Lots on the menu this week; shrinking fonts, MacGyver, snake oil, tennis, piano lessons, psychology, meditation for dummies and a ‘how-to’ at the end that might just help you regain some of the 20/20 vision in your Soul. Yes friends, if it got any better, it would be illegal in 34 states. But hey, you’re here; I’m here, so let’s get this party started.
When I was 17, my eyes were good…I mean really good. I could read small print at 40-paces or
spot coastline trees from a mile-and-a-half out into Lake Michigan. And those reading tests with the rows of progressively smaller text?
I’d start at the bottom and work my way up. Yes, I was ‘that guy’. And yes, youth is truly wasted on the young.
Now, not young, there is a reason I’ve memorized our favorite restaurants menu. Even when the room is as bright as noon-time, the words keep getting fuzzier by the year. And who has arms that long? Ever watched a group of baby-boomers out for dinner? You’d think half of us were playing trombone. Taking a cue from Darwin, I’ve salvaged some of my pride and adapted.
Proof positive evidence of my inner MacGyver is strategically placed all over the house. I’ve got reading glasses hanging out in my kitchen, others are kicking it at the desk. The old black ones I wear when we’re swinging hammers or hanging drywall are in the tool box. And yes, over there near the cell phone (with big numbers)…that’s the rare tortoise shell variety of GlassusI’mBlindus. The classic aviator version (from my Tom Cruise phase) have landed on the coffee table while the really strong ones are right there by the bed. Not one to play favorites, I’ve got a driving pair in the car and professional set of reading eyes in my briefcase. You’d think maybe it was time to go to Lenscrafter’s or something. But I don’t…money’s tight and my collection of drug store eye wear is serving me well. But I’m not seeing the bigger picture clearly.
With all that said, you can understand why I was pretty stoked when a friend of mine bought me a present during his trip to the “As Seen on TV” store in New York. A souvenir? No…something better. It was a small vial of eyeglass lens restorer. Yes my near-sighted friends, I was just one simple swipe away from seeing all those pesky lens scratches disappear forever. Poof. Magic. And it’s mine!
Being a man of faith [sic], I couldn’t wait to get home for the restoration festival to begin. As I prepared to perform the lens healing, I remember telling myself, “Better Life through Science. This is going to be great!” Barely able to contain my oh, so simple excitement, I already had visions of lining up all my 2-eyed helpers like kids waiting for carnival rides. Looking over the gathered candidates, I decided to start with my favorite pair (’cause I like the black wire frames best). Pulling the applicator from the bottle, it only took a few seconds for the lenses of my first favorite to transform into…NNNOOOOO!
I watched in horror as an evil milkiness began to spread across my ill-fated lenses like some bad form of instant cataract. MAYDAY. MAYDAY. Dive. Dive, Dive.
My ability to order a patty melt was sinking in front of my eyes as rapidly as the murky film of hydrofluoric acid was eating my ambushed lenses. For nearly 30-minutes, I waged fierce hand-to-hand combat to keep my lenses clear. I launched baking soda and toothpaste in a tandem attack – nothing. I dipped the glasses in boiling water, followed by a targeted bombing run of rubbing alcohol. I even called in the apricot face scrub (aka “face stuff”) and a strafing run by my battery powered toothbrush. ‘Do not pass “GO”. Do not collect $200.’ Despite my best efforts, the lens remained dim and useless.
Having my favorite pair of reading glasses go dark has reminded me of just how valuable my own trip back from ‘dim and useless’ has been. In fact, one of the most important things I now do every day is ‘focus’.
Leo Tolstoy wrote (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Tolstoy), “Where is there any book of the law so clear to each man as that written in his heart.” Back when I was all messed up inside, I didn’t get much, but even then, I understood what he was talking about. I knew for myself that when I looked myself in the eye in the mirror, there was a part in me that couldn’t or (more importantly) wouldn’t lie to myself. Ding! There it was again. My still quiet inside voice, whispering about us needing help with all the dark inkiness coursing through my life. Problem was, coming from my far-right evangelical background, I had a deep-seated mistrust of feelings, psychiatry, mental health and all those pills crazy people end up having to take. Maybe if I just pray harder…
What confounded me about my resistance to removing my own obstacles was I’d had no such issues when my folks paid a piano teacher to sit beside me as I learned scales. Having
High School swimming coaches work with me in the pool had shaved precious seconds off my time. Hiring a tennis instructor made sense in my quest to convert my back-hand into a lethal weapon on the far court. All of it had gotten better. Why was my mental health any less important?
After a lot of back and forth (and some well placed support from my partner, the person who loves me best), I bit the bullet, suppressed my heeby-jeebies and found John (a really good therapist) who specialized in my kind of trouble.
It wasn’t at all comfortable to go in, much less come back to his office. Even after several sessions, I still felt the overwhelming urge to bolt for the door each time he started asking me the simplest of questions. Trust was not a strong suit. But thankfully, my logical side was strong enough to remind me I’d conquered difficult things in the past and anything worth learning wasn’t going to happen overnight. So far so good. Then with one simple question, John blew it. “Have you ever thought about meditating?”
