life of m

finding meaning from the mysterious

Dynamic Dells sky


2 Comments

Big S, little s

“Yoga is in the business of self-acceptance and exploration.”

(McCrary, 2013, p. 15)

In my experience studying sustainability, I became increasingly aware that the concept of the individual—what I refer to as the self—was missing from the field. Rather than questioning the balance of one’s own life, it seemed that the individual was meant to act as a kind of martyr in service to making the world a more sustainable place for present and future generations.

As I reflected on the academics of sustainability, I began to feel like a sustainability hypocrite. My own life was a far cry from the kind of balance I was intending to bring to the world at large. I was not “walking the talk” of my intentions. And everywhere I looked, I began to notice the repercussions of this void in my own life and the lives of those around me.

At great risk to my academic, along with my personal and professional reputation, I proceeded to advocate for the rights of the individual—beginning with my own self—to live a healthy, balanced existence.

I was met with much resistance from each of these three realms but also with support and encouragement. I have never been one to shy away from what I deeply believe to be the right path, so I continued on, creating the term self-sustainability, writing an autoethnography, and earning a doctorate in Sustainability Education.

Since finishing the doctoral program, I have witnessed a shift, even in the focus of the program itself. When I started the program, there was no question posed as to the sustainability of each student or faculty. Now, self-sustainability and the concept of living deeply have become the focus of a required course that I have been invited to mentor.

I write this not by way of congratulating my self but more in gratitude for this small but meaningful shift of focus. If I was at all responsible for this ripple, I am thankful for those who gave me the courage to do so. I do not believe I am on the planet to accept the status quo but rather to stir and shake; however, it can be intimidating and scary at times.

In my post-doc existence, I have felt a bit adrift, searching for a continued path.

I have created a business for bringing songs from people’s stories into the world and performed those songs at venues in Massachusetts and now Arizona. I left a permanent job with the government to pursue these passions, as well as matters of the heart, moving in with my long distance partner in the Southwest.

I have discovered the sage wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh and others who have written about the realm of Buddhism, mindfulness, and meditation.

Am I a Buddhist?

I don’t know. The more aware I become of my own self, the less I desire to label that self.

I recently happened upon a book that explains the many yoga practices from which one may choose. In it, the author describes two ways the yogic world refers to the self—the Self and the self. I was blown away by this simple but incredibly meaningful distinction and include the author’s words here:

The Essential Self

If you’re read any books or articles on yoga you’ve probably seen the word self written with both a capital S and a lowercase s. In certain philosophical schools there are two selves, the lowercase self, which is associated with the material world, and the uppercase Self, your essential or transcendental Self (or spirit). (McCrary, 2013, p. 4)

How have I only just happened upon this concept?

I find that there is synchronicity in how and when I discover people, place, and also ideas. Perhaps, I learn something when I am ready, when I open my Self up to the universe of opportunity. When I take notice, I begin to see it everywhere.

I practiced Ashtanga yoga for a year when I was living and teaching in France. This practice, along with learning a method of deep breathing referred to in the yoga tradition as “yogic breathing” provided a means for maintaining my sanity while living in a very stressful environment. When I felt my heart race and breath become shallow and quick, I would sit and practice breathing from my nose down to my stomach and back again. And I would experience some element of relief and peace, however transitory.

Upon returning to the United States, I left yoga behind. I created a life that seemed healthy and happy enough on the surface. I ignored the warning signs that crept insidiously into the layers of my conscious. I lived in this ignorance—I would not call is blissful—until the walls began to crumble from the storm brewing from deep within.

In my time as a doctoral student, I began to shed the layers of expectation and self-identity that I had created out of necessity and in the desire to please those with specific ideas of who I should be and what I should do with my life.

It is a practice that I continue and one in which I do not always succeed. Self-doubt and the work of my inner critic are powerful forces at work inside of me, and I have a propensity to compare my own value and worth to the achievements of others.

McCrary has written, “practicing yoga helps clear the lenses, so to speak, taking you on an inward journey back to your deepest Self and to the realization that you have everything you need within to experience the unbounded joy and freedom that is your true nature” (p. 4).

