What, Me Worry?

Ever since I wrote this post about taking a worry vacation, I’ve been thinking more about why we worry. Of course there is a reality to why we worry. When I watch the tiny birds outside my window, I think about their worries. They need to be ever vigilant or some other animal might eat their food or even eat them!

In the history of our ancestors on this planet, it would seem the hyper-vigilant of the species must have survived longer than the lazy ones. But in this day, I have very little to worry about.

I realized yesterday that I live in a time and a place where I have less to worry about than just about anyone else in the history of planet earth. I’m warm, I’m safe, I’m well-fed and I’m happy. Yes, many of us have hit the sweet spot, and yet still we worry.

I wonder what percent of why we worry is based on completely faulty reasoning. Some say we worry to feel in control because our attention is turned to solving a certain problem. While we think we are solving the problem, we have the illusion that we have control over it. Worry can be reinforcing. We think due to the fact that we worried properly, we got the desired outcome.

The faultiness of this logic became far too obvious to me when I recently learned that I could not live without supplemental oxygen. It had never occurred to me that I would ever have trouble breathing. I had maintained a healthy lifestyle at 5,000 foot elevation and certainly never smoked. Then, after a few years living at 6,500 -7,000 feet, a doctor observed that I might be hypoxic. Very observant. But it still took a couple years and too many different medical tests to prove to me that I needed to live on full-time oxygen.

See how that theory about worrying properly worked out? Ah humanity! How we labor to convince ourselves that we’ve got this, and yet we still all have to die of something…

Since then I have tried to keep my heart open to change, because it’s coming whether we like it or not. These are my watchwords now:

“Even in seemingly dormant times, we are in transition. Losses and gains are in constant play. We are the change-agent, and we are changed. Even without toil, we transform. So wisdom advises us to open our hearts to transition; to honor fully what is passing, to learn from all that unfolds, and to welcome what arrives at our door each day with courage and curiosity.”

Can you risk a whole afternoon without worry?

Sometimes it seems like I was born with a lot on my mind. Starting with the “terrible twos” I have been perpetually asking why. I think too much, I worry even more, and I can still never figure out what may happen next. I guess I was raised to expect the worst, or else this is simply the human condition – more brains than we know what to do with!

So on this blissfully relaxed snowy day, miles from almost all human beings, I wonder what might happen if I stop thinking and worrying and embrace the peacefulness of this moment in time.

Should I risk this level of non-vigilance? What might happen if I stop thinking for a while? What if I feel as free as the falling snow for just one afternoon? There’s always tomorrow to get back to my worries…

Courage is the mastery of fear

Morning rituals help me center myself for each new day. Since moving out into the southern Colorado foothills with few neighbors, I feel privileged to be able to view an unobstructed sunrise every morning as a part of that ritual.

Often I think, “It won’t be amazing today” and then I turn around in my bed and see something like this.

Living here has made me even more grateful for my life and that it has led to this place full of love and acceptance. It has also led to some tough physical challenges for me. The simple act of breathing has become more and more difficult. I can no longer live without supplemental oxygen. For a while we wondered if it was lung cancer.

There is nothing like the ‘c’ word to make you sit up and take notice, and the challenges of simply breathing every day naturally call my attention to my own mortality. Many years ago I was a follower of Stephen Levine, a well-known poet, author and teacher best known for his work with those with life-threatening illnesses. For over twenty-five years, Stephen and Ondra Levine provided emotional and spiritual support to those who were dying and their caregivers. I highly recommend his books to you. I went to hear him speak in Boulder once for an all day event. That was the beginning of my own internal conversation about my own death. I still enjoy listening to his meditation called:

“Take each breath as if it were your last”

I used to feel so afraid of death. Then my experience of moving quickly in and out of consciousness with a traumatic brain injury provided some strange reassurance. Death is simply the final loss of consciousness. Death is inevitable and really quite simple. I accept it now, and try to love each day that I have left to be alive.

I need to imagine myself in the future doing what I love. For me, now, that is a radical act of courage.

Mindfulness & Higher Levels of Consciousness

To continue my train of thought from my last post, I choose to believe that we humans are uniquely supplied with a brain and conscience so that we might go beyond our reptilian or primal brain. Yes, we must maintain our innate and automatic self-preserving behavior patterns, which ensure our survival and that of our species. But I know we can be so much more!

A part of my learning at Naropa University in Boulder, was the study of higher levels of consciousness, most notably with Ken Wilber. There I learned of the research into what can happen in the human mind when we are able to shut off the constant thinking, wondering and worrying, reaching beyond this primal state of mind.

