Soma—Or Question Everything?

Summer of 1989. It was not like a “summer of ’69” for me, no monumental, world-shifting group activities. No music festivals to be fawned over for years to come. I was in love with my best friend, a guy I used to race senior year of high school, I in my Mustang, he in his Charger. He went away for college for a year, we managed to keep in touch, then he returned and attended the same community college I did. Looking back on that time, life felt so much simpler. I had school and work and my boyfriend, yet many days I could laze about the pool and listen to Crowded House and others who dominated the airwaves. And I had space and time to read so many of the books I had not had time to read during the fall and spring terms.

One book was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I have not read the book since then, but I continue to be left with a reverberating sensation of how misaligned our circumstances could become if we simply took up conveniences and ate and drank in, physiologically and mentally and emotionally, whatever was set before us, whatever morsels of soma were laid down. This is why I have long thought our culture was more Brave New World than 1984. Because the soma—in the form of convenience, of getting whatever one wants right here, right now, never mind the needs—insulates us from looking, from observing: observing our innermost exchanges, our shadow, our light, the projections we lay upon others and the projections from others that we, often absentmindedly and sometimes happily, pick up. 

I never was on the trajectory of soma, though the Taurus in me certainly likes pleasant surroundings. But, hard-headed woman I am, I have always tended to “do things the hard way,” as a former love often used to point out. So, what? I would think. I figured if I could accomplish things the hard way, then whatever lay beyond would come easily. Part of what is hard is never having adopted a “go along to get along” attitude.

My favorite character in Brave New World was John, always the outsider, not taking part in that world. Resisting. Questioning. The only true human. In fact, the way I came up, it was American to question and un-American not to question. So, whether within my family or outside it, I questioned everything.

Especially narratives put forth by those in power. This includes assassinations of leaders and coups, militarism, the financial system and the fiction we all participate in called money, the way agriculture is practiced, the safety and efficacy of genetic modification, what constitutes health, who owns the world’s true wealth—meaning everything humans need to sustain ourselves…soil, air, water, the intangible beauty of intact habitats, humans themselves and their creativity and ability to reason—religious cant and more. I have even questioned my own questioning—Am I just a stick in the mud for insisting upon questioning? Am I a female mudge like the men years older than me I have so often seen? There always seemed to be at least one in every newsroom I worked in. They tended to be shunned by their peers. Or, another question: Why can’t I just sit back and relax? Let things take care of themselves?

I can answer that last: Because nothing “takes care of itself”. If we want to be full players here or, going deeper, if we want to support Gaia and behind her, Sophia, then we need to take part. And while taking part does involve rest, it does not involve static states. No state is static, after all, not even death. Something is always being transformed or transforming, moving into another state. One can see this in the arising and dissipation that plants go through. Follow Goethe’s work in Metamorphosis as an example, if you like. Or show up every day and observe a particular plant or a particular phenomenon, how the light looks through the seasons or the way the wind moves through trees and shrubs, and welcome the plant or the phenomenon in all its changing into your imagination, where, tah-dah, it will take root and continue to grow and change.

To me, the current, ongoing push—coercion, really—for people to take something experimental into their bodies on the misplaced faith that it will stop a ravaging from going on is a form of soma, a desire for some static security, which does not exist, never did and never will. Our only security as humans comes from within—from knowing oneself so well to know that one can adapt and live resiliently. 

Yes, soma—go back to sleep. Sink back into the waves of waves of waves of convenience, of “return to normal”, which, from my perspective, never was. 

It is decidedly not normal for people to be here and choose not to grow, to expand themselves in and through their discomfort and to become larger beings than the ones they came in as.

It is decidedly not normal for people to become disembodied. 

It is decidedly not normal for people to work themselves to death so that they can buy things. 

It is decidedly not normal for people to feel alienated from others, but most especially from themselves. 

It is decidedly not normal, in a republic, for lobbyists and captured regulatory agencies at any level to have so much power; after all, the people in those agencies and the lobbyists are not gods—they eat, drink and poop just like the rest of us. 

