Sunday, May 25, 2008

Those Voices In My Head

I've noticed over the years that my "inner critic" often is actually not my own voice. If it's related to my appearance, food, health in general, or money it's usually my mother's voice that comes through loud and clear. I used to often find myself at the grocery store, surveying the contents of my cart and hearing my mother judge them (lettuce good, apples good, ground turkey ok, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING PUT THE Haagen Dazs BACK NOW). 

If I do something with any sort of risk involved, it is generally my father's voice that rattles around my head. Dad was quite present today as I hiked through the Upton State Forest. I heard him telling me this was a bad idea, nobody knew where I was, I could get eaten by a bear, bitten by a coyote, contract lyme disease from a tick, get attacked by an off-leash dog, fall down and break my leg, or be raped/killed by some whacko. Several of these possibilities were reiterated by signs posted at the park entrance (bears, coyotes, ticks, and off-leash dogs) which obviously didn't help. Normally I waste several mental (sometimes physical) miles with this lecture in my head, but the good news is that I'm getting much better at recognizing it and detatching myself from it. Because it's really hard to enjoy anything with all that negativity buzzing around my brain, and there's no room to appreciate stuff like this:

That's not to say bad stuff can't or won't happen, but I find that dwelling on all the negative possibilities distracts me from the reality of what is in the present moment- it's a beautiful spring day, the sky is impossibly blue, the pine needles are slippery, I hear birds, I see little purple wild violets, etc.

I did hear my own voice loud and clear, though, and it was saying, "How is it possible that I am so out of shape after spending 7 months in NYC?". I'm beginning to realize that walking often is not at all the same as walking far. Before moving to NYC, I regularly walked 3-4 miles several times a week, either on the rail trail or in Vaughn Woods (my blog header photo is of one of the bridges in Vaughn Woods). In NYC, the subway was one block away from my apartment (two if I took the 1 train), and one block away from my office. The grocery store was 2 blocks away, and the drugstore 3. The most I ever recall walking all at once was about 10 blocks, which I think is roughly half a mile.

I should have realized something might be amiss this morning when I put on my favorite summer pants and they barely fit, despite my weight being more or less the same. But as we all know, I have superhuman powers of denial. My body was not at all thrilled to find itself being propelled through the woods on an often rocky and occasionally steep trail that seemed to go on FOREVER. I probably only walked 4, maybe 5 miles max (I'm a little confused by the map), but half a mile in my legs were already grumbling. I forced myself on, though, because my lower back has been bothering me (those damned commuter rail seats...) and walking is supposed to help with these sorts of things. I also was determined to find the pond, where I imagined there would be a bench or a rock to sit on for awhile (which there was, a nice rock on the edge of the pond, but the bugs were unbelievable). And, I was determined to not be defeated by all the negative crap in my head, which was physically manifested by all the horse manure that was scattered throughout the park trails.

I've also been watching podcasts of Oprah and Eckhart Tolle, based on his book "A New Earth". This is the result of random internet surfing on Friday night, and as much as I hated Tolle's first book "The Power of Now" I can't explain why I started watching this. It bugs me when he says that if people don't get what he's saying then they just "aren't ready to hear it". That said, there is enough truth to what he is saying in terms of psychology and much Buddhist thinking (principles of which much Western psychology has come to embrace) to make it worthwhile; like most things, I take what resonates and ignore the rest. And what does resonate is how strong ego is, and how destructive it can be in our lives, and how being in nature can help shut down one's ego.

So I left the park all blissed out and drove out of the parking lot all happy, until I had some guy honking at me from behind. Apparently I had accidentally cut him off, and he yelled out the window "Hey dumbbell, can't you see?!" before squealing off in a huff. In truth, no, I couldn't see; there's a curve in the road for one thing, and there's lots of trees, and I suspect he was going way too fast for the road. In one of the interviews with Tolle, Oprah recounts being given the finger once and thinking, "there must be really something wrong with that guy", and never taking it personally. I, on the other hand, spent a good hour feeling like crap because somebody called me a "dumbbell" and I want to scream at him that he's a jerk and an idiot for not realizing it was at best only partially my fault, and he's a creep for being mean. So there. Apparently my ego is still quite intact and quite ready for a fight. Back to the drawing board...

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