Day 35 - Overthinking, Creativity, and the Spleen
Something incredible happened yesterday. I felt no pain in my guts. I lay on the couch and closed my eyes and experienced what it was like to be in my body with nothing screwing my abdomen into a knot. I felt like a tuning fork. It was like the planet was music and my body was picking up the vibrations. It was subtle, quiet, but it was there. I was vibrating. I understood how cats could just hang out all day. If this is how they feel as they stare at the window for hours on end, I'm in. In my next life, I'm going kitty.
When I really focused on the feeling in my guts, I noticed I hurt in a softly stinging kind of way. I imagined I felt the way a peony might as it opens. I mean, part of opening is letting go, right? It’s not like a flower goes from a bud to a bloom without some kind of stretching, some kind of metamorphosis. I thought of myself as a tube of energy and that this opening was me needing to widen the tube, make more space inside of myself to feel good. So I breathed fully, softened, and opened. I think this is all part of living an increasingly creative life, the ability to open. And we all have it.
Becoming larger was both a little frightening and very wonderful. I was alive. This feeling is the opposite of what it feels like to worry. Worrying feels like your musculature and skin become saran wrap, ever tightening to keep you contained, safe. Worrying feels like you’re an ostrich saving itself by burying its head in the ground. Flowering feels like…feels like….well, it feels like good sex, for one. So there’s that. You can go on a date all by yourself just by relaxing.
The cool thing about being in a rut in your life is that you get to live out the familiarity of habit. You don’t have to stretch yourself or change because you are on autopilot. You don’t have to ask of your mind or body nothing you didn’t ask of it the day before. You don’t have to feel uncomfortable because you can feel nothing, do nothing that surprises you or another.
But is that life or death?
Most of my life I thought, subconsciously, the key to surviving was to worry. Worrying about everything was a way for me to feel like a puppeteer. I had no idea what was going to be on the next day’s test in chemistry, for example, but I could worry about it. Worry felt like reins on a horse. In this way I could show the universe I had some control, that I knew enough to worry about what was ahead.
When I was in romantic relationships, boyfriends used to often ask me what I was thinking. I held the world in my mind and I would try to organize it, compartmentalize it, worry it into submission. My boyfriends and our relationship were out of my control, but I could take whatever happened between us and worry it into a place I felt I could at least have one hand on the steering wheel. In my head I was able to reduce our relationship of two to just me and then I could catch my breath, erase the fingerprints I felt were starting to cover my body and life.
If I hadn’t had the quiet time to go into my mind and regain some feeling of control, wipe the slate of me clean, the relationships in my life, the events in my life, I think I would have imploded or exploded or gone Sylvia Plath and crawled into the basement of my house or put my head in the oven. Living without the time to gain control through worry would have been like riding a wild horse through a straw.
Years ago I went to Kaiser to talk to a therapist about depression, and she suggested I take one of their classes for anxiety. I laughed. I wasn’t anxious. I was depressed. Anxious people bit their nails, worried aloud. I wasn’t anxious; I was just sad.
I took the class and was shocked. The worry I had used as a way to keep life under control had a name: anxiety, and it was choking me more than helping me stay afloat.
I followed along with the class and I started keeping a worry notebook. This meant that I had two time set aside each day for worrying—I chose noon and 6 p.m. when I would write down whatever worries I was carrying in my head. This way, if I started to worry when I woke up, I could tell myself, It’s not worry time. Put that thought aside. You’ll take care of it later.This was revolutionary. It was not my jobto worry all the time. I didn’t have to worry to keep the boat of my life afloat.
This opened so much space in my brain for creativity. The clouds parted and I could finally hear my own true voice, one that was living life, not just trying to control it.
A year or so later I wrote my first book. I had so much more room to think and dream and create. I was not beside myself with productivity and excitement. I was in myself.
Worry is a habit, and it’s something I can slip back into because it’s such a familiar state it feels like home. If I haven’t been sleeping enough or if I’m feeling out of control, it’s easy for me to slip back into anxious mind, and while it feels like I’m taking control of things, it’s a polluted way of living. Creativity gets stifled when I focus on survival thinking. I circle through old thoughts, old ways of living. I treat myself like an athlete, conditioning my body and mind to lean towards opening rather than closing. This takes work. It’s one reason I have recently started going to acupuncture again. The other reason is that I finally found a place, a school, where I could afford the treatments while living on my current “focus on writing” budget.
