This time of year is difficult for a lot of people, including me. Several years ago, my dear father passed away right before Christmas, and 51 days later, so did my mom. So after the hustle of the holidays is over and I’ve taken down all the decorations and packed them in boxes for next year, pawned off left-over cookies on my visiting sons and anyone else who will take them off my hands before I eat them all (I was raised to believe that wasting food when people were starving in the world was simply unacceptable), like many others, the starkness of winter often hits me like a slab of icy concrete.
The other day I had a particularly tough day. I was scheduled for a radio interview, was all hyped-up and ready, but for some reason, at the last minute, it didn’t work out; we had to reschedule.
Things went downhill from there. It wasn’t any one thing that seemed to contribute to my bad day, it was a combination of a lot of small things.
I felt as if my brain was in a fog and my body slowly sinking in a very deep sea. I tried really hard to make myself accomplish something because sitting around doing nothing is not something I take kindly to. Besides, I already had my day planned out—I would organize the papers in my office—make folders for all my book files, get the laundry done, catch up on the bills and bank accounts, ship a copy of my book to my aunt and finish the grocery shopping. These are not difficult tasks, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t put my body or my brain into motion. Plus, I’d been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage”, her follow-up to her #1 best-seller “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Committed” made me ponder all sorts of things, like my identity for instance. But that’s another post.
I was also pondering things like, What else should I do to help promote my book? and I wonder if we can afford for me to go to the dentist this month and Why the hell has my arm been hurting so bad for two weeks now? All rather trivial things, to be sure. None of them are major stressors like losing one’s job and not being able to pay the rent, or finding out one’s teenage daughter is pregnant.
Nevertheless, my mood darkened by the second, until I found myself no longer treading water; now I was going under. That was when, by some miraculous visage of strength from the back of my brain, I told myself I had a choice: I didn’t have to let those negative feelings overtake me. And I knew this, but I kept sliding into that dark abyss anyhow, and the further I slid, the less I felt able to grasp that knowledge—that I truly did have a choice. I also realized that there were thousands of people in the world suffering from full-blown depressions and all sorts of similar conditions and I was beginning to see how that could easily take root in one’s psyche when one felt like that. Perhaps, just like what was happening to me, it started with the little things and before long, those little things overpowered you like a swarm of piranhas. And as I was thinking all these thoughts, through some remaining shred of logic, I wondered—what can I do to pull myself out of this?
A very big part of me said to tough it out, to push forward because after all, you’re damn lucky to be where you are right now; you have so much more than a lot of people—a house to live in, food in your belly, clothes to wear… How dare you feel so sorry for yourself! Of course those thoughts didn’t offer any solace; they just made me feel worse, because then I felt guilty for feeling down when I had so much to be thankful for.
Right about that time then, guilt, which needs only the tiniest fissure in which to creep in and wrap itself around me like a familiar coat (or a boa constrictor—whichever image you prefer) took a firm hold of me and made things even worse: I should be accomplishing something today. I shouldn’t feel this way. What’s the matter with me? Why am I such an ingrate?
It was at that moment that some semblance of self-empowerment took over. I can’t rightly say where it came from, but somehow I managed to step back from my insistent ego-mind to remind myself all over again, that I had a choice. I could let the darkness sabotage me, drag me down further, maybe even into a full-fledged depression, or I could listen to what my body and spirit were trying to tell me, even though I kept dismissing them for all those reasons of guilt. So I leaned back in my chair and asked my body and spirit what they needed.
And this is what they said, “We’re exhausted.”
“What? That’s ridiculous! I slept just fine lastnight; how could I be so wiped out?” It was my ego-brain attempting to rationalize things again.
I decided to listen to my body and spirit. I took a nap. And when I got up, I popped a bag of popcorn in the microwave and got myself a real Pepsi, not the diet version I usually have, but a real one—loaded with sugar—and proceeded to polish them both off, even though my ego-mind was jumping up and down in the back of my brain like a bratty kid and telling me that it was almost time to fix dinner; if I ate all that stuff, I wouldn’t be hungry for dinner. Besides, sugar wasn’t good for me.
After that, I went upstairs and sat in front of my computer, and as I glanced out the window, I realized that the sun was going down behind the mountains, but I also realized something else: those last few rays were shining on my face and they felt warm. They felt like love.
My darkness melted.
We all have days like this once in a while, but this experience showed me how even small negative thoughts can easily turn into HUGE negative thoughts. Negative attracts negative just as positive attracts positive. But sometimes it seems easier to wallow in the negative, to let those thoughts pull us down rather than to search for the energy to claw our way out of the pit and into the light again. So what can we do?
I’m sure medical experts would say that I shouldn’t have had the sugar, but according to a recent article about the wintertime blues, for the most part, I did a few things right, which is perhaps the reason my bad mood didn’t swallow me whole. For one, I saw that I had a choice, and for another, I exposed my face to sunshine. I also sat back and tried to determine the cause of my bad feelings: I listened to what my body and spirit had to say, even when my ego mind told me there was no reason I should have felt that way. And when I listened, my body and spirit knew exactly what they needed.
Shamanism taught me to use this technique in other aspects of my life as well. If I’m pondering what to do in a given situation, I ask my body and spirit and notice how they react. Sometimes the reactions are so slight that I can’t detect them and sometimes they’re blatantly obvious. But the more I listen to my Higher Self, the more in tune I become with my own sense of what it is I really need, and that is one of the keys to true happiness.
I always have a choice.