“Meditation? Are you nuts? [sic] You’ve got to be kidding?” None of that New Age voodoo stuff for me. No sir, I was not one of those saps who were willing to pay
some shyster for the chance to talk with some dearly departed on the ‘other side’. Meditating? I couldn’t even say the word with a straight face. My doc countered, “OK then, call it something else…” God, I hated it when he did that! He refused to let me scare him off this foolishness. Didn’t he know who I was? He quietly persisted in his suggestion that I should try it…in a specific place, first thing in the morning – every morning. “Are you kidding me? What if someone see’s me?” His one eyebrow went up, “At Five in the morning?”. “OK, OK, I’ll try it. But how does it work? What do I do?” “Let’s start slow. For the first week, just be quiet for 10-minutes…just sit there and concentrate on feeling yourself breathe.”
The look on my face must have been speaking volumes. But John beat me to the punch, “Why did you pay your coaches before?” “So I could improve my game.” “You’re paying me, right?” “Yeah.” “Just do it. I’m the coach. You want to be better. And the longer you argue, the more you’re just putting stupid money in my pocket. Just be quiet…literally.” I felt my considerable ability at being a conversational chess-player folding against the inner understanding that I owed it to myself to wake up in the dark. “OK…we’ll try it for two-weeks”. John smiled. And that night, I set the alarm for 5 and the coffee-maker for 4:40AM. You see, I had my requirements too. “I’m not doing this without my coffee; and I’m not sitting cross-legged on some stupid straw mat? And none of that chanting stuff”. Kicking and screaming to the bitter end…
“Alone—in moments of prayer or meditation, or simply in stillness—we breathe more deeply, see more fully, hear more keenly. We notice more, and in the process, we return to what is sacred.” — Katrina Kenison.
Fast forward. Now I do ‘focus time’ every morning – without fail. I look forward to it. I get out of bed for it. I feel better than I have in years. My blood pressure is down and my heart rate slows when I ‘focus’. I think better. I lie to myself less and less. I have a thriving Attitude of Gratitude about just about everything I do. I rarely get sick and the people I come across in my day respond positively. John says it’s because each of us has antennae that can sense authenticity like what I’ve earned. And it all started with breathing. Amazing. It’s so stupidly simple that I can understand why my over-thinking brain worked so hard in trying to talk myself out of getting better…being better.
I have no idea if this will resonate with you, but more and more people are discovering that those few minutes are the best thing they do all day. Moms, cops, truck drivers and waitresses are all coming to similar conclusions for their own reasons.
There are different strokes for different folks (Prayer, Yoga, Running…the list is long). All of them help to clear the mind and help you get down to what’s really going on inside that magnificent brain of yours. But this is what works for me. And while I know it sounds like a contradiction, having a little bit of structure will help you free form for yourself. Dr. John had me write this down and tape it to my bedroom mirror. Now, I get to pass it along to you. What a rush that is! So have fun with it. The list goes something like this:
Designate a regular ‘favorite spot’.
I have two. During nice weather, my best spot is a big patio chair where I can sit outside with our plants, potted flowers and hanging baskets. In the winter time or bad weather, I’ve got a side-arm chair in the bedroom that faces a big picture window. Before I sit down (and after I’ve gotten my coffee), I’ll draw the blinds all the way up and crack the window just a smidge. You know what you like and where it is. Be creative. Try a few different spots until you find one that feels right. You’ll know.
Do what you can to insure you won’t be interrupted.
You’re not going to spend much more than 10 or 15 minutes in the beginning, but it has to be ‘good time’ – nothing but you. If that means you park a lawn chair in the garage so the other people in the house leave you along, do it. Involve them too. Let them be a part of your experiment by having the respect to tell them what’s going on. If you don’t have those kind of people around you, get creative. This is all about you…not them.
Make yourself the promise of investment.
Circle a date on your kitchen calendar and try it for two-weeks. This exercise for your Soul pays off, but only if you show up to do the work. Let yourself feel excited about doing something new for yourself. If you don’t care, why will anyone else?
Sit in a comfortable place where your body is well supported.
Chair, couch, bean bag or porch swing..doesn’t really matter as long as you can relax and not fall down a flight of stairs (kidding).
Place your feet flat on the ground with your knees comfortably apart. Then place each hand, palm up, in your lap and lower your chin so it’s hanging naturally, near your chest.
Begin to breath in through your nose (deeply), exhaling slowly through your mouth.
And as you breathe, breathe from your belly, not your shoulders. It’s OK…no one will be watching.
As you breath, count each breath cycle:
In…Out…(1). In….Out…(2). Try getting to 25 without losing your place. I dare you. And if you lose count? No big deal. Just start over…1 (in/out), 2…When you do get to 25? You’ll be surprised at how together you feel…how calm and ready to get up and get going.
So why am I so sure you will lose your count along the way? Simple. Your mind wanders; thoughts come crashing in or it can be as simple as feeling some leftover gas moving around from dinner the night before. Doesn’t matter, because to some degree, letting those thoughts come up in front of you is part of the point to the whole exercise. By focusing on the metering of your breathing, you are simply quieting your own mind in the process of letting it all just be, what it is.
I had real trouble with this one until I thought of it like having a good fence around the playground. You can swing or play on the teeter-totter; you can play tag or kick-ball, but no one is going to get hit by a car as long as they’re inside the playground…safe ground. That’s what the breathing does…it becomes safe ground.
There are lots of good resources and real-life walking, talking professionals who can coach you for what you want to get done. So let me close with this simple thought. How cool will it be when you stand in front of your mirror and look yourself in the eye and realize you’ve reclaimed ownership of your own life. I’m already celebrating the day when you say to yourself, “I can see clearly now”.
If you want to get more,
try these two links as good springboards to start from:
Little Big Town’s intepretation of Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ on The Rosie Show. Enjoy: