A Day in Bed

a day in bed

I sometimes have days where I feel like I just don’t want to get out of bed. How nice it would be to have the time to just think and reflect, maybe read good books, write poetry, and drink tea, without any expectation of productivity. But I never do. While a day resting at the beach seems to be a perfectly acceptable means of relaxation, a day in bed comes across as somehow slovenly and pathetic.

Although I intellectually realize how important rest is to physical and emotional health, often leading to improved productivity in the end, I have a difficult time allowing myself this indulgence. So even on those days when the bed and the precious gift of time for me is calling my name, I wake up no later than 6:30 a.m. (weekends included) and pack my day with sensibly constructive activities—many of which I enjoy, and others which merely feel obligatory.

I do allow myself the occasional nap, though I find it difficult to wind down and relax. I’m always on edge, always thinking about what I ought to be doing, always considerate of the great need in the world and how I can in some small way be making a difference. Naps can be refreshing, but they can also provoke unnecessary anxiety when they detract from fulfillment of my purpose. Or so it seems.

A few years ago, I created a t-shirt that simply stated ‘my dharma is to breathe and to be.’ While I sincerely believe this mantra in my heart of hearts, I so often have a difficult time embodying this fundamental belief through my daily actions. My purpose is complex and intertwined with commitments to myself and others.

But if only I would focus on the breathing and the being, I believe I would be a better servant. A more fulfilled human being. I would contribute more in the end.

So while a day in bed may seem, at first, to be a totally unproductive waste of time, I think it can instead be a form of radical resistance to the chaotic monotony of always doing, striving, and pushing forward. It is a way to be still with myself, restore my spirit, enjoy life and the moment at hand, and appreciate connection to life through the simple beauty of my breath. Perhaps I will try it one day.

Unloading a Weighty Taboo

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post on June 16, 2015.

I can wrap both of my legs behind my head. My triglyceride level recently registered at 62. My favorite food is kale. And in addition to all of these glorious qualities, I am overweight.

In American culture, weight is one of the most frequently used and faulty indicators for beauty, happiness, wellness, and success. It is a part of me that I can’t hide, nor would I want to do so; therefore, my mere presence provokes unsolicited reactions — both negative and positive — from friends and strangers alike. These reactions have varied from being called a “giant marshmallow” by a pre-tween visitor while walking my college campus as a body image-conscious student to a former boyfriend who had an almost neurotic fondness for my Rubenesque figure which, while a welcome antidote to the damage done by others who were less appreciative, similarly left me feeling judged and objectified.

Yet many other people view me, and my size, within the range of normal. A good friend, who I have known for nearly 10 years and with whom I often do yoga, was in total shock when I recently said something about being overweight. I have received several sincere compliments about various body parts, and the whole package, throughout my life. My own self-perception echoes the full range of what I have been told about myself, the insecurities, vanities, fears, and judgments of others which I have internalized in addition to their openness, love, and appreciation for aesthetic diversity.

This post was provoked by a recent conversation in which a self-proclaimed sensitive man asked if my stated weight was really accurate because I sure didn’t look it. Was this a backhanded compliment? A condemnation of other lovely women of impressive stature? Or a revelation of a particular form of ignorance that has occupied the collective conscience of western men and women alike, destroying our sense of common decency and furthering an all too common tendency to divide and conquer?

It is natural to respond to the world around us by evaluating what we see in comparison to prior and anticipated experiences; this phenomenon is part of the learning process. But when we make a judgment about another person or situation based on immediate observations, we have stopped learning; in fact, we are asserting that our gut reaction is all that could possibly be good and true. And when we take it a step further by placing a label on another person, derogatory or otherwise, then we have infringed upon that person’s humanity in a fundamentally harmful way.

There are many stereotypes about people who are overweight, reflecting the accumulation of these reactions over time. Being overweight is often viewed as a fault in character, a lack of self-control and discipline. Women who are overweight violate the quickly dying arrogant assumption of a social agreement that women ought to serve men in blissful subservient docility. Weight is a means of control and oppression, an expectation for all genders to conform to a sometimes unrealistic norm. It serves as the basis for a huge money making scheme that generates $20 billion in direct economic activity each year in the United States alone. It is also a political issue, as people may be denied opportunities because of this aspect of their appearance.

Last week, I went to see a brilliant community theater production of The Full Monty. This play, adapted from the popular 1997 movie, demonstrates the power that weight-related assumptions hold over people in our society. The build up to the strip scene at the end is provocative, not just because of the public nudity, but even more so because those who are going to remove their clothes do not perfectly represent social expectations for body size and shape. People who are overweight are expected to feel ashamed and to hide those supposedly undesirable features from public view. During several trips to the beach, I have heard comments about people who reveal themselves, along with their cellulite, ripe bellies, and gravity-affected breasts, by wearing a bathing suit. “She shouldn’t be wearing that.” These comments are almost always about women. Overweight people are expected to deny themselves of the pleasures taken for granted by others so that those others may enjoy their day without the inconvenience of viewing and sharing their space with people who do not reflect mainstream ideas about our bodies.

