Day Two

Yesterday was Day One in several significant ways. The Great Funeral Trip is done, and Mom is resting with Dad in Maryland. Now I have an empty house with all the chaos from the previous weeks still in evidence, and little time to make any sense of it since I have a bunch of work deadlines this week, not to mention Mom’s famous rum cake and my infamous CraigNog to make for the family Thanksgiving gathering.

I’m still at that stage where everything reminds me of Mom, or I say, “Mom would really love that,” or I turn to talk to her but see only a vacant chair or bed. I’m not sad or lonely, exactly, but I’m keenly feeling the lack of her physical presence.

At the same time, I feel a sudden push forward, the motivation and power to make some changes in my life that I have wished for or even attempted (and failed at) in the past. One, as I mentioned recently, is my trying to excise bread and other things made with flour from my diet. It ain’t easy. Wheat has opioids — opium-like substances that influence the brain’s endorphin receptors. These opioid peptides are physically addictive and cause asthma, obesity, and (as might be expected from a substance chemically similar to morphine) apathy.

It turns out that plants use different tactics to scare off attackers. Some plants contain poison; others just anesthetize their attackers, as wheat does with opioid peptides.

Priests in ancient Egypt knew the power of wheat opioids. They ate bread to cause hallucinations, and placed a bread poultice under bandages to ease the pain of wounds. The Roman rulers knew that the people wouldn’t rise up against them as long as they were fed bread and kept entertained — the old “bread and circuses” approach that is the mainstay of modern culture.

(Interesting side note: The Roman government offered a variety of popular entertainments to keep people’s attention diverted from embarrassing political scandals and messy wars: free or cheap unhealthy food; public baths; gladiator spectacles; exotic animals; chariot races in the Circus Maxiumus and sports competitions; and theater performances. Now we have fast food, body pampering, reality shows, high-dollar shopping, sports, and movies and TV. Has nothing changed in 2000 years?)

Obviously I want to lose weight again and regain my health (and while you couldn’t tell it by looking at me, I had lost about 65 pounds before the funeral, though I gained some back on this trip). I hope to get down to 165 pounds, ultimately. And that’s a long, long, LONG road ahead, though I’m no longer setting a timed goal for myself. In fact, at this point, I’ve decided not to set any weight-based goals at all, not even tiny incremental ones.

Nope, I realized that if my goal were based on weight loss or even fat loss (which is different), I would be perpetuating the same pattern I’ve failed at over and over. In fact, I think I’ve come up with an approach that can’t fail — because the very concept of “failure” doesn’t exist. My goal is to create new habits, new patterns of behavior that will help support my health.

So my goal is not to “walk x distance every day,” but rather to “start moving my body more, and make that movement a habit.” My goal is not to establish and keep a perfect paleo diet, but rather to start eating more healthy foods and fewer unhealthy ones, and establish that pattern as a habit. When I deviate from these new patterns, it won’t be failure, it won’t be breaking a diet (how violent that sounds!) or falling off the exercise wagon (again with the violence!), it will be a recognition that new habits are built gradually through repeatedly doing things differently than you’ve done them before.

It will be uncomfortable, because you’re moving out of the well-worn groove in the road and traveling on new and uncertain ground. And the cart will occasionally slip back into that old rut, because it’s well established and familiar and comfortable. That’s not failure; it’s a geographical feature of the road. It just means I need to steer the cart back up onto the new, untrodden ground again. And if I find a new part of the road that works well for me, next time I’ll try to follow the same tracks, and eventually create a new groove. (Having spent time in Vermont and St. Croix, where there are still many dirt roads, has been a helpful visual and sensory reminder of this approach.)

So yesterday I ate no bread, and I made some good food choices. Today — Day Two — I will try to repeat that pattern, and perhaps make some even better food choices. Yesterday I moved a bit, though I was stiff and achy, and still am today. So I’ll drink more water and move a bit more, and I still won’t call it exercise, since that’s too frightening a concept.

