Category Archives: society

Words that Mean Nothing

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There are so many words that get tossed around in the alternate universe that is called “wellness” that really stick in my craw.  I find that when I share my annoyances, they dissipate a little and I don’t have to obsess over them….as much.  So, join me in the aggravation shall you?

natural: as in “natural foods”, ‘natural flavors”, etc.  This is the most seductive of them right now.  You want stuff to be natural, I’m sure.  However, the dictionary delineates between things we find in their raw state as natural and something manmade as not natural.  So how can any boxed/packaged food claim to be natural?  They can’t.  Not by definition.  Of course, neither can a good chicken soup be considered natural because it’s been processed by your dear sweet grandmother.  On the other side of things, this also seems to imply that whatever man does is not natural.  Why is a beehive natural and a skyscraper not?  Why is a dog snarling when cornered natural and a woman screaming in rage when abused not?  The constructed delineation between what is natural and what is not allows for the madness that a boxed, sugar coated, puffed cereal grain can be marketed as “natural”.  This word means nothing, is what I’m trying unsuccessfully to point out.  Next time you’re walking through the grocery store, just notice what is marketed as natural food.  It’s not the meat and produce and grass-fed butter.  It’s the chips, energy bars, whey powders….in short, it’s just a marketing tool to steer you away from the things that are authentic to your species and to spending more money on a myth.

organic: Ugh, something is organic because it is a carbon-based life form.  Do I need to say more?  Everything you eat is organic.  Every fruit, leaf, slice of steak…a carbon-based life form.  They get you because by saying something is organic, the theory is that its not been sprayed or treated with anything inorganic (not a carbon-based life form).  Which is of course WONDERFUL!  LIfe forms eat other life forms in general until you work your way down the web and something is just absorbing sunlight.  (Thank you chlorophyll!  We love you!)  The problem is this.  A cow eating organic (unsprayed, untreated) grain and not receiving hormones or antibiotics is of greater quality than one that isn’t treated this way is still not getting to be a cow.  What I mean is this.  Cows eat grass.  They want to eat grass.  When they get to eat grass and be out in the sunlight and walk around, they get to be cows.  (This also goes for plants.  Plants do well when they grow with other kinds of plants and not so well when they are mono-cropped, so you vegetarians aren’t in the clear.)  Organic is certainly a higher rung on the ladder but organic in its common usage still doesn’t mean that the animal or plant gets to be itself.

chemical: Everything is chemical.  When you see something advertise itself as chemical free what does that even mean?  It would be a box or bottle of nothing if it were true.  What they mean to say, I’m assuming, is no added chemicals.  You are a chemical being.  So, chemical free doesn’t mean anything at all.  You need to read and find out what chemicals are authentic to us and can be absorbed or come into contact with no harm and what can’t.

spiritual: Here it comes.  Spiritual means something sanctioned by a religion or church.  Yeah, surprising, right?  Contrary to what you’ve been spoon-fed since birth, you do not need a spiritual component to your life in order to be healthy.  What a lot of people call their spiritual practice is just otherwise known as being authentically human.  What I mean by that is that:

We need to go outside.

We need to eat things that are authentic to us and that get to live lives that are authentic to them.

We need quiet time to not think about much of anything.

We need time with others.  We are a primarily social species.

We need to play.

We need to learn new things.

We need to move.

We need to express ourselves and be heard.

We need to sleep in safety.

These are some of our needs.  The different ways that we meet those needs that our culture sanctifies and codifies become what we call “spirituality”.  But, you don’t have to.  It’s…funny?…to me that we are taught to be so afraid of the body’s needs that we can only allow ourselves to meet them by labeling them spiritual.  It’s not.  It’s physical and authentic and not at all mystical.

purity:  On the heels of that last rant.  Purity and “pure” make my bile rise and burns the back of my throat.  Pure water has no nutrition.  Pure oxygen will kill you.  Pure environments will starve your immune system.  Purity of the body is an impossible, deluded fantasy that can easily become an obsession so dangerous that it will kill you.  Purity of the blood is at the heart of every genocide.  This word also means nothing…well, nothing good.  It always gives me the heebie-jeebies.  Purity of thought leads to stasis and lack of creativity.  Pure also means that something else is dirty.  This is also dangerous.  Pure emotions are compassion and happiness and joy.  Dirty is anger and fear?  Except of course, anger is a really good way to know that something has violated you and fear will keep you alive.

