Adapt Or … Be a Lousy Houseguest?

A picky eater? Me? Never.

A woman who needs her sleep? Oh, me? No way.

A creature of habit? Who, me? No, no, not at all!

Well…

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I never realized how dedicated to my routine I have become until the last few weeks when I have been off visiting friends and family.

Ensconced in my beloved house, it has been relatively simple to establish healthy new patterns. Problematic foods avoided. Vitamins taken on time. Blog updated daily. Meditation practice observed. House maintained. (Ok, the last two are things I intend to throw into the routine, but I am honest to a fault).

I am beyond blessed to have people who love who take the changes that I have undergone in stride. They enable my gluten free imperative: we eat more Mexican (they have corn tortillas, right?); we make eggs rather than pancakes (no, please don’t worry about buying the extra expensive GF mix). Heck, we even sip herbal tea rather than opening a bottle of wine since I have sworn off drinking for a while as I get my body back in balance after years of troublesome yeast infections.

I used to eat anything any time and wore my barroom credentials with pride after a couple years keeping up with the lads in more than a few Irish pubs. I slept only when absolutely necessary and shunned the predictability of a daily routine.

And then I guess I grew up. Or maybe I wised up. I am not always certain whether those two experiences are mutually exclusive.

Sometimes I wonder if my transformation is stranger for my friends or for me as I offer to be designated driver and stifle a yawn past 10:30. I guess it is stranger for me since I am writing about it tonight.

The reasons I write about it at all are twofold: because I am grateful to have people who support the decisions I have made about my health (and so rarely make me feel like self-obsessed health nut who’s allergic to everything) and because I am learning a lot about the art of being adaptable.

There is a time for discipline. There is a time for tending to the self. There is a time for inwardness. There is a time to craft a life according to perfectly chosen criteria.

img_2224And then you realize that those perfectly chosen criteria are a lovely illusion that can be sweet and gentle for a while but invariably must fall away when we accept that we are not in control.

I had a perfect weekend with friends that took me out of my element enough to show me how I was getting perhaps a little too accustomed to my routines. I stayed up late and ate some weird food and guess what? I had a wonderful time.

I needed to remember that as much as much as I have changed and as hard as this journey to health has been, I am now far from fragile. There were days when this new incarnation of me was far from established when I might have had trouble deviating from the “safe” routines I was trying to create, but I live in steadier times and must realize I am strong and, yes, adaptable.

All this work I am doing is almost meaningless if I cannot carry it into the world and enjoy life all the more. Spiritual work and listening to the body are about training myself to live with a sense of completeness both within my own soul and throughout my outer experiences.

I am not training to be a monastic; these skills are not shaped and honed so I can be the perfect hermit.

Are you living within safe patterns that nurture you right now? Are you instead stuck in some sort of rut?

Can you step outside of your routines and still feel supported and healthy?

What would it take to both create positive patterns and yet still maintain the flexibility to adapt and to be a good houseguest even if you have to say “no thanks” to the main course?

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Frugality Is Not a Crime

German chapel ornament

When you have to do it, belt-tightening’s no joke. But, gladly, most Americans don’t have to — not even in this economy. […]

If you’re blessed with good fortune in these hard times, you’re not helping anyone if you let frugality chic stop you and yours from having a very Merry Christmas indeed.

I nearly choked on my soy milk when I heard this commentary on Marketplace this morning. It’s yet another story about how resisting the urge to spend as much as possible this Christmas makes you worse than Scrooge – it makes you the scourge of capitalism and the American way of life.

I make no claims about having much knowledge of the economy. Nearly all of my news comes from NPR, and I know that’s not like being a daily reader of the Wall Street Journal. Maybe the commentator, Will Wilkinson, is exactly right and austerity is one of the factors that makes an already shaky economy begin to look even worse.

My issue is not with this interpretation of the the law of supply and demand, it is that we are stuck in a system that can only be salvaged if we acquire more stuff.

Wasn’t it greed that got us into this problem in the first place? How can buying more Gap sweaters in bizarre colors just because they are on sale and your sweetie should have a few more boxes to open make the world any more livable?

Change is a scary thing. Realizing that the global economic structures are being turned upside down and may never look the same again is frightening. Trying to imagine what might come after U.S. domination seems unfathomable for most of us in these fifty states.

Clinging to the very structures that have been proven to betray us is not helping matters. Continuing to shop like everything is normal isn’t the soothing balm the ad campaigns and the radio experts are trying to convince us it is.

detail of our treeWhat if we are choosing to buy less and handcraft more? What if it just makes sense to give to charity instead of purchase a book that your uncle will never give himself time to read? What if this down economy, even if you are yet unscathed, is just the reason you were looking for to ditch materialism and show your family you love them by giving them less clutter, not more?

I cannot believe that this financial crisis is just a fluke of the markets. With all of the internal shifts that are forcing people to look at their lives in entirely new ways, we need our relationship with money and consumerism to be transformed as well.