It is decidedly not normal for people to not, as they grow, come to have a sense or desire to try to see life through the eyes of others, to try to walk a mile in those others’ shoes. This last is not necessarily so they can solve the problems of those whose shoes they try to walk in, which would involve presumption and trampling-on of will, of power over; rather it is to expand their consciousness and to enlarge Consciousness itself. 

I could go into all the logic of why we might want to look elsewhere rather than at a particular “bug” as the cause of all our current ills. I could go back to November/December 2020 and recall how the pharma companies themselves said these so-called vaccines, which are not vaccines, but experimental, genetically modified treatments, will not stop transmission, are not intended to, are intended only to lessen severity of symptoms for something that has a greater than 99 percent survivability rate. I could scorch the mainstream media for being so bought-off and lazy that it daily talks about “cases”—more anti-human, human-minimizing, dehumanizing language—and does not deign to question the basics of virology or the legitimacy of reverse-transcription, polymerase chain reaction tests as diagnostic tools. 

I could suggest to those who, like me, look with grave concern at what is going on, that now is the time to take up the fight because “they” are obviously coming after those of us who question taking anything directly into our blood streams, our life blood. (Who could ever have actually believed that, once injected, what is injected stays put, at the injection site, when such injections contain adjuvants that allow them to move across various tissues? Do we actually need someone to surprise us with this “news”?) These are the same “they” who would suggest that we are selfish/unpatriotic/unbrotherly-loving for not lining up for jabs, the same ”they” who steal, make war and poison the planet and people’s minds with their “conglomeration of verbosity” in slick language that seeks to divide. I could ask why use technology that creates microvascular damage? But, why? I have for months been questioning, even as many of the people I have known, including some in my own family, have presented themselves for the jabs.

If people do not want to awaken, if it is as if they are in a hypothermic mode and nearing a kind of death, what can I possibly do to stop that process?

But if they are still, even mildly, questioning, then I have two questions for them: Why take something experimental into your body—which is the greatest gift you have here and now, your wisest friend who, if you treat it well and lovingly, will not let you down, will keep you in integrity—when those who create such experimental substances have no legal liability should you be maimed, injured or killed and who will not pay for your ongoing medical expenses, should you have them? And, two, can you summon all of what should be your common sense and ask yourself, Why are these people—people in power or friends, neighbors, family, who are constantly badgering you to take these shots—why are they so desperate?

Vaccines and the Old Energy

The shake-up arrived and maybe in ways few could see coming. Regardless of what is perceived as real or unreal, humanity is entering a different age, moving from the Piscean into the Aquarian. These epochs have their own distinct energies, and the world reconfigures itself, not without a lot of chaotic change in the in-between times.

Many people, because of the fear associated with SARS-CoV-2, are clamoring for something to save them—drugs, a vaccine that will “prevent” infection, physical distancing from others, a hunker-down mentality, a great “othering” and a level of judgmentality I’d only seen glimpses of previously. Maybe the last time was after September 11, 2001, when broad “othering” and judgment were directed toward people who practice Islam. A “war” on terrorism then. A “war” on viruses now, even though we coevolved with viruses, even though we need them.

I was pondering vaccines the other day with a friend, simply based on what a vaccine is—how it gains entrance into the body, most often by direct injection, sometimes by inhalation.

Direct injection has been purported as a way to confer immunity. Yet how can that be, when it bypasses those bodily barriers meant to prohibit the “not me” from entering until the body’s sentinels have sampled what’s entering? Would we not be far better off, actually, rather than spending billions of dollars on vaccines and enriching some, to provide, say, farmers who align themselves with the specific ecologies where they work to grow the most nutritious food possible and provision people with that? To turn to plant-medicine makers to help us support our bodies in the best way possible?

Maybe I’m singing to the choir, but the choir sometimes needs its own support, when it feels like it has the only set of voices out there, yet is trying to raise the spirits of others or call attention to what needs attention.

The Old Energy, the energy we are in the journey of leaving, certainly was amplified through processes developed during and after the Industrial Revolution, even though that energy pre-dates the Industrial Revolution. Lots of ancient sunlight embedded in these times, something we as a species were not around to witness develop, so therefore, have no track record with. Our collective body has, only in the last 400 to 500 years, gained any sense of what that energy is and we still struggle with it, maybe in the same way the body struggles with eating an overly rich dessert.