Buddhist monks have shown us that we can achieve an infinitely expanded true self through deep meditation. This is in accordance with Buddhist philosophy, which focuses on being liberated from one’s insignificant self consciousness to attain a higher state of being, thereby reaching an “infinitely expanded true self”.

The Buddha taught that consciousness is “like a stream of water” with different layers or levels. Mind consciousness is the first level, using up most of our energy. Mind consciousness is our “working” brain that makes judgments and plans; it is the part of our consciousness that worries and analyzes. The brain is only two percent of the body’s weight, but it consumes twenty percent of the body’s energy. So using mind consciousness is very expensive. Thinking, worrying, and planning take a lot of energy.

We can economize this energy by training our mind consciousness in the habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness keeps us in the present moment and allows our mind consciousness to relax and let go of the energy of worrying about the past or predicting the future.– Lion’s Roar

As strange as it may seem, my own trauma brain injury in 2008, helped me to access this higher level of consciousness more easily. Partially because I don’t have the energy to think and worry as much as I used to, I can simply slip into a state of mindfulness as I choose. Call it what you will, this is a great relief! I tire quickly with too much interaction or “thinking” and then I give up and just live in the present.

I have also found living close to nature to be quite mind liberating. City life kept me in a constant, often unconscious, state of anxiety and vigilance. It took me a few years of living away from cities and most other people to relax that vigilant mind state and just be here now. Sometimes I may still feel sudden city anxiety, but I quickly recognize it as not needed and let it go.

To learn more about all of this, I can highly recommend the Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar and this particular article called: “The Four Layers of Consciousness”

Need some distraction? Try book bingeing with “Euphoria” by Lily King

So glad I had a great book on hand to distract me from the amazing inefficiency of our elections these days. How is it that Colorado can finish counting ballots in 24 hours and nobody else can???

Anyway, if you like an adventure novel that consumes you from the very first page, try “Euphoria” by Lily King. This is the story of three tormented anthropologists who come together doing tribal fieldwork in the jungles of New Guinea in the 1930s. Although a work of fiction, Lily King acknowledges that she was inspired by the work of Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune and Gregory Bates.

I was one of those college kids who just couldn’t choose a major. That perhaps explains why I changed schools four times before I completed my B.A. One of my first majors in college, along with psychology, was anthropology. Why didn’t I pursue these interests? I didn’t think I would do well in a jungle doing fieldwork. I also hated the fact that I might work my whole life and still never know if my theories were correct. These are the same issues that haunt our three main characters. How do you approach isolated native societies and interpret their behavior? Are they better or worse than us? Who decides?

This novel includes mystery, adventure, and much discussion of life and purpose. But for me the best part was the study of the psychology of these characters and their indepth discussions of ethnography and ethnology.

The central aim of ethnology is to understand another way of life from the point of view of the person experiencing that way of life and as such, always implies a theory of culture. Ethnography takes a step away from the sort of research that describes subjects and behaviors and focuses on actors and actions.

I also enjoyed the various tools the author used to help the reader understand the deepest feelings and interactions between these three characters, using anthropological notes, letters and personal notes.

This was a book I didn’t want to end, and especially when I turned the TV back on at the end, and Pennsylvania and Nevada still couldn’t find a way to GET THEIR VOTES COUNTED!~

We can send a man to the moon but we sure can’t count votes in a timely manner… Please don’t give me the COVID excuse. Colorado has the same problems as everyone else.

“Make yourself useful!” A post for overly responsible boomers

Two themes have been competing in my brain for decades:

Do we need to “make ourselves useful” all the time? Or is it OK to simply relax and enjoy our lives?

Let me begin by acknowledging that I was brainwashed as a child that everything we do should be “useful.” Laziness was not allowed, and laziness was very broadly defined. Pursuits like games, art, music, cinema, anything that was simply pleasurable and not academically motivated was a waste of time. Productivity was key, but only certain types of productivity. Now I find some of these same strict definitions among my fellow Boomers, who are having trouble getting comfortable with aging, illness and retirement.

First of all, I have studied the psychology of American boomers for years. One conclusion I came to is that we have been identified unfairly as an extremely self-centered and irresponsible generation. The boomers I know are now taking care of their parents if they are still alive, environmentally aware and responsible, and feel a strong need to feel useful in this world. That flower child, druggy image does not stick. Perhaps we are more self-aware than our parents, and more aware of our impact on this planet, but totally irresponsible, no.

