Friday, March 12, 2010

Anniversary reactions

So, I thought back to where my life was at a year ago, which in some ways feels like just yesterday; I reminded myself that only a year ago I was dismantling a lifetime, not just a practice from which I have been detached - still responsible for but emotionally detached from - for about 9 months.

I was faced with jettisoning a lot of belongings, books, purging and cleaning and scraping and painting and scouring and selling and usually fell into bed at night exhausted.

I realize that some part of my brain still feels open raw places from having undergone that experience, even while other bits are ecstatic to be back under big bright empty sky. When another stressor comes along, I realize that the reverberation of a year ago is like an echo chamber. I realize that as a brain ripens and ages through a life span the echo chamber doesn't go away, in fact it just gets bigger and bigger as years and anniversary reactions accumulate. If would be lovely if there were a delete key on stress, something easy to simply click and make the anxious stuff disappear. That isn't the case. So I go for long walks instead. It helps.

As I walk I think about how I'm helping my brain produce the millions of different kinds of neurotransmitters it needs to remain healthy and help me, its "I" illusion, to remain calm and content. I think about how lucky I am that I'm on the eve of 60 years old and am in a body, with a brain, and feet, that don't hurt me, that let me walk pretty far (3 or 4 km) without getting the least bit tired or sore. Bored a little, maybe, sometimes, but not in any pain. I think about how nice my nerves feel, sliding around in my body, first one side, then the other, how my spinal cord is slightly rotating within its canal, how blood flow is being engaged to feed it generously through mechanical stimulation. Yeah, mechanical stimulation is a stressor, but it's the right kind of stressor, and I remember that all this slidey motion will spur it to stay juicy and healthy and functional.

As I relax into the rhythm of walking I try out different things to challenge my brain, just a little, try a bit more novelty, explore my body adapting to it. I see how tall I can be as I walk along. I feel the difference between using abs and not using abs while walking. I notice what happens to my breathing. I work with breathing. I place my feet on a narrower trail with out breaking stride. I play with stride length without breaking stride. I experiment with which edge of my feet I'm walking on. I run a little. I play. I stride. On the outside, I am just a woman walking, but on the inside, I'm engaged in a process of discovery and comparison and full body sensing.

I think about how lucky I am to not have to carry a little roof all the time, called an umbrella, shutting out the sky, bumping other umbrellas, being bumped by other umbrellas, or, the alternative, rain on the top of the head - ceaseless remorseless rain. Seventy-five different kinds and sizes of rain.

I note the lack of other people and feel grateful to be in a place where there are no drug dealers being obvious or their customers reeling around or shouting at each other or at nothing at all or thick knots of tourists standing and gawking everywhere or beggars asking me for money or trying to sell me something - people crowding me, people who represent huge obstacles, both physical and psychological, to navigate through and around. I am alone with my own thoughts, and all around is just empty space I can relax into, nobody nearby I have to worry may knock me down and steal my wallet, or knock me down because it's a gang initiation ritual, or knock me down because they are bigger and taller and didn't even know I was there.

I always see a little something I never noticed before, even on familiar routes. I am free to gaze around at sharp contrast of light bouncing off surfaces, at the brightness of snow (well, not lately - it has developed that cavitated, dulldarkgrey look as spring arrives..) at the brightness and blueness of the sky, and think, this is all very good for my brain. I tell myself, it will synchronize and neuroplasticize itself in a positive direction. I tell myself that its emotional buffers will continue to improve every day in direct proportion to increasing clarity of thought and access to cognition and sharpness of logic. I realize these are beliefs, but I also know they are beliefs based on science. Science is my comfort and strength. It always changes but its changes are always for the better, provide ever more solidity.

I go home, look at the pedometer and how many steps I took. I think, OK, I can do better than that. Tomorrow I'll go again. Life is a series of small steps, physical and metaphorical, that accumulate over time, will add up to something, positive or not. Every step should be consciously chosen or result from a habit consciously chosen and feel like the right step to have made, no matter how tiny it may have been. With each step I take, I'm putting distance between myself and what I've left behind; with each step I'm coming closer to whatever it is I want out of life, whoever it is that I am becoming.

Every walk I take is a victory, my pitting of my own life against everything that would do my life harm. I have synchronized myself with me, as best I can, and after, I feel ready to read a paper and make a few slides and write a few thoughts down on a file card. My new life.

I'll deal with that recent workquake in Vancouver as I can, when I can. It's not my life. Not really. Not anymore. I'm not there, not anymore. I'm Here. And this is Now. Things could be much worse.


Unknown said...

I try to walk 3 - 5 kilometers every day for similar reasons. I love walking outside on sunny days, but I have a gym membership so I can use a treadmill and watch Discovery/History on TV when the Oregon weather is more typical.

I am convinced that exercise in general, and walking in particular, is probably the best thing I can do for brain and body.

Unfortunately, I too have chronic contemplation syndrome. Probably it wouldn't be bad if I mostly contemplated beauty and goodness, but that is not the case. So I am
also making feeble efforts to rewire my brain. A phrase I always remember from one of the pain videos you posted was "Is this really dangerous". It is beneficial for pain of all types, including brooding.
My parents have both been dead for a long time. On March 5 my mother-in-law died at age 87. My 88 year old father-in-law has moved into our home. He has fairly advanced Alzheimer's. So we begin each day by telling him who we are and where he is. Barbara and I will enlist some paid caregiver help soon, but for now we are giving Ted time to grieve his loss and adjust to his new home.
I mention all that because I also find that it seems that difficulties often come in sets, like waves of big surf.
I identify with an awful lot of what you write. I'll be 60 in August, but it is much more than a generational connection. It has to do with how we perceive the world and how we cope. It surprises me a bit because you are a committed atheist and I am a committed Christian. There is so much I don't understand.

Diane Jacobs said...

Well, Kent, I think, belief strategies aside, we are just two people doing our best with whatever we've got while we're here.

And yes, there is much that is not understood. And a lot that now is. Maybe not by me personally, but collectively, which is why I like science so much. (I don't have to do it all, IOW, and the process will continue after I'm gone, a relaxing thought I enjoy.)

About death, I kind of look forward to that as something I'll arrive at some day. Most of the receptors will be full, the brain that projects me as its "I" illusion won't be able to make any more new ones, it will shut down and that will be that.

Meanwhile, I just keep going, like that Energizer bunny. I really can't think of any better way to live life than to keep moving through it and let it be whatever it is (while still doing my best to enjoy it, simultaneously, and trying to assist when possible).