I struggle with it. I enjoy going fast—driving fast, skating fast, movement. “More. Better. Faster.” Motto for an era. Cracking hydrocarbons has gained us much and I’d be the last person to deny that that has had benefits. If nothing else, it has allowed certain paths of creativity that we as a species perhaps had not experienced before. But it also engendered its own energy of shortcuts. But shortcuts built into a system rarely provide the longevity, staying power. The shortcuts pile up, ending eventually in a knotty mass of chaos.

Vaccines are shortcuts. Ultimately, even those of us who have not suffered any apparent or immediate adverse effects from vaccines are left to wonder whether those effects have simply had a longer timeline and resulted, combined with other dings on our health, in chronic disease, such as cancer or heart disease, or long-term, entrenched autoimmune disorders, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Improved sanitation too often is the unsung hero in prolonging life and reducing infectious illnesses.

Intelligent farming practices and knowledge of plants, what they do and how they support other plants and animals, including humans—these take generations of people to learn and to refine. In my knowledge of how humans acquired knowledge of plants, there were no shortcuts. There were long, involved conversations, of humans with plants. Lots of phenomenological observations by humans, of plants, of other animals and how they interacted with plants. Honoring of what is sacred in life. Honoring of different others. But because of shortcuts and emphasis on profits over health, it’s only been recently, that non-indigenous people have started to learn and rebuild these skills. (Crises have a way of forcing us to return to these sacred roots—whether victory gardens during World War II or, now again, concerns about food supply lines prompting people to get their hands into the soil to provide for themselves, their families and others.

The fact is, there is no shortcut to good health. There are shortcuts to diminished health, which may take just a generation or two to manifest. Fortunately, it can take just a generation or two to begin to rebuild.

We as a species are at a fork. One fork offers us further shortcuts—drugs, vaccines, more of the same rush-rush-rush, with most of humanity left out. The other fork is the slow path, but the one that, ultimately and paradoxically, will be “faster”—because it relies more on us to seek within, confront our own darkness, greet our own light, accept them, work with them, move out to that field that Rumi spoke of, the one beyond right and wrong, beyond dualities.

Vaccines are part of that world, of dualities. If you decline them, “you’re against us.” If you take them, you may be continuing to take a “Puri-tyrannical” tack, as my friend put it, continuing in the paradigm that reduces the body to something to be manipulated, rather than, as with the rest of nature, acknowledging the body’s intelligence and granting it its due.

Day Nine of Forty

It’s Day Nine of Forty Days, Forty Nights, and I realize I was a too impulsive to think I could commit to writing something every day, 40 days straight, for this blog. So, I’m going to taper off. I’ll still be posting toward writing through the divide. I have a lot to say, but work-work, health-related work and spiritual-related work all compete for my time and energy.

We live in tough times, and whatever we need to do to minimize our stress, we should do. Stress kills. This has been proven time and again in research. Stress shows up as inflammation in the body, seen on various test metrics, such as cholesterol, which indicates not necessarily the need for a drug, but to focus our attention on where we need to work (i.e., minimizing stress, eating right, integrating movement into our daily lives). Diabetes, cancer, autoimmune illnesses, digestive conditions like Crohn’s all have stress and its mismanagement in common. And yet, we often seem wired to crave stress, even if that results in negative moods, actions and outcomes.

Were anyone asking, I’d share what I do in my own life, not as frequently as I’d like, but I do try: Get silent, even if just for five or 10 minutes, follow the breath, see the thoughts arise and watch them go. Pray— a lot. Do things that bring joy.

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Nonviolent Communication pioneer Marshall Rosenberg, pictured here with his jackal and giraffe puppets, in Israel in 1990. Photo by Etan J. Tal.

I also keep envisioning the world I’d like to live in—one where all people have what they need to reach their full potential. A world steeped in peace and in people who are integrated with the land-, water and airscapes in, on and near which they live (not atop these places). Where more people have the ability and thought processes that allow them to step back and see what glorious times we live in—at the juncture between what we want and what we don’t want and to be able to push more and more toward the former as well as from the former, that is, to learn increasingly through the positive, not the negative, which our ancient biology dictates.

