I’m hers, and she’s mine.

This morning I read that the question of whether to allow same-sex couples to marry in Maryland would be on the ballot in November.  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48792672/ns/politics-the_new_york_times/.  As a general matter, I don’t believe that the civil rights of any American should ever be up for a vote.  There’s that little matter of the “tyranny of the majority” that our system of government is supposed to guard against.  Unfortunately, our system of government doesn’t always work the way that it’s supposed to. In fact, this question is not only on the ballot in Maryland, but also my beloved state of Maine.  And, we all remember what happened in California with Prop 8.  Needless to say, I’m on pins and needles over it.  Next to my partner of 21 years, Maine is my other true love.  We hope to be able to retire there someday, but not until our marriage here in Massachusetts is recognized in Maine.  As much as we love Maine, we love each other more.  That’s why this blog is an appeal to those who hold that fate in their hands when they go to the ballot box in November.

Here’s what I’m asking them to do.  Peel back the layers of politics, religion and homophobia and think back to when they first fell in love.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  The first time I saw her, I couldn’t stop looking at her.  She was gorgeous, and had a sly smile that left me undone in a million good ways.  If she’d asked that first day we met, I would’ve told her anything she wanted to know.  Over the years, I have.  She makes me feel safe, happy, desired and loved beyond measure.  I’ll never forget the first time we hugged.  The skin of my cheek brushed hers and to this day I don’t remember ever feeling anything quite as soft, except for her kiss.

Anyone who has ever been in love knows the delicious depths of heaven experienced in that first kiss.   You know the one.  It’s the one that you don’t want to ever end.  It feels like the beginning of everything you’ll ever need or want.  Every cell of your body vibrates with the energy of connectedness to that person who was meant to be yours.  For me, I knew that I’d found the other piece of my soul in her.  All the feelings that welled inside me for her were the bridge that bound our hearts together.  She is my soul mate.  We’ve built a long beautiful life together despite the homophobic turmoil of our families and society that tried in vain to pull us apart.  The thing about true love though is that it can’t be broken.

We’ve weathered many storms together that have only brought us closer.  21 years later, I still ache for her when she’s away.  She still undoes me with her smile, and her kiss is the only one that I’ll ever want on my lips.  Regardless of what the world around us does with respect to the politics of same-sex marriage, I will take care of her until my last breath.  If there’s one thing I know for sure in this world it’s that she’ll do the same for me.  It sure would be a whole lot easier with all of the legal protections and benefits of marriage.  My hope is that when those who hold our fate go to the polls, they remember that this is about love and fairness, not politics and religion.  I ask them to imagine a world in which they’re denied the right to legally marry the person whose heart means more to them than anything in the world.  When one pulls back all of the layers to this issue, the nucleus is love.  Surely, fair minded souls can understand that and will do the right thing.  I hope.

Peace.

 

 

Every success begins and ends in the heart and mind.

Welcome to the last blog in my series on good health.  As I’ve mentioned, my path to good health has been a combination of diet, exercise and stress management.  I’m ending on the most important subject of all, stress management.  Without it, I wouldn’t be able to sustain the other two.  Every success begins and ends in the heart and mind.

I was a worrier.  My guess is that many of those who read this blog have the same affliction.  Here are just a few of the little and maybe not so little worries that used to buzz into my head like a relentless mosquito.  Did I turn the coffee pot off?  Did I lock the door?  Does my butt look fat in these pants?  I’m too short.  What if she doesn’t love me as much as I love her?  What if I didn’t do a good enough job at work?  What if no one likes my writing?  What if something terrible happens?  What if I lose my job?  What if this is the only job I’ll ever have?  What if, what if, what if…it’s exhausting and feeds on itself, leaving me scattered.  At its worst, it left me overweight, lost, anxious and ultimately unhappy even though I had every reason in the world to be happy.  Sound familiar?  I thought it might.

