Floating

It’s hard to change.

Even while constantly, continuously, there is absolute fool-proof evidence that EVERYTHING changes and there is no avoiding the ever-shifting nature of time and experience — from the earthquake that just interrupted my family’s dinner preparation to the fact that my once instantly responsive dog now wanders aimlessly, deaf and clueless — we fight so hard to resist the current.

I know I’m not releasing some ground-breaking realization or even saying anything relatively new. We’ve all been fed the adage “the only thing constant is change,” often to justify difficult transitions or mystifying sacrifices. I, for one, get a little irritated being thrown this cliché that does NOT make switching mindsets or expectations any easier. But even when I’m stuck — like super-glue-between-10-year-old-fingers and tongue-on-freezing-metal-pole-at-recess stuck — I can’t ignore the fact that the roller coaster keeps on rolling, whether I’m buckled in and safely inside the cart or not.

AND, while most change occurs without prompting or even desire, it’s reassuring to recognize that we, as the sole helmsmen-and-women of our own lifeships, do possess the ability to steer our courses of change to our preference. Now, whether that change actually benefits us or plays out is almost irrelevant. As is the materialization of our actually seizing the steering wheel or not. Sometimes, it’s enough to know that we can change, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the present moment.

For me at least.

It’s also hard to commit, especially if you’ve spent what feels like your whole life always chasing the next impressive task and adhering to a prescribed regimen of thought (hmm… kinda sounds like someone I know…cough everyone cough).

But I’m at the point where I know I need to direct my own change. I’m ready (I think) for a couple hard things — namely, committing to change. I’m tired of living in a self-consuming hole rolling around in Grade A molasses minus the sweet and only the black, sticky properties — tar, in other words. I’m tired of knowing I’m simply sabotaging myself before I even depart for the sheer satisfaction of predicting my own failure. I’m tired of finding exciting blips far in the future to cast my sight on and avoid feeling my present self.

Every time I let the thoughts of expanding, strangling bleakness penetrate my purview, that rut in the road wears a little deeper and my steering wheel bucks out of my hand again.

So here’s my practice, for now: when that constraining, familiar shadow inundates my senses, I WILL find a way to counter it. A simple way, with just a few replacements and adjustments. For example:

“I’m upset because I knew I was full and then kept on eating”
can turn into
“I knew when I was full and it’s awesome I’m in touch with that cue”

or

“I wasted so much time this summer and was really lazy”
can be heard as
“I learned what it’s like to watch the days pass and I’m glad I don’t always have to be busy”

or

“I didn’t write a blog post in over a month and I can’t keep a commitment”
might be
“I waited for inspiration and didn’t want to clog up everyone’s emails and time with meaningless ramblings” (ha..ha… that one’s for you)

You get the picture. I don’t need to get too self-indulgent.

I’m not advocating for “find the good in everything!” or “be happy” or “just smile!” or simply ignoring realities and misfortunes in pursuit of restful dreams. I am a firm believer in living to the fullest extent and truly being, whether in pain or pleasure. In my better moments I espouse philosophical enlightenment and rousing declarations. But in my not-so-good moments I could use a little contrived stimulation to remind myself that this is all I’ve got and every molecule of my breath is intertwining with particles of ancient thoughts and it’s as real as I believe it to be.

I have a feeling most of us in this modern era recognize that our societal structure is counting on us swallowing the fuel of fear and scarcity (time, money, food, energy, space, love), internalizing insecurity and operating on doom. Hell, I get annoyed when someone is “overly cheerful” or optimistic. Annoyed. That is not a peaceful and fulfilling existence.

So here’s to grabbing the helm, even if it’s with a pinky that will most likely slip off by tomorrow. Here’s to realizing that trying to end obsession hasn’t worked and if that means faking it — at risk of insincerity — until you do or don’t make it, well, that’s a worthy endeavor all on its own. Here’s to embracing discomfort and suffering because there’s a reason we have tears and screams.

Cheesy, I know... but hey, that's my boat!

Cheesy, I know… but hey, that’s my boat!

Where is your bow pointed?

A Funny Kind of Gratitude

Amidst my fixations on the difficulties and opportunities for disaster that seem to pop up nearly every time my outlook approaches a point of genuine positivity and excitement, I have so, so, soooo many things to be grateful for. When I try to “count my blessings,” as they say, I am invariably overwhelmed by my fortune and have to go remember all the shitty parts of my life so I don’t burst with gratitude.

I’m kidding; that kind of overpowering sentiment is ALWAYS welcome into my consciousness with an open door and all the accommodations.