For every person, I desire peace, inner and outer. I imagine there are many people who might judge me for living in some kind of “fantasy land.” To which, I’d reply: Oh, yeah? You like the world you’re living in—how’s that working out for you? And your family? And your friends, neighbors and coworkers?

We have got to get this right. Even though I believe we live in a benevolent—and very patient—universe, why not act now in the interests of what we desire?

I admit that I don’t “get” apocalyptic visions or thinking. They lead to no place good and, to me, they feel false. Manipulative. Dishonest. And distracting. I have travelled that path in this lifetime, and it led me into some bad situations. That kind of thinking, most likely, is evidence of some unmet need.

Speaking of needs, in the months ahead, I’ll refocus on Nonviolent Communication, a method pioneered by the late Marshall Rosenberg, who had a way of pinpointing feelings and getting to the underlying needs that gave rise to those feelings. (I really, truly wish every politician, and every member of a corporation or nonprofit could take NVC training; it would make a cosmos of difference on this planet.) If you watch, listen to or read about Rosenberg’s techniques, what becomes quickly clear is the man was filled with compassion, even when he himself felt vulnerable, and was able to listen and really hear what people were saying.

So, in that vein, I’d add another aspect to the world I want to live in: It’s one in which every person is heard, in which we listen and try to understand one another. I don’t like to stop at “try,” but because each person is unique, I know I’m not likely to be able to walk a million miles in another’s shoes in exactly the way that person would. But I will try.

We live in a post-“Second Coming” era and would do well to recognize both the reverberations that have come from the disintegration of the family unit, limited thinking and ideologies that all too easily crust over and become dogma, the totalizing effects much of our 20th Century technologies have had on us (e.g., inescapable nuclear radiation) as well as our own place in what’s really a spiral, not a linear, history. We need to do this, if we are to step into full responsibility for ourselves—responsibility for our thoughts and our need to shift those thoughts when they are unproductive or harmful. This process must thoroughly infused with compassion, for ourselves, first and foremost, and others, and rather than slouching, we need to be deliberate in our actions, mindful in our words and deeds.

Please stick with me as I post some interviews in the days and weeks ahead, from people who are trying to bridge the gaps we see all around us.

Day Eight of Forty

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split between. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

In the Words of…Del Shannon

As a kid, I was blessed with a record player and my parents’ and siblings’ 45s. One of those was Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” I loved that song and still sing it.

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Carpet salesman Shannon (Charles Westover) started playing in his native Michigan. “Runaway” hit number one in April 1961 and he no longer needed to sell carpets. Other hits Shannon is known for include “Hats Off to Larry” and “I Go to Pieces,” which he reportedly gave to British duo Peter and Gordon after touring with them.

Had he not killed himself in 1990 and continued to live, he’d be 82 today.

Nobody thinks mystery writers go around killing people, but they always seem to assume singers are singing about themselves, especially if you write melancholy songs like me.

There were times in my career when I would try to write songs like Bob Dylan… Artists get hooked up in that. To be a follower, you lose.

I usually write when I’m in a great place. When I’m depressed, I don’t usually write. So I take all of when I’m depressed and throw it into when I’m feeling good. Weird, I guess.

No, Mr. Shannon, not weird at all. RIP.

Day Seven of Forty

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split between. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

Stepping off the Triangle

When I last wrote about the drama triangle here, I speculated that an herb like agrimony might help people physically—and psychologically—to get some distance on the persecutor-victim-rescuer drama in their lives. I still wonder that, but there are no large-scale, randomized-controlled, double-blind studies to “prove” the efficacy of agrimony for this particular use.

Still, in the years since and through self-exploration, I think “Green Beings”, whether plants or trees, can help us gain perspective, if we are willing to visit with them and consider how they live.

But the first step is always awareness and I suspect many people are not aware of their roles in enacting dramas in their lives. I like the mantra: Neither a persecutor, nor a victim, nor a rescuer be. If it sounds made-up, it is—it’s one of my mantras and I wish more people would steal it.

