The Thrill of Just-In-Time

I have an addiction.

In the past, it was often exhilarating.  But now it is making me ill, so it’s time to do something about it.

Five days a week, I allow myself plenty of time to get ready for work.  And five days a week, I am running out the door, heart racing, palms sweating, because I know I am going to be late.

But the thing is:  I am never late.   Or almost never.   And that is the thrill, and the trap.

It is a beautifully choreographed dance.  I rise at 5:30.   I eat a nutritious breakfast, pray and meditate, do a little stretching and reading, and pack a wholesome lunch.   I feel alive and refreshed, ready for the day.  I may even take a little time to straighten the house as I groom and dress.  I feel that I have lived a good morning, many worthwhile things have happened in this quiet space before daylight.

One would think the final object of this perfectly choreographed morning would be my early arrival at work – perhaps by ten or fifteen minutes – so that I can carry a relaxed feeling of clarity into my day.

But no, apparently the real object is for me to arrive breathless and dizzy, bounding up the stairs thirty seconds before our 8 a.m. start time, acutely aware of my boss standing a few feet away, checking his watch to see that I just barely made it (again) and wondering if this is the day he should reprimand me.

But he doesn’t reprimand me, because I am a good employee, and I do good work, and I stay a little late each day to make sure everything’s in order.  This is also part of the thrill.

I’m always just in time, just under the wire.  Not a moment to spare.  The irony, of course, is that I’ve undone most of my good work of the morning.  Well, not most.  I did eat well, and I enjoyed my reading, and I felt devotion in my prayers.   But I undid the relaxation, the peacefulness, that is a primary goal of my quiet morning routine.

So why do I defeat myself?  Why do I do this nearly every day?  Why have I done this in some form since I was a child?

I’ve read theories about attention-seeking and low self-esteem, but I’m not entirely sure.  That’s why I lay it out before you, hoping my attempts at an explanation will shed some new light, reveal a way out.

In the past, I didn’t care so much.  It was a game.  And the adrenaline rush that it produced gave a kick start to my day, like a strong cup of coffee that got me off and running.

But now, it just makes me ill.   Not at first, but in a matter of hours.  And even the rush itself is contaminated with anger.  Because I have tried to change, and I can’t.  I have reduced my morning activities, for instance, to allow time to leave my house earlier.   But I just end up sneaking something else in (like one more peek at Facebook) so that I am back on my breakneck pace and any gain I’ve made is lost.

I am compelled, and that is the addiction.  But now I see that aging, that old substitute for wisdom, is forcing me to change.  I just can’t do this any more.   What once gave me a charge, now leaves me drained.   My body has to recuperate from this sudden explosion of energy, sometimes with aftereffects late into the day.   It just isn’t worth it anymore.

So, perhaps, my tired body will force my unruly mind and spirit to take a higher road.   Maybe that is one of the benefits of aging: a forced humility that makes us confront things about ourselves that we would happily ignore, things that may nudge us toward finally being the person we really want to be.

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The Prayers of a Random Mind

A friend of mine once remarked “Each day, I think of every person that I’ve ever known”. 

Really?  I seriously doubted that.

Yet as I watched my own thought patterns, it didn’t seem that far-fetched.

Most of my activities, especially when I was alone, reminded me briefly of someone I knew.  If I didn’t watch carefully, I missed these images entirely as my mind skittered from thought to thought.

As I balanced my checkbook, a friend appeared to me for just an instant, a man whose ordered life I admired.  He seemed to nod approvingly, then vanished.

When I went to rest my tired legs, lifted them as I sat in my favorite chair, my aunt’s voice came to me, her weary sigh right in time with my own.

These images continued, unbidden. Most were benign, some a little troubling.  Introvert that I am, relatively independent of others, I am surprised that so many people appear to me in the course of a day.

I believe this is a remnant of childhood, a time of our total dependence on others.  We are attuned to the faces and voices of friend and stranger, those who protect us and those who could harm us.   This focal point remains and is internalized as we mature.

So what value can these images, these daily visitors, bring to our lives?  The encouraging ones bring a familiar warmth, a comforting connection.  But the troubling ones seem to ask something more of us.  They come to the surface, demanding attention, time after time.  We can push them away, but as we do, there is a sense of unpleasantness.  Suddenly, we feel a little down or angry, and may spiral into negative thinking, left with a feeling that something isn’t quite right.