Our souls need room to breathe. Wouldn’t there be a lot more time to figure out how to do that if we spent less time in the mall and less time dusting our new trinkets?

Our earth needs room to breathe. Won’t easing the yearly December burden of delivery trucks and crowded landfills and depleted resources be the greatest gift you could give to your Mother this holiday?

A Deer on the Sidewalk (Or, Wisdom Against the Odds)

Driving through the streets of Poughkeepsie when I left work at the unusually early hour of one o’clock, I became the first in a long line of cars to stop for a buck casually prancing across College Avenue. This regal creature only seemed vaguely aware that his four antlers were no defense against the four wheeled beasts barreling towards him.

Here was an animal so out of his element, his dark coat no camouflage against the yellow lines down the middle of the road, his forest wisdom so easily lost in the cracks in the pavement. At the same time, since we find ourselves in the middle of the New York hunting season, he was a clever lad, testing his luck against the visible rush of oncoming traffic rather than the more clandestine attack of flying bullets.

For these weeks when guns and bows rule the woods, the deer’s natural habitat becomes a house of danger, and he must risk these ever closer brushes with humanity. The world is turned upside down as home and safety must be traded for an unknown civilization that plays by mysterious rules.

I cannot help but think of those moments in life when the foundations shift, when people who promise to always be there end up following a divergent path, when the plans that were meant to offer a secure future refuse to materialize, when the homes we have created for ourselves cannot be a refuge.

This deer could have panicked in the face of suburbia and left hoof prints on the hoods of the parked SUVs (I am working this metaphor based on the belief that he is not some cervine street rat, fat from the neighborhood petunias). Instead he crossed the road to munch another house’s shrubbery and was not shaken by the passing cars. Adaptability was the secret of his survival (at least on this particular Thursday afternoon). He was willing to brave unknown dangers in order to increase his changes of surviving against forces that would almost certainly be his doom.

Though a brief emotional bust-up this week threatened to upset this castle of peace and equanimity that I have been blessed enough to construct, I am still fortunate enough to be free of those dreaded calamities that drive us from our places of comfort. Still, I want to learn from this beautiful animal what it is to walk through unfamiliar territory with proud head held high, maintaining essential poise even when nothing is working as it should.

Belief in the Nation, Belief in the Individual

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Victor Frankl

I was introduced to Victor Frankl today in an article by Russell Bishop in The Huffington Post that discussed coping with the possibility that the “the other side” may win next week. Bishop was not picking sides – a rare enough feat these days – because he was crediting both parties with the passion and emotional investment that have made this such singular campaign.

No matter who wins, the world will not end and the country will not become unrecognizable (at least not right away). Sure, so many of us talk about moving to Canada if this one (as opposed to “that one”) wins, but we are the same people who threatened to do that back in 2004 and stayed on to realize that as much as we may differ with the guy in the oval office, our lives still looked pretty similar even if the news looked more and more grim.

Am I hiding my head in the consumerism-soaked, triviality-obsessed culture that watched American Idol as two wars dragged on? Am I too much a part of the nation that watched An Inconvenient Truth, wept, ranted… and then went to the air conditioned big box store to buy a couple of new light bulbs?

Must I believe that everything is going to be alright, regardless of who we elect, not because I truly believe that American is indestructible and her best days are ahead of her, but because believing anything else is just too damn terrifying?

Or is there actually hope to be harvested in this turbulent time regardless of who gets the top job? For all that we must be aware of the world around us and vote and care for the poor and question industrial pollution, what if all of our rhetoric is true and widespread change truly does begin at the individual level? What if we really are the change we have been waiting for and as amazing as it is to have an incredible leader sounding the charge, we actually have the power to make those changes ourselves?

Frankl’s work was indelibly marked by his three years in a Nazi concentration camp. For all that is at stake in this election, we are still going to wake up with a democratically elected leader (I know that the electoral college problematizes that statement, but bear with me) and we still have one of the best opportunities in the world to have a government we can be proud of. If Frankl could endure the greatest cruelties that one group of human beings have inflicted upon another in modern memory and emerge with this steadfast belief in the potential of the individual, why can’t we?

We have watched people from all segments of society rally around a candidate who we hope enacts the kind of change that he so eloquently describes. It is human nature to desire such figures with shoulders so broad and voices so powerful that they can bear the burdens of our dreams and sing the songs of our longed for freedoms. I can only wish that we can elect a hero and then awaken with a president who will recede to the edges of our vision so that we can recognize all of the potential that sleeps within each one of us.

I do not mean to introduce any defeatist notions into our push toward next Tuesday. I am confident that hope and reason will win out over fear and duplicity. Nor do I wish to tarnish the greatness of a candidate that I truly believe in. It is just that in the pursuit of being more accountable to the path of wisdom, I need to begin to allow myself to believe that we can walk in our own sense of greatness and then watch the ripples shape the rest of this world.