Perhaps, I am discovering Buddhism and rediscovering yoga at a time when I am seeking more tools to help me restore balance and peace.

I do not pretend that reading about these practices will help me to be instantaneously transformed. I have work ahead of me. But I feel excited and thankful for finding new and old ways to practice the work of the Self. In so doing, I become more grounded and open to helping others in their own work.

McCrary, M. (2013). Pick your yoga practice: Exploring and understanding different

styles of yoga. Novato, CA: New World Library.

IMG_4840


2 Comments

Pick your pressure release

A friend shared a comment inspired by my recent post “The Ox has eaten enough,” and I was instantly inspired and in love with his words, brilliant in their simplicity but surely far more complex than the short phrase might appear.

“Mostly, driving has become the place where I confront my ego on a daily basis.”

Brilliant! Love it.

My uncle shared wise words a friend of his had once told him. “It’s not always about you, ya know.”

Short, to the point, and spot on.

These comments reminded me of a message Will Duncan shared at his talk, “5 Things I Learned on Retreat,” which he offered at Prescott College this past Friday. I will share the lessons in a written moment.

In a simple, dark, button-down shirt and well-loved jeans, he walked around a podium for nearly two hours while we sat rapt, hanging on his every word. No PowerPoint. No microphone. Two small bars of chocolate that he brought to share with what he thought might be about five people for his audience. There were more like 100 people, but the chocolate bars and made it around the audience in reverse directions. A wayward clementine did not quite make it all the way.

He offered an introduction to offer context and a visual of the place he spent 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days on silent retreat. Out of the three times he spoke, twice was the word ‘fuck’ and were both plumbing related. The third time was to yell “fire extinguisher” when he set the propane tank on fire.

“What is the first thing you do when you find out really good news?” He asked the audience.

“You tell someone!” came the first response. I was thinking the same thing. I share it on Facebook.

Will suggested the idea that we share our news with someone else in order to release pressure in our bodies. He asked us all to breathe in through our nose. He asked if we felt the air moving through one nostril more prominently than the other.

I could feel my left nostril was mere clear than the right.

He told us that if we waited a couple of hours and tried again, we would likely find a different result. (Side note: I did try later and found my right nostril to be more clear.)

Right now, you might be wondering if I have joined the Will Duncan cult.

“She’s doing weird nostril-related breathing exercises now,” you’re thinking.

Not to worry. I am not any weirder or less sane than usual. I have simply been inspired to share these insights because they speak to where I am on my own path to an existence where I am awake and aware.

I was raised by parents who are trained and practiced in the realm of Western medicine, so when Will started explaining our Pranic bodies and the way the left and right sides of our body do different things and our work is to come into the center of our being, I am not sure I completely followed or agreed. The nose exercise was interesting, along with his thoughts on why we become irritable at certain times and fully open-hearted at others having to do with the cycle our body goes through each day. I was intrigued to learn more about Prana, which I had prior thought of as a line of clothing for stretchy pants and flowy tops.

But in all seriousness and without furthier adieu, here are Will’s 5 Lessons (Numbers 1 and 4 were especially relevant to my own recent writing and revelation):

1. Attentiveness: “Be present to the world”

2. Pressure: To relieve or not to relieve

3. Jewel Island: I think this one had to do with realizing that all human beings are precious

4. Illusion of Enemies: “We are under a state of delusion when we dislike someone”

5. Find joy in your practice: “Start small, humble, modest; if you leave the mind alone, it begins to purify itself”

The other day, I wrote about the freedom and relief one can experience in releasing pressure. Another topic related to pressure that Will spoke about was knowing when not to release pressure. Because pressure is uncomfortable, we want to get rid of it. The easiest way is often to use somebody else to relieve our own pressure. We might even create something from nothing that someone is doing to annoy us just to devise an opportunity to make ourselves feel better, albeit temporarily. So, one practice can be to build up an endurance to for this discomfort.

What to do if you are finding yourself irritated by someone else?

Act like a log (i.e. don’t react). It sound similar to my own attempts to perform energy Tai Chi. When I find my self on the defensive in response to another person, I try to avoid absorbing their energy or returning it back to them. Rather, I enision it dropping in the space between us, thus becoming null and void as it falls into the energy abyss.