No position on the triangle feels good, so why do we persist in playing?

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Exploring nature can swing us into parasympathetic-dominant mode and allow us to self-reflect and get off the drama triangle.

As crazy as it sounds, it’s because what doesn’t involve drama is something we’ve got to accustom ourselves to. Living without drama may be a natural state for humans—love is also a natural state for us—but “natural” doesn’t mean we’re inclined toward it. Drama and its effects orient our brain a certain way and the desire for lack of drama—a low-key existence—requires us to shift it away from that orientation and that’s not easy. By low-key, I do not mean less exciting, just exciting in more joyful ways.

What makes the drama triangle such an icky place to hang out is because its presence in our lives indicates a lack of acceptance and execution of one’s full power (either us or the other person we’re “playing” with on the triangle). That cannot ever feel really good, even if in a kind of temporary way it makes us feel something: Persecutor: “I’m better than you.” Victim: “I’m not lovable—that’s why they’re being so mean to me.” Rescuer: “I need to step in and help this person, because it’s obvious s/he can’t do it for themselves.”

These three have one thing in common: ego.

I treat ego like this: I need to be aware that I have one. I still think from time to time I need its “oomph” when I come up short asserting myself. Yet, even there, I have found that simply by not generating thoughts that touch into “persecutor”, “victim” or “rescuer,” it’s easier to assert my true self. The second I think something like, “It’s hard to get their attention. Why are they not paying attention to me?” is the second I step on the triangle and then it’s akin to digging in and the people whose attention I’m trying to get are giving me exactly what I want.

I am working toward an emotional worldview that looks at and senses each person standing in her or his power, no matter who the person is. This is especially challenging in our present, divisive atmosphere, because it often feels like many, though not all, people are set in their ways, however those ways align with the larger groups with which they identify. It would be helpful for all of us to ditch media for some self-reflection. We might find ourselves happier for doing so. But I cannot deny that self-reflection and self-work are easily achieved. I’ve been working on me for years and expect I will for years to come. And that’s okay. I have all the time in the universe.

Day Six of Forty

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split between. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

Monday Photos

Today, I diverge from the usual—a set number of words—to post a couple of photos I really like.

These are probably spruce grouse, a species whose taxonomy has bounced around and currently is considered to be the genus Falcipennis, species Canadensis, with five subspecies recognized, including two in Nova Scotia, where this group of grouse were hanging out just off the Skyline trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

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Spruce Grouse, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia, Canada, September 2016. Given the little bit of red over the eye (not seen here), this is probably a male.

What amazed me about these grouse is their apparent ease around humans, but this is said to be one of their traits and has earned them the nickname “fool’s hen.” Animals were said at one time not to fear humans, so it’s interesting that these birds appear to have retained that quality. They were within 10 to 15 feet of passersby on the Skyline Trail.

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Spruce Grouse, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia, Canada, September 2016. Based on the understated markings, this is probably a female.

Day Five of Forty

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split between. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

What’s In Your Heart?

Not having much time to write for this space today, I thought I could come up with a short list of suggestions around developing the kind of life to live, according to one’s visions and ideals. But at least for me, it’s a bit more complicated than “First, turn on the dreamin’—let it rip!”

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Brazilian guitarist, singer, songwriter Jorge Ben’s Big Ben album, 1965.

That’s because until quite recently, I hadn’t given myself permission to dream. So, from childhood on, I’d get little snippets of visions, important, yet incoherent.

But that’s the funny thing about humans: Whether we give ourselves permission or not, we are primed to dream. But we can dream in a laissez faire way or we can be deliberate about it.

And because I’m not liking the either/or, black/white feel of that last sentence, I’ll add that I sense there’s a third way that combines easy-going and more deliberate approaches. Maybe this example’s not an exact match, but it’s like when you’re driving and you keep the gas steady—not too much, not too little, and you’re just moving along and actually, from behind the wheel, can notice those peace eagles waiting for the sun and the warmth to help dry their wings or the way the sky looks on a clear day in March just as the willows are starting to leaf out. Too much laissez faire, the dreams come, but may be incoherent and disconnected. Too much deliberate, I suspect, and we feel a bit pinched in our dreaming. Combine them and we get a directed ease.