Rising to the Challenge of Change as Temperatures Fall

I drove into work through a bowl of great Hudson River fog, guided by my memory of the road and the headlights of what little oncoming traffic there was. The car’s thermometer read 29 degrees, but I found that impossible to believe, wearing only a wool turtleneck and a shawl as I was. My sweet October could not possibly have dissolved into temperatures that demand jackets and gloves and drying one’s wet hair so it doesn’t turn to icicles. As I moved in and out of clear spots, where the sun could actually filter down to the increasingly bare branches, I finally noticed the blanket of frost. Mums on porch steps were limp and clearly affronted by the weather and the trees that don’t turn to brilliant autumn colors were decked in shriveling, mud colored leaves.

Why was this such a shock to me, one month past the Equinox, well into the time when the northern hemisphere was due to sleep? As the sun set last evening I made my way through the fallen foliage, and shivered through my thin shirt. I found myself cursing the cold, amazed at how I seem to have grown a summer skin that rebelled against nature’s inevitable chill. So often I have pitied those who cringe at the first crisp morning, who bemoan the coming of the gray days and the nights when the fog of your breath blots out the brilliant stars. With some pride, I’d describe how I love wool scarves and leather boots and velvet jackets and how my mind simply functions better when the temperature starts to fall. But this year, I am as shocked as the last grapes on the vine, and I find myself squinting into the last gold of the trees, trying to get my bearings.

My life has been marked by constant change over the last few years with marrying, my husband’s multiple job changes, and buying our first house. I would say that I thrive in a dynamic environment, and hunger for different experiences. Then I remember that I dislike stay up late these days and how crummy I feel when I eat the wrong sorts of food. This summer, I had a kind of existential crisis about travel and consumerism and dislocation in the middle of a covered bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland while my husband and I were on an otherwise blissful holiday. Far from my nest, jet-lagged, and juiced on Swiss chocolate, I couldn’t believe how stressed I was to be so out of my element. My “element” used to be a vast, seemingly infinite place.

Is it growing older? Is it that I have set healthier patterns for myself that are uncomfortable to break? Is it that I am as susceptible to the mundane dictates of human nature as anyone else?

I did not intend this to become a political post, and I really feel like I should resist the urge to talk about November 4 just because I mentioned the dreaded/beloved “C” word, but oh well. We can dream that electing Obama will set off the seismic shift that our country needs, but we are all too aware of the limitations of the slow moving barge of government and that one man will not be our messiah. Thing is, are we upset that the social and political (dis)order will not be overturned overnight or are we secretly pleased that the planet will not start spinning so fast that we cannot keep up?

We beg for transformation, for “little earthquakes” – not the sort that rip us into pieces but those that shift us into the new era we yearn for – but I think we have to uncover all of our internal resistances and feel the ways we might cower as our new world tries to emerge.

Wise Woman Working

When faced with the impossible problem of what I want to be when I grow up or who I want to be for the next twenty minutes I often panic at the multiplicity of options. Sometimes I am crushed when I realize that whatever path I choose will inevitably eliminate a host of other equally attractive, urgent possibilities. So often I become completely mired in all that I cannot do; I just freeze up and let the night dissolve into television for fear I might waste time chasing after the wrong star. I suppose this is one reason why many passionate people who really want to affect positive change end up being stymied by the weight of their own potential. The vastness of the universe, with all of its beauty and ugliness, is devastating in its scale and the abilities of one person seem laughably inconsequential.

Of all the causes that call to me but do not seem to fit into a single lifetime, I think I have finally distilled my raison d’être to one articulable goal: I want to be a wise, wise woman.

For some time I have been sitting behind my eyes, watching as I move through the world, keeping an inner score card. My awareness has been heightened and I surf from epiphany to epiphany, so often conscious of this phenomenal world with its limitless possibilities. But I constantly find myself forgetting all I know about the life of the soul and the love of the Divine and the power of healing. The epiphanies all turn to dust as I find it impossible to practice all that I know when I am confronted with another unenlightened day at work or a quiet night when I am too tired to think.

And so I am ready to introduce a second stage to all of this shouting about revelations: it is time for Wise Woman Working. The pursuit of wisdom seems a relentless one that takes dedication and conditioning. At the same time, I think there is a need to let the world pass through you and allow the knowledge to pool at your feet, but I think that certain groundwork must be laid first. All those books I have read, all the classes and seminars I have attended – their brilliance dulls and I just find myself becoming an enlightenment junkie dying for a new hit. Wise Woman Working is about practicing what I have heard preached and letting all those lessons marinate until they are not airy-fairy icing, but the real sustenance one can build a life upon. It is about living through these flashes of insight and distilling them to their essential stuff so that I can blossom into being that wise, wise woman who contributes something to this miraculous, fucked up world.