These are a couple of things that keep me up at night.  And, because language is important.

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Easier said than done.

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Health tips are happening on my Facebook page lately.  It’s just evolving in that direction.  Yesterday’s was the following:

“Eat when you’re hungry.  Don’t eat when you’re not.”

Yeah, groundbreaking stuff, there. I could almost hear the collective muttering, “duh” in a hushed exhale.

I concede that it’s not news.  It’s not avant garde.  It’s not the latest scientific breakthrough.

In my defense, however, chances are mighty, mighty good that you’re not following this old, ratty advice.  Chances are pretty good that you are probably trying to find ways to eat less than you are actually hungry for a lot of the time and eating way past that full signal other times.  How do I know that?  What, am I made of stone?  These things I speak of are things with which I am familiar, my friends.

Of course, in some part of your mind, or maybe a lot of your mind, you think that you can’t follow this little “rule” because there’s something quite wrong with you.  I mean, really, it’s so easy a kid could do it.  And before we cram crazy messages into their tender brains, they all do.

So if you can’t do it, what’s wrong with you?

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  That’s right.  There’s nothing wrong with you.

There is probably something wrong with the nourishment that you are receiving though.  I’ll bet a shiny new quarter on it, actually.

Here are the reasons that I think following this most obvious and simple guideline is so difficult:

1.  We’re told that the body is not to be trusted.  We get this message from early on from everywhere.  So, when it’s 10:30 on a Tuesday morning and you’re still not hungry but stuff down some breakfast because you’ve been told that “it’s the most important meal of the day” or it’s 8:15 on a Monday night and your stomach is growling but you ignore it because “you’re not supposed to eat past 7”, you do this because you don’t trust your body.

2.  You are malnourished.  You will continue to eat until you get the nutrients that you need, not the calories that you need.  This is a crucial distinction.  We’ve shifted in the past 100 years to the caloric model of eating.  You can eat a pint or more of low-fat ice cream during a commercial break.  Just TRY and eat that much liver.  And if liver is gross to you, you can change that to steak.  Your body wants nutrients first and foremost.  You understand this.  A tablespoon of white sugar is not the same thing as a tablespoon of just about anything else.  The calories may be the same but the drive to eat more will not be sated with the sugar.  There are no nutrients.  None.  And worse, foods such as sugar and white flour actually use up your stores of other nutrients to digest.  So, you’re not getting “no nutrition”, you’re getting “negative nutrition”.  And what do you need?  Positive nutrition in order to feel full, good, and healthy.

3.  Malnutrition is not just a matter of food.  If you feel agitated, you may need to go for a walk or punch a pillow.  Cake will not allow the emotion to move through.  Cake will numb it and repress it and that can feel helpful at times, but the agitation is still there, just buried under cake.  The starvation you feel when loneliness overtakes you?  French fries really don’t give a flip about your struggles.  Friends do.  The craving you have for affection will not be met by squirting the whole can of whipped cream in your mouth.  This cycle only creates more agitation, more loneliness, more cravings for human touch.  In the same way negative nutrition creates deeper and deeper deficits, using food to do something it’s not meant to do, creates deeper and deeper emotional deficits.

4.  Portion prescriptions.  Once you are able to connect with your hunger, portions are the stupidest thing EVER.  There are days when I eat 5 snacks a day.  None are big enough to be called a meal.  Others, I eat the traditional 3 squares.  Some, I eat one big meal with a steak so big it can’t fit on the plate.  Once in a long while, I only want a smoothie for the whole day. Portions as mandated from the heavens assume that you are the same, day in, day out.  They assume that your level of activity is identical every day.  They assume that your hormones never fluctuate.  They assume that you at 18 is the same as you at 45.  Yes, I know there are “formulas” that allow for variance, but, really? Formulas?  How hungry are you today?  Well, eat.  If you’re not, don’t.  You don’t have to eat 5 meals a day if you’re not hungry five times a day.

