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Tiny Revolutions №13: Check Yourself Before...You Know
tell me how you really feel
I recently broke up with someone. It had been a short but intense relationship: the kind where we went immediately from being total strangers to spending almost all of our free time together. This is extremely unusual for me, but I went with it because it felt right—right up until it didn’t. We fell apart even faster than we had come together. It was messy and confusing and painful when it ended, but it was absolutely, completely finished.
And what I noticed in the immediate aftermath was that the emotion I felt the most, even more than sadness, was fear. An intense, cold fear. Of being alone. Of sleeping alone. Of confronting the huge vacuum that opens up when you break up with someone. Those lazy weekend mornings when you used to lounge about drinking coffee together until you went about your day. And then all the nights after.
As I approached the first weekend after it ended, I found myself in a tailspin, wondering how I would fill the hours and convinced that I was doomed to eternal solitude.
But then something pretty great happened. I had the presence of mind to pull my head out of my ass and asked myself how I was *actually* feeling right at that moment. Apart from the assumption that every day after this would bring me a step closer to dying alone and having my corpse picked at by my dog before the neighbors found me, what was really going on?
Yes, there was loneliness. Yes, there was sadness and disappointment. There was shame, because here I was, dealing with another “failed” relationship. But there was also relief, because there was a reason it had ended. And there was gratitude—for making it through an intense situation and remaining intact. There was even a tiny glimpse of hope that maybe one day there would be a relationship that ended on a less fraught note, or maybe didn’t end at all.
I was able to remind myself that there would be so many more moments, if I could just remember to actually be there for them. The fear that I was feeling only had a small amount to do with reality — it was my anticipation of the loneliness itself that was harming me and causing me to suffer. And so it felt like a choice — either stay worried about the future or keep returning to right now. What’s actually happening as opposed to what might happen.
I’m writing to you from a sunny spring day with a light wind that’s floating the sweet smell of jasmine my way every so often. What’s present for me right now is gratitude that I get to experience this beauty and that I get to write about it, and that you are reading about it. I’m a little bit lonely. I’m a little bit sad that I don’t have anyone sitting across the table from me with a reassuring smile. But that’s just something that I’m feeling right now. Maybe I won’t feel that way tomorrow. Or maybe I won’t even feel that way in 20 minutes.
I’ve been thinking (and reading) a lot lately about how researchers are discovering more and more about how the diversity of the microbes in your gut impacts your mental health. Blah blah blah probiotics, the intestinal biome, etc. But it was kind of a lightbulb to read this article about how for all our focus on eating fermented foods and drinking kombucha and the like to get more probiotics into our systems, we might be overlooking something even more important: the necessity of eating enough fiber. It is fiber, after all, that feeds the microbes. So eat your beans.
Need help making a decision? The body never lies.
“The brain does not honor the kind of anachronistic distinction between thought and feeling. Thought and feeling are absolutely intermingled in the brain, and so there are no areas of the brain that are exclusively dedicated to one and not the other. There’s a lot of interconnectivity.”
One of my favorite things to read about is how science is catching up to something that some people (ahem, Buddhists) have instinctively known forever: that there is no separation between our bodies and minds. Here’s a great conversation between On Being’s Krista Tippet and leading neuroscientist Richard Wright. It’s ostensibly about the role of feelings in the classroom, but it’s so much more than that. (Note: there’s a transcript if podcasts aren’t your thing.)
A poem for spring.
I’m off for a meditation retreat with Angel City Zen Center this weekend, which I’ve recently discovered is home to a thoughtful and welcoming group of people. If you are curious about meditation, let me know if you’d like to join me for one of their group sits. (And regardless, wish me luck at staying silent for three days.)
Before I leave you, I have a little experiment I want to try. Will you go here and answer two short, anonymous questions? I want to know how *you* are feeling right this very moment. This will take you no more than ten seconds.
p.s. Thanks to my dear friend and reader Stephanie, who supplied this photo that refers to a question I posed in an earlier issue.
p.p.s. Want to know a secret?