Expanding in a grounded way

I am participating in Jessica Chilton’s brilliant Shine Expansive:  30 minutes a day for 30 days, to clarify our purpose and summon our courage to move past our fears and start to shine – to live out our true expanded selves.  For today’s lesson, she had us write out some of our fears on postits and then post them around a doorway in our house.  She then encouraged us to have a conversation with each of them and see what they might be telling us as we prepare to move into a more expanded life.  Here’s what happened for me as I did this exercise.

What makes me fear a bigger, more successful, more love-filled life? Can getting to know those fears help me be successful in my expanded life?

What makes me fear a bigger, more successful, more love-filled life? Can getting to know those fears help me be successful in my expanded life?

As I posted my fears around my doorway, preparing to confront them one by one and find the courage to move past them to a more expanded life on the other side, I made a realization that amazingly managed to elude me at last year’s Shine Expansive. I have bipolar disorder and for me expansion has become equivalent with mania. Expansion= mania, contraction=depression.

A little bit of mania works good for me. I do manifest many of the characteristics of expansion that we are talking about here. But several of the fears I wrote on my postits are really fears of my own mania: “I fear that if I trust my own judgment too much I will make bad decisions”, “I fear that I will leave my job and not physically survive”,   “I fear that if I have a romantic relationship I will never work.” All of these fears have some realistic basis regarding things I have done when I’m manic. So them asking me to stop at the doorway is not a bad thing. I can see them as benevolent gatekeepers, asking me to get my feet firmly rooted on the ground before I go out into my big life. If I do this, I can retrieve the word expand for a good meaning: “not held back by depression”, “expanding into my big self, with my feet firmly on the ground.”

I’m going to keep those postits on my doorway and practice checking in with them before I leave for my day. Perhaps as some deeper and wiser part of me takes over the role of keeping my feet on the ground, I will have less need for depression to keep me in balance.

I believe in mistakes…

Cashiering is detailed work – there are so many ways to make little (and larger) mistakes.  When I am up, I roll with these mistakes: I make fewer of them because my brain is sharper, but I am also a lot more forgiving of those mistakes that I do make.  When I’m down, I tend to be pretty hard on myself about even little mistakes – and positively cruel to myself about the larger ones.

I thought of a variety of ways to attack this issue in a post, but none of them seem better than the poem I wrote during this same dark time of year about four years ago.  It’s longer than most of my posts, but lots of people have found it meaningful.  I’d welcome your feedback – in a comment or an email (to heymajo@gmail.com).

I BELIEVE IN MISTAKES          (Majo, 1/15/11)

I believe in mistakes
I believe in right and wrong
Good and evil
Sin and redemption
Well I’m sure about sin at least

I believe it’s possible
To make a wrong choice
Take a wrong turn
And to forever lose
All option  for good
That the right road would have held

I believe it’s possible for these wrong choices
To lead you to a wrong life
To become a wrong person
With no chance to get back to
The person you were meant to be

Why am I so imprisoned by this wretched
View of the world?
Why do I cling so to beliefs
About life and about myself
That cause so much suffering?
Why am I so attached to
This harsh god of right and wrong?
Why is this unforgiving code
Carved so deeply and painfully into my heart?

Is it my Libra nature
Constantly balancing and rebalancing the scales
Desperately and hopelessly trying to get things to come out right?
I so often know immediately
That I have taken the wrong path
Committed to the wrong course of action
Ordered the wrong lunch
And am so seldom confident
That I am going the right way

Is it because the good nuns
So patiently and persistently
Drilled original sin into my young consciousness?
Is it my Irish conscience
So hopeless about becoming a genuinely good man?
It believes that carrying
A heavy load of guilt
Is the most reliable way to
Earn God’s mercy.

Is it my western analytical mind
So hooked on separating
On putting things in different buckets
Hooked on the world of either/or?

Is it my human ego
So tiny in the face of
The vast world out there
So lost in fear and alienation?

I would like to say that my belief in mistakes
Is my one true mistake
But I think that would be a mistake
Tortured as this paradigm is
It is my lineage
It unites me with the human species
From which I spring
My suffering is your suffering
Is our suffering
Until we can together
Every one of us
Lay this burden down

You may have gleaned by now
How hard it is to step outside
Of this world of mistakes
Indeed, from our shared starting point,
It is impossible
It is anathema to our human programming
A contradiction in terms
It is a world that can only be visited
When we take a brief vacation
From our normal minds
It’s the payoff from meditation
The addictiveness of drugs
The bottom line of love

In the throes of love
Does our lover or child not seem perfect
Able to do no wrong?
(How ephemeral are these throes of love)
Is it not clear, when we are truly in love
That there can be no mistake
In committing fully to the beloved
No matter how great the cost?

How can I turn this kind of love on myself?
Commit this fully to me?
My path the last few days
Is clearly littered with mistakes
Today I wrote a poem
Who wrote the poem?
Who made the mistakes?
Could I have had this
Without the others?
Did they not get me here?