During my last winter in Vermont, Bear taught me that I can walk on icy surfaces better if I walk pigeon-toed and I lumber along slowly. Now Elephant is teaching me that you’ll get there eventually even if you just plod along, and that it feels really good to simply sway back and forth from time to time. It gets the blood flowing and loosens everything up. (Elephant also says it’s OK to cry or trumpet from time to time if you need to. It’s good to feel things, even if it hurts sometimes.)

And tomorrow we’ll see what Day Three brings.

Categories: Animals, Body and Mind, Death, Food and Diet, Shamanism | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Day Two

  1. Your approach to diet and exercise sounds so wise…I’ll try to remember your words and apply them to myself.

    A brand-new life is opening up for you, with, maybe, room for a dog?

  2. I have been responsible for (or to) others for a long, long time. If you have a housemate, you might share meals, or check in with one another, or live at least part of your life together. I lived with Mom for ten years in Maryland, then nearly another ten in Florida, over half of which was caregiving. Even when I lived alone in Vermont, I had a dog to take care of. As much as I have loved my dogs, and my friends and my family, I need a period when I have no one to take care of but myself.

    I want to be able to come and go as the whim strikes me, to stay out as long as I wish without having to come home and feed the dog or let her out, without having to find someone to take care of her if I need to go out of town.

    I’ll have a dog again, and I know the right one will come to me in time. But for now, I need to experience some benign selfishness, to see what it’s like — who I am — alone. It’s an experience I’ve never had in my 53 years, and I think it’s time to explore some new territory.

  3. indigo bunting

    Craig: My first reaction to seeing this long post was how jealous I am that you have time to write. (I’m loving it, by the way.)

    Then, of course, there’s the post itself. I’m very excited for you. And yes, I think just a new way of thinking about things is best, making changes. If I exercised in order to lose weight, I would always be measuring something. I exercise now because it’s part of what I do and who I am. I never lose weight, but I don’t gain any either, which has been a blessing.

    Lali: I have been excited about this time of freedom for Craig and have been praying that he doesn’t get a dog too soon. He will indeed have one someday, but there’s so much he needs to do and be free to do—at least that’s what my gut tells me—that to get so totally tied down now, well… I’ll shut up now.

  4. IB: The writing stuff is strange. These posts since the day before Mom died have flowed with astounding ease and speed. And I’ve been getting up early, like anywhere from 4 to 6 a.m., which as you know is utterly bizarre for me, with words all ready to start tumbling out. Today I had to finish some client editing, so I didn’t get to start writing until 9 a.m.

    I don’t know if it will stay, but I’m certainly enjoying it so far.

  5. Well done and well put and well I needed to read this today. I am happy for you that you could see this and write this and happy for me that you did.

    A friend of mine once asked me how I eat an elephant. I thought this a strange question, although I thought fried elephant skin would be an amazingly chewy treat.

    One bite at a time was what she told me.

    The same friend suggested I look upon keeping a food journal and my dietary choices as a religious idea. It is a mitzva to do this. It is an obligation to the Most High. So that takes care of the “I’ll be good to myself this once” stuff by giving myself moments of pleasure that end in days of agony, such as this weekend when I had a bit of bread and it ended in a wheat binge.

    And so I started a food journal this morning, told myself that I would enjoy feast food now and then when it was supremely worth it but not when it contained things that would harm me. Such is my obligation.

    Then, on occasion, I look at my Sweetie and think the same: I want to be the best I can for her. That means taking care of myself.

    And so I leave with this quote: Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos – the trees, the clouds, everything. – Thich Nhat Hahn.

  6. On second thought, I’m not quite ready to leave.

    Craig, if you ever want to borrow a dog, Dusty is here and always wanting o a walk no matter how short of long.

    I applaud your taking of time – selfish time, alone time, precious time, quiet time.

    And making the creation of new habits your goal is a much better idea than a goal that is quantifiable. Enjoy the movement and the success daily.

  7. Jennie

    I think that this is a wonderful way of approaching your path and beginning a happier, healthier way of being.

    Does your family need wheat-free Thanksgiving recipes? There are some here:

    And I applaud your decision to remain as obligation-free as you can be right now. You have done enough of duty for while.

    See you this afternoon!

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