We have a lot of words to describe the body parts of people who are overweight, like muffin tops, thunder thighs, saddle bags, and love handles. We also have a lot of euphemisms to describe people who are overweight, such as chubby, pleasantly plump, and full-figured. A fellow student in my high school had a shirt that simply stated, “I’m not fat, I’m fluffy.” The language we typically use to describe weight, and all of its manifestations, is not very advanced. We rarely talk about strong, healthy women who passionately indulge their desires. We forget to think and talk about people in a holistic way that celebrates the totality of their human existence.

Rather than directly confront people who are prejudiced, I prefer to provoke deep, meaningful thought and then offer my love and support to others when and if they choose to confront their own demons. I anticipate getting a few “you’re so brave for talking about this” messages upon publication of this post. I sincerely appreciate the acknowledgment and support of others, I really do. But please save your accolades and continue the conversation instead. Nothing will change unless we destigmatize this topic by normalizing an open, honest, fair, and thoughtful discussion.

Three Daily Rituals to Restore Wellbeing

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As a person who all too often feels overwhelmed with the stresses of everyday life, I have found it helpful to incorporate three rituals into my daily routine: cleansing; stretching; and nourishing. When I consistently integrate these three simple rituals, I feel refreshed, renewed, and restored.

I usually begin my day with a fairly ordinary cleansing ritual, that of the shower. As the warm, soapy water cascades down my awakening body, I feel a sense of purity which allows me to enter the day untainted by whatever may have happened in the past. About every other day I head to the gym, where I release my worries and other toxins through the sweet sweat that trickles down from my brow. When I feel a great physical or emotional heaviness, cleansing through a one day juice fast or three week regimen of only whole foods makes me feel lighter and more free. Deep, intentional breathing is another means of cleansing our systems, and taking in the air from the seaside or deep within the forest has an unmatched healing quality.

My every other day visits to the gym are not only cleansing, they also provide me with an opportunity to move and stretch my body in new ways. Yoga and walking in-between further provide me with the stretch that I need. In addition to stretching myself physically, I try to expand myself intellectually at least once a day. I do this by trying new things, reading, and pushing myself to surpass my goals. Stretching rituals multiply the possibilities in my life and contribute to my continued personal growth.

My third daily wellness ritual is nourishing my body, mind, heart, and soul. I do this by eating healthy foods, exposing myself to enlightened ideas, practicing excellent self-care, indulging my desires, and planting seeds of hope through my work in the community. Nourishment provides me with the sustenance I need to pursue and fulfill all of my aspirations.

These three rituals — cleansing, stretching, and nourishing — serve as the foundation for my personal wellness practice. By making them a part of my day, every day, I am able to live a full and vibrant life.

I’ll Sleep On It (Or At Least I’ll Try)

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I have always had a precarious relationship with sleep. The bliss of restful sleep has eluded me since I broke a dependency on a life saving opiate-laced allergy medicine after more than eleven years of daily use, at age twelve. From there, I turned to massive doses of coffee to stay awake which only made it more difficult to settle down at the end of a long day. Not only do I have difficulty falling and staying asleep, which is no doubt influenced by anxiety, I also occasionally suffer from sleep paralysis — a terrifying state of affairs during which I either feel like I am already dead or as though death would be a welcome relief from the terror.

I have tried all kinds of things over the years to help me sleep better — melatonin, tart cherry juice (which contains melatonin), caffeine elimination, extra exercise, light filtering, screen time reduction, meditation, fresh air, and long rides in the car. I have also tried over the counter sleep aids, thought I haven’t for at least 15 years, and for a few years I took Elavil every night which really, really put me to sleep. Of all of those things, nothing sends me into a restful sleep like a five hour journey on the highways and byways of Pennsylvania. Thank goodness I am able to postpone sleep until after the trip is over.

I also almost never remember my dreams, perhaps just four a five a year. Knowing my imagination, I am sure there are quite a few that would be worth remembering. This is a rich, vivid area of my life in which I wish I could more intimately engage.

Sleep is super important. Nothing restores and refreshes our minds and bodies like deep, restful sleep. I love the feeling of awakening in the morning feeling fully rested, peaceful, and alive — a joy I unfortunately only know a few times a year. Naps are a wonderful delight. I don’t take them nearly often enough. I usually feel more rested after an impromptu one hour nap than I do after tossing in turning in bed all night.

