Sunday, April 6, 2014

Losing Weight, but Experiencing Growth

May I be healed.
May I be free from suffering.
May my heart be filled.
May I find peace.
I don’t remember where I got this mantra. I believe it comes from Buddhist philosophy or the yoga tradition, though I probably got it from a self-help psychology book. I’ve been reciting it for years, not as a regular exercise, but in times of stress, or sometimes just to help me relax before going to sleep.

Reciting this gives me a sense of contentment and even joy. But it has no intrinsic power; it isn’t in itself anything more than a prayer or a wish, words. I learned it during a time in my life, after my divorce, when I was trying to understand myself and my emotions. Why did I stay in a relationship for so long that was dissatisfying and eventually painful? And then how could I, at age 40 (then), “fall in love” at the drop of a hat, then be so pained when it didn’t pan out?

Songwriting and performing was one of my responses to my pain, and I had a period of creative awakening, writing over a hundred songs in the early 90’s from which I chose some and made a solo CD of original acoustic music I titled, “Lessons Life’s Taught Me.”

I also started a seeing a therapist who helped me explore childhood pain, how those early experiences stay in our minds, coloring and magnifying our emotions and responses in the present. I learned not only how to recognize that so that I could keep the present in better perspective, but through a method described by John Bradshaw in his seminal self-help psychology books (The Homecoming, etc.) as “inner-child” work, I actually reduced or eliminated some of the early pain, making me much better equipped to operate as an “Adult in transactions with other people.” I refer there to elements of a kind of psychological model called TA, or Transactional Analysis, popularized in a book written some 40 years ago titled I’m OK, You’re OK, in which, to give the barest and simplest summary, people have three choices or possibilities in any interaction with another person: to be playing a Child role, a Parent role, or an Adult role. To play either Child (needy, immature, manipulative, emotional, also possibly full of wonder, curious, naïve, joyful) or Parent (authoritarian, directive, worried, angry…), often forces the other into the opposite role and causes “tapes” from childhood experiences to run in the background coloring the interaction. Even if only one person can consistently maintain the Adult role, generally logical, not emotional, there is a better chance of keeping the interaction on the Adult to Adult level.

Since the vast majority of people do not escape early childhood without some emotional pain, and relatively few ever go through therapy to help them deal with it, it follows that there are likely a lot of people walking around dealing with various levels of childhood pain coloring their responses to the world. In extreme forms, it might look like road rage, but for most it’s probably just difficulty communicating in relationships or pettiness, overreactions of hurt feelings, anger, sadness, in a given situation.

But before I go any farther, let me correct any impression that I think therapy is the only path to healthy emotions and relationships. Some people, I’m sure, successfully work through programs or exercises provided in self help materials. Others find the same kind of liberation from childhood pain in their religious or spiritual experiences. I actually believe that the goals, or at any rate the potential results of religious practice and that of psychology amount to much the same things.

Fast forward twenty-two years, and you’ll find me, retired in my early 60’s, remarried for the last eighteen years, and in the midst of another awakening of my creative soul, my muse, call it what you will, but not limited it to music. In the past couple months, I must at least partly attribute it to my change of diet, I’ve had a host of creative ideas, many of which I’ve acted on, and to my great satisfaction, they are yielding interesting results.

MCHMess (that’s my word for the chemical spill/water crisis around Charleston, WV that began on January 9, 2014 and continues to affect the conversation here), has had a big impact on me. Those of you who’ve been reading my blog know it hasn’t affected me like most people: I’m not afraid to drink our tap water, though of course I didn’t drink while the advisories were in effect and didn’t choose to drink during the period that odor from the chemical lingered in the water in my house.

No, my assessment was that the efforts to contain and clean up the spill were effective, the chemical, while nasty and not a substance that should ever have gotten in our water, is likely not dangerous at the low levels it has been found in some tap water since the “Do Not Use” order was lifted, and that the CDC got it right or very close to right when they set the “screening level”, the level at which it was not likely to affect public health. That reasoned position is not very popular in the affected region.

My response to the spill, however, was to spur me to action on environmental issues well beyond chemical storage, which is, of course also important. I decided it was time for me to do something more about Mountain Top Removal (MTR) coal mining and to learn more about fracking and its environmental impact. It’s time to get serious about doing something about Climate Change as well.

I attended some meetings and some rallies. I wrote new verses to Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land and sang it at big MTR rally at the Capitol in Frankfort, KY, and again at the Capitol in Charleston. I walked the halls of the Capitol on E-Day, a day when WV environmental groups have a big lobby effort. And soon after that I decided that meetings and lobbying weren’t my best use of time. I decided the people already doing that needed more resources, more money, so I would do what I love to do and do pretty well, create and promote music events. I began talking with others about my ideas, including WV artist Mark Blumenstein, and a Charleston area software engineer and musician, Kevin Crump, and out of those conversations came AWARE: Artists Working in Alliance to Restore the Environment. And now, AWARE is about to “go live” as a project of West Virginia Citizen Action Group which I direct. The website is not quite ready for public viewing, and I’m not going to spend time in this space describing the project, but briefly, we will raise money through holding events: concerts, art shows, craft fairs, and encourage others to do so in our name and send us proceeds. We will distribute the money we raise to environmental action groups in West Virginia (possibly expanding in the future).

I’ve gone far afield in this long blog post, but if you’re still with me, I’ll wrap up shortly. Starting up this organization has been as creative an act as I’ve ever engaged in; it came, as great songs sometimes do, with inspiration and because I was open to my “muse”. Part of my openness to my muse at this time is, I believe, due to changes in my body from losing weight and eating differently.

My metabolism is different, and there are no doubt chemical/hormonal changes—I’m sleeping less (my brother is concerned I may be going through a thyroid induced energy burst which runs in my family and I’ve agreed to be tested), and I’ve been finding when I do my little Yoga routine that is basically a series of stretching exercises I haven’t ever done on a regular basis, I’m compelled to expand the stretches, hold them longer, and try new positions, sometimes experiencing “rushes” of energy as I “open up” into a position my body hasn’t been able to make since youth (and I didn’t do yoga then).

And I’ve found myself reciting the mantra I opened with more, but felt like I needed to revise it to reflect my current thinking. This is what I tell myself now:

May I be one whole being: body, mind, and spirit.
May I be free from fear, anxiety, and the slavery of painful emotion from the past
May my heart be filled with unconditional love.
May I be at peace

My 2-Day Diet Progress Week 22, April 6, 2014 
Beginning weight 11/3/13: 209 lbs.
Height 5'8" Age: 61
Goal weight: 165 lbs.
Total loss goal: 44 lbs.
Beginning waist size: 43 in.
Current waist size: 38 in.
Weight end of this week:  179 lbs.
Gain/Loss this week:  -2 lbs.
Total Gain/Loss:  -30 lbs.

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