Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Pay attention to the Message

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I well remember trips as a young child to the A&P. The smells of the small supermarket in our town intrigued me. The fresh food in bins from which my mother would carefully select her vegetables and fruits gleamed with an allure that reflected my curiosity. In addition, the workings of the body have always interested me. As a child I used to mix up the medicines in my parents’ bathroom cabinet and feed them to my teddy bears. Beginning with my childhood I have had a lifelong fascination with food in general, our needs for it, and how we nourish ourselves or don’t, depending on what we eat and how.

So many of the ads I see on TV are for medicine, both prescription and over the counter. It makes me wonder if we are all really that ill or in need of fixing? Perhaps we are, yet I wonder too whether if instead of trying to alleviate symptoms with medicine, we might do better were we to pay more attention to how and why the symptoms have arisen we might do better were we to pay more attention to how and why they have arisen. I am speaking about digestive issues in particular, though others are equally as important.

Of course there are serious illnesses that require intervention and the use of various prescribed medicines. However there are other conditions that will respond well to changes in lifestyle and most especially to changes in dietary habits. I well remember how when I was only in my forties, someone a decade older told me how important it had been for her to reduce food intake as she aged. She told me she got by on two meals a day. Different people will do better with different plans, however reducing intake is key to helping us be healthier.

The symptoms of the acid reflux so many experience are often a result of overeating, eating foods we do not digest well, or eating poor food combinations. As we age, the production of our digestive enzymes diminishes. Many comfort foods we once enjoyed become at best indigestible or at worst dangerous to our health. Yet many of us continue to eat as though we were in our twenties and still growing. While trends in eating come and go, for instance (carbohydrates good, fats bad now reversed), one truth remains: what and how we eat are irrevocably connected to our physical, mental and emotional health and well-being, not to mention our weight.

What can we do? Chewing is vital. Busy with our lives and impatient of meals perceived as mere interruptions in our busy lives, many of us swallow food half chewed, washing it down with liquid. This does not allow for the incorporation of digestive enzymes, not to mention roiling the stomach with acid from feelings of haste. Instead we could slow down and taste the food as we chew. TV ads counsel taking this or that medicine. By so doing we are effectively killing the messenger: the symptoms that tell us we are doing something harmful to ourselves. When we pay attention to the message we can learn how better to treat our bodies and prolong our good health.

Keeping the Peace without Sacrifice

toys, 2 lambs It was the custom in my family when I was growing up to invite a non family member to the holiday dinners held at the home of my grandmother or my Great Aunt Alice, so that there wouldn’t be any “rows” as they were called…what could be termed family arguments. People were more likely to be on their best behavior with a relative stranger or at least a distant relative in their midst. The family I grew up in was rather vociferous.

My parents tended to discuss their differences at the top of their lungs. Their shouting made me cringe. They must have grown up doing this. My father and his mother my grandmother, used to have loud disagreements. My mother once told me they would telephone each other, call and then hurry to be the first to bang down the phone. My mother also talked about the “fights” she had with her sister; she too grew up in the habit of loud disagreement. Disliking my discomfort, I resolved when I grew up there would be no fighting in my family.

When neighborhood children played in my yard, they knew if they provoked conflict they would be sent home. If my children were to begin fighting I would separate them and send them to their rooms. In addition, if I strongly disagreed with something their father wanted or said, I would wait until they were out of earshot before I discussed it with him. I had determined there would only be peace throughout my entire household. No one was permitted to fight.

There is one problem with doing away with conflict entirely: any resentment or unhappiness can linger and come out in sneaky ways, like cutting or sarcastic remarks or other hurtful behavior. Even today I have to watch myself if I haven’t expressed my personal upset. I am liable to say something mean or unkind and call it a joke when it really is not.

However, in those days I didn’t know how conflict could be resolved while taking people’s feelings into account. I have since learned about conflict resolution and about ways to carry on discussions in a reasonable fashion. The “talking stick” method means one person gets to speak without interruption while holding a talking talisman. When he or she is done, the next person holds it and has his or her say. Even young children can learn to abide by this method.

Keeping the peace does not mean keeping silent, it does mean expressing oneself without being judgmental or vindictive. Feelings can be expressed and people can agree to disagree. What is important is to learn how to express negative feelings responsibly. I can say, “I feel,” not “you make me feel.” When I take responsibility for how I feel, others can do the same. When I speak my truth with kindness, I evoke the same response. When everyone listens, resolutions can be arrived at and peace can be made without anger, resentment or the sacrifice of anyone’s well being.

Befriending Ourselves

Bridge reflected

For the most part very young children are naturally generous. This may be because they do not yet have a strong sense of individuality or perhaps because they feel others will enjoy what they find tasty or enjoyable, whether a cookie or a cherished plaything. Later on they lose this openheartedness and fight to keep what they believe is theirs. At this point most parents teach them to be polite and sharing. This lesson becomes a kind of inner imperative that guides us as adults. We learn to feel better when we obey this inner morality and as a consequence often end up depriving ourselves in favor of giving to others.