Sleep is easily taken for granted; I know that I am guilty of this. It is something that everybody does nearly every day, so we just expect that it will happen for us too — even when it doesn’t, or when the quality of our sleep is negligible. Yet, sleep is so fundamental to the way we function throughout every moment of the day — it influences our mood, our reflexes, our cognition, our metabolic function, and just about every other aspect of our lives. Perhaps nothing is so important to our physical and emotional health.

If you have any ideas for sleeping well or would like to share a resource related to sleep, please do so in the comments below!

A Rainbow a Day

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Diets suck…the life out of our days, the days out of our years. Anything that is restrictive in such a way can only have short-lived, superficial success because it is physically and emotionally repulsive. Instead, I aim for a more succulent sustenance to promote optimal well-being.

I do this by trying to eat a rainbow every day. I don’t always succeed, but with this as my goal I typically eat well and feel great.

But not today, at least during the first half of the day. I had sourdough pancakes this morning, an almost weekly necessity for someone like me who can’t stand to waste excess starter and who had no other occasion to bake, having already baked two loaves of bread last week. Then for a snack, I had two pieces of string cheese. So far, that’s a lot of white. And brown (syrup). I skipped lunch; I was to meet a friend for lunch and a walk but we, despite thinking we were in the same parking lot, could not find each other. By the time I got home after running errands, it was time for dinner. I had hummus (more white), a raw red pepper (red, obviously), stuffed grape leaves (green), tabbouli (green and red), and cabbage and carrot salad (purple and orange). Now that is a rainbow-licious meal! It is only missing yellow and blue. I suppose we could count the chickpeas, and maybe the tahini, in the hummus as yellow.

I’m going to go eat a blueberry now. Mission accomplished.

I usually plan my meals very carefully, but with work and social engagements and travel, unfortunately infrequent as it is, my plans are not always executed as I had anticipated. I like to shop and chop on a Friday, or if that is not possible early on a Saturday, preparing everything that I need for the week so that eating my daily rainbow is a matter of routine. It can become a bit bland, many times eating the same thing on Wednesday as I ate on Saturday, but this process makes it easy for me to ‘follow the rainbow.’

To further help me, and you, do a better job of eating our daily rainbows, and of absorbing a variety of nutrients, here is a list of my five favorite foods in every color (except for blue, because I can only think of one — but to be practical, purple includes both blue and red so I suppose eating more than one of those will do). Of course, you should consult your physician or nutritionist before radically changing what you eat because there are many things to be taken into consideration when it comes to food — like sensitivities, disease, macronutrient balance, ethics, etc. You can also make your own rainbow hotlist and post it on your cupboard, put it in your journal, or set up a calendar alert to remind you each morning.

Red – strawberries, red peppers, tomatoes, cherries, apples, red beets (or are they really purple?)
Orange – carrots, cantaloupe, butternut squash, peaches, yams
Yellow – pineapple, bananas, lemons, summer squash, acorn squash
Green – kale, spinach, artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts
Blue – blueberries
Indigo/Violet – blackberries, beets, cabbage, grapes, dried plums

Chillax Like a Zen Master Kitty Cat

I went to the doctor today for what thankfully turned out to be a pesky little virus. As has happened in the past, my blood pressure was a bit elevated. I have intermittently experienced high blood pressure since I was a teenager, when during a hospitalization I was monitored daily for what was reading in the 150s over the 110s.

My gut tells me that my on the high side blood pressure is a result of my reaction to stress — and even if it isn’t, stress certainly doesn’t help my blood pressure relax. Lucky for me, I share my home with three cats who, on the side, serve as humble Zen masters who constantly remind me how to respond to my environment in a healthier way.

First of all, Cookie, Pebbles and Bam Bam don’t hold a grudge. They can’t help but react, rather than gently respond, to the subtle annoyances in life — like when the cute-cute face does not immediately result in a treat. Yet moments later, they are purring, snuggling, and reclining belly up in close proximity to their treat stingy human friends.

Resting, playing, and enjoying the moment are my cat friends’ priorities, not something they try to squeeze in when they can find the time. It is simply a way of life for them. In addition, they appreciate the small things in life — like a squirrel climbing up a pole or rekindling a relationship with a long-favoured toy. These momentary delights are happily absorbed into their hearts, sustaining their vivid engagement with life.

In the safety and pleasance of my home, with three Zen masters to serve as an example, I should be able to embrace a sense of ease and simplicity at every moment, regardless of the circumstances in which I may be immersed — no matter how disturbing and enduring they may seem. Animals are friends and healers with tremendous wisdom to share.