Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mind Games

There is an upside to being suggestible. When I think about my suggestibility, I usually don't think about as a positive thing. Rather, I'm stymied by the countless ways I can arouse anxiety in myself. You see, I count myself among that special group of people who hears about one catastrophe or another in the media, and suddenly finds reasons to believe that I may be the next to experience it. It's not hard for me to imagine, after watching a horror flick, that some ghoul is creaking across the floorboards to strangle me in my sleep. Show me a sandwich that has a bite shaped like the Mona Lisa, and I'll see it, I promise.

Clearly, these are not the upsides to being suggestible. Of course, every cloud has a silver lining, and here is mine: I can play fantastic mind games with myself. I guess you could say that all of that self-induced anxiety is a game, but it's more of a torture. The real games are ones that always benefit me. Here are a few that make life easier for me:

Mindgame 1: Alarm clock
At times, I have terrible insomnia--the kind that interrupts a sleep in the dark hours and pesters endlessly until dawn. Over the years, it's lessened, thank goodness. I've developed a good bag-o-tricks to deal with it. Among my best is this little mind game.
Regardless of the time, I imagine, vividly, that my alarm clock is just about to go off. In the imagined scenario, there is no room for hitting the snooze--I need to be up and ready for some unavoidable obligation, and I need to be ready for a long, long day full of activities. No time left to languish in bed--time to get up, even though the day will be tediously long and full of obligations.
When I do this one right, with convincing detail, I am immediately exhausted. I long to stretch out in bed. My eyes fight staying open. And suddenly, I am back to sleep. Voila!

Mindgame 2: Sitting too long

If you travel, you are bound to have times of sitting and waiting that seem interminable. Being on a runway for hours is probably one of the worst, but even a good transcontinental flight can make you feel restless. Leg exercises may help, but getting relaxed is even more helpful. For situations like this, I call on this mindgame:

Years ago, my brother and I took a train trip across Sweden. As timing had it, we had chosen one of the busiest travel days of the year, and our tickets were for non-reserved seats. Essentially, we were forced to play musical chairs with the savvy Swedes who had reserved seats. Every seat was filled, and so we stood for nearly 6 hours. The only breaks we had were stolen moments when the train stopped to let more passengers on and off. What a relief it was to sit, even for a minute, on those just-vacated train benches. Of course, we were immediately tapped on the shoulder and asked to move by the rightful occupant of said seats. The train ride seemed endless! Being forced to stand so long was a perfect food for my imagination, though.

When I find myself in a situation where I have to sit, I conjure that train ride across Sweden, where sitting was impossible. To do it right, I have to vividly recreate that sense of frustration I felt, that sense of endless standing. Then, I imagine that suddenly a seat is made just for me, one I can keep for the rest of the ride! Oh relief! How I appreciate that seat!

Mindgame 3: too hot/too cold

I'm a Chicago girl by birth, where winters are legendary for their blustery cold. When the wind whips just so, you'd swear you're in the arctic. And the -20 degree reading on the thermometer only sustains that illusion.
Now I live in the northeast, where winter is a different shade of cold--not as biting as the midwest, but a deep-in-your-bones, damp kind of cold. The funny thing is, I sort of love the cold, on most days. However, there are a few times every winter when I feel as though I can't bear it for a second longer. This happened a few days ago after I took the girls to swimming lessons. The pool is indoor, of course, but it's also on a section of the island that opens up onto the bay, and it catches the most direct gusts off the ocean. BRRRR! As we trooped to the car, I pulled out another mindgame to share with my shivering daughters. Here it is:

I imagine that it is one of the hottest days of the year, and we are stuck, our will, inside a stuffy, sauna-like house. There is no air conditioning, no fan, no water to drink. The heat is so heavy it brings up strange smells from the wood and walls, and I don't want to breathe in the sticky air. Suddenly, I discover a hidden (and forbidden) door, a door that leads into a cool room, where the wind is almost icy, and the cold is clear and bright. I step into the room, and the cold feels lovely...such a relief.
This type of imagining works for times that are too hot, too. I reverse the settings, and I can replicate a similar relief in the opposite direction. When I described the scenario to the girls and asked them to make-believe with me last week in the freezing parking lot, the whining (mine too) had stopped altogether, and we found we were all actually feeling grateful for the cold by the time we made it to the car.

If I shrink my own head a little bit, I notice that each of these scenarios involves a sort of bucking of authority to meet my needs. The relief is that much more pronounced because it's a little subversive. Hmmm.
Essentially, what these mindgames seek to do is to force me to appreciate the moment as something pleasurable, not torturous. They only really work if I am really starting to feel tortured by the present situation.
Plato connected pleasure with meeting an intense need. His classic example was the quenching of thirst--how wonderful that first sip of water is after being thirsty. Indeed, these little scenarios of mine do seek to "trick" my mind into feeling that the current state actually does "quench" a need. Instead of seeking to control the situation, I seek to control my perception of the situation. Psycho babble, mindgame, call it what you will--it works.