I love acupuncture because it reminds my body/mind what it feels like when it is in energetic alignment. I went the other day to the Five Branches Clinic in San Jose and had the opportunity to be the person the teaching-doctor, George Lu, worked on as his five students watched. He took my pulse, and he said words like “cloudy, thin, weak” to his students. I felt cloudy, thin, and weak, and so it made sense to me that my pulse would be telling him the same thing.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the doctor doesn’t just take the single pulse the way Western doctors do. There are a series of pulses that are read, and as the doctor held my wrist, I felt like he was listening to the music my body was playing both superficially and deeply. It is healing just to be heard, so even this part of my appointment was helping to restore balance to my body. When I talked, the doctor listened. His five students listened. You are important, listening tells us. What you say matters.
I told the doctor how I was working all the time, how my bed was covered with books, how at night even when my eyes were closed, my brain was typing out sentences. I told him how I’d lost muscular strength the last few years, how the yoga practice that was once easy for me was now a struggle.
“That’s spleen energy,” he said. “Too much thinking. It’s all connected.” Spleen imbalance shows up as stomach and digestive issues, the very things that had gotten me started on this 93-day project. When it is out of balance it can lead to cloudy thinking, poor concentration, and, among other things, worry. When the spleen energy is out of balance, you get muscle weakness.
The only thing was I was trying to save my own life by thinking. I was on this wild creative binge where in order to find a way to support myself, I was going to write until I found it. I heard him say I was thinking too much, but it sounded a little like he was saying I was breathing too much.
I was trying to stay alive.
I looked at the team of health practitioners who filled the room, and they were grounded and peaceful. A room has a certain feel to it when you have a bunch of people living in their heads. It's buzzy, slightly rocky, thinly oxygenated. This room felt...safe. Chinese Medicine is so complicated and nuanced, and I can't imagine the amount of work that goes both into learning and then professionally practicing this work, but somehow this doctor and his five female students were managing to live in both their heads and their bodies.
I wanted to be more like them. More at ease in my body, more at service to the world.
I thought of all the doctors and therapists I have gone to over the years, how quick they were to prescribe pills and treat my body as a vessel for medicine. That was not helpful. I needed someone to find the root cause and address it. Just as, in order to finally be able to write my book, I had to find the root story and tell it. I needed people grounded enough in their own lives to be able to look at the ground beneath mine, and there, in that school, they were. .
I lay on the table for half an hour after the needles had been placed, and I went into dream float: I was some place between awake and asleep. It was wonderful. I could imagine lines of energy running from one end of my body to the other, a series of rivers, and I could feel how I was part of the entire universe when these channels ran freely. I was open. Free. Connected.
This state is available to us at any time. It is in our body. As creative beings, our bodies ache for this type of freedom.
When I first got to New York to write my book, I lay on the floor of the apartment and tried to contain my excitement. I was living my dream and my body had not caught up. I was resisting the experience in some ways, starting to worry about money, starting to worry about what I would write. I lay on the floor and I breathed into my body, filling it. I reminded myself I had lived my whole life to get to this moment, and I could treat my life like opportunity for joy or failure, and the choice of how I wanted to feel was up to me.
I chose joy.
This choice was sometimes work. I had to remind myself of the choice when I got discouraged, tired, or afraid, but habits feed habits, and the more I worked in joy, the more home it became.
Leaving New York was hard because I’d created such a special bubble there. Now, with this 93-day project, I’m creating the same bubble here. I choose to work towards feeling good. But I also need to learn how to rest.
Freedom is there. It’s us. It’s not our job to control. It’s our job to live.
This is such good news.
Yesterday I fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon. I haven't been able to settle down enough to sleep much at night, never mind in the afternoon, but yesterday and the day before it was like I was anesthetized. Or like a child falling asleep after a busy day.
This felt good and it scared me. How will I survive if I relax? The money will disappear; the work will disappear, the people will be gone.
I've learned to be creative, and now I'm learning to relax.
See you tomorrow.