All my life, I’ve been aiming for an internal consistency. Perhaps it is already there, within, and like Michelangelo, my only task is to learn to discern it and chip away all that keeps it hidden. Yet my own tastes feel so completely eclectic. Maybe I made a contract with myself in the “life between lives” to be all-out eclectic in this one. Could I have predicted when I was five and listening to my parents’ and siblings’ 45s, ranging from Mary Ford and Les Paul to the Ohio Players, that today I’d be trying to learn Jorge Ben’s “Patapatapata’” in Portuguese? No way, though I know the five-year-old me would embrace the endeavor; she loves Jorge Ben.

Maybe besides enjoying a diversity of tastes, it helps me forge links with people with whom I’d otherwise have apparently little in common. If I’ve made any “mistake” in this so far, it’s not learning enough about the arts and philosophies of those in my own background—my ancestors. But there’s still time.

This desire for diversity burns in my heart and I imagine it’s latent in everyone’s. Otherwise, why would we humans have such a large range in our sense of appreciation for “other”?

So, my only suggestion here is to go try something you think doesn’t interest you. You like metal? Listen to Mahler. You like ancient Greek art? Look at some paintings by Alex Katz. Can’t stand being outside?…You get the idea. You don’t have to hike the Appalachian Trail; visiting a local park will do.

Feel some trepidation? Good. Sit with it. Notice where you feel it in your body. Take some belly breaths. See how you feel. The point here isn’t to develop some newfound loves—but if you do, that’s good—but to expand your range.

Day Four of Forty

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split between. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

For All Who’ve Ever Felt Unworthy

Today marks the thirty-fourth anniversary of singer/drummer Karen Carpenter’s death. Carpenter, who with her brother, pianist/arranger Richard Carpenter, formed The Carpenters, suffered from anorexia nervosa which, in time, weakened her heart.closetoyou

I don’t recall much about February 4, 1983, other than how shocked everyone was, especially my father, who loved the Carpenters’ music. (Karen’s death also would come up later that year and in 1984, when it became known that a few students in my dance classes had the same illness—beautiful girls and kind. I’d often wonder, How can that be?) Karen had such a warm, resonant voice and made singing look so easy and her apparent wholesomeness masked much of her turmoil.

The 1989 biopic The Karen Carpenter Story reveals a slow-motion wasting away of her life. In her situation, once the illness took hold, it seemed she could rationalize it as one of those things that she consciously chose, one of the few areas over which she had control. In the film, her mother, Agnes, comes across as favoring Richard and as being unaffectionate toward her daughter.

Women who suffer with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, as well as those who treat them, say women with eating disorders all have one thing in common: low self-esteem. That cause plays itself out in the film.

Every light has a shadow and Karen’s was right there in her voice—always a certain sadness (even in the upbeat songs), which, besides the quality of her vocals, may have been what drew people to her. Not the sadness per se, but the emotional depth. It’s too bad that her illness was long unrecognized, even though the people around her and her fans knew something was wrong.

A Generational Paradox

When I consider people’s lives—my own as well as others’—I wonder what the lessons are. Karen Carpenter may have been unique in her musical talents, but she was—is—far from alone in her illness and in her sense of self.

People are quick to point to her mother’s treatment of her as a cause. In fact, it’s almost always a matter of course to scapegoat parents. From a generational standpoint, I hope we are moving toward ever greater love among parents and children, because love is a cornerstone in whether someone develops a strong or weak sense of self. As I’ve observed, many mothers, though not all, who were themselves children in the Great Depression and the years of World War II tend to come across as stoic and less likely to share affection with their children. I think this is because for them, life was about life and death, about surviving. When childhood is about surviving, nuance, especially emotional nuance, is less likely to be explored.

Since the advent and dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, life feels all the more fragile and it feels important to make the most of every connection in every moment. I say this not about the generations that lived through those years, but about the offspring of those people as well as others who followed. Someone living in London, whose family meals were constantly interrupted by the German Luftwaffe probably is not going to care a lot about nuance, but about survival itself—making sure they get downstairs to the shelter until the day comes and they’re worn out and say, “Eh! I want to eat my soup while it’s warm. I’m staying put.” Sense of self in that situation is less important than just getting through each day alive.