What mindgames do you play?

DiggIt!Add to del.icio.usAdd to Technorati Faves

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

One little word for 2010: May it be a year filled with Delight

Inspired by my friend Irene Latham, last year I chose a single word as a theme for the new year. My word for 2009 was enjoy. It was a great focal word for me, and having chosen it publicly, I thought of that word a lot more in 2009 than I usually would have. Forming the word in my thoughts was like a call to attention, and it forced me to see the happier side whatever situation I was in. Just thinking "enjoy" made me enjoy life more, and that made my one little word take on a significance I hadn't expected.

For my one little word for 2010, I started mulling over choices early, back in November. I take everything so damn seriously, and of course, this was no different. I actually worried, "What if I choose the wrong one?" Ugh. I amaze myself with my own capacity for melodrama.

Fortunately, I let myself relax into the process of considering individual words. Many words stopped by for an audition: focus, dream, here, play, invent, see. Some even had a callback. But the right word was still out there, until it was literally whispered in my ear one evening in early December. Robert Krulwich, of the amazing podcast Radiolab, mentioned how the word "delighted" is woefully underused. It stuck in my head, and I thought of the word the next day as Esme and Ada were grinning with excitement about their new advent chocolates with star shapes stamped on them. A square of chocolate, not even half an inch wide. It was such a small thing, but clearly it produced so much delight. Exactly.

So delight it is, my one little word for 2010. Krulwich is right to say it's woefully underused. I can't think of the last time I heard someone say, "I'm delighted!"

It feels a little old-fashioned, but it's all the more appealing to me because of it. I think it's hard to use the word delight in a time like ours, where campiness and mockery set the tone all too often. Delight is innocent in that it's unabashed. If you are delighted, it's obvious. It floods out of you, into your expression, your posture, your voice. Such clear expression is a gift, to the person feeling it, and to everyone else around as well.

For 2010, I want to be that person, who delights, who is delightful, who feels unabashedly delighted. I want to be in the presence of people who shed their skin enough to feel that, too, to just be filled with it.

To start, I'm leaving the Christmas tree up a few more days, which is a few days later than we would normally leave it up. Yes, the house is chaotic with decorations and new toys and old toys. The crisp clean feeling of a tidy house is still out of my reach. But the tree, which my husband carefully grew for us over the past four years, and which has a sweet little open spot that is perfect for the big straw stars we hang--ah, the tree is delightful. It sparkles against the snow, and it still fits the room, it still feels right there. Frankly, I am still delighted by it. Choosing delight--it stays. I hope to choose such little delightful things again and again over the next year, and notice that flood of feeling that comes each time. I send those wishes to you, too.

What word will you choose for 2010?

DiggIt!Add to del.icio.usAdd to Technorati Faves

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009 flounced out in a flurry of snow and ice. In its wake, a rush of ideas has been flooding into my mind. I'm welcoming it as much as I'm welcoming the new year.

Like the snow, our holidays were soft and lovely, quiet and restful and--best of all--full of moments where my husband and I would look at each other and feel grateful to be in the moment of such magic. Ada and Esme are at the perfect ages to savor the anticipation of Santa, to wonder at the miracle of how he brings just the right thing, and to enjoy the simple gifts we share during Advent. Ada literally cheers when she gets to eat a candy cane!

This year was perhaps the first that I did not feel overwhelmed with the should-have-dones. I scrapped my big "make a perfect Christmas" list, and decided that just being calm might be the most important ingredient for a good Christmas.

A few years ago, I found myself in a puddly mess on December 17 or so, crying because with my overblown expectations--handmade doll clothes, perfectly wrapped gifts, 20 kinds of cookies to be baked and given to neighbors--there was just no way to do it all. Honestly, my mid-December breakdown was a repeat performance from the years before, too. So, to avoid the personal heartbreak, I decided in November to get ahead of myself and just cut the to-do list from my routine for the month. Things that could be done on a small scale--a candy cane for Advent, a new puzzle, or an afternoon spent making salt dough creatures--these were things I could swing. But with Esme in full-on curious 3-year-old mode, baking cookies by the dozen is beyond me at this point. I give. Say it with me: Kirie is not Martha. In fact, Martha is not Martha. She is Martha plus the legion of staff that is Martha Stewart Omnimedia.

The scale-back experiment paid off, and the holidays were as calm as they could be. And still, I found that the day after Christmas I was exhausted, my mind almost blank. It's a strange sensation for me to be without a plan for some new thing to do, something to work on. I took it for what it was: a rest. A time of going fallow for a little while, to just be.

And you know, on New Year's Day, I woke to the snow and the wind and the great sensation that a new and exciting year was blowing into the world. And like the snow-filled sky, my mind swirled, full of new ideas once again.

Happy 2010! May yours bring you delight.

DiggIt!Add to del.icio.usAdd to Technorati Faves
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.