I could probably go on and on but this will dissolve into a rant instead of something useful REAL quick, so I’ll stop there.  In short, eat when you’re hungry.  Don’t eat when you’re not.  Basically, Nourish yourself into Freedom.

If you haven’t joined us for #30daymove, yet, it’s not too late.  Never too late!

Let’s talk about stress. Again.

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A couple weeks ago, I offered up an idea that maybe a lot of the problem with stress is our perception of it.  We live in a both/and universe which means that two (seemingly) contradictory ideas can coexist.  What that means is that although your perception of what is stressing you out goes a very long way it the way it affects you, stress and the hormones that cascade through you are very real, and very physical.

 

Here are some things to think about:

 

1. Stress requires a response.  That’s pretty inherent in the way we’ve defined it.  Stress is anything that requires/promotes/stimulates a response from the body.  

 

2. Get rid of the unnecessary conversations.  This both metaphorical and literal.  There are so many things that we do that we think we have to, but that we really don’t.  You don’t have to work so hard to afford a bigger house.  You don’t have to exercise 7 days a week. You don’t have to have people in your life that bring you down.  You don’t have to be on Facebook. (BLASPHEMY!) You don’t have to always be reachable.  

 

3. It’s physical.  Even “mental”stress is physical stress.  You body releases the same hormones thinking about something stressful as when you’re experiencing something stressful.  

 

4. Be physical.  Move the locus of control from your “mind” to your body.  That fatigue you power through?  The holidays that you buy your way through even though you can’t afford it and most of the stuff you buy people don’t want?  (Put down that CVS stuffed animal with the stupid plastic flower it’s holding.  Nobody REALLY wants it.)  Get a massage instead or go for a walk.  Sleep.  Listen to what your body is telling you it needs.  Stop trying to convince it that it’s wrong.  

 

5. Respond.  If you have eliminated all the unnecessary, respond with authority to the necessary.  Take back your power.  Find a solution.  Run away fast if it’s dangerous.  Do.

 

6.  Nourish yourself, nourish yourself, nourish yourself.  When we are responding to stressors, our bodies will deplete of certain essential vitamins and minerals.  Keep yourself well fed, well rested, etc.

 

 

7.  Find other ways than food to nourish yourself.  On that last note, when you are in a chronically stressed state, don’t eat so much.  The digestive system pretty much shuts down when we are acutely stressed.  Forcing food down is a bad idea.  Food is there to feed you, not take care of your feelings.  It is okay to skip breakfast.  It is okay to have just some bone broth for dinner.  It’s okay to skip a meal or two.  This is natural.  This is also much easier to do when you are really feeding yourself with nutrient density the rest of the time.  A well nourished body is one that can handle stress far better than a malnourished one.

 

8.  Play.  You can do this physically by going outside and climbing a tree or making mud pies or snow forts.  You can also do this with attitude.  The vast majority of the things that stress us out now are not a life and death situation like they were for our ancestors.  We still behave as it they are.  Release the clench you have on the stressors defining you.  It will not KILL you to be 10 minutes late.  It may kill you when you chronically freak out about traffic, weakening your heart and immune system.  It may kill you when you speed to make up for it.  

 

9.  Give it 30 seconds.  Jump up and down, shake your hands furiously, move.  But, not for long, when you are acutely stressed.  Your body is expecting that.  The chemicals that flood your blood stream are not meant to be there for long.  You evolved from the survivors.  And the survivors ran.  They ran hard.  Or they fought.  They fought hard.  But, they did neither for long.  Just enough to get to safety.  

10.  Your body is not wrong.  We have designed a lifestyle that didn’t really consult the body.  We erroneously allow the lifestyle to take precedence.  Then, we get angry when the body can’t keep up.  The body is not wrong.  It’s more than possible that the lifestyle is.  You have the power to recreate a lifestyle that honors the body.  This is how to have freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Question: Small Habits

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Victoria asks:

Hi jenny! … am very excited to follow your tips and articles on living life freely.
(Could you talk about)….small lifestyle changes or habits that can make a big difference. Perhaps your top 8 or something… little routines, rituals or habits you have that make a big difference.