When I finally realized that it was problem, I looked for ways to fix it.  The first thing I did was go back to running.  The runner’s high that came from the burst of endorphins always relaxed me.  I also gave up refined sugar in my diet.  I’d read that people can become addicted to sugar, and it increased a person’s anxiety along with adding pounds to the body.  As I’ve said repeatedly, I have no professional training in nutrition or exercise and can only speak for my own experiences.  I tell you unequivocally though, that eliminating refined sugar/processed foods and eating a healthy balanced diet, as I’ve described in my blog “Food, glorious food,” did wonders for my body and mind.  I thought about recommending a few books on the subject of how diet and exercise can calm an anxious mind, but there are just too many out there to list.  Because we all have different nutritional needs and health issues that we’re trying to solve, I highly recommend that readers do some research of their own, including speaking with a nutritionist or physician.  My advice though is to be cautious of diets that seem too good to be true, or that you know in your gut can’t possibly be healthy in the long run.

Here is the problem that I ran into eventually.  Notwithstanding a healthy diet and plenty of exercise, the weight of the world still got too heavy.   I needed to find a way to achieve the relaxing calm that came from exercise even when I wasn’t exercising.  I’d pretty much exhausted finding ways to manage stress that I could do on my own.  This leads me to my first and most important piece of advice on the topic of stress management.  Don’t hesitate to get or ask for help.  When I got to a point where I had exhausted all the things I could think of to do to manage stress and was still bumping up against walls of worry, I asked for help.  There are a gazillion reasons why we are terrible at asking for help when we most need it.  We don’t want to burden others or appear weak.  We feel guilty.  Whatever the reason, at some point, not being able to ask for help becomes incredibly unhealthy.  For me, I put my tail between my legs, shelved my pride and started to see a therapist.  It turned out to be one of the best things that I’ve ever done to take care of myself.  Sometimes all we need is someone to talk to who is neutral and won’t judge us.  I recognize that not everyone can afford to pay for a therapist.  As an alternative, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the people in your life who love and care about you.  I know it’s difficult to be vulnerable, but sometimes letting yourself be so in the presence of someone who you trust is the strongest and most freeing thing you can do.

Not only did seeing a therapist give me an outlet for talking difficult things going on in my life through, she taught me tools that I can use every day to manage stress.  Things like learning how to recalibrate how I think about the world, including why worry accomplishes little more than making me unhealthy.  She also made me accountable for my own happiness.  In addition to finding a good therapist, I highly recommend the following books, “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin, and “Emotional Freedom” and “Positive Energy” by Judith Orloff.

One of the most valuable things that I learned from my therapist however, was how to meditate.  There is no question that there are lots of activities that I love to do that totally relax me like running, paddling, boxing, picking flowers or berries in my field, or working in the garden.  But, what I learned was that meditation could take me to an entirely different level of relaxation.  Plus, I can pretty much meditate anytime during the day by giving myself a 5-10 minute break.  I can’t just drop whatever I’m doing and go for a run.  With running, or any of the other activities that I mentioned above, my brain still has to stay engaged or “in control” to some extent.    I have to pay attention to avoid getting injured or hit by a car when running.  Boats are something to watch out for when paddling.  As for the field and garden, as much as I appreciate snakes and spiders, I don’t want to surprise or be surprised by one.  So, I’m always keeping an eye out for them.  With mediation however, I don’t have to think about anything.  I can simply sit and relax without worry.  The trouble is that that is a really hard thing to do.  In fact, being disciplined and not frustrated about meditation is way more difficult than exercising when I’m tired, or ignoring a bag of potato chips or piece of cake.  In comparison to meditation, those things are easy to accomplish.

Yet, I’ve never felt more at peace, content and sure than when I’m meditating.  The thing about meditation is that it isn’t about finding happiness or some perfect emotion.  For me, it’s about finding sweet contentment with my life regardless of the good or bad.  With it comes a whole lot less worry. I’m able to simply sit, view and accept all that is around me in my life recognizing everything that is beautiful and wonderful in the here and now.  It makes all the other stuff like having a good diet and getting plenty of exercise so much easier.  In a moment of silliness recently, I asked KC what she liked most about me physically.  Her answer was my smile.  That made me so happy because if there is one thing I know that I can always give her, it’s my smile.  In my contentment and good health, I smile all the time.