I like the idea of being a log. I have already tried it, and I found it quite helpful to be a log while I felt the boil go to a simmer and eventually peter out entirely.

So, I believe the idea is to pick which pressure to release and which to endure.

With regard to the “illusion of enemies,” Will shared the analogy of how we feel when we see a puppy. Our hearts instantly open and fill with love and adoration.

“Human beings are difficult to love,” he said. “Imagine all people you are seeing are puppies. This would make it possible to have compassion for all beings.”

I am not sure I am there yet; puppies can be pretty annoying, too. I will do my best to keep this proposition in mind.

And for a final thought, I will leave you with a few more words.

“We are all on this sinking ship; we all have to lose everything we worked for our entire lives; we all have to lose everyone we love.”

We really are all in this together.

Befriending a Cholla Cactus


1 Comment

Rejoice! You are already perfect just as you are

Yesterday, I wrote about a fellow who recently spoke at Prescott College. His name is Will Duncan, and his wisdom and words came at a pivotal moment for me in my writing and self-study. Do you ever feel like you become aware of something and suddenly notice it everywhere? Sometimes, pieces fall into place in this synchronous way, as if the universe is responding to your call for guidance. Who knows where and how our energy travels. Perhaps, the universe was responding.

I spent much time admonishing myself through the written word for passing judgment on others. Then, I listened to Will tell me that I was not alone in this learned behavior.

“In this culture, we are masters of beating ourselves up, of not accepting ourselves as we are,” he told us. His next words offered the insight I had yet realized.

“Our judgment of other people is just coming out of our judgment of ourselves.”

Brilliantly simple, yet it seemed so very clear to me. There is always something going on behind the scenes, whether or not we are aware of it.

If I think someone does not like me when I first meet them because they seem cold or aloof, there is likely something they are struggling with that has very little, if anything to do with me. They might be having a bad time or not be feeling well. I have learned to try not to take their response personally and even to ask. One student in my cohort when I was studying in Africa was very distant when we were introduced. We became very close friends in the months that followed, and I later asked her if she had not liked me when we first met. She told me that she had just started her period and was experiencing really intense cramps. Who wouldn’t be unfriendly in that situation?

I have since realized that I am no exception to the first impression rule. I went through college thinking a woman in my circle of friends did not like me. After we graduated, it somehow came out that she had not I didn’t like her. So, all this time, we could have been developing a friendship but let our own illusions dictate our realities.

In the end, we are all just human. After all.

Will suggested that we be kinder to ourselves, which will allow us to be kinder to others.

I discovered this to be true in my own path to a more sustainable existence. The more time I spent wallowing in questions of the self, the more answers I was able to find. I went through a stormy period where I was in such extreme survival mode that I was not able to take care of my own self very well, forget about other people who might have needed me. What I found in the wake of this storm was that my heart seemed to have expanded. I was able to take people into my home and be a place of support and love for others on the brink of moving through their own storm.

Of course, here I sit with a doctorate in Sustainability Education and a focus on the concept of self-sustainability, and I still struggle against my own inner critic every day. I am a work in progress.

So, how to overcome the critic? Will had a few suggestions.

1. Learn to appreciate yourself. How? Small, regular, spiritual practice.

2. What he referred to as a daily “Rejoicing Meditation.”

Here is how he described it:

Lay down in bed (this is a fun one, he said, because you can lie down!)

Rejoice in all the cool things you and other people did that day, but especially you

Simple enough, and I think the more you practice the easier it becomes to find the positive rather than focus on the negative.

In my own writing and research on self-sustainability, I have come to realize that the notion of being perfect is really to accept being imperfect. We are each perfect with our idiosyncracies and graceful in our clumsiness and stumbling. I am not sure I would really want for life to be any other way.

IMG_4762


4 Comments

Permission, pressure, and freedom

Snail, snail, glister me forward,

Bird, soft-sigh me home,

Worm, be with me.

This is my hard time.