Speaking for myself, I grapple daily with guilt over my own idleness even though I also struggle with hypoxia and the long-term affects of a traumatic brain injury. Besides the usual, “Why me?” questions, I feel lazy if I cannot complete at least a few household chores every day. Guilt feels like a permanent companion to my illnesses. Luckily my husband Mike is the direct opposite of my inner critic. He encourages me to feel good about simply still being here, and helps me make the most of it. He keeps our vehicles and home running smoothly…

while encouraging me to focus on hobbies that give me pleasure like photography,

gardening,

cooking and writing this blog.

Mike also understands my struggle with every day guilt, partially because he was not raised that way. He believes that retirement should be joyful and guilt-free. He believes we earned it “after slaving away our entire working life!” I can learn a lot from him.

How to cheer yourself up!

Here it is 2020 World Mental Health Day in the midst of too many good reasons to feel bad. Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health. Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. And now, billions of people around the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a further impact on people’s mental health.

Five Warning Signs of Mental Illness

Long-lasting sadness or irritability.

Extremely high and low moods.

Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety.

Social withdrawal.

Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Unfortunately, I have plenty of experience with these signs, but that also means I have experience in dealing with them successfully. After years of depression, five years of great counseling in my thirties, and a degree in counseling psychology, I have learned how to take better care of my own mental health. That is not to say I don’t have my down days, especially under the present circumstances!

Here are some ways I have learned to combat the blues:

Never underestimate the power of finding a GREAT therapist. I know it isn’t easy shopping for the best therapist for you when you feel bad, but trust your feelings in selecting the right person to help you over this difficult time in your life.

Mental health days have been important to me throughout my life. While in therapy and feeling deeply sad about understanding my past, my therapist encouraged me to take a day off now and then to be with my feelings. This was essential in helping me feel better. I was severely co-dependent at that time. I remember one day I said to my therapist I felt bad about feeling sorry for myself. She quickly responded with:

“At least you are feeling something for yourself!”

Then, when you start feeling better, start taking mental health days to celebrate feeling better! A few times I needed to call in and say: “I’m feeling too good to come to work today!” No not really, but that’s the way I felt… I remember one day I went out and bought myself some great new furniture. Now, every time I look at that dresser, I remember how great it made me feel to give myself a nice gift.

These days I have been trying a new affirmation out. Every morning when I wake up the first thing I see is my little sign across the room that says:

Today I’m going to love my life!

I find that when I focus on what I am grateful for, I truly have so many reasons to love my life. Consider the fact that we are alive in a great country at one of the BEST times in human history. At least you weren’t born in the 17th century, when “life was nasty, short and brutal.” Today many Americans have the opportunity to live long, pain-free lives. We have the benefits of medicine and science helping us to improve our lives and the lives of others. LUCKY US! We truly do have good reasons to love our lives, and if we don’t we are quite free to change them! This is what I learned from my own midlife crisis. Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.

If none of this works, try chocolate. It works for me!

You’ve got to go crazy sometimes, or you might go crazy!

The history of human use of psychoactive plants: See “The Stoned Ages” and learn more!

Have you ever thought you would like to learn more about the history of the use of psychoactive plants and botanicals in world history? I just saw a GREAT film about this on the History Channel this week!

Here’s few fun facts from this documentary:

From the beginning of the human race to the present, the human race has been using plants to feel better. From early man (& women), the Egyptians, and the Mayans (Pre-Columbian societies) there has been a constant search for medicinal plants. For example, the Mayans were quite familiar with plants in their environment. They regularly used tobacco in enemas, (bowel is blood rich) and ritual practices. Another example, their use of a solution with ayahuasca done in the presence of a Shaman. It’s purpose was to create a heightened perception of reality, creating a visionary state where one might commune with the gods. They believed these plant rituals gave them a unique gateway to the spiritual realm and the substances used were sacred tools to help them connect. They also used performance enhancing drugs in sports and many other pharmaceutical products.

The Ancient Greeks, especially the philosophers, used pharmaceuticals to create altered states, have out-of-body experiences and to journey to other worlds to meet their gods. Mushrooms and ergot (barley fungus) were used with no moral stigma, with the full realization that plants can heal and harm us. Drugs were about pleasure in the right circumstances and context, not about right and wrong. They felt, if the people were using plants to experience a union with God, what did they need with organized religion?