In fact, instead of the parade of horribles that my brain used to regularly conjure, this is how I’ve calibrated my thinking.  It doesn’t matter what my butt looks in a pair of pants.  What matters is whether I’m healthy, content and happy.  I have a routine in the morning, so I know that there is only a .00009% chance that I left the coffee pot on.  Even if I did, it has a safety mechanism that will cause it to shut off.  I do my best at work.  That’s all I can do.  I don’t make excuses for myself, but I am gentle with me.  I’m also gentle with other people.  I recognize that most of us are flawed human beings with the best of intentions and good hearts.  Being forgiving of others has allowed me the ability to forgive me.  I’m also brave enough to stand up for others and what I believe in even if it means facing negative fallout from it.  As for my writing, I write from a place of authenticity and always try to improve.  That’s what matters.  I’ll connect with some readers and accept that with others, I won’t.  I don’t hesitate to recognize all the many things in this world that I’m awed by, grateful for and love.  I don’t want to waste a second worrying when I can instead spend my time enjoying all that is in this life.   I know that KC loves me with all of her heart.  All I had to do was pay attention in the here and now to know that.  I still have bad days and always will.  Happiness and sadness are necessary parts of the human condition.  Being content and grateful makes me happy and helps me survive the inevitable sad and difficult times of this life.

As I mentioned, meditation was and still often is a hard thing to do.  It takes discipline to make the time, and it’s an exercise that can be completely frustrating at first.  Trust me though, the benefits of meditation far out weight the effort to learn and practice it.  My strong advice is to find someone who knows how to teach guided meditation and take a class or session.  Lots of yoga studios have guided meditation courses.  Another book that I highly recommend is “Get Some Head Space” by Andy Puddicombe.  His book does an excellent job of explaining how meditation works and its benefits.  Even if all you’re interested in is learning more about it, his is the book I recommend.  Meditation is a practice that I’m still very much a beginner at, but will continue to learn and grow as a person by making it a part of my every day existence.  It has become an essential tool for me in managing stress.

We all have stress.  It’s just part of life.  It’s also often times why we over eat, are unhappy and can’t find the energy to exercise.  If there is any one single piece of advice that I can give about how to find good health, it is this, be responsible for your own good health.  Being gentle and kind to yourself is different than making excuses.  Be kind to yourself, but don’t make excuses.  Now is the time to find your own path to good health.  Reach out for help if you have to, and don’t ignore the importance of stress management in getting there.  It’s as vital as diet and exercise.  Do it for you, and those who love you who want you to be happy and healthy in this life for a long time to come.  I wish you all good health and a content heart.  Peace.

Move to live.

Welcome to the third in my series of blogs on good health.  Again, the necessary ingredients for me have been a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and stress management.  This blog is about exercise. 

There are approximately 640 skeletal muscles and 206 bones in the human body.  Recent research by scientists explains that the human body was built to outrun most animals, even horses when it comes to long distance.  Apparently, our ancestors used to chase prey long distances over the African savannah until the prey became over heated and collapsed.  Long distance movement of our bodies is in our genes and evolutionary history.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/health/27well.html.  See also the research article by Lieberman and Bramble that can be linked to from the New York Times article link provided here. 

Notwithstanding this amazing physical capability, most of us sit on average 8 hours a day at our jobs, we sit during the ride to and from home, sit at dinner, sit to watch television and then go to bed.  My guess is that we are generally sedentary for at least 20 hours a day.  Research shows that even those of us who exercise every day are still at risk of reducing our life spans from all of that sitting.  http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/05/02/are-you-sitting-yourself-to-death

Obviously our world is much different from that of our ancestors.  Most of us pay the bills and feed our families by sitting in an office chair a good part of the day rather than chasing antelopes across the savannah.  But, we’re still designed to move.  It reminds me of what it would be like to have a high performance sports car.  If I had one, I wouldn’t keep it parked in the garage all of the time.  I’d want to take it out on the road and drive it, because that’s what it was built to do.

