Monday, February 8, 2010


When I was pregnant, I read somewhere my body would undergo the impact of more hormones during that 9+ month cycle than it would my entire lifetime (from menses to menopause) were I never to conceive.

In other words, a pregnant woman is more deluged with chemicals and biological crazy-juice during the span of 40 weeks than a non-pregnant woman would be over the course of approximately thirty-five years.

I share this not as a cautionary tale (though it is worth noting), but rather as a way to underscore my familiarity with the seemingly inane and all-too-often surprisingly difficult impact one's chemical system can have upon thoughts and feelings.

Cognition and affect. Terms not often bandied about in regular conversation, but two of the cornerstones of psychology/counseling. And, as it turns out, two of the ways we (in Western society at least) most often identify our self.

What are you thinking? How do you feel? We assume our thoughts and feelings are ourselves... and so when they go careening in a direction unanticipated and not entirely embraced, our correlative inclinations get the better of us. We connect the thoughts and feelings to us. The me-ness of I.

And yet, as one of my meditation instructors so wisely pointed out, you are not your thoughts. If you and your thinking were synonymous, you would not be able to notice (or think about) your thinking. You would not experience your heart (feelings) and mind (thoughts) at odds were they somehow connected inextricably to your core.

That is the idea in Zen at least. You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. And therefore, they do not control you.

This is sometimes difficult to remember, however, when we are sitting on the bed, crying profusely for no good reason and feeling a tightness in the chest that threatens to steal our breath.

My hormones have always been a challenge. I am one of those women who undergoes a stark transformation each month as my body's flood of whoknowswhat crashes forward and things like rationality, optimism, confidence, and patience go splashing out the window.

This, coupled with what is most likely seasonal affective disorder, means winter gets kind of tough. My outlook changes. My perspective shifts. My thoughts become darker... more destructive, less kind. My feelings become heavier... dangerously close to anger, volatile yet fragile, and pushed to a level exponentially larger than warranted by the tangible circumstances of life.

It was not until these last few weeks I was really able to step back from the powerful presence of my negative feelings and thoughts - and experience them on a level separate from me. I was able to know them as other - distinct from the core of who I am. And in that knowledge, I found an anchor to which I could return each time I felt too tossed about by my internal whirlwinds.

And so, I am seeking to find a more sustainable form of balance wherein I notice and acknowledge my thoughts and feelings... and then I let them go. It's very difficult so far. I'm sure my family could tell you with a serious look upon their faces: I am not very good at it yet.

But... the funny thing about life is how everything is so interconnected. Thought becomes feeling, feeling becomes word, word becomes deed. Minds shape moods and moods influence thoughts - and there in the midst of it all is some form of self unshaken by the little "i" concerns of ego. Some part that remains awake and processes everything on a meta level - steadfast in a peaceful state of being.

That place - that meta state, that big "I" self - has many names and shows up in many different places. Religion, philosophy, meditation and mindfulness, psychology and counseling. It feels different, and often better, than the majority of what most of us refer to as "life."

And whether you believe in some form of god or no; practice meditation, mindfulness or Zen faithfully or not; see a therapist or counselor; find a different experience of yourself via art, performance, dance, music, or the written language... whatever your path... that place can be your anchor.

Buddha said: Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

I'm going to try and remember I am in this muddle of winter and self-imposed limbo - and seek my anchor in the nearness of spring, the intransigence of life, and the bravery of faith.

May you embrace the separateness and wholeness of the myriad aspects of you. May you know you are and regain control in times of difficulty.

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