~ Theodore Roethke

(From the poem “The Flight” in The Lost Son, 1948)

A couple days ago, I wrote about the less than empathic thoughts that arise in my thoughts in response to the behaviors I notice in other human beings. I wrote about my shame for giving any kind of credence to them and sometimes even allowing my self to wallow in them and feel justified in giving rise to anger, impatience, and irritability.

Bad marieke.

I clicked “post” and sent my vulnerabilities and demons out into the world, showing my self in all my rawness to whoever might take the time to notice.

I could feel the nervousness building in the hours that followed. Would people write horrible things in response? Was I alone in this pattern? I began thinking about all of the possible people I knew in the world who might happen upon my words. Would they spurn me forever after reading my confession?

I texted a friend who has been a longtime supporter of my journey on the writing path.

“I just wrote a particularly damning post,” I said.

A response came, and I sighed with relief.

“I don’t think your post is damning,” came the words of assurance. “I think it’s freeing.”

In the end, I realized that I was still thankful to have put the truth out there. It is a small part of all the truths that make me who I am, and it is a real demon I wish to move beyond.

Part of this realization came after witnessing a talk from a fellow who attended Prescott College many years ago.

He spent the last 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days in silent meditation retreat on 1100 acres in the shadow of the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona. During that time, his partner was in the next cabin over, but they only saw each other 4 times a year.

I was intrigued before I heard him talk, and I left in awe, admiration, and deep appreciation.

He was real and honest. His honesty helped me breathe a sigh of relief after my own recent confession. It was like his words gave me permission to share my own. If he could cause such relief for me, perhaps my own writing might have a similar impact on others.

During the presentation, he spoke about pressure that builds inside of us. If we don’t find ways to release it, it can cause us to do wild, crazy things when it gets to boiling point.

I have found that writing, particularly writing that reveals things I have been taught to hide, offers a healthy release of pressure and a return of lightness and freedom. Whiskey and red wine can have similar pressure-releasing results, but the return is more short-lived, and I do not always learn as much about my self and the world.

What methods do you use to release pressure?

Ripple Effect


4 Comments

The ox has eaten enough

A few years ago, I made the conscious decision to begin sharing positive things I noticed and felt about the people in my life, whether they were passing through or in it for a longer haul. I made this shift in part because it began to dawn on me that I tended to communicate the negative stuff far more often. In other words, I had become very good at complaining, paying close attention to the things I did not like in the world, and as a result, I was perpetuating the spread of negative energy out into the ethos.

My practice for my own wellbeing had become to try not to respond in kind to behavior that, when directed my way, brought out my defensive side. I thought of it as a Tai Chi kind of response. I did not want to throw the energy back at my counterpart, nor did I wish to send it out anywhere else. I just wanted to let it drop between us, thereby losing its life force and finding peace. I did not always succeed, particularly while driving on the highways and byways of Eastern Massachusetts, but I was getting better at recognizing each of these situations as they arose.

I also started noticing how good it made me feel when someone told me something nice about myself, be it a personality trait or the sweater I happened to be wearing. It occurred to me that those individuals might enjoy hearing something nice about their own selves.

That was the lightbulb moment. From then on, as often as I can, I try to share the positive “out loud.” I thank people in my life for their kindness and guidance. I tell strangers if I think they look beautiful.

People seem to really like hearing nice things, and I don’t think there is any harm or shallowness in being the one to tell them. I have sparked some hilarious conversations as well. I will often ask if there is a story or particular meaning behind the unique adornments I notice. I find that many folks LOVE telling me about the stories behind. They also seem to find enjoyment in sharing the bargain they have discovered in their shopping ventures.

“You will never believe how much this cost!”

“You will never believe where I found this!”

Intentionally spreading joy is all well and good, but I do not want you to get the wrong idea about me. In my mind, I can be a pretty merciless, judgmental person. I am not proud of it, but there it is.

Just the other day, it was really noticeable. It began with my drive into town to go to the local pool where I swim at a community college nearby. On the road in front of me was a person driving really slow (this drives me bonkers) and with an advertisement on their back windshield that I found incredibly inane:

The words “Get Healthy” were written across the middle. Beneath it was some product that was sure to get you healthy. And above it was the message I found the most misleading: “GMO free; Gluten-free; Soy free.”

