Monday, September 15, 2014

The Spacious Life

What is patience? In the Reyaverse there is no such thing. There is impatience, oh my yes. Impatience is a form of anxiety brought on by rushing.

In my opinion, the antidote to impatience is spaciousness. I learned this by doing massage. During the first years of my practice, on days when I had a lot of clients, I often found myself thinking ahead, while in a session, to how many more clients I was scheduled to see that day. Doing massage is a vigorous workout. On days when I was a little off or tired or whatever, sometimes I became anxious. The urge was to push through the day of work, get it over as fast as possible. I would find myself speeding up. Clients feels impatience immediately; often they too become impatient. It does not make for a satisfying experience. I've received many a massage from chronically impatient therapists. Impatience has no place in a massage session.

I learned to identify the urge to rush after which I tried to mindfully, purposefully slow down. The moment I decide not to hurry, there's plenty of time/space. The hour seems longer than when I'm anxious. Impatience disappears, and everything works a lot better.

I've applied this valuable lesson to the rest of my life whenever possible, to my great benefit. I don't generally race down the street like most Washingtonians. I stroll, amble. This allows me to look around, to notice where I am. This is how I am able to take my pictures. I do walk fast sometimes. It's exhilarating. But too much fast walking makes me impatient. I don't want to stop for the traffic lights, people in front of me annoy me. I start dodging in and out of people, to keep up my impatient inertia. Silly, I know.

If you google "learn patience" you will come across a selection of absurd articles, like this one from Psychology Today, about practicing patience. She suggests that we learn patience in the most trying of circumstances, like standing in a long line at the grocery store or while in a traffic jam. That is absolutely the worst way to practice patience! To associate patience with frustration will not help anything. It's like suggesting that people learn to love walking by parking at the far edge of a shopping mall parking lot, then walking across the car park to the store and back. A terrible idea! Walking through a parking lot is no fun at all, and kind of nerve-wracking since someone could pull out suddenly or come wheeling around the corner. Ridiculous! If you want to learn to love walking, take a walk in a park or along a beautiful street with nice sidewalks. What are these people thinking?

If you want to practice patience, start with experiences you enjoy, but rush through habitually. If you like to cook, take extra time so you don't have to push and hurry. Turn on some music, pour a glass of wine, take your time. It completely changes the experience for me. Start with the small things that give you pleasure. I take my time putting on makeup, for instance. Self adornment is an age old art. I think about it that way, slow down, and enjoy the process. I only have to add 5 minutes to the time I spend with make up. It changes the experience.

In this way I reduce my impatience.

Emotional impatience arises as a result of intolerance for strong emotion. In a moment of strong emotion there can be an urge to rush quickly through it, get it over with.

I could write a long post about enduring strong emotions, something that is taboo in my society, with the exception of anger and happiness. An entire range of strong emotions is meant to be ignored or discouraged. Emotion is a physiological event that begins long before we are conscious of it. Once we identify the sensation, it becomes a feeling. We judge our feelings as if it's possible to control something already underway. These judgments are not rational.

I understand why we try to squelch sadness, fear and such. These states of being are not comfortable. They aren't fun. The practice of tolerating powerful emotion builds character. It isn't easy, especially in my society. We are shamed when we allow ourselves to fully feel. It causes so many problems.

Stuffing emotions creates a kind of impatience that's harder to address. I use the idea of acceptance to create a little space around these difficult emotional states. Sometimes I ask myself, "Can I be in a place of acceptance?" When I can, I'm more patient with myself and others. I can't always say yes, though, unfortunately. Just like others, I try to cajole myself out of my emotions sometimes, deny them. I try the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach, too of course. Occasionally it works.

Besides tolerance, there is breath. Slow, deep breaths help me tolerate strong emotional states. Nothing I've tried seems to make the experience spacious, though. How does one stroll through strong, unpleasant emotional states? You tell me.

Life is short but we can be spacious, we can take our time. The impatient life is a waste. We don't have to do it all. Believe me.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Whatever works

I heard a remarkable story about healing this morning. I should say I heard another remarkable story about healing. I hear these stories more often than you might imagine.

Today's story involves a young woman I saw a few times a couple of years ago. Poor thing. She was suffering from multiple phobias, eating disorders, and what seemed to me like PTSD, though it is out of my scope of practice to diagnose that. I was just guessing. She had been in therapy for years without making a lot of progress. She tried psychiatric drugs that made her suicidal. She received acupuncture, saw an herbalist, nutritionist, and so on and so on. She came to DC to spend some time with her grandmother after a horrible breakup with a boyfriend. The grandmother, unclear exactly how to help, sent her to me. After a few weeks, though she was no better, she went home to her parents' house. I hadn't heard anything further about her until this morning when I ran into her grandmother. She had a horrible accident - fell off a roof - smashed her face, knocked out all her teeth and broke a leg and an arm. How awful!

But something happened in that fall that turned things around for her.

After she got out of the hospital, she was somehow able to pull herself together, got a job while still on crutches, found a place to live away from her parents, met a nice man she's now dating. What a miraculous story. And mysterious, oh my.

It reminds me of a client whose knees always hurt her. There was nothing structurally wrong. She lost weight, did physical therapy, saw an osteopath, came to me for bodywork and still her knees always hurt. One day she tripped on the treacherous Capitol Hill brick sidewalks, came down hard right on her kneecaps. After that, her knees stopped hurting. No on can explain how that worked, no one. No one ever will.

I had a friend in San Francisco who suffered from a very rare blood cancer. He did well with the serious chemotherapy they used at the time to treat it, though the chemo never put him into remission. When he was at his worst, he would go to India and take photos, his favorite thing. Even though travel to and from India is arduous, not to mention uncomfortable, it was well worth it to him. When he returned from these trips, the doctors couldn't find a trace of the blood cancer. After a few weeks or few months, the cancer always returned. Incredible that traveling to India put him into remission. Go figure!

He travelled there once or twice a year for ten years. I have no doubt that his pilgrimages were what kept him alive. His pictures were wonderful. When he at last succumbed to the disease, his wife went to India alone. When she came back, she drank herself to death. It's a true story. May their spirits fly high.

The point being: the essence of healing is mysterious even to the most brilliant medical minds of all time. There is no one system of healing that always works for anyone. People swear by this system or that system. I personally swear by Chinese medicine, but it doesn't always work and does not work for everything. The type of medicine we swear by is a clear indication of personal philosophy, but not much more than that as far as I can tell.

We have to try to understand healing. When we suffer, we have to try to alleviate that suffering by whatever means makes sense to us. But we don't get it, even though human beings have engaged in the healing arts since forever ago. I believe medicine is the oldest art, no matter how the joke goes.

Good health is mostly good luck. It's important to work at it, to think about it, to try. If you're healthy, maybe stop right now and say thank you to the Universe for your good fortune. If you aren't healthy, please remember, it's not your fault. Also please do not fall off a roof because it probably will not work for you. OK?

To your health! L'chaim.