Maybe my commitment to a me that does
Is the deepest mistake
Steps were taken that led me here, led me there
Led me to this poem
Led me to this room
Led me to you
You get to decide whether for
You this poem is right or wrong
But if you are wise you will maybe not

What am I going to eat now?

One perk of working in a health food supermarket is that you probably are going to eat better.  A tough part is that it can expose the weaknesses of your diet and make you feel some pressure to eat better.

After years of being a slug around food, in denial about the effects of diet on mood and overall health, I know now that I need to change my relationship to food – but I only have intuitive glimmers of how.

I have four factors waking me up.

  1. My shrink put me on a new mood stabilizer (Zyprexa) that he all but guarantees will cause me to put on weight.  He recommended a low glycemic diet and gave me a handout with the glycemic index of various foods.
  2. After years of being dormant, my prostate cancer is getting more noisy (my PSA blood test numbers are going up).  After the biopsy I have scheduled in a few weeks, my urologist may start pushing me to have radiation – and I’m pretty clear I don’t want to go there.  I’m taking a new anti-inflammatory supplement that I’m pretty excited about (Zyflamend from New Chapter) and I want to give it time to work.  And I want to explore various cancer prevention diets.
  3. My sugar addiction is still out of control.
  4. Now that I’m willing to really look at my diet, I’m ready to really face the possibility that factors in my diet negatively affect my mood – and that there might be one or more diets out there that would be good for my mood.
People like to tease about  sugar addiction, but I know it's a serious thing for me.  But how serious?  How much does it affect my mood? My cancer?

People like to tease about sugar addiction, but I know it’s a serious thing for me. But how serious? How much does it affect my mood? My cancer?


I’m not very knowledgeable in this area, but have some intuitions about where I need to go:

  • I need to stay off of sugar.  I don’t know how to do refined sugar in moderation.  But I’m lousy at negative discipline – just saying no to something.  I need something positive to focus on – an optimistic new diet that includes no sugar.I’ve always just focused on sugar desserts as the culprits, but there’s sugar in lots of things.  How scrupulous do I need to get?  What about fruit?  I sure don’t want to give up fruit, but we’re talking about a potentially fat cancer patient here.
  • Do I need to go gluten free?  Grain free?  I’ve been hearing about the book Grain Brain.  I’ve tried being gluten free for a couple of weeks two times, then abandoned it when I saw no change in my moods.  Someone told me once that you should see a change in that amount of time, but someone has told me it could take longer.  Lots of carbs turn into sugar pretty quickly in the blood stream.  I bet I need to stay away from processed grains – white bread at least is going to have to go, but maybe bread period.  I think I’m going to  get a loaf of Ezekiel sprouted bread for starters – maybe as a transition, maybe as a new regimen.
  • But bread is the staff of life, right?  I like it so much - is it feasible for me to give it up?

    But bread is the staff of life, right? I like it so much – is it feasible for me to give it up?

    How important is system acidity in all of this?  I’ve come to believe that we are meant to be alkaline, but most of us are actually running acidic.  (I’ve been testing myself with little strips of paper and am definitely acidic.)  I’ve heard a couple of people claim that cancer needs an acidic environment to grow.  I have started drinking high alkaline water.  I’ve got a hunch my beloved coffee is too acid-producing.

  • My friend Mary said that it sounds from the way I talk like I might be migrating towards the Paleo diet, about which I know very little.
  • She also talked about macrobiotics as an option for me.
  • Lydia, who came through my line today and seemed very knowledgeable about all this, talked about
  • the GAPS diet (“gut and psychology syndrome”) and
  • the Gerson diet.

I’ll keep you posted on all this – and will welcome any information or experience you might want to post in a comment.

As I have been writing this, I have – in my over-tired state – been bingeing on all the desserts I have stockpiled here over the last few days.  That settles it: I can’t wait for after the holidays to clean up my act around sugar – we start tomorrow with no refined sugar.  Then we’ll see what comes next.

“Thank you for being unfriendly.”

I can’t keep up the high-intensity connecting, customer after customer, indefinitely.  I need to chill back, coast, ground myself.  Stay pleasant, friendly – but somewhat more in myself as opposed to out there with them.

Some customers help that – they are not available for connecting. They may be in a generic grocery store mode – they don’t expect the cashier to engage them. Don’t try – take this as a chance to drop back in.

The other day, I tried to engage with an attractive 40ish woman, but got nowhere.  I decided that she was just kind of shut down.  Then, after she left, I looked over my shoulder and saw her all animated with another customer.  Don’t take it personal.  For whatever reason, today, at that moment, she needed the cashier to be simply a cashier – not a multi-dimensional person.  It’s alright.

When you get someone who is distracted or even unfriendly, thank them inside.  “Thank you for braking my momentum” (especially when I am manic/speedy/overextended).  “Thank you for giving me an opportunity to ground myself.”  Thich Nhat Hanh encourages people to stop periodically throughout the day – just stop, in your chair, in the middle of the room – and come back to center, come back to who you really are.  He tells us to thank a stoplight for stopping us.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

So we can thank a person for stopping us.  Stopping is good.