As I move through the wilds of auto-immune disease, I’ve realized that I need to work on my mental and spiritual health along with my physical health and, oh, thank goodness for Netflix and novels and doodling and anything else that will take my thoughts away from the constant focus on me, me, me!
But in the interest of doing the necessary work, I signed up for a course through Daily OM on “Clearing the Things That Are Holding You Back” and it’s pretty cool. One tiny thought or question or exercise every day for a year. I’m on week three. And so far most of it is about noticing. Noticing how you feel about your life and your stuff. Noticing your surroundings and how your body feels. Noticing how you feel when you take the time to notice.
So much of the advice that comes at us is “Do This!” advice. One weird trick to improve your situation, no matter what your situation is. And I fall for some and it does or doesn’t work, but the new habit doesn’t stick because there’s no awareness to go along with it.
This kind of advice starts with assumptions. Assumptions that everybody wants to lose weight, declutter and be more productive, which, because we are bombarded with these messages all the time, makes us vulnerable to thinking that maybe we should. So we try the productivity hack or the weight loss trick or we clear out our junk drawer. And a few weeks later we find another bit of advice and try that. All without any awareness that we are unique and weird and what works for millions may not work for us and do I even want to lose weight and be more productive anyway?
As soon as I started getting sick, people started to tell me that if I gave up gluten I’d feel better. Which, because we own a bakery and have done lots and lots (and lots) of research on the gluten-free fad, was kind of annoying. My naturopath has also done research into auto-immune disease and twice has urged me to give it a try. And, because, desperation, I did. Carefully and with awareness, I took a deep breath, noticed how I was feeling and then stopped eating gluten.
About a week and a half in, I noticed that I was feeling weak and tired. Nor was I sleeping very well at night. About a week after that, I had a lunch-time food emergency (nothing in the house to eat and I needed to be to work in less than an hour). So I boiled up some pasta and enjoyed my lunch. I paid careful attention to how my belly was feeling (full) and what my energy was doing (increasing). That night I slept like a baby. And the next day and the day after that, my pain did not increase. Bingo! Gluten, for me, is not an issue.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is. I ran the same experiment with it. After about a week, we went out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary and I had wine with my dinner. Floated home happily. Slept badly and was flared up the next day. So, for the foreseeable, I am on the temperance bus. And that’s fine. Because I notice a real difference in how my body feels and that makes it very easy to say no thank you when someone offers me a glass of wine. I am not relying on moral fortitude, I am not blasting towards my goals. I am paying attention to what works for me and doing things that keep me feeling the way I want to feel.
This approach works for everything we think we want to change about our lives. First notice how your life feels. If there’s an area that doesn’t feel the way you want it to feel, notice what you’re doing that doesn’t feel good. Try another approach. Notice how that feels. If it feels better, really notice that and you’re far more likely to keep on doing the thing that makes you feel better.
I have some very clear memories of how having a cluttered home or amassing more craft supplies that I could ever actually use made me feel. I’m able to call these feelings up in moments when I might be tempted to start gathering things I don’t need. The thought of the upkeep or the claustrophobia allow me to put whatever it is that might be tempting me in the moment down and walk away, just as the thought of how sore I’m going to be tomorrow allows me to happily drink water with my meals.
Morning people will tell you that leaping out of bed before the crack of dawn, doing a quick workout and then spending an hour or two tackling your top priorities is the only way you’re going to move forward on your dreams. Those of us who aren’t morning people have noticed that this approach leads to injury and a strong need for a long nap.
It’s good to move forward on your dreams. It’s important to notice, first, if they’re actually yours and then to notice what approach works best for you. And before the Seize the Day brigade make you feel guilty for this approach, remember that all scientific inquiry starts with noticing something. And then noticing when else this something happens and then forming a theory about this something, testing the theory and noticing what happens.
Even the Old Testament creation story starts with noticing chaos and darkness and doing something about it. And then noticing that the results are good.
Helpful hints are always fun. And in the myriad that come our way on a daily basis, there are always one or two that will work for you. But if you don’t start from an awareness of who you are and what you actually want to change, none of them is going to be terribly helpful for very long.
So how about you? What are you noticing these days? Please leave a comment and let us know!