When I’m stuck in my little whirlwinds of panic, my mom tells me to “get bigger” and get outside myself. Honestly, this advice makes me a little annoyed, because when I’m hosting a pity party I really don’t want to be reminded of the incredibly vast and mystifying world that doesn’t include my endless, larger-than-life personal problems. Really, her advice makes me mad because of course I know she’s right; I don’t even try to deny it, I just resort to screaming “I don’t WANT to go outside!” Which is an obvious indication of my delusion and utter wrongness.

But in those moments of lucidity, of acceptance and fulfillment — aka after drinking coffee — I simply want to twirl around in my dress of clouds and sun rays in the field of laughter and collect a line dance of thankful people smiling so hard the only thing left is sore cheeks.

I’m just glad that that fairyland — the real world, as far as I’m concerned — can peek through the fog sometimes.

Because the truth is, when I look up from my feet shuffling along the tundra and notice the untouched mountains stretching to the ends of the earth and the minute stream trickling through the moss and the rich, just-budding alpine flowers opening their baby-flower eyes, I have absolutely no choice but to believe in magic.

There’s just no other explanation for the utter love I feel in the midst of a laughing fit so intense my breath takes an unpaid vacation and my eyes stream with the shared understanding of a joke that was, in reality, probably pretty lame. There’s no other explanation for the existence of a miniature floating mermaid house that doubles as a sauna or a glorified tree(lake)house. (See below)

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There’s no explanation devoid of magic for the beauty in becoming a silhouette with my sister lost in the clouds.

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When I read the works of a master or praise myself for a thoughtful gift-giving job well done or witness the authentic happiness of someone I care about or realize I overcame a crippling obstacle or stop to take in the utopia of wilderness I somehow gained the privilege to enter, that other, very real place of desperation and solitude becomes simply another ingredient in the magic.

If I didn’t know suffering, I would never be able to find inside me the understanding of the freezing homeless man stuck in a thankless refuge of alcohol or the glacier melting without ever being asked if it may have wanted to stick around and contribute to the ecosystem for a while longer. I would never be able to appreciate the extreme stroke of luck I encountered to be born into a situation of such freedom and fortuity. I would never fully experience my heartfelt compassion for the friend who will live the rest of her life without a mom or the kid who just couldn’t care less that he wears the same stinky clothes to school everyday because he’s a hell of a lot more concerned with staying away from his loveless and dangerous home.

I’m not saying I know what it’s like to be in any of these situations. I hope I never do. But my own suffering, however pathetic or self-imposed, has opened a whole world of feeling that adds an invaluable layer of depth to my own experience. I can understand the irrational obsessions and idiosyncrasies of someone I’ve never met. I am no longer grossed out or condescendingly perplexed by compulsions or socially unacceptable actions. When I find myself judging someone on their physical appearance or food choice, for example, I make a concerted effort to stop and remind myself that while I remain an irrevocably opinionated person and may not be able to completely halt those judgments, I actually, truly, do NOT believe in their validity and that perception will NOT dictate my understanding of those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still harshly judgmental and make fun of strange occurrences all the time, almost subconsciously. It’s ingrained in our psyche to have an unacknowledged superiority complex lying under the thick strata of self-deprecation, and I am by NO MEANS an exception. I’m moody and volatile and selfish and secretive and close-minded.

But my acquaintance with shameful despair and bottomless doubt has exposed me to the nuance that makes the colors brighter and the sounds harsher, the wind colder and the boredom longer. It makes the disappointment greater, the tears saltier, and the apathetic insults cut a little deeper.

In essence, sorrow makes life sharper, and living in a blurry state of delusion is only half the human experience. (There is a time and a place for delusion, without a doubt).

I’m not to that annoyingly contented point where I can say I’m thankful for the hard stuff and I wouldn’t change my struggles because they’ve made me who I am today. (Annoying because we’re all jealous of people who feel comfortable with themselves and their situations). I’m definitely not there yet.

I’m just thankful I’m taking the time right now to remember the feeling of a heart ready to explode with the fullness of circulation.

A Body Manifesto

I love stories. I love novels and short stories and poems and movies and biographies and stories about the hilarious look the teacher made when he heard that one kid fart and then blush until his lips started trembling from the effort of trying not to let on that he was the culprit of that god-awful stench. But my favorite kind of stories are the ones behind the expressions I see every day and actions I scoff at or that shoot right over my head. Consciously or not, I anticipate the revelation that comes from hearing the stories of people I judge or misunderstand. (Judging is a whole ‘nother issue that we can discuss later. Don’t worry, I have lots of issues.) Despite the countless reminders I send myself about respecting each person’s own experiences and needs, I still catch myself determining the validity of others’ opinions or decisions for them. Because I am the ultimate authority on everything, obviously.