Oh, Victoria, I love you so much I’ll give you ten.  And, since this really is about living freely you can do all ten, just one, or NONE.  🙂

This took quite a bit of thought actually because once something is routine, it falls under the radar as an actual practice and just becomes “life”.  Some of these are probably as basic as it gets, some may seem a little strange, and I hope some are at least fun.

1.  I eat a substantial (in comparison to the S.A.D.-that’s Standard American Diet) amount of saturated fat.  Most of it is from animals as saturated fat tends to be found there, but I also love coconut oil and coconut milk.  (It’s one of two canned foods that I consume on the regular because coconut milk in a carton is such a no-go.  Read the label.  It’s mostly stuff other than coconut milk.  They have to put stuff in it to keep if from going solid in your fridge.)

Why?  Saturated fat is the most stable of all the fats.  It is the one that has been consumed forever by our species.  We make our cell membranes and create our nervous systems from it.  It is a really great source of energy.  It makes our fat-soluble vitamins actually usable by the body.  Our modern low fat diets have led to us having about 1/10 of the levels of our grandparents of these vitamins.  Remember, you can eat as many carrots as you want but without the fat, you can’t use any of the vitamin A they provide.  And still crisp boiled carrots quickly sauteed in butter with garlic and parsley?  Delicious!

2. I am in bed before 10:30 as a general rule.  Often, before 9:30 so I can be asleep by 10.

Why?  The body heals itself between the hours of 10 p.m. – 2 a.m.  The brain processes the day’s information, traumas, and events to make sense of them between the hours of 2 a.m. – 6 a.m.  If you lose out on that sleep, that healing can not take place.  Being a shift worker that works nights is one of the worst things that you can do for your health.  Shift work is recognized as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization.  Robb Wolf likes to say that you should get as much sleep as you can without getting divorced or fired.

3. I eat clay.  On purpose.  I used to drink it mixed in water but now I make an herbal toothpaste with clay as the base that I use daily.

Why?  Clay is cationic and helps bond with radioactivity in the body and helping it exit.  With the amount of computer exposure, radioactive exposure that we are all (mostly unknowingly) subjected to, this is a really great health practice.  In Haiti, there was the myth that Haitians ate dirt to ward off starvation during the embargo years.  Actually, the clay tablets, not dirt, have always been and are still sold in the markets and just make a pretty regular part of the traditional diet.

4.  I have a dog.

Why? This may not be a small habit, but it doesn’t have to be a dog that you choose to adopt.  It can be a plant, a parakeet, a cat, or a monitor lizard.  Knowing that a living thing depends on me grounds me to the natural world.  Being witness to the way that life REALLY works, like the time my dog decimated my chicken flock in 5 minutes, keeps me from falling prey to a lot of wishful thinking and sentimentality about the way I wish things work.  Also, having living species other than humans around reminds me that I have needs based on my being a human being that are wholly natural.  To acknowledge and meet those needs is wisdom and the gateway to freedom.

5.  I don’t wear underwire bras.  And frequently none at all.  

Why?  There are certainly studies on both sides of this issue.  Since I happen to think my boobs are pretty cool, I’ve decided to minimize the risks.  Some studies do say that the lymphatic tissue, dependent on movement, is healthier when the natural flow if uninterrupted by such hardcore “support”.  Also, I feel vhary ze francais when I go au naturel.

6.  I installed f.lux on to my computer.

Why?  Blue light can interfere with our melatonin production.  F.lux is an application that can be programmed to your time zone and starts to remove blue light from your monitor as blue light is being naturally removed from the outdoors as sunset approaches.  Melatonin is the hormone that is largely responsible for sleep.  As melatonin rises, cortisol (known as the “stress hormone”) lowers and you can sleep.  So, part of the issue with being on the computer past sunset (just part…there are others) is the issue of blue light interfering with the rise in melatonin necessary for a good night’s sleep.

