WEIGHT A MINUTE: A confession at 250 miles

Fitbit badges

In late September I bought a Fitbit personal exercise tracker and started challenging myself to shake a leg more intentionally and frequently, as I shared in WEIGHT A MINUTE: A 30-pound love note from my soul.

I have a confession to make. I specified that this initiative was aimed at feeling better. I said, and I quote: I am not weighing or measuring myself, counting calories or measuring portions. The first part of that idealistic statement ended up being untrue.

Here’s how the process unfolded. I felt proud of myself as I set up the Fitbit goals. I didn’t want this to be some crazy, unachievable or hard-driving effort I would soon drop in discouragement. Accordingly, I lowered the suggested daily goal from 10,000 steps to 8,000 and told myself that would be plenty good enough for starters. I found out by gentle experience that on the days when I did no intentional walking, my daily steps were as low as 3,000. Rationalizing from that baseline, my goal seemed a significant improvement over the sedentary sluggishness of the last few years—progress without being punitive.

As I was setting up the Fitbit software program, I came to the section in which I was asked to input my current weight and my goal. I put in the somewhat alarming (to me) figure from the last time I’d weighed myself, and then entered a goal to lose 33 pounds because I liked the number. All this seemed quite theoretical…just filling in the blanks to get started toward my overarching intention to get back into better condition and start feeling more fit and energetic.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I started having lots of fun feedback right away. How beautiful that my body responded to such a modest investment! My resting heart rate lowered. My zest came zipping back. The step-tracking strategy did indeed motivate me to get out on the street even after dark so as to meet the day’s target. Wow!

And then…and then…well, I succumbed to the urge to get on the scale and see what kind of progress I’d made. Shit! I weighed more than the estimate I’d entered into the Fitbit program weeks earlier. Even though my body and mind felt much better, the scale screamed F-A-I-L in a loud and mocking voice.

Because I’d written a blog post about my lofty intentions to avoid weighing and measuring my body, I felt as if I was secretly letting all of you down. But that didn’t stop me from weighing myself compulsively a couple weeks later! The figure was exactly the same!!!!!

This seems nearly impossible and more like an object lesson from my higher self than anything, as if the scale conspired to send me back to the refuge of my original, beautiful intention: to not hate, reject, or punitively try to control any part of myself, but to instead be filled with a deep and radiant desire to be my best self.

I choose again and again—as many times as necessary—to trust how I feel over what scales and measuring tapes might indicate. I feel SO much better physically! I feel stronger and more lithe, lighter on my feet and lighter of heart, both physically and emotionally.

Although I am over 250 miles down the road, in some ways I am back where I started, returning home to the goal of learning to love and accept myself with honesty and compassion. Confessing my frailty is part of that, so thanks for listening!






The audacious wisdom of falling apart in a keep-it-together-world

In 1995, I carefully printed these thoughts in a journal: I don’t know how to share…release…spill. I keep worrying about how my feelings will make other people feel. I can’t seem to break out and really let go of anything. Even when I start to cry it gets strangled by this “hyper-self-conscious I” that’s controlling me, a precision machination that automatically subverts my feelings. But they don’t go away—they just get compressed back inside.

I had recently started therapy after finally admitting at age 36 that I didn’t have the emotional compass, ropes and flashlight to navigate my dark inner territory alone, especially without self-medication as a prop. In some ways I was painfully together, as in one-day-at-a-time-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-taking-care-of-business together. But in other ways I was disconnected from my true self and lost in a confusing maze of compartments built for control. I was tight-shouldered, tight-assed and brittle.

I instinctively suspected—and felt in the pit of my perpetually-clenched gut—that what I needed more than anything was to fall apart, to let go of what I had been carrying for years—soul secrets, deep trauma and unprocessed grief—but I didn’t know how. Control had been my fortress; to deliberately step out into the open with defenses down seemed perhaps the most dangerous choice I could possibly make.

I feared, as I believe many of us do, that to fall apart—to allow the flow of suppressed emotion to begin—might mean I could never stop.

I was so unbelievably analytical that I drew this diagram in that same journal to illustrate the challenge I saw myself facing. Over the previous 30 years I had strategically built a “forcefield” of control- and performance-oriented coping and defense mechanisms so elaborate as to virtually prevent me from unlocking myself to myself.

Insular sefl journal diagramWhat is heart-rending for me now as I look back at that painfully-accurate, almost scientific diagram of a human being named Marva is that the forcefield of control served to screen out more than fears and threats like pain, hopelessness, loneliness, and powerlessness. It also prevented me from experiencing joy, anticipation, love and empowerment. I had suppressed feelings for so long, I was emotionally disabled.

Crazy as it may seem in a keep-it-together-world and in the face of my own over-sized fears and against the advice of my security-conscious ego, I deliberately chose to commit to the task of falling apart. It was by far the most audacious and wisest choice I ever made.