The Age of Religious Judgment: The Christians

After the Romans were converted to Christianity, their use of psychotropic substances became illegal. Early Christian history shows anxiety and suspicion when it came to pleasures of the body. According to them, faith in Christ is the only road to salvation, therefore an interest in alternative realities became a problem. The sense of puritanical self-denial was an important part of early Christian views. Denial of the pleasures of the body was essential in conversion to Christian spirituality, and this became the dominant value system in the West.

The Age of Discovery

Exploration of new worlds led to the discovery of new psychotropic substances, for example tobacco and cannibis. Since most drugs come from plants, international travel led to a confluence of drug products transferred to Europe in the early modern world. In addition, with the introduction of tobacco to the New World, came a new way to administer drugs, by smoking them… What did the term “patent medicines” mean in the 1800s in the USA? It meant they didn’t need to tell you what was in them. “Medicines” like morphine, cocaine, heroin, and aspirin.

Drink your Coca-Cola and you’ll feel so much better!

How has our society defined some psychoactive plants as “medicines” through the ages, and others as bad for you? Learn more by watching this documentary:

Today I’m Going To Love My Life!

I’ve been overwhelmed lately with the idiocy we call American politics. We all go somewhere different to get our “news” and then we spout whatever misinformation we hear wherever. It sounds to me like we have too much free time and too many sources of information and misinformation, and the Internet is responsible for most of this. On top of that we have the worst wildfires in American history and hurricanes coming on shore like never before.

What I hate to see is all of the hatefulness that Trump has succeeded in spreading throughout our country, one that in fact we all love and want to be better. Most of us just want a better country with less death and destruction. Can we all agree on that at least?

To combat this anxiety and hatefulness I am pulling way back from watching the news. In addition, I have been trying a new affirmation out. Every morning when I wake up the first thing I see is my little sign across the room that says:

Today I’m going to love my life!

I find that when I focus this way, I truly have so many reasons to love my life. Politics do not need to consume us. Consider the fact that you are alive in a wonderful country at a glorious time in history. One of my favorite quotes from the 17th century was that “life was nasty, short and brutal.”

Today many Americans have the opportunity to live long, happy and healthy lives. Sure some of us cannot breathe without the assistance of supplementary O2 (like me!) but at least we can access those resources. We have the benefits of science helping us to improve our lives and the lives of others. LUCKY US!

I don’t know about you, but when I look around me, I find so many reasons to love my life. I feel so much gratitude for it all! I feel I have had the proper circumstances to get a good education and then make the kind of choices that have made my life great. Self-improvement has been so important to me, as well as learning that blaming and shaming others for my own faults is toxic. Self -responsibility has been key for me to create the kind of life I can love.

To tell the truth, I never would have imagined that I would end up here in this safe and beautiful (but smoky today!) place with a life I can love.

I can only wish you all the same success.

Alternatives to becoming a prisoner of media-created stress & anxiety…

It struck me the other day, as I was enjoying 20/20 vision for the first time in my entire life (get some cataract surgery!), and feeling particularly relaxed and happy, that most of us don’t realize that we do make perhaps unconscious choices everyday. Do you choose to feel constantly worked up about Covid-19, that crazy guy at the top, upcoming elections, etc.? Would you like to seek more positive distractions?

Think about it this way, most of us have it better than just about everyone else in the world today, AND better than most in human history! I thought, “Do we need to constantly find more to worry about? We’ll all be dead soon, so lighten up!

That same day I received a review copy of a book I can highly recommend to those of you who would like suggestions on how to turn your attention to spiritual things that create space for you to pause and reflect, nourish your mind, and make useful tools to assist you in your personal development journey. The Mind Remedy: Discover and Use Simple Objects to Nourish Your Soul by UK psychologist Ruth Williams allows us to explore our thoughts, ideas, emotions, and memories through objects that are touching, thought-provoking and soul-stretching. From dream catchers to worry beads, this beautifully crafted book shares the origins, meaning and practice of creating 20 different enlightenment tools to increase feelings of well-being. These tools are divided into different headings like “Finding Connection”, “Inner Peace”, “Self-Discovery” and “Finding Your Roots.”

For example, here is a sample of the page on creating your own worry beads. Sometimes we need something tactile to sooth us…

“Simple things really can nourish the mind. When we anchor the unseen processes of the mind to something that we can hold in our hands, then the intangible becomes real. Healing feels within reach because we can touch the object that will carry us there…”

Check out this simple, beautiful book if you are looking for alternatives to worry, stress & anxiety.