But given post-war prosperity and a bit of distance on the century’s earlier catastrophes, people in subsequent generations have had space to develop qualities that maybe could be more easily developed only during times of relative peace. From a hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal axis point of view, the bombs would loom large in the collective psyche of that generation; they would, in essence, blow out someone’s sympathetic-dominant system, lay down a lot of cortisol, and then for that person, it would be like trying to fit into sweat pants after one’s boyfriend has borrowed them and stretched them out; the elastic doesn’t return to its original shape. The fight/flight/freeze response probably would have hampered development of the prefontal lobes whose task, according to Joseph Chilton Pearce in The Biology of Transcendence, “is to turn the unruly reptilian brain, old mammalian brain, and neocortex into one civilized mind that it may access later.” This is because the children’s caregivers and models would have been focused on survival, not the job of nurturing, and this can’t but help affect the caregivers’ offspring.

Altering Biology through Appreciation

I believe each person is here for a particular purpose and we learn about that purpose and we learn best through what feels good and what doesn’t feel good. For me, developing trust in what feels good has been a long time coming because what was “right” was always whatever my head pushed me toward. Head = safety. It didn’t matter that my head’s diktats amounted to a long list of do’s and don’ts that increased my stress; I had to follow them—or else! My heart may have been screaming at me to take different actions, ones that would have benefitted me even more, but I tuned it out because trying to access it didn’t feel safe.

Still, I’m grateful that what my head pushed me toward was continuous learning about many subjects, whether the arts or sciences, religion and spirituality, or legal history and governance. That’s long been my safe space. Like a lot of teens, including Karen Carpenter, my self-esteem was in the toilet. Like her, I was obsessed with perfection. I felt I was only as good or worthy as my next “A” in whatever class, my next successful project, my next dance recital or choral performance. But I was lucky in that, there was no end to what I could learn. I enjoyed learning new things and my curiosity—following my head, in other words—was probably my salvation. I was lucky, too, that I put more stock in my intellect than in my looks; I didn’t crave the attention that I might have otherwise if I’d been into plays or music and so much of America’s celebrity culture, which has only become more extreme since I was a teen. The downside, if it really is one and I have doubts that it is, is that it’s taken me years to realize that I am worthy just by being here at this time, that I am lovable and worthy of being loved.

I’d like to say to anyone—preadolescent, teen, middle-aged person or elder—who suffers a poor sense of self, that little by little, the “inlook” can become better. It’s too much of a bromide to say, “Hang in there.” Though I hope anyone down on herself or himself would do that, it didn’t feel too good when people told me the same thing. Frankly, it takes a lot of work to shift out of feeling unworthy. But as I said in previous post, focusing on appreciating those things one enjoys, taking pleasure in simple things, can really help. That feeling of appreciation, as I keep developing it and focusing on it, multiplies.

I wish Karen Carpenter would have known that. She is part of my late sister’s generation of post-Depression/post-war babies who came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a hard time with all the changes. I appreciate them, for they’ve made it easier for those who’ve followed to do the often-challenging self-work that’s needed to have a fulfilling life.

(Documentaries about the Carpenters include the BBC’s The Carpenters’ Story: Only Yesterday [2007] and A&E Biography: The Carpenters—“Harmony & Heartbreak” [1999].)

Day Three of Forty

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split between. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

Fun, Fun, Fun

If your upbringing and experiences have been anything like mine, then you were probably a pretty serious little kid who struck your elders as “wise beyond your years”. But that apparent wisdom—authentic as it was—could sometimes mask a holding back, a way of putting life off, of not exploring “the game”, much less getting into it.

When I was a junior in high school, I used to ask a friend, “What is the meaning of life?” (I used to think there was just one, overarching meaning.) She would turn the question on me. Usually, I’d end up with this: We’re here to make the biggest and best impact we can on others.pip_why-are-you-taking-my-photo

Impact—or influence—can be a lot of fun. Many of our greatest visionaries who touched people’s hearts and moved their minds into better, less-fearful or fear-free spaces appeared to have fun. But can we ever truly gauge our impact or influence?