That’s why when I refer to exercise I’m not only talking about scheduling an hour or so a day to move my body, but finding ways to move throughout the day.  I walk instead of ride whenever possible.  For example, I work in the city.  Once I’m there, I travel on foot to wherever I need to go.  Not only do I get to move during the work day, but get some fresh air and avoid the crowded subway system.  It’s a win-win for me.   When I’m in my office, I always make a point of getting up every one to two hours to walk around.  I work on the fourth floor so my routine is to take the stairs down and then back up several times a day.  It takes all of five minutes and I’m still working as I do it, because my brain stays engaged on whatever work problem or issue it is that I’m dealing with.  My spouse and I have a treadmill and recumbent bike in our home.  Instead of sitting on the couch in the evening to watch television or read, we often bike or walk while doing so.  On weekends, we hike, swim, bike and paddle.  The bottom line is that I move instead of sit whenever I’m able to create or seize the opportunity to do so.

As for high intensity exercise, my body craves and needs it.  I build into my schedule at least an hour to an hour and a half a day, six days a week, of cardio and strength exercises.  Among my regular routine, I run, box the heavy and speed bags, lift weights, use exercise DVDs such as those by Jillian Michaels, use the elliptical or treadmill, or ride the recumbent bike.  I also do a lot of the tried and true exercises that most of us learned as kids that require no equipment and little time investment.  Things like pushups and pull-ups pay dividends.  I covet this time to myself to get lost in the activity of just moving, sweating and pushing my body.  That’s why I keep it fresh with lots of variety and exercise alone.  I’m as disciplined about doing my daily exercise as I am brushing my teeth or sleeping.  My body needs it to be healthy and stay in good working order for hopefully a long life.  I don’t view exercise as an extra thing to do if I have time or feel like it.  I make the time no matter what, especially when I don’t feel like exercising. 

The reason that I’m so disciplined about it is because exercise has made surviving a world filled with loads of stresses so much easier physically, emotionally and mentally.  Not only has it made my body strong and fit it helps wash away the stresses of the day and brings me calm and clarity.  Anxiety and depression run in my family and like to nip at my heels.  I keep it in its place with a healthy diet and lots of exercise.  Research shows that exercise changes body chemistry in very healthy ways including calming our moods and even helping us to think better.  See the following articles on brain health and exercise.   http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-exercise-could-lead-to-a-better-brain.html?pagewanted=allhttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-exercise-could-lead-to-a-better-brain.html?pagewanted=all.

I know firsthand what it feels like to come home from work all stressed out and 20 minutes into a run feel total bliss.  My mind calms as it’s flooded with the endorphins produced by running.  In this state of total relaxation, the stresses and worries that I carry around fade away.  It is sweet mindful quiet as my trusty body carries me along sweating out toxins and worries while making me stronger physically, emotionally and mentally.  I guess you could say that I’m addicted.  I’d have to agree.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’m not an expert in physical fitness and can only speak to what has worked for me.  My advice should you want to get started with your own exercise routine is to have a conversation with your health care provider, consider making an appointment with a trainer, or maybe join a gym.  Exercise is supposed to make your body better, not worse.  So you’ll want to make sure that whatever exercise you desire to do, you know how to do it properly in order to avoid injury.  It’s also important to understand the difference between the pain that comes from a muscle sore from finally being worked and pain from an injury.  And, don’t beat yourself up if there are things you can’t do.  Do what works for you and your body.  Find a way to safely exercise in spite of any physical limitations you might have.  I suspect that my days of being able to run are probably limited because of a permanent back injury that I suffered years ago.  It already limits my running.  I’ve gradually started to incorporate other types of exercise into my routine because when the day comes that I can’t run safely, I’ll do something else.  No matter what, I’ll keep moving.  I move to live happy and healthy. 

Peace.