7. I do the booty dance.

Why?  In this Western culture we tend to move forward.  Really think about how often your body moves within all the dimensions available to it.  Even our fitness model works within the back and forth and very rarely to the side to side and hardly ever in the all around.  Just the act of releasing the hips and letting them rotate all the way around helps with blood flow, helps keep certain muscles toned, and is a really good reminder that we move in tunnel vision.  It can really help with creativity as well.

**The booty dance is a dance so named by my son when he was five.  It looks something like this:  With legs hip distance apart, bend knees so that they are soft.  Rotate hips, pelvis, and well, booty, in a full circle.  Go in both directions and go as fast or as slow as feels good to you.  It’s a great thing to try every hour on the hour throughout the day.  

8.  I hug my son and anyone else who’ll let me.

Why?  When the fetus is developing, the same layer of tissue that forms the brain forms the skin.  Yeah, I’ll wait while you let that sink in.

I know, right?  Touch, loving and appropriate, is one of the things that I find most lacking in this adopted culture of mine.  We need touch as much as we need food.  We are primates.  When you spend any time watching primates, either on Animal Planet or in real life, just observe how much of their time they spend touching each other.  It’s a lot.  And, in their world, just like in ours, the animals that are touched less are not as healthy as those who are touched more.

9.  I drink herbal infusions.  I learned this from the one and only Susun Weed and she calls if one of her three best ideas.  It is.

Why?  Well, first, what?  An infusion differs from a tea because the herb is “steeped” for four hours minimum.  I don’t recommend that just any herb be used for this, but instead use the class of herbs that are called “nourishing” herbs.  My favorite ones are stinging nettle, oatstraw, comfrey leaf, linden, red rasberry and red clover.  There are a few more, but that’s my short list.

Now, why?  One of the things that we most lack in our diet is not vitamins necessarily but minerals.  There are wonderful minerals in plants.  We often can’t access them because of the cell wall that plants have and we don’t.  Taking dried plant material and pouring boiling water over it and letting it sit breaks apart that cell wall and releases the minerals to us in a way that we can really use them.  The ritual of boiling my water at night and setting the herbs to sit in it in my mason jar, then, straining the water through a sieve, squeezing the herbs to get the very last drops of nutrition and drinking throughout the day….it grounds my day.  It is a concrete reminder of my nourishment as priority AND as something simple and ancient.

10.  I don’t use soap.  

Why?  Why?  Why?  Okay, not never and not nowhere.  I use soap on my pits and my bum and my feet.  For the rest of me, I dry brush before I jump in the shower and then use oil, right now it’s sesame, while I’m still wet.  Our skin’s acid mantle is our first line of defense and soap strips it.  Dry brushing stimulates the lymphatic system, really exfoliates the dead skin off, and also increases blood flow to the skin.  Special note to my ladies:  Using soap on your lady part is a HUMONGOUS no-no.  That flower cleans itself.  Soap really disrupts the pH balance.  It is supposed to be acidic to keep itself safe.  It will bloom when rinsed well.  If you feel that that’s not enough (it is, I promise!) you can add a little vinegar or lime juice to the rinse water.  And, I don’t know if this is still something anyone does, but do NOT douche!  Pas une bonne idee!

Victoria, thanks for this great question!  As I was writing, about 5 other habits came to mind.  Maybe there will be a part two to this if you all find this useful!  I will know that you find it useful by you commenting below.  🙂

Also, Nourishing Freedom is on le livre du visage, where you are free to habitually like us.

Wabi-sabi and Body Image

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“Perfection is poverty.”-Ryan Drum

I have a tea cup that someone I love gave me for Christmas a few years ago.  One day, when I was moving some things around in the cabin, my table fell over and everything on it broke.  The tea cup lost most of its handle.  It’s still the cup I use almost daily.  It is just the right size to have a large cup of tea and I can still cradle it comfortable in one hand.

Even longer ago, during a particularly strong Japanophilic phase I was going through (Kurasowa films, language classes, matcha tea with the little whisk, learning the proper way to wear a kimono) I came across the concept of Wabi-sabi.  It was like all great discoveries.  It seemed new but it just reinforced something I had decided was part of my identity anyway.