Now, keep in mind I was already prepared to detest this individual because of their choice to drive unreasonably slow. But the fact that they were advertising false information just added to the rippling of judgment that was spiraling around in my mind.

The more I pondered how one could attain health, the more I felt certain that excluding these items from your diet was not the perfect solution. For one, there is nothing unhealthy about Gluten. It has been around for thousands of years. Unless you have an allergy, gluten is fine. Yes, there is a huge business, marketing scheme going on to encourage folks to spend insane amounts of money on gluten-free items, but it seems a bit much.

Also, since when has soy been deemed unhealthy? Just yesterday (and by yesterday, I mean the popular trend just before the onset of gluten-free hit the American population) soy was a superfood.

Finally, I have not done my research, so I may just be full of something, but I do not think that a food that has been genetically-modified is bad for you. If pesticides were poured on the field then yes, this would be true. Do GMOs hurt farmers and ecosystems with the spread of super seeds? I believe there is well-founded research to support this claim. But humans have been experimenting with combining seeds (and breeds of domestic animals) for a long time, and we are still kicking.

Do I wish that our educational system taught people to do research and critically assess the information presented to them online and in the media? Yes. Is it cause to despise someone who holds a different belief than me? No.

Anyway, those were the hideous and altogether unnecessary thoughts that were leading me to get angry and irritated for absolutely no good reason.

Think I’m a good person now?

Well, it gets even worse.

At the pool, I began swimming in my lane. The water was cold, but I knew I would warm up quickly with the movement of my body. After several minutes and laps had gone by, I noticed a woman walking out fromt he locker room. Her body had an odd shape to it, her lower back curving in toward her stomach and her stomach protruding out as if her back was pushing it forward. I thought this and instantly reprimanded myself for having such a thought in the first place. For someone who has struggled with eating and body image since I was a child, this was a true violation.

“What is wrong with you?” a voice in my head admonished. “Every body is beautiful and different. How dare you think such an awful thing?”

So I kept swimming, moving my arms and legs and telling myself I would not pass such shallow judgment again. No sooner had I convinced myself that I was cured, I noticed the same person was swimming in the lane to my left.

“That is some weird swimming pattern,” I thought. She was doing a version of the crawl that looked relatively benign from above. But instead of keeping her legs straight and close together and flapping her feet for forward motion, she was doing this weird side to side and up to down scissor kick.

Again, I heard the voice in a shrill, commanding tone.

“Are you freaking serious?” it hissed.

“Stop this incessant judgment right now. She might not have a perfect gait, but she has found a way of swimming that brings her joy. Let her be and focus on your own strokes.”

So I tried.

Until I noticed the way she was doing the butterfly while lying on her back.

I am sure you can imagine the repartee that ensued.

So, why share this pattern with you now? It is definitely not something I like about myself. If anything, I feel shamed by it. Plus, I risk losing your trust and love and support in the process.

For one, why not tell you? I gain nothing by keeping this information inside and ignoring its presence. I will not overcome my demons until I accept them and meet them head on. If you are horrified by my confession and have never fallen victim to the negative, judging voices in your head, feel free to judge me (though I will note that this response would be a perpetuation of the exact behavior I am attempting to overcome).

In the years I have spent trying to make sense of life’s mysteries through writing, I have discovered that there are other people out there struggling to answer similar questions. In addition, after going through a divorce, I began to realize just how unskilled I was at communicating. I had grown very good at keeping things inside, far from the people I loved, and often in such deep places that they are even hidden from me. I have found that coming clean to my self, and being honest is the best way to begin healing.

I tell you all of this because I think I have learned to behave this way from experience, and it does not bring me joy. And if I could learn it, then I believe I can unlearn it. So many of the microcultural climates within which I have lived and worked have revolved around focusing on the negative and looking for the negative. What’s not working, what are people doing wrong, etc. etc.

I also tell you this because I have a feeling that I am not alone. In fact, I am certain that there is at least one other person who has struggled with these kind of thoughts. I can tell you this with certainty because he told me.