But wait! Ten minutes before, it was a new, shining day and the possibilities for joy were endless, a gilded path before us.  So what happened?   How can a mood darken so quickly, how does one get back on track?

One method is meditation.  Human minds have always been plagued by random thoughts that can lead us astray.   Meditation comes in many forms, but the basic practice invites us to watch our thoughts as we would watch ripples in a stream, rising and falling, avoiding attachment to any of them.

We must realize that our thoughts are not our essence, but the associations created by agile minds that were designed to sense changes and possible dangers at every moment.

The value of detachment from our random thoughts becomes obvious, and brings stress relief and spiritual renewal, as we develop the practice of letting go.

My friend, quoted in the opening line, is a person capable of watching the faces from his past come and go with warm acceptance, perhaps nostalgia for days gone by.  And I believe that for him, troublesome guests provide an opportunity to spar, rather than a road to despair.

But we are all different, some pulled more forcefully toward the dark currents of life than others.

For me, the best approach is to offer a little blessing to those who arise before me, especially those whose insistent grip won’t let me go.

When someone tugs at my heart and mind, prompting a pang of sadness or regret, I say a little prayer for both of us.  For me, to help me open to the meaning of this pain: perhaps to smooth rough edges, release narrow aims.  For him, to send him on his way in love and peace, hoping that we meet again on better terms.

Elvis After Midnight: Contemplating Our Obsessions

When I was a child, I had an early bedtime.  And once I was asleep, almost nothing could wake me up.

So decades later, it amazes me to recall a time in my life, around the age of 10, when my mom would regularly wake me from a sound sleep, often after midnight, to let me watch old Elvis movies with her. These aired on network TV, long before the advent of VCRs or on-demand.

Who initiated this ritual?  I don’t quite remember.  Did I plead with her to let me watch? Did she offer because she knew that I was as crazy about Elvis as she was? I can’t recall the negotiations, but I know that we must have reached an understanding that some things are simply more important than sleep.

A couple of years later, I had other idols, people closer to my own age. Teenage singers like Donny Osmond and Tony DeFranco, whose fan club posters covered my bedroom walls. What did I want from these boys who were strangers to me?  Why was I obsessed with them?

I remember lying in bed and yearning for something beyond romance, something I couldn’t name. I wanted to be taken out of myself, transported to a place where I was special and deeply cared for. And somehow these famous boys who made pretty music embodied this for me, as they did for many.

It wasn’t that I didn’t already feel cared for, that I didn’t feel loved. But life often hurt, life was often disappointing.  And I imagined being whisked away to a place where this wasn’t so.  For me, this yearning sometimes melded with something mystical, something almost reverent. I longed to unite with some one or some thing, to be part of something bigger than myself.

Isn’t this the feeling from which devotion of every sort is born? It starts when we are very young and we attach ourselves to many objects, some more deserving than others. Later, if we are lucky and persistent, we find an object worthy of these feelings.  A true mate, a passionate cause, a divine love that knows no bounds.  It is the spark that ignites our souls.

Teen Age Idol

Writing is Magic

When I was young, I didn’t know what to say.   I had feelings I couldn’t express, thoughts that seemed unformed.

When I needed to connect, I retreated into books. Spent entire afternoons on the couch.  Transfixed by Scarlett’s vanity.  Heartbroken when Rhett walked out.  Pulled into a world where words brought everything to life.

Eventually, I learned to speak more confidently.  I talked my mom’s ear off on car trips.  Sure that I knew things of which she had never heard.  She encouraged me, even when she might have preferred some peaceful silence.

In high school, I began to write.  Sometimes the teacher would read my essays aloud and classmates would look at me differently.  How does she do that?

Writing is enchantment.  Writing is magic.  And I was hooked.

As a young adult I sent a few stories to magazines.  Sometimes writing through the night.  Eventually a form letter would come back. Or nothing.  It wasn’t what they were looking for.

In journals I explained myself to myself.  Let it all out.  And I talked to those closest to me.  But I longed for more expression.  More connection.

Then the internet arrived, and I could suddenly write a long letter to a friend, and she would have it instantly.  But who had time to answer letters in such a busy world?   Most preferred the telephone.