How long did it take? Half-a-second. Five years. The length of a deep exhale. A lifetime.

I am still falling apart in ways that I could not have predicted. I disarmed the forcefield so totally that I can feel everything now. And oh, my God! Wow! No wonder I felt so unalive before. My defenses had cut me off from life itself. And the threats I’d defended against—like hurt, need, shame and chaos—dissolved along with my blockades, as if only shadows cast by the fears themselves.

Now, after 20 years of practice flowing with my emotions, I joke about buying stock in Kleenex. I cry as easily from joy and deep compassion as from grief. If you tell me something deep and real about your life, I will cry with you. I also laugh readily and with abandon. I am deeply touched by the experience of being fully alive, which would never have been possible without falling apart.

Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you, my friend—as the old Steely Dan song goes—any minor world that breaks apart falls together again. 

I am living proof.

Will the real healer please stand up?

From the first skinned knee or cut finger and the first band-aid, we are led to assume that healing comes from outside ourselves. The magic appears to be delivered via an adult’s caring kiss, the startling sting of the antiseptic spray, or some mystic property of the sterile strip. Each of us assigns power and builds beliefs based on which remedies our caregivers trust and what seems to work most reliably.

At the physical level, what’s really going on is much more remarkable and complex than any magician’s conjuring act. With no conscious guidance or even awareness from us, a team of platelets adheres to the site within minutes, activating coagulation and clotting, launching invisible processes that result in a marvelous skin remodeling project taking place at miraculously high speeds without your conscious supervision.

Healing is one of our deepest instincts. How differently might we behave if we believed this?

Who is the healer? Many of us are taught by example, experience and advertising that if we are wounded or ill, we need an authority or expert to heal our bodies and minds. We expect a diagnosis, medication, surgery, therapy, nutritional guidelines, some kind of fix. Often we unconsciously relinquish power and authority over our own well-being as we hand ourselves into another’s care or trust someone’s recommendation.

Most of us think of these experts as healers and their tools as healing, but no matter what anyone else does for you, they can, at best, simply support a process that only you can undertake. You are always the healer.

You are always the healer.

This is fairly new news for me, although in hindsight I can see I’ve been playing it out in my life in quite dramatic ways. I started noticing that my beliefs tended to prove true in my experience. When I believed I was irreparably flawed and shameful, my life mirrored that. When I glimpsed a different angle and began to entertain a new possibility, my experiences started reflecting my realignment.

An experiment in belief. Just over a year ago, I decided to test a new belief: returning to wholeness and balance is my body and mind’s natural inclination. This is the sort of thing I might have believed without question if my mom had known how to explain the natural process of wound repair to me as a child instead of teaching me to believe in the magic of band-aids. I’d read about this basic concept in placebo studies and other experimental inquiries into the power of beliefs. I decided to undertake my own experiment to see if mind over matter was a positive-thinking fantasy or the real deal.

I picked something visible and chronic as my proving-ground. For 30 years I’d been dependent on chiropractors to address my back problems, a condition I’d assumed was partially inherited from my dad and the rest a cost of heavy lifting in a factory in my 20s. Since the 1980s I’d had regular discomfort and occasionally severe misalignments that immobilized me in excruciating pain. I’d come to depend on regular chiropractic adjustments, usually at least monthly, sometimes more often.

For decades I’d repeated the story that I had a “bad back” and needed support for optimum functioning. For years I’d validated the belief, often at exceedingly inconvenient times, like on vacation or in the middle of an important project, when I would suddenly become disabled.

In October of 2013, I saw my chiropractor for the last time. I took as my mental refrain the belief that my back would love to support me and is naturally inclined to return to alignment. I paid attention to my thoughts and chose again and again to trust my body’s wisdom. I was willing to let something new and wonderful be true. I literally and symbolically “took back” my authority as a healer.

Conscious healership. This return to conscious healership actually began 20 years earlier when I awakened suddenly as if from a lengthy and nightmarish sleep and realized I was self-destructing at a painfully slow pace. Seemingly against the odds, I realized I wanted to live, wanted to get to the bottom of my despair, wanted to understand why I was in chronic emotional pain.

The details are a story for another day. What’s important to know today is that some inner grace awakened me, my natural instincts toward healing led me forward flawlessly, and I believe I am alive because I trusted them.

A therapist helped me process my feelings and reconstruct my trauma story in a way that brought it out of the shadows and into the light for resolution. A therapy group, a self-help group and laboriously building a diverse resource network helped me grow by quantum leaps. But this I now realize: every single step of the way, I was the healer.

Wounded healers. I will confess without apology to living a good share of my adulthood as a wounded healer. There are many different ways of defining or explaining the term, but the resolution comes down, I think, to this matter of recognizing who the real healer is.

If I know you are the healer of you and I am the healer of myself, we will relate much differently. I will not try to save you and tell you what to do as a distraction from my own work.

That is where I live now, bringing my own self-healing into community and being willing to support others as they do the same.