. Maybe there’s no hope for me anymore. Maybe I will never be able to “bring back the love” again. Or, maybe I’m just a person who gets frustrated by the same things as everyone else, but just happens to have a bit of a dramatic flair when expressing displeasure! The jury is still out.

Things started out well that day: I got up and got to work early enough so I could make it to my favorite Yoga class at 4:00. The day was a pretty easy work day. I felt generally peaceful, and find that my mood has been greatly improved by my upgrade to a window cubicle at work (totally bragging! I get lots of sunshine now during the day and it has been SO AWESOME!). Anyhow, everything was going down according to plan. I left work on time, walked across downtown to catch my bus, and got to the bus stop right as my bus was pulling away.

I figured, “no big deal.” It’s a high-traffic bus, so I thought that there would be another one in about 5 minutes. I looked at the schedule and I was wrong. There wouldn’t be another one for 20 minutes. Having to wait for 20 minutes would be DISASTROUS! Not because I would miss class, but because I wouldn’t get there early enough to secure a spot in the back of the room, and avoid any possible judgements about my yoga form or less than tiny ass (yoga is supposed to be non-judgmental, but frankly, in Uptown, I have my doubts).

Rather than doing what any sensible public transit user knows to do, and just waiting for the next bus, I foolishly tried to take matters into my own hands and ran to try to catch a different bus. Ya know that quote from The Princess Bride, “never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line”? Well, this is like that, except something to the effect of: “Never go in against Metro Transit when timeliness is on the line.” Unlike Westley in The PB, you will never, EVER win. And thus, I fell into the dreaded “bus void.”

I spent the next twenty minutes running back and forth between bus stops trying to catch a bus, and missing them every time. The entire time I was cursing god in my head, because there was a strong and absolutely frigid wind that day: “Really? Really, god? I’m already mad, and stuck in some kind of transportation vortex, why don’t you go ahead and freeze my face off too!” Anyone that I saw who looked cheerful (why wouldn’t people look cheerful? It was Friday afternoon!) automatically got the look of death. I might as well have been shaking my fist at people. I’m sure I looked insane.

Obviously, I should have just waited for the original bus. At least I would have made it to Yoga. Instead, I was just shit outta luck all round. This is what happens when I try to grab too much control. The universe just kicks me in the teeth. So, having missed my class, and having already learned my yogic lesson for the day (let go!), and not wanting to subject my husband to the mood I was in, I did surrender. To the bar. Where I drank two Leinenkugels and wrote in my journal. I guess there’s more than one way to find your bliss!