When was the last time you bought yourself a present—not something practical but something you wanted and didn’t think you ought to spend the money for? You might even have recently bought a gift for someone else that you would have liked to give yourself, and yet didn’t quite dare to for fear of your own disapproval. Most of us have been taught to think of others before thinking of ourselves. While that is a nice way to behave it often leaves results in making us feel deprived or at least somewhat resentful.

Giving to others is praiseworthy. Depriving ourselves to give to others is not. It often results in our feeling the other person ought to be more grateful than they may be…especially if the other does not know how you sacrificed to do that. The reason we too often give to others at our own expense is that it feels nicer to do for others. It gives us good feelings because we’re acting in accordance with what we feel is the right thing to do. But is it? I believe it is important or even necessary to treat ourselves as we would a friend.

Long ago I met and studied with a teacher that taught me about this. It was the beginning of a friendship between myself and me. I learned that if I listened to a wee small voice inside me I would receive true guidance toward correct behavior when it came to giving to or acting for myself. I am not speaking of being selfish or self-centered. There is a big difference between befriending oneself and spoiling oneself. I do not believe in self indulgence to a point of neglecting others, only in being fair about the balance between giving to others and giving to myself.

The real key here is that balance. I can tell when things get out of balance because that inner voice will cry out in pain or sorrow. I may feel neglected or ignored even when I am actually not. Learning to hear that inner voice requires giving up the righteous feelings I get from self-sacrifice and instead asking myself what I really want to have or do instead. I can ask myself if is this how I would treat a friend? The answer comes as a knowing or an understanding. Then my actions are guided by what is good for all concerned including me. When I am my own friend I treat myself the best way I can, and I am happy and content.

The Discipline of Remembering

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I can clearly remember lying in my bed upstairs and wishing I was able to stay up and be part of whatever was happening. I also remember sitting at the table, a boiled egg or perhaps worse, a piece of liver before me—things I had no desire whatsoever to put in my mouth. If I wanted to leave the table I had to finish whatever I was given. One way I managed was to cut the liver into small pieces and swallow it whole. I can’t remember how I dealt with the egg.

My life as a child had lots of discipline in it. Authority figures held sway over my life. Often it was a parent: “Time to go to bed,” or a teacher: “Be sure to do your homework in a timely manner.” It never occurred to me that these disciplinarians were stand-ins for what comes when we are adults. In my innocence I thought discipline had to come from someone telling me what I had to do, not that one day I would need to tell myself.

Unfortunately for my childhood dreams, I need to enforce my own discipline in order to function in the world in an orderly manner. There is really no one that can do it for me. As a child I dreamed of the day I would be my own boss, as I thought of it then. I yearned for the day there would be no one to tell me I had to go to bed if I didn’t wish to, or make me eat something I didn’t wish to eat. Of course that is how a child thinks and the reality does not occur to us because as children we simply cannot conceive of it.

I remember thinking how grand it would be to be a grownup with no one to tell me what to do and when to do it. I could, I believed do whatever I wished, whenever I wished to do it. Children are so innocent. Little did I know then what I had to remember to do for myself when there were no more grownups to tell me and I was the grownup. As an adult I find discipline needs to be addressed often. For instance, there is the discipline of deadlines. If I wish I can ignore them though I do so to my peril. There is also the simple discipline of my body, which needs to sleep eat and go to the bathroom, occasionally at inconvenient times.

As I have grown older it seems to me there are more and more things I need to do each day in order to maintain my health and sanity. These require me to remember them as well as to do them. Lists help, yet were I to write everything I need to do daily down, it would be a lengthy list indeed. Practicing the discipline of remembering is perhaps the most important one of all, and in addition to doing my exercises and taking my vitamins, I practice this each and every day.

The Wonderful Jacket

Tasha in hood 2Those of us who come from New England are familiar with Yankee thrift: use it up, make do, or do without. I am of a conserving nature, having in addition to a Yankee father, a German mother born at the outset of WWI. Nothing was ever wasted in the house I grew up in. I thrived on hand-me-downs and thrift shop finds. Over the years I have accumulated clothing items I am happy to see again when their season rolls around. I often develop a fondness for clothing that has served me well.

Recently as I pushed my wagon through the aisles of a grocery store, I saw a woman standing by the meat counter in a unique and lovely white furry jacket. “I can’t resist telling you I think your jacket is magnificent,” I told her. She laughed and said it was from the 70’s, yet she could never bear to part with it. “Nor should you,” I replied. We each continued on our way, pushing our shopping carts in opposite directions.

I smiled to myself. I was wearing a jacket I have had for close to thirty years. It is a fairly ordinary, black, nylon one, with some very useful pockets. Black fur edges the hood. It is warm and comfortable, and probably unremarkable as jackets go. However the story of how I acquired it and what has been done to it since makes it special.

On a trip to the Cape many years ago, Stephen and I were in a consignment shop, poking around. I saw the jacket hanging on a rack, and figured I might be able to use it. I took it down, intending to try it on. “If you can zip it up you can have it,” said the woman behind the counter. I looked down at the zipper and saw that it was slightly frayed on the bottom and could be a bit challenging. When I tried it on I liked the feel of the jacket and resolved to see if indeed I could zip it.