Since I was little, I loved old things.  I loved the cracked, the weathered, and the worn.  The patched jean was so much more pleasing to me than the stiff denim of the new.  Clothes that were new to me would sit in my closet to “age” until they took on my smell, relaxed their starchy posture, and felt like they belonged to me.  I preferred dishes that had been used for a long time by others and furniture that knew things.  

My father was 48 when I was born.  His friends with their lines and their graying temples were robust laughers, image-rich story tellers and could walk up and down hills with a sprightliness that I though all people of their age had.  And they were infinitely more interesting than people who had not yet LIVED.

When I was sitting in a classroom at the Southeastern Herbal conference six or seven years ago, Ryan Drum, forager, seaweed collector, white haired wild man, started his lecture with the quote above.  “Perfection is poverty.”  It got me sit ramrod straight as I had somehow lost my way.  Perfection was what I wanted so badly then.  

I had forgotten all that was truly important to me.  And, my body was suffering.  I wasn’t the one who came from a place of ill health or weight problems.  I just thought I did.  It wasn’t until I really devoted myself to perfect health and perfect body that both fell promptly to pieces.

Wabi-sabi is an acceptance and reverence for the impermanence of things, for the imperfection of things.  The hair thin fissures in a pot make it exquisite.  The fraying shoulder of the gray cardigan that I wear is what makes it special.  The new holes that need to be patched in my jeans are what make them mine.  The pot, the cardigan, the jeans…my tea cup: they are not beautiful to me in spite of these things.  They are beautiful to me BECAUSE of those things.

The current constructed cultural idea of beauty is a certain type of perfection.  It is a perfection that 97% of people can never achieve except through starvation, Draconian exercise regimes, and plastic surgery.  Not to mention chemical hair dyes.  It is the denial of age.  The shunning of the body itself.  It is rooted in deception.  It is impossible without deception.  Now that photoshop is used without impunity, even the 3% look more perfect than they already are.  In other words, the examples of the ideal that we uphold don’t even look like that.

But, the thing that I find the most sad is that the stories are all gone.  We are being taught to appreciate the uniform, blank, scar-less, line-less, age-less ideal.  It is nothing more than a blank page.  There is no story.  We have fetishized the absent.

My pinky toe is about half the length of my others.  I get that from my dad.  I have been graying for years, at before the age of 40, I’m about 25% there.  My legs are strong.  My belly is soft.  I just learned that I can carry a tune.  I can dance.  My right shoulder hunches forward a little and my neck needs special care since an auto accident.  I am short and round.  Curvy, low-rise.  I have 4 large tattoos.  I am not beautiful in spite of all these things but beautiful because of them.  

My body holds my story.  You can see what my story is if you look at my with attention.  When I look at you, I see your story, too.  You don’t have to say a word.  

The story is always being told and can be taken in any direction that you want.  Time, nourishment, movement, rest…so many other things are all the contributing characters in your story.  Your body is the story, itself: its beauty, its tragedy, its comedy, its poignancy.  There can be that humbling moment of breath-taking expansion of the incredible chance that that story gets to be told at all.  Tell the story truthfully.  The details matter.  

 

Let’s talk about stress, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. (Part One)

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Let’s talk about all the good things and that bad things it may be.  Let’s talk about stress.

Thank you Salt n’ Peppah.

How tired are you of thinking about stress?  Hearing about it?  Managing it?  Eliminating it?  Yada yada, blah blah.

One of the most difficult aspects of our modern, technologically driven life is that we tend to believe that everything functions the way our devices do.  Binary code.  Something is either one thing or it’s the other.  

So, the story you’ve probably heard is that stress bad.  No stress good.

The truth of the universe in which we are gloriously enmeshed is that it is a both/and place.  Stress is both good and bad.  

It’s been years since massage school.  More than a decade in human years and I haven’t thought about the actual Hans Selye created word of “eustress” since then.  But, the concept has been on my mind quite a bit.  When I created Nourishing Freedom’s basic aspects of health, I deliberately designated one of them to the “appropriate level of stress” for the individual.  

