Day 42 - Upgrading Your Brain and Messing With Some Squirrels
The other day I was doing an online yoga class on Yogoglo with Rod Stryker, and he said something I’ve heard more than one yoga teacher over 50 say in the past year, that if he had to choose between asana (moving poses) and pranayama (breath work), he’d chose the latter.
I have one massage client who comes every week for a two-hour massage. He has another massage therapist he sees during the week and a chiropractor. His job is physically stressful and he makes an obvious effort to keep him body healthy. The funny thing is that when I ask him to take a deep breath, to stop talking for a minute and inhale in order to land in a state of relaxation, he rolls his eyes, takes in a choppy breath and pushes it out like,Am I done breathing yet? Can I get back to my story?Every time we laugh, and then he gets back to the business of being a man who is too busy to breathe.
Since giving up coffee, I started doing something new when I walk. It makes me feel crazy and happy. For the first five minutes, I inhale through my nose four short breaths in a row, like I’m quickly sniffing to keep my nose my dripping, and then I open my mouth a little and do four quick exhales, ha ha ha ha. I don’t know exactly what it does to my brain and body, but it does something. I am sharper, happier, more engaged. I am borrowing a sort of breath of fire from yoga. Breath of Panting Anne. Try it. It’s easy the first couple of breaths and then you realize you’re doing work and that five minutes is a commitment, but you hang in there, and you finish and you walk around feeling like a badass.
Then, from an idea I got from Pam Cordano, I pretend I am my future self and I plan my day. I pretend it is a year from the day and I think about what I get to do. For example, this morning I thought about how I had a reading in New York and I thought about how I would do yoga before the reading, go to a matinee, and meet someone to help them with their creative project. I thought about how I would feel in my body during this day.
This is where it is important to get specific because I can imitate that body/mind state and, in that way, live out my dream future without the actual events happening.
When I put myself in my future body, I see I would feel open in my chest, hopeful. I would stand straight. I would want to eat well because I would want my mind to be clear and sharp that night. I would feel loved because people were coming to hear me read my book. I would feel proud because I would have written two books. What else? How would my stomach feel? My face? What clothes would I be wearing?
What does proud feel like in my body? It feels relaxed. My spine feels long. My feet feel solid on the ground. My head feels light. I listen to myself and find it easy to have the patience to listen to others. But I don’t just give my time away and listen to everyone. I am protective of my space, my quiet. I chose my people carefully, and the time I give them is precious, a gift, just as their time is a gift to me. This makes me feel safe with me. I can feel good but this doesn’t mean I will lose control. I can have boundaries.
It’s funny how far away a dream life can seem—so much to do, so many hurdles to clear, and yet the feelings we would have if we had that life are accessible at any moment. I have found that avoiding processed food and, now, coffee, makes it even easier to slip into this future body state. My stomach and mind are not agitated and so I don’t have to deal with internal chaos in the effort of feeling strong and focused.
Part of being adopted, for me, is the feeling that I can’t ever be good enough since my own mother decided not to keep me. It’s a subconscious belief, so it’s snaky. I didn’t even know it was there until I wrote You Don’t Look Adopted and stared into the wilderness of my mind long enough to realize my life was being run by all sorts of insane beliefs: I’m not good enough. I’m not real. I’m disposable.
When you have subconscious beliefs like this you do things that confuse both you and those around you. You work hard at school, for example, and then skip the final exam. You wear a gorgeous dress to a party and then jump in the pool. You have a successful business, but in the privacy of your own home you cut yourself. It’s scary enough when you think you can’t trust people around you, but when you can’t trust yourself life is a long swim without a raft.
Breath work, pranayama, helps bring you into your body. When we are born, we inhale. When we die, we exhale. Each breath we take is a reenactment of an entire life. If your nervous system is stuck in a sympathetic state, a state of flight or fright, taking a deep breath can seem counterintuitive. Our brain may think that a frozen diaphragm is a good thing—no one can sense us hiding in the bushes because we are barely breathing. Only we aren’t in the bushes. We are at work, wondering why we are light-headed, irritable, slightly depressed. How can you be joyous when you are running heavy on carbon dioxide?
Taking a full breath when you are secretly furious can also feel dangerous. There’s an awful lot of depressed people out there who are so afraid of what they would do if they took a deep breath. They might tell their pastor to fuck off! They might give the finger to the Girl Scout selling cookies! They might tell their spouse what they think! The world as they know it could end if they lost control of their temper. And so they shrink, get small, live in Camp Suck it Up.
What about going to the forest and doing some deep breathing there? You could tell the trees off. Fuck up some squirrels. These days I think anger is so funny. I don’t know why. Mostly I guess because I can see the tantrum in it, the pissed off, heartbroken baby not knowing what else to do but throw a hissy fit.
Maybe it’s also because, finally, there is no discrepancy between what I say to people and what I feel.When you write a book and blog incessantly about your life and feelings, it’s difficult to hold up a mask at the same time. I’m not carrying around fists of misunderstanding in my guts. Well, pretty much not. I’m still on fire about the whole adoption thing. I still can’t believe there are kids with parents who say no to searching for birth/first parents. I still can’t believe babies are taken from mothers and sold to parents who have more money. I still can’t believe I went to countless therapists and not one addressed the issue of adoption. I still can’t believe there are kids in foster care while some dipshit in my town drives around in a hundred-thousand-dollar car and the license plate YOLOJOE. So, yeah. Anger.
Anger is information. Something is not right.
Shhhhh. Listen. What is it?
What if every adopted child had ten minutes a night called hold me hold me hold me tell me everything will be okay. First it’s the nurse, then it’s the social worker, then the foster care family, then the adoptive family, then people of one’s choosing. The chosen holders. Forever and ever amen. First comes anger and then comes tears and then comes relaxation.
As you sit in the woods and breathe, ask yourself, What’s here now when there is no problem to solve? Are you your brain? Your thoughts? Your nice new purse? Where are your edges? Where do you end and the forest begin? When neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had her stroke, she experienced the bliss of feeling there is no separation between our bodies and the surrounding world. When the left hemisphere of her brain was compromised, she could see that the idea we are a separate being is a story created by mind.
Martin Buber wrote a book I read when I was a freshman at Kenyon called I and Thou. The basic idea is that we can exist in relationship with the world instead of I toward an “it”—an object separate from the self.
I am upgrading the operating system of my brain so I can think and exist more purely, so I can exist in relationship with the world. The old operating system saw my birth/first mother both as someone separate from me. I saw her as someone who could leave. As someone I could never meet. This caused all sorts of stress to my unconscious and conscious mind. Who am I really? Where is she? Why wouldn’t she meet me? There must be something wrong with me.
But if I go Jill Bolte Taylor on myself, if I stroke myself, I can merge and suddenly there are no problems. Instant upgrade. My mother couldn’t leave me because we are the same. Neither mother could leave through death because we are the same. In martial arts, they teach you to go with the opposition’s energy, to use that force and make it your own.
What if you can’t leave a child? What if all you can do is love what is in front of you? What then? When do you do then?
This is Operating System Okay, This is So Fun.
See you tomorrow.