A friend of mine asked me how I was doing.

“Well,” I said. “I have been reading a book called Let go: A Buddhist guide to breaking free of habits.”

I proceeded to tell him about my day of judging people and how often it seemed to happen.

“In this book, the author tells me that by becoming aware of the behavior, I can begin to decrease its power over me. With time and practice, I can get to the point where I can stop my tendency to pass judgment before I even start.”

My friend proceeded to tell me about the ways he had been engaging in a similar struggle to overcome this propensity over the past year, along with his desire to be in control.

I told my friend about the author’s metaphor of the “taming of the unruly ox of the mind” as a way of “understanding and taming our destructive patterns” (pp. 5-6).

“Maybe, you should just feed the ox less?” he suggested.

With time and intention, I hope I can. I have a big heart, and I wish to stretch it to its fullest potential and beyond.

Martine Batchelor. (2007). Let go: A Buddhist guide to breaking free of habits. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.

IMG_3197


Leave a comment

The dog days are over

There is nothing in this world quite like a dog.

This past Friday, I lost a canine friend, a gentle spirit in the body of a husky named Blue. It happened quickly. Tuesday night, he became a bit lethargic. Wednesday, he stopped eating. I took him to the vet on Friday to find there might be a mass in his abdomen pushing his stomach and intestines out of their usual place. A few hours later, he was gone.

Home from the vet, he went straight to the back door, asking in his canine way to be let outside. Once outside, he turned around several times and lay down. He moved from one spot to another in what was likely an effort to get comfortable. We humans each took turns sitting with him. late in the evening, my partner came inside and sat down next to me on the couch.

“He’s almost gone,” he whispered in a hoarse voice.

I went outside and knelt down beside this creature I had only known for a brief time but had come to love very deeply.

I heard a rumbling in his stomach.

“Be at peace, my love.” I caressed the thick, soft fur around his ear.

He let out a low growling sound. Then, all was quiet.

“Blue?” I asked. “Are you ok? Are you still there?”

I massaged his belly and pressed my hand to his chest, feeling for a heartbeat.

Silence.

I went inside.

“Can you check him?” I asked my partner.

He went outside, and I followed. He got down on his knees and moved his hand over the animal who had been so full of life just days before. We had walked through the desert on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday; on each occasion, he had pulled me along from one place to smell to the next with an eagerness that brimmed full of energy and vitality.

“He’s gone.”

We sat together and cried over Blue. I kept imagining that he would open his eyes, like he had just been playing a joke on us these past few days.

He had always struck me as more akin to his ancestors than most of the domestic canines I have known in my life. Like a wolf, he died with dignity on his own terms, in a peaceful place, far from hospital walls.

He was a bit of a mystery to me, so stolid and solitary. I had grown up with Labradors, sensitive souls who follow you from room to room. They would even accompany you to the bathroom, if you let them.

Blue lived outside by choice. He loved his humans but kept to himself. I admired him deeply, his independent spirit. I was much more akin to a Labrador than a Husky myself.

And now I feel that both Blue and I have been cheated. He was only ten. Surely, we could have spent several more years happily wandering the trails through the desert together. I have not had enough time with this Husky. Though I cannot call him my own, my heart is with him.

Now, his spirit is free to wander the woods, dells, and deserts of a realm beyond the ones I know in this life. Should a gentle spirit show up on your doorstep, please welcome him and give him my love.

And please tell him I miss him with all my heart.

IMG_4451


Leave a comment

All but the “D”

I grew up feeling out of place but hearing from adults that I would grow out of my eccentricities and the elements of my self that seemed anomalous.

There were things that I did on a regular basis without even realizing that I was doing them, reading the words on signs forwards and backwards, for example.

My younger sibling pointed one of these habits out to me.

“Did you just touch that dresser twice?” they asked. I had not even realized that after my finger grazed the surface of the piece of furniture as I walked past it that I had reached out and touched it a second time with the same index finger of my hand.

These were simply things that I did, and I did them so often that it had not occurred to me that they were not a regular part of my peers’ patterns of behavior.