Any time I am lucky enough to hear someone else’s story, I am once again reminded of the seemingly insurmountable demons and obsessions that whirl around and stir up tornados — to varying degrees — in everyone’s personal realms, and the different lessons we’re all taught by them, however painfully.

As I mentioned before, my demons have grown pretty evil and gigantic lately. In fact, sometimes they look exactly like an extremely short, talkative girl with a big nose, brown hair, and thoughts bursting out of her brain (see picture in footer, or any picture of me ever, or just me). Whaddya know. Unfortunately, a lot of my struggles have taken the form of an epidemic that plagues most women in the country and nearly every teenage girl: body insecurity.

Yayyyy, a huge part of my problems are excessively characteristic of being a white, upper middle class teenage girl and center around superficial societal expectations. Could I be a little more dull and self-absorbed, please?

But body image/food issues have ballooned into a ginormous, uberly oppressive force that is ruthlessly conquering the brain of every woman (and men, but overwhelmingly women), extracting her sanity, and doubting her self-worth.

As something of a disclaimer, I’ve spent the last year and half almostly constantly immersed in this topic, or with at least half my being trained primarily on the issue, so I have a lot of ideas about it. My thinking swims and jumps around in shapes I can’t even begin to describe. I’ll have the unquestionable, fool-proof theory or solution in one instant and be utterly crushed and contradicted the next. In short, I still have no clue what I think or what the answer is.

That being said, I do have quite a bit to say on the topic, and if I can induce any kind of discussion, relation, release, inspiration, or really any authentic reaction, this mission is worth undertaking. As I travel on this healing journey of falling in love with myself and consequently this spectacular world I’m surrounded by, I hope that the bulk of my actions can benefit both my inner and outer environments. In other words, this exploration and liberation is undeniably for my own welfare and support, but my aim is to widen the scope and include other wise and delicious souls in the entire process and discussion.

My history with this beast includes a host of “disorders” and destructive habits, actions, and thought processes. I’m the Queen — and King, for that matter; hell, I rule the whole damn empire — of digging my own holes, dredging them into ruts so deep Everest-grade climbing ropes can’t pull me out, covering the surface so I can hardly breathe, and doing my best to drag everyone else down with me. One of my biggest struggles has been the fact that I really don’t fit into any of the “food issues” categories (mine ranges from binging to over-exercising and always accompanied by utterly crippling obsession).

For all of our sake, I won’t get too in depth into the endless list of dirty details that have festered in the midnight rut for far, far too long.

What I will say is that being at constant war with myself and being so focused on my own maintenance and image that there is truly no room for any other meaningful consideration SUCKS. Not letting myself eat sucks, eating so much I can’t move without pain sucks, feeling paralyzing shame and disgust at my own body sucks, letting my emotions and validity be inversely proportional to a number on a scale sucks, it’s all just sucky yucky muck.

While I am fully aware that my own food/body image obsession is wholly irrational and absolutely by no means universal, there is something wayyyy too common about this whole situation.

WHY DOES THE SIZE OR COMPOSITION OF OUR BODIES HAVE ANY BEARING WHATSOEVER ON OUR CHARACTER OR WORTH OR STATUS OR LITERALLY ANYTHING EVER??!?!?!?!

I get that some people feel a toned/muscular/skinny/fit body is a sign of discipline and self-care, but you know what’s not? Obsession and misery!

A lot of us who struggle with this monster are severely ashamed of its shallowness and vanity. At the risk of repeating what has become one of the most talked-about yet stagnant issues, I would, again, like to point out that it’s really REALLY HARD to feel worthy, capable, attractive, powerful, and lovable when every social construct designates “fat” as an insult. We’re at “WAR with obesity,” for God’s sake!

This preoccupation with food, body image, and appearance has become so entrenched in mental health and personal accomplishment that it’s become hard to isolate. How could this perpetual evaluating and comparing and squeezing of our flesh result in anything other than a deep, shameful yearning for approval and a hidden (or not so hidden) pocket of penetrating guilt?

Health is important. I’m just not convinced healthy means cutting out chocolate if that’s all you can think about or going to a spin class that you really really hate. A lot of my own behaviors are unhealthy and very difficult to change, but I think health has a whole lot to do with not squashing your own worth into a bullet that can’t fill a cartridge but is fully capable of being shot.