“Eu-” is the prefix used in Science to designate “true or good”.  Your cells are eukaryotic because they have a nucleus.  So, they’re “true” cells.  Sorry, prokaryotes.  You’re such posers.  (JK!  You’re awesome and my mitochondria remembers when we used to chill together in the primordial soup!)  With that little tangent, “eustress” is the good stress that we experience.  

Whoa. Good stress?  Of course.  When you get back to the actual understanding that stress is pretty much anything that requires a response from the body, you see that you are constantly experiencing stressors.  A drop in temperature is a stressor, having to get out of bed in the morning is a stressor, exercise is a stressor (yeah, I said it!), someone saying your name in a crowd is a stressor, ad infinitum.  “Stress” is the conversation, constant and uninterrupted, that you are having with your environment.

For clarity, I hope that you understand that EVERYTHING is your environment.  We have tossed the word around so much that with environment we tend to think of trees and dying rivers and little animals that our grandchildren won’t know.  Your environment, though, is everything from the shampoo that you use (or don’t…go no ‘poo, go no ‘poo, GO!) to the paint colors that you choose to cover your walls in to that unfortunate bag of Doritos that  you scarfed last night at midnight after one too many Big Bang Theory downloads on YouTube.  It’s the humming of your refrigerator and the howling of the wind through the pine trees.  It is the uncertainty of a moon-less night and the amount of sunlight you bathe in during the day.  It’s the feeling of the wool sweater on your skin to the loud neighbors that just can’t seem to get along.  Your environment is the people you touch or walk past during your day and the animals that share the park with you on your lunch break.  It is the pace at which you run or the sway with which you dance.  All of these things are your environment and the dialogue between you and it is so intimate that it really should be called by its 19th century name for talking intently: intercourse.

That conversation, for our purposes, is what stress actually is.  If the environment is the call, we are the response.  Since we have the capacity (as does every other living thing) to impact its environment) we are the call and the environment is the response.  And that communion is stress.  

How do you feel about stress now?

Hopefully a little differently.  It doesn’t seem to be quite so….nefarious, does it?

Good.  Because you know what the MAJOR difference between stress (the bad stuff) and eustress (the good stuff)?  Our perception.  That’s it.  

I will grant you this.  The amount of stressors and demands for response that we often have in an average day are inhuman and inhumane.  Our bodies DO struggle to keep up with the constancy of the permeating barrage.  It does overwhelm.  Or, we allow it to. 

There is a lovely path to walk with stress when we take a playful approach to it.  It’s invigorating to find the right thread of conversation with our environment.  As any conversation, it does take two, but all it takes is one person to alter the tone of the conversation, or the topic, and the conversation is now different.  You CAN have a screaming match with your environment.  Of course, you can.  You have that authority.  You also accept the responsibility of the fallout of that.  Some of them might be chronic exhaustion, horrible digestive pain and issues, hair loss, migraines, body pain.  You are also able to speak tenderly with your environment, find mutually beneficial solutions to things.  So, this street is particularly congested at 5:30 so I can take the back road.  Or I really enjoy the buzz I get from working hard on a project or a couple weeks and the decadence that comes with doing nothing for a whole week.  

You may find that some amazing solutions can be found when you stop arguing with your environment.  When you stop and listen, you may hear some things you didn’t even know.  

 

 

Trickster or Treatment

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First of all, I am so sorry for my absence.  I’ve missed writing here.  My mother, who has been ill for a few months from pancreatic cancer, passed away.  My sisters and I were there in the room with her, holding her hand when she went.  It was very peaceful.  Then, we got to plan the memorial service according to her wishes, held at the beach.  It was really quite lovely…even in the midst of a hurricane.  The waves were the largest I’d ever seen them here.  The water is usually mirror still.  I’ve spent the past couple of days sleeping..finally.  So, that’s pretty much where I’ve been.  It’s good to be back.

I love Halloween.  Even better is the Day of the Dead tomorrow or All Saints Day, whatevs.

