Ways of Being

I had an interesting conversation with a friend this weekend. We talked about the difference between having goals to work toward, and working on new ways of being in the world. She had a pretty convincing argument, so I thought I'd share.

We often talk about our latest goals, or the goal we are focusing on in the moment. Somehow, this places not only our efforts but also our accomplishments outside of ourselves. If you want to earn top ratings in your company this quarter-- whatever your company likes to rate-- that's a goal.

It's you working on something totally separate from your SELF, and with both a goal and a reward that are pretty impersonal. They might give you a year-end bonus that you can spend on a trip to Maui or something... but they don't really change who you are or how hard you'll have to work next quarter if you want the same results. Losing weight, getting up earlier-- these feel like similar goals. Things you can measure by looking at the scale or the clock or the nightly news. Looking outside yourself for both expectation and outcome.

Ways of being are harder to measure, harder to change-- and yet when we do improve our way of being, every aspect of our life gets a little bit easier, clearer, more functional. Several years ago, I wanted to change my way of being-- I wanted to be healthy. And I really examined what that meant for me. How I would be in the world, and what about my lifestyle or my thought process or my daily activities needed to change in order for me to live in a way that feels healthy to me. And to be honest, I'm still working on it.

I wanted to be pain-free in my body most days. I wanted to be able to lift moving boxes and heavy bags of kitty litter without hurting myself. I wanted to feel that I had a chance of defending myself from harm if I were ever attacked in a dark parking lot at night.

I wanted to feel connected to the Earth. I wanted to be connected to my own feelings and intuition so that I could USE them to keep myself healthy, safe, sane. I wanted to respect myself enough to pay attention to my needs, and work on meeting them. I wanted to get rid of my adult acne, and keep up with my friends on long hikes in the hills without complaint. These, to me, were the measuring sticks of my improved way of being. If I could do these things, I'd be living the life I want to live-- the way I want to be in the world.

So I took time to examine my lifestyle, and look for things I could do with very little money and no health insurance-- to improve my way of being healthy in the world. I started meditating. I read about the root chakra that is our connection to our physical body, to the earth, and to our internalized messages of security and sturdiness. I spent a few minutes every time I realized I was tired, or in pain, or sick, or pissy-- and tried to figure out WHY. What could I learn in that moment about my SELF and my physical needs. What cues had my body given me before I reached this point? Maybe next time I could do something BEFORE I got this tired, this uncomfortable.

I started walking a couple of times a week, looking at trees and birds and clouds when I walked. And I tried to change my sleeping habits so that I got a fairly reliable seven hours of sleep a night. Then eight. Then nine. I really feel rested if I get nine hours of sleep a night. I don't always manage it. And I know most people don't need that much. But I do. And I'm learning to respect my body's needs enough to be healthy. I also realized I had formed an unhealthy dependency on pain killers and sleeping pills to manage my pain from an old car accident.

Some folks do legitimately need medicine, and if you need it? TAKE IT. But so many more of us take meds we don't need because it is easier than dealing with the problem that the meds help us ignore. I decided to consult a doctor friend on the healthiest way to reduce my dependence on my particular prescription medicines. I knew it would be dangerous to stop cold-turkey. Then, I cut my dose by 1/3 on a Friday, so I'd have the weekend to cope. The next Friday, I cut the daily dose in half. And because I was so cranky by then, I told a few people what I was doing so they wouldn't take my attitude personally.

I stayed at that level of dosage for almost a month. This wasn't about meeting a goal. This was about finding ways to be healthy. So I didn't have a set timeline. Instead, I waited until I wasn't so scared by the side effects I had with reducing my dosage. I picked a time when I knew I didn't have to do any driving or anything important for four or five days in a row. And I had some non-chemical pain-management options ready to use. Things my doctor friend had suggested, or that I'd learned about when I studied alternative medicine-- healing herbal teas and yoga for pain and such.

I started on those new things the first day. I stopped taking prescription meds the second day, with an over-the-counter pain med just to ease myself into it a little more. By the third day, I was using pain management techniques, an no pills. By the fifth day, I felt better than I had in years. I know I was lucky to break my dependence so easily. Oddly enough, I have fewer painful days now than I ever did when I was on pain medicine. I get more rest from my sleep, too.

I'm still working on the acne. Managing it requires overcoming my life-long addiction to sugar-foods. But I'm also proud of the progress I've made in listening to my body's needs, and maintaining some sort of regular exercise. And when I exercise, I listen to my body so I don't over-do or re-injure myself. If I start to feel tired, I take iron pills and vitamin C and garlic. I try to manage my body temperature, and give my body extra sleep and extra water to help fight off any virus germs. I'm not sick nearly as often as I used to be. And I feel more alive. More connected to the Earth and to myself. I even keep up with my friends when we hike.

I guess improving my health wasn't so much a goal as a way of being in the world. It wasn't about crazy diets or binge exercising. It wasn't about denying myself or punishing myself. It was about getting to know myself better, and then making informed decisions. It was about learning to accept what my body needs to be healthy-- and not what I think it should need, should look like, should do for me. It was about learning to be compassionate-- at least about my health-- with my SELF. And THAT is one of the hardest lessons for a person to learn. To be good to themselves, without punishment, judgment, or unhappy indulgence.

Be compassionate with your body. Honor your feelings. They are trying to tell you something important about your well-being in the world. Find those connection points between you, and the universe at large. They do exist. Isolation is only ever self-imposed. The grass really is greener on the other side.