I’m not sure what healthy means for me, and I’m just as confused now as I ever was. Maybe there’ll be a time in my life when a six-pack and sanity are coexistent, but that’s not right now. Maybe I’ll gain 30 pounds or maybe I’ll suddenly discover I can eat a meal without stuffing myself to the point of popping. I really just have no idea, and I’m learning (trying) to be okay with this state of not knowing, perched on the edge of catastrophe and bliss.

I feel a little unjustified making these statements because no matter how deeply in my soul I know these words to be true, I still (very) often fall prey to that inexplicably cruel wave of guilt and self-doubt. But I’m ready to surrender and break open the floodgates of hot, sticky, magnificent, boundless love that I know is stirring around somewhere. I can feel it boiling and spreading and aching to join with all of yours.

This will most likely be a resurfacing theme, and I’ll try not to linger too long but some things just need to be let out.

This is my story. My heart has an opening for yours.

If anyone has any experiences/thoughts/questions/insights/anything at all that surfaces for you I would be SO honored and thrilled to hear them. Please feel free to share in the comments below or email me at hirschbarae@gmail.com

Art by Gail Baker

Art by Gail Baker

 

 

Riding the Wave

I’ve spent a lot of time recently trapped in my own company.

And that says it all, doesn’t it? Trapped. The thing is, I see no imminent escape route, obviously. No matter how much I daydream about the drastic changes and freedom summer will bring or the endless possibilities of a gap year or the incredibly hip, confident persona I’ll embody in college, I’ll always be stuck with my own utterly perplexed self.

I’m not claiming to have the answer. Hell, I’m the most confused person I know. But that’s just it: I’m pretty sure no one knows someone more messed up than themselves. Because we’re all stuck in our own obsessive, private Idahos, hyper-focused on self-improvement that’s traveling in an entirely different dimension than the rest of the world. (See my poem, Deceptively Unborn). We’re so tangled in these minuscule knots the whole universe shrinks into a floating snow globe waaaaayyy out in the distance.

Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself.

I’m tired of being alone, because I know it’s a self-imposed isolation. There are so many absolutely astounding, compassionate, engaging people that surround me, let alone fill this planet (and beyond???). It would be a shame to miss the invaluable experiences and love they have to offer because I can’t break out of myself for a bit. And to do that, I need to seriously heal myself. I want to enjoy my own company, not just be stuck with it.

And that’s where you come in.

The Internet is a magical place. It’s a strange reality that most of my generation feels more comfortable opening up to literally the entire world than people they see every day. While I tend to unload/rant to my real-life connections more frequently than I think any of us would like, this worldwideweb seems like an opportunity to let my mom have her own problems for a couple seconds.

Just kidding, this will not be me journaling my teenage angst in hope for an immediate viral boom and dedicated following of professional complimenters (although, if that somehow transpired, I mean…) I would like to share some personal thoughts, hence the blog, and will also be publishing some of my written pieces as well as commentaries/articles and who knows what else. I’m just as curious as you. Although you’re probably not that curious, since I have no idea if I’ll even be able to generate enough internet traffic to justify using the second person.

In any case, I’ve recently experienced Enlightenment (don’t worry, I’ve fallen back to my unfortunate, annoyingly-persistent pessimism) and I know that the path to balance, compassion, acceptance, and genuine vitality and excitement will by no means be linear. I’m fully expecting the maze from The Shining, only with pop-up terrors of endless rejection, scary life decisions, more tears than fill the ocean that’s creeping over Florida, failures that make me want to curl into a ball so small I could be flushed down the toilet, and other general life proceedings. I already experienced de-Enlightenment approximately 50 minutes following my arrival. But I’m ready for a transformation. I’m committed (yeah yeah, I say that every morning before the fan starts spreading the stench, but hey, I started a website, didn’t I?) to this self-love thing, because I am not going to live as a prisoner of shame in this perpetual purgatory of not good enough.

I want to traipse and explore and navigate and commute and fly and dance and schlep and twirl and crawl and gallivant through this labyrinth without a backpack full of lead parasites masquerading as authentic thoughts.

I want to voyage proudly and contentedly, but trips are almost always more fun with some company. With the help of this handy Internet meshuggeneh (you might wanna learn some Yiddish), we can get the best of both worlds. We travel on our own wifi but we share the same path. I’ll just keep on plugging away over here, whether anyone discovers this site or not, but I would be overwhelmingly honored to pick up some companions.

I’m embarking on a journey, and I invite you to join me.

(My horoscope agrees)

Horoscope