It would be a bit arrogant to imagine that I am all that different from most people. I am still only human, after all. Isn’t that what they say?

But when I started inquiring into the habits of my friends in my early twenties, I began to realize that I really was nowhere close to the culturally accepted definition(s) of what it meant to be normal.

As an adult, I began paying closer attention to these patterns. There were times when I felt like they might drive me to madness.

Having to make sure that when closing my the closet doors in my bedroom, the two doors clicked shut at exactly the same moment and then repeating this action to make it an even number. If I closed them shut simultaneously once only to repeat the action with each door clicking shut just out of sync, I had to close them out of sync a second time and then repeat the synchronized ceremonial shutting of the doors. In order that each action be taken in an even number. Why else? Isn’t that what any normal person would do if put in a similar situation?

The notion of simply leaving the doors open was simply not an option.

There was a specific way to fold my socks, underwear, and bras. T-shirts and pants had their own system as well.

Turning light switches on and off; walking in and out of rooms; opening and closing doors and drawers; last glimpses into rooms as I left them before shutting the door—these rituals all had rules.

They say rules were made to be broken, but try as I might, I could not seem to stray from the rules of any of these rituals without a deep discomfort that was often so strong I would go back and engage in the ritual in order to alleviate the duress that was created.

I asked a therapist I was seeing in my late twenties if I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and was relieved to learn that I possessed all but the “D.” Yes, I engaged in these behaviors. Yes, they could be frustrating and often spiraled a little more out of control during times of increased stress. But I was aware of them and was not so far gone as to allow them to completely inhibit my ability to function in my daily life.

In fact, I was beginning to find ways to simplify the behaviors so as to regain some of my control and sanity.

Instead of placing the long narrow portions of my socks and rolling them one over the other, I simply folded them in half. I stopped folding my underwear altogether and simply lay them one on top of the other. I still needed to ensure that the tops were all lined up; I still placed them into the drawer, lifted them out, and placed them neatly in the drawer a second time (you know, so it was even); but it was a step closer to some semblance of managing whatever it was in my unconscious that was encouraging me to engage in all of these patterns in the first place.

The only person in my life that I found solidarity with in these strange rituals was my father.

Several years ago, I described some of these behaviors to him.

“Oh yes. I do that,” he responded.

“Really?” I was so relieved to not be completely alone. Most people looked at me like I was crazy when I asked them if they read things forwards and backwards or counted the items they saw on the wall or on a person’s body (that was is really weird and I only recently shared this long-kept secret for the first time) until the items all added up to an even number.

If I start thinking about it, most moments of the day are filled with one of these behaviors. But I still leave the house in the morning and head to work, so I guess I am not completely lost to this world. Maybe, just a little. But I am who I am, and I am used to being my self. And I am not alone.

Much of what I do seems to be related to making things even. I really like things to be even. I thought my thirties would be a real struggle until my partner shared the brilliant discovery that when the integers of every number of the thirties are added together you get an even number. Thanks the gods!

Here is a list of what has been/continues to be like to be me; some behaviors I have managed to overcome, while others remain:

If a muscle on one side of my body twitches, I have to twitch the matching muscle on the other side of my body to make it even right knee

If a finger on my hand taps another finger on the same hand, I must repeat the action.

I told you about the closet doors, lights switches, etc.

If I see a Stop sign, I will read the sign “Stop Pots.” Sometimes, I will count the components on the sign until I reach an even number of items.

Stop = 1

Pots= 2

The sign itself = 3

The pole the sign is attached to = 4

The nails in the sign = 5 (even though there are two, they are the same item, so they could be categorized as one item; unless, of course, I reach an uneven number of components on the sign. It is as this point that things can begin to get more complicated and unmanageable. I might count each individual nail and even go so far as to count the letters in the word as individual entities.)

A Yield sign will be similar.

Yield

Dleiy

If there is an arrow on the sign, I will label it accordingly–arrow going up to the right.

The list goes on, but I fear I may have lost you at the point, and I am hungry and ready for dinner and a glass of wine.

Wishing you a peaceful and stress-free evening, whatever your own eccentricities may be.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 839 other followers