Fun was often foreign—opportunities for it saved for the low times when I would dance to achieve it, which made the dancing less fun than when it was spontaneous, or those rare times I’d go to Busch Gardens in Tampa and ride the roller coasters. It has got to be one of my life’s ironies that denying myself fun has been akin to stepping on a metaphorical and physiological/autonomic roller coaster. Because the essence of life is fun and trying to keep fun at bay led me into big swings and deep drops.

But no longer.

When I wrote on Day One about the “strange confluence”, the desire for fun is part of that. But what does it look like? What does it feel like?

My ideas don’t necessarily line up with what many think of as being fun. Mood-altering substances…not fun. Rant-talking politics or religion…not fun. Rushing around out of some misplaced sense of obligation…not fun.

My list of fun activities: spending time with loved ones; hooking (using colored strips of wool pulled through a linen backing to create fiber paintings); taking care of plants; hanging out with dogs (most anyone’s, really); watching little kids have fun; walking; doing tai chi; learning new languages; meditating; reading; cooking; singing; dancing; hiking; traveling; sleeping; dreaming; and definitely, talking with angels. The Divine has a beyond-cosmic-sized sense of humor that often catches me off guard and segues into chuckles or laughter.

After figuring out what is fun, the next biggest challenge for me is being open to fun and not putting it off for some other day. Life constantly beckons us to have fun. When it does, we best go along. If life finds us not receptive, we will see the results of our choice as a closing down—mirrored in our health, in our relationships, in our work, in our flow (or lack of flow) of abundance.

This is where the feeling sense comes in. When we are keyed up for fun and enjoying whatever we are doing, time seems to stop. Who could not use more fun to stop time?

This is why I believe we are all privileged to be here, in this place, right now, because we have such a wealth of people, activities, and places to enjoy. I hope in five years—or sooner—“cutting loose” won’t feel like an activity separate from everything else, but will have become part of my DNA.

What’s something you think of as fun, legal and nonharmful to you or others that you’ve always wanted to do? Try it the first chance you have.

pip_closes_in

Pip Closes In. (This dog’s sense of fun knows no bounds. Just ask my mother!)

 

 

Day Two of Forty

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split between. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

Accelerated Medicine for an Accelerated Year

Our negative emotions are not meant to be maligned, but rather to push us toward how we’d like to spend more of our time feeling—joyful, peaceful, calm or elated, with a sense that all is as it should be. But when sadness, anger that morphs into simmering frustration, or depression come on, they can feel hard to dislodge.

The best antidote is free: To shift back into feeling well, express gratitude—quite literally, in your head, aloud or on paper, state those things and people for which or for whom you feel grateful. This can be small or grand—from gratitude for the mother who gave birth to you to, or, if you are adopted, the one who raised you…or, if you have a troubled relationship with your mother, other women who’ve helped support you along the way; for the father who’s been there for you when times have been tough—or, if you don’t know your father or don’t have a good relationship with him, other men in your life who have been there for you; for your overall well being; for having a roof over your head, food to eat and clothing; maybe you feel grateful for a skill you’ve developed over many years—or for a talent you came in with and have continued to nurture. Or maybe, it’s just the sun itself, knowing that it’s there, even behind those clouds.

If this feels hard, the truth is it can be. Sometimes—this is true for me—some prep is needed before turning on the gratitude. For me, the preparation is sometimes singing and dancing to a favorite song, taking a shower, or going for a walk and admiring the trees and laughing at the squirrels. Just something to dislodge doomist thoughts that too often seem to be on a continuous loop.

Once you get the gratitude going, it may be necessary to stay off social media and avoid the news—not altogether, but long enough for you to truly feel appreciation, so that you might, unlike Hansel and Gretel, lay smooth, bright stones along your path so that you find your way back easily.

gratitudejar_copyright2017leighglenn

Keeping a gratitude jar is a simple way to cue up appreciation. (Photo by Leigh Glenn.)