Then blogging came along.  I didn’t understand it.  Wasn’t it for sharing baby photos and family vacations?  Didn’t sound right for me.

Finally, on a long weekend, I gave it a try.  I wrote a short post about my Baha’i Faith and my troubling introversion, responding to a WordPress daily writing prompt.

In an instant, it was online for others to see.  I felt hopeful.  I received a few “likes” and comments and encouragement to write more.  I saw what others were writing about and wanted to follow them.

That day, the world became connected for me in a new way.  And I am hooked.

Writing Brings Me Here

Writing brings together my loose ends, ties them into a hopeful package. I hold the parcel in my hands, and lovingly give it to you.

You understand these fragments. You have questions and loose ends of your own.

Like that time you pedaled so hard you flew, the wind stinging your eyes.  What if you never turned back?

The time you wanted to kiss those baby-soft lips, but you froze, a million miles you wouldn’t cross.

That day alone in the house when you sang at the top of your lungs, because the leaves were falling, and your hopes were rising.

Then spring came, wet and green.  You didn’t understand why she left, but it didn’t hurt so much now.

In bed half-asleep with the fan spinning overhead, and the world spinning outside, and you are at the calm center.  You don’t remember your name.

Many people appear, so many faces.  Some come toward you, then abruptly turn away.  Others travel with you a little while, then say they have to leave. One skips down the path with you, holding your hand as you laugh, and never lets you go.

They are all here, they weave in and out of your dreams.  They come to the surface and tell you true things, and you turn on the light to write them down.

Write Here, Write Now

I Want To Be the Little Girl Next Door

When I was 7 years old, I was in awe of the little girl who lived next door.  Her name was Darlene, and she was perfect.  Perfect face, perfect little nose, perfect composure in every deed.  It was like she had been 7 years old for a very long time, and knew exactly how to do it.  The teachers loved her, the kids loved her.  I loved her.

She invited me to sleep-overs at her house a few times, and one morning I woke up before her and looked at her while she slept.  Even unconscious, she was composed, her lovely arms framing her serene face, awaiting a glorious day.

I wondered what it would be like to be her.  To inhabit such a life, always knowing what to do, what to say.  I imagined it and felt a giddy freedom.  I would take a break from my confused self, my awkward stumbles, and proceed knowingly, confidently.

Sometimes, after we were together, I noticed I walked like her a little, even spoke like her.  I giggled.  It was like being on TV, playing a part where I knew all the lines.  It felt just right.

But I knew it wasn’t me.  As I approached my house, I became myself again, and that was OK too. I anticipated the familiar surroundings.  Mom making a good meal, even when she was really tired.  My adorable little sister, always ready to play.  And I felt lucky because no one else got to be me in that moment:  walk into this particular place and be with these particular people.  It was all mine, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

Yet I still desired to slip into other lives sometimes.  What would it be like to be that girl who could really dance?  Such beauty in motion.   Or the one with the perfect family, whose mom and dad came to all the school plays.   If I were like them, would I feel less broken, would I be happy all the time?

I never answered these question in any conscious way, but there were moments that gave me hope.   Like looking up from a book and seeing the sun shine though the trees, and feeling for an instant that it had come through me as well, filling all my cracks with light.

 

A Brand New You, Effective Tomorrow

My Own Little Bed

When I was 5 years old, my parents divorced and I was sent to live with my grandparents. I was not happy about this. My grandparents lived in a rambling house with many strange, drafty rooms and I, small and lonely, did not belong there.

I wanted my parents, my mom’s kind eyes and warm hand on my cheek; my dad lifting me on his shoulders, calling me Jenny.

But they lived apart now, and I was in this drafty old house until everything was sorted out, and then, I was told, I would live with my mom in a new place. I did not want a new place. I wanted things the way they were before.

But there were cats in this house; two Siamese cats. I liked cats, and sometimes they would let me pet them if I sat very still.

And I liked the little bed that my grandparents put in their own big room just for me. Their bed was huge and usually empty. They always came to bed after me and got up much earlier than me.

But my bed was small and cozy with lots of soft blankets, and about the same size as me. Sometimes as I snuggled in it at night, I could hear a freight train rumble past on the hill behind the house. I wondered where it was going. I was glad I was in my safe bed, and not out there in the cold night. As I drifted off, the house nestled around me, and I felt loved.

Childhood Revisited