When this time of the year rolls around, I generally turn my thoughts to death.  I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating what I consider to be a healthy attitude towards it.  My own death doesn’t frighten me.  I don’t hold many things to be True, unchangeable and steadfast, but this I do: facing and accepting the inevitability of my death is the most important work that one can undertake to set oneself free.  The inevitability of everyone’s death should also nurture in us a deep respect for their fragility.  This is more true than True because somehow my own death is far easier to accept than the inevitable death of those I love.  Their death makes me feel clingy to them instead.  But, lately, I’ve done my duty with death.

Here’s what I really wanted to talk to you about.  In all mythologies, there is a trickster.  In the mythology of my country, we have the gede (hard “g”).  Tricksters are generally given high status in human stories because tricksters dare to see things and push us to see things that can be uncomfortable but are ultimately to our own betterment.  In essence, they are the archetype of dangerous play (and if you’re playing doesn’t have even a touch of danger, you may not be doing it right.  🙂 )  The danger come from pushing the guidelines of society to their breaking point and often past it.

When I think of health (held up as a nearly impossible ‘holy grail’ these days) and society’s role upon it, I see that we can take one of two approaches to it.  There is the treatment of the ‘condition’.  The treatment is sanctioned by society, does not mess with the status quo, often creates a dependence of some kind, and generally doesn’t demand anything of the person undergoing the treatment.  It is all quite passive, prescriptive…..and, gulp, dull.

Enter the trickster.  With the trickster comes the game.  For a game to be well played, there needs to be knowledge of the rules.  This helps you look the rules in the eye as you break them.  With the trickster, you need to engage fully in the process with awareness.  The trickster will get you question everything.  She will get you to play with the issue.  The trickster will urge you to detach yourself from the social ramifications of a situation.  He will get you to laugh at the constraints you’ve placed on yourself.  The trickster shatters preconceptions.

Let’s look at the same “problem” from the two points of view.  We’ll look at weight loss.

First the treatment:

The very first assumption that the treatment subjects you to is that you have to lose weight at all.  You really might now have to, but the societal prescription to be ultra-thin is already assumed.  With treatment, you get very clear markers of progress that may have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Next, to maintain its own…integrity?…society will make sure that you understand that this problem is somehow all on your shoulders.  These are some of the things you will hear: you have no willpower, you have no self-love, you have no merit, you have no intelligence, you have less worth.  You will NOT hear: this culture that we humans made up a while ago has failed you.

Then, you will be given the party line.  Watch your portion intake.  Eat everything in moderation.  Exercise 3x a week for 30 minutes.

If you fail (and according to this treatment, you WILL), you can repeat the whole cycle for the rest of your life with a never questioned dependence on the treatment.

Enter the trickster.  Enter a little insecurity.  Like I said before, with the trickster you must engage.

The first question the trickster may ask might be along the lines of this:  Do you really need to lose weight or are all your girlfriends just really jealous of your public speaking ability?  Do you really need to lose weight or are you really just wanting to get a divorce?  Do you really need to lose weight or do you feel weighted down by this job that is stripping all the joy from your life?  Is your weight the issue or do you wish you knew how to fly a plane? (Really, the treatment finds safety in attributing your malaise to something visible that they can point to.  The trickster loves to play with dreams.)  If you decide that you do really want to lose weight, the trickster won’t be satisfied with that.  She’ll want to know why.  He’ll want to know what that MEANS to you.

Then, and this is the fun part, comes the process.  The trickster will not be satisfied with pat answers to anything.  Your journey will depend on your ability to question the answers that you’ve been given.

Why should my portions be the same size every day when some days I’m hardly hungry and other days I’m famished?  Why should I eat everything in moderation if some things just aren’t good for me?  Why should I exercise 3x a week for 30 minutes a pop when I would rather hike for three hours on a Saturday and deadlift my bodyweight for 5 minutes on a Wednesday?  Why should my culture dictate to me that I should be 5’11 and 110 pounds when I’m 5’3 and feel ill when I drop below 130?

Most of all, the trickster will get you to play.  Concepts become toys and regulations become malleable.  You become your own authority.

Following the treatment is easier.  Being passive is always easier than being engaged.  But, it sure isn’t nearly as much fun.
Speaking of fun, here’s a video from my favorite Haitian roots band.  I’ll be at their Gede Ball tomorrow night.