February, 2013

26 Feb 2013, by

Slow Speed Ahead

You’d be forgiven if you called me crazy after reading my last blog post: “Stuck at Eat”. Even if you were muttering when you read it, you might be wondering now how I did! I survived four days with no eating. No crashes, no grumpiness, just some stomach growls and a hunger that never quite did go away.

Don’t worry, I did it with supervision, backed by reams of research and I supplemented with some carefully chosen herbs and organic fruit and vegetable juices. I wouldn’t recommend this somewhat extreme approach to everyone, but I did it to re-set my system and break some long-term unhealthy habits. And it worked. Gone are out of control sugar cravings (note, I said out-of-control…I still routinely need chocolate) and my habit of grabbing carbs first when I’m hungry. Wine is an occasional indulgence and I don’t miss it like I thought I would. When I’m invited to get togethers, I bring along sparkling water, and feel like I’m celebrating with a bit of bubbly. It’s all left me feeling lighter and healthier than I have in quite a while.

So, now that I’ve pushed the needle past its stuck-point at “Eat”, the next challenge in my “Eat, Pray, Love” experience, is “Pray.” In the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, she means meditating, when she refers to “Pray”, and she heads off to India to learn how to do it. With my overactive mind, meditating is something I’ve tried, unsuccessfully to do on many occasions. No matter what your belief system is, no one really argues that learning how to tame the chatter in your mind is a good skill to have. My previous attempts only succeeded in inspiring some creative writing:

“She sat loose limbed in a chair arms at her sides palms up – that part she had down.  She could even get through the first part of her relaxation visualization: ‘relax the jaw, neck and shoulders.’ It was after that when she didn’t have something to fixate on that she lost control again.  The chatterbox in her mind zig zagging desperately pulling her thoughts from shopping lists to conversations she had with her mother to…sigh…she couldn’t break the cycle.

‘Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.’  But she found trying to concentrate on her breath bored her.  Instead, she came up with a mental activity. An image to hold on to – white washing a wall. Simple. Uncomplicated. But she knew that was probably cheating…at least a little bit.

She’d been told she ran through life with her adrenal glands wide open. And it was true. She wasn’t a thrill-seeker but an adrenaline junkie: it was the jet fuel that kept her pushing….and proving….she could do it.  Do what, exactly?  That’s what she was now trying to figure out.

The answer had to be somewhere inside her.  She had glimpses of it.  But like a dream that all makes sense for a few brief moments after waking up, then dissolves away completely, she could never quite articulate it.

The jarring noise of a garbage truck emptying what sounded like a liquor cabinet full of bottles into its belly jolted her out of the relative stillness she finally managed to achieve. In two seconds flat the mental chatter started again. Wondering if anyone looked at the number of wine bottles in the recycling bins, and judging the lifestyles of the people who put them by the curb.

That’s the way her mind worked.  Always jumping to the worst case scenario, worrying about weaknesses and impressions.  She spent countless hours trying to lasso her thoughts and change the pattern of her thinking but, like pulling on a pair of comfortable sweats, she kept returning to her worn out way of thinking.

If anyone knew how much went through her head – the sub dialogue she provided silently to every situation – they would likely be surprised.  She was a pretty quiet person on the outside.  Only between the words in her ‘mind bubbles’ and her actual words she uttered lay her real self. Getting to that midpoint was the challenge.”

Getting to that midpoint. Meditating in quiet, suspended animation. A calm, peaceful, non-judgmental place. Unlike the character in the “Eat, Pray, Love” novel, all I have to do is walk up the road to learn some of the ancient secrets about how to quiet my mind. As it happens, there’s a Buddhist center in my little village, and they offer non-denominational courses on easy “breath” meditations.

The method they teach is only to concentrate on the inhalation and exhalation of air through your nose. Following its entry, all the way down into your lungs and following it back out again. Narrowing your focus to the present. The precious present. The ubiquitous “secret of life” so many philosophies and religions espouse. Learning how to block out distractions – both external and internal.

In the learning phase, the teacher said it would be helpful to count how many undistracted breaths you can manage. My first try yielded about a quarter of a second of focus. Maybe a shade longer than the attention of a gnat. But not much…

Happily, I’m managing to do a little better now, although I’m only finding time to sit down and practice it about once a week. The suggestion was five minutes a day. So, slow speed ahead, but ahead I go, toward a calmer, healthier me. As always, I’m looking for inspiration, though…so what has helped you tap into your real, your best, your calmest you?

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9 Feb 2013, by

Cultural Weekly

To read my latest “take” on living in New Zealand, be sure to visit the latest Cultural Weekly edition! This time I talk about my impressions of living in a dual society…

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