Very carefully I inserted the frayed end into the metal slot and continued to be careful as I zipped it all the way up. The saleswoman was good at her word and gave me the jacket without charge. In the ensuing years I went on zipping it up carefully until finally one year I invested in a new zipper. Along the way parts of the jacket lining began to wear out. I was fortunate in having friends who at different times were able to repair the worn places in the lining so that it looked almost new.

Now when I put on my wonderful warm winter jacket I remember my friends and their generous work on my behalf. I also think how fortunate I was to have found it, been able to zip it up and to have it still after all these many years. What keeps me warm in it is more than the lining or the material, it is the memories and the love of friends that has been sewn into it. How could I ever part with this jacket? I believe I never could, nor do I ever wish to.

 

The Dark Time is The Ideal Time to Rest

The trees outside my window have lost most of their leaves. Some few still cling to their branches as a result of the late warm weather, however not many. The leaves are being released from their branches. The tree has sealed off the part where the stem contacts the twig and the leaves are subject to the whims of the wind. Thus the trees move from active participation in growth and expansion to rest and restoration, solidifying what has been gained. Nature is sensible that way, bringing opportunities for alternative modes of being. Most animals as well as insects are in their burrows or nests, resting from the work of gathering and consuming food as well as maintaining the dwelling.

Once there was no electricity to keep us humming along 24/7. In many cases native peoples in the North went into quasi hibernation mode in the winter. Later, although torches and candlelight provided evening illumination, early bed times were likely. Judging from how I feel, the human body seems to be inclined toward seasonal rest. I always seem to sleep longer and even more soundly during the darker hours between November and February. I find that my body is happy with the additional rest. However I am fortunate that I do not have to answer to a time clock at work or an alarm clock at home that tells me I must rise and get moving regardless whether or not my body would prefer to stay under the covers.

We humans do love the light. Throughout history various cultures have provided and still do provide their own opportunities to invoke it during the dark hours. In our Western European culture, our holidays devoted to light in one form or another commonly include Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Hanukah comes to us from another part of the world, as does Kwanzaa, a recent addition. The Internet can provide information concerning the many other celebrations of light that are not as common now because they have faded or been forgotten. These include interesting customs—some of which have come down to us, that include all kinds of symbolism as well as special dances and other activities. All these opportunities help counter the inevitable lethargy brought on by the dark hours.

Although I do not count the years, I still celebrate my birthdays. Now I have another celebration coming up, and I am reminded that as a result of the numerous autumns I have lived through, the leaves of my days are indeed falling. Little by little they flutter down, gathering on the ground in colorful heaps. I have also noticed that as the days of my life increase, I am slowing down. I do not get as much done; I need to rest more. Sometimes this is frustrating. These days are precious and the daylight needs to be made use of. Still I need to be kind enough to myself to allow for the rest I need to keep up my strength, most especially as the days of autumn dwindle and the dark hours grow longer.

More Than One Mother

Me and mama by Bachrach

In my life I have been fortunate to have some remarkable women friends who in certain ways could be considered in the light of mothers. Their age had little to do with it. It was their warmth, their acceptance, their caring and their love that helped to create the part they played in my life. I loved my late mother dearly, however there were aspects of her nature that were difficult for me to deal with, and while she was well meaning and did her best to be a good mother, she could not be everything I would have wished her to be. In my adult life the physical distances between us through the years also created a problem.

The depth of her compassion and acceptance were a special feature of one of the women who served my needs in a way my mother could not. We shared many of the same interests and in a climate where I had little support, she was very encouraging to me in my efforts to learn and to grow. She would frequently invite me to lunch and we would spend many hours in conversation about a variety of subjects. She had a wide range of knowledge and very little prejudice. She was also warm in a way my mother was not.

My own mother was a very good artist and once her family was grown devoted her life to her art. She had her own gallery and her paintings were admired and purchased by people from all over the globe. However, she and I had very little in common in our interests. Our telephone conversations were usually about what she had been doing or what my children were up to.

Another of my mother figures was also an important teacher in my life. Married at eighteen I had no work experience. As a result of studying with this person I gained a way to earn a living as well as a way to be of help to others. She took a personal interest in me and allowed me to assist her in many ways. I found in her a lifelong person to admire and look up to even after she moved away. She was a wonderful teacher and a good friend. My mother, who tried in vain to teach me to knit often said she was too impatient to teach me anything. However I am still thankful she was kind enough to pay a neighbor to give me sewing lessons.

These are only two of the special women who were also maternal figures in my life. It takes nothing from my original mother to think of them in this way because they filled roles that she could not. No single individual can be all things to another whether as a parent, sibling or spouse. Yet we all may play roles in one another’s lives to be of help and to fill in the gaps that our actual mothers might not have been equipped to do. I am always extremely grateful to my mother who worked so hard to raise and in her own way mother me. I am also very thankful to those others who gave of themselves to me with love and acceptance in their hearts.