Saturday, May 21, 2011
I could only chuckle to myself when I awoke this morning to the realization that I had been Left Behind; I had not been "raptured" as predicted by a certain Christian minister who was sure he knew when the big event would occur despite clear biblical references saying that only the Big Guy himself really knows the timing for these types of events. Of course, I would have been left behind anyway since I can't claim innocence from at least some minor and possibly major (depending on your flavor of religion) transgressions I've committed over the years. But I was also still safe in my bed and had not been dumped out of it by a cataclysmic earthquake either, so unless the end of days is a lot more subtle than previously suggested I think we've all dodged the bullet.
I am glad I chuckled, since I've been working lately on being less grim and serious, hoping to increase the joy in my life. Laughter is supposed to be a key component for this. I bought an app for my iPhone that randomly supplies one-liners from famous standup comedians like George Carlin and Richard Lewis. And I ventured out last Monday night to try something completely different--Laughter Yoga.
This is a group exercise in which everybody forms a circle facing each other and maintaining eye contact while a leader guides the group through various simple exercises in laughing--the deep, guttural, Kris Kringlesque haha hoho kind. This is not an opportunity to be the life of the party with jokes or standup comedy. It's more like a guided physical experience in using all the parts of the body together to produce extended mirth--lasting a good 40 to 45 minutes or longer. It takes a surprising amount of physical energy to sustain and I'm sure that's part of why it's beneficial. It doesn't matter if you aren't in the mood to laugh. You "fake it 'till you make it." And my experience was that the laughter can be infectious and can turn genuine.
A number of studies have shown that the act of laughing (even when you're forcing yourself) can be very beneficial--reducing stress, raising dopamine levels, increasing positive moods. It is also a natural way to connect on a basic way with other people.
I think I observed warmth and compassion in the eyes of some of those surrounding me, and a certain level of acceptance for whatever measure of laughter I (the only newby in the group) might achieve. Since we were supposed to be maintaining eye contact as we cavorted about the small wood-floored room with the royal blue meditation cushions stacked in the corner, I sometimes caught glimpses of more complicated emotions--grief, quiet desperation, hope. One man's laugh lines crinkled in friendly smile, a woman's wide-eyed glance sprang from the corner of her eye like a startled thoroughbred's.
I'm not sure yet what I made of it. But as I thought about the experience Tuesday morning while driving to work, I laughed out loud in a way I perhaps wouldn't have without the experience. And when I caught myself thinking sad thoughts this morning I forced a smile--and felt a little better. Good signs, no?
After all, those of us who have been Left Behind had best keep our spirits up.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
It’s like a missing tooth you keep feeling around for with a wistful tongue. My favorite espresso joint in Boulder closed on May 1. A kindred spirit who also loved the place sent me some photos to remember it by. I keep thinking I’ll head down there, and then realizing it is no more. Why was it so special?
For one thing, it was attached via an inviting brick archway to the independently-owned Boulder Bookstore, one of my favorite places in the world. A person could sip a latte, then go next door to peruse the inviting shelves, then come back for more latte, and repeat. BookEnd had old red brick walls, and shelves filled with ancient tea tins and pots. There was a large ball of string on display, and a huge painted wooden frog. The soundtrack was usually playing music I enjoyed and the overall hubbub of the place was enough to energize, but not so much that it overwhelmed.
You could sit next to the tall windows and people watch for hours as the parade of humanity* which is Boulder’s Pearl Street ambled by. Or you could sit outside at the stone tables next to the black iron grillwork and listen to that long-haired old guy with the beard who sings pretty well, knows the words to every folksong ever written and always seems to know which one you want to hear next. Chess players, students, tourists, silver-haired groups in lively conversation, writers, families--all found a cozy place to hang at Bookend. I can only hope for a swift resurrection.
*The Pearl Street parade can include the likes of a small boy balancing a luminous green-purple peacock feather on his index finger as his proud father looks on, a smiling young couple holding up a sign offering “Free Hugs,” several people in a row on mats doing yoga on their backs and offering to balance onlookers on their feet, a ragtag band with a guitar, washboard and fiddle singing fast jazzy tunes in raucous harmony, a flamethrower and juggler explaining to a member of the audience how not to toss the axe up to her while she’s pedaling the unicycle lest bloodshed occur, a blonde belly dancer undulating to a languorous drumbeat gradually building to a fast crescendo...and so much more.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
All my life I’ve suffered from Impostor Syndrome--that persistent certainty that I’m not worthy, that everything I’ve achieved is by chance, an inexplicable twist of fate. And that surely any moment my fraudulent charade will be uncovered and I will be drummed out of my position in mortal shame. This self doubt has crippled me at times and generated huge anxiety for me. So often I’ve felt that I just don’t belong where I am in any way, shape, or form. According to my research, this is a surprisingly common affliction for women and men. The prescribed treatments include:
- attending group therapy with others in the same boat--hearing how common this state of mind is with others who by all outward appearances are deservedly successful
- imagining what the response would be if you explained your “incompetence” to the supportive people you have “fooled”
- keeping records of positive feedback received
- employing positive self talk: “I will do well in this presentation” rather than “I know I'll screw this up somehow”
In my own experience, no amount of self talk has been fully successful in eradicating this feeling, but awareness of it has helped me to stay mindful of the distorted thoughts around it and able to resist it to some degree.
I do remember a conversation I had with my father about 12 years ago (he of the “Horrible Example” fame) when I told him that I had been promoted. (I will resist the urge here to itemize all the reasons still lurking in my own head for why this was surely an improbable turn of events). My father’s reaction to the happy news was sheer, unmitigated disbelief. I could see it in his eyes and hear it in his tone of voice. He could not comprehend how it was possible. I do know that my father loved me very much--but this reaction was painful for me I must admit, and further contributed to my own doubts about my worthiness.
In thinking back on it, I think my Dad’s reaction was driven by his own negative world view--the self doubt that tortured him all of his work life and caused him huge suffering.
I remember once in a therapy session (oh, yes, I know from therapy) with a male grad student when I was in my 20’s being called on my “dumb blonde act”--it was a pretty crude and roughly handled confrontation but I’ve never forgotten it and eventually I came to understand what he was driving at. He said, “You’re just a little cream puff, aren’t you?”
Understanding all of this, today I’m able to let go of the hurt and feel compassion for my father’s past suffering, and the suffering of all who feel like impostors, who have the excruciating sense of unbelonging that can make life such a grind.
So--for all those fellow suffers who may be reading this and looking for a solution--please look objectively at the evidence, and then choose to believe in yourself. You are not perfect, but your achievements are real and deserve your recognition and self love.
Comments appreciated (but I’m determined not to think less of myself if there are none). Dear, dear. What a piece of work I am...