Peak Experiences

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Near Monterey, California, 2013

I chased my one-year old through the sand as he toppled over, laughed, and stood back up again, rubbing sand in his palms and licking it off his lips, taking in each new sensation. We stood near the rough surf,  but far enough so Alistair didn’t fear the crash accompanying each wave. Instead we looked on in awe, together. Just us on this secluded strip of beach behind our cheap motel, far enough off Highway 1 to be deserted at 10 am. Certain logistics of our mother and son road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway were fraught with difficulty. The cheap motel didn’t provide cribs, so I had to buy a pack-and-play. Caring for a toddler alone on such a long drive involved frequent stops, diaper changes, outfit switch-outs and forays into grocery stores for fruit pouches.

But something happened to me on that drive. We wound through coastal towns and over historic bridges, beside beach-side campgrounds and through high, twisting cliff tops. Alistair didn’t say much at his age, but I never felt alone. I sang music at the top of my lungs, stopped to take photos and take in fellow travelers. I listened to the birds and the seals and the wind.

We got back into L.A. after dark and with a crashing reality I sat in a gas station parking lot booking a hotel on Priceline. I GPS-ed my way through Los Angeles traffic to the hotel, adjacent to a shopping center with a parking lot the size of small town. Alistair, as usual with hotels, was beyond excited. I felt elated but wasn’t sure why. My exhausted body wrestled an over-tired toddler and worked out a major calf cramp from being in the car so long. But I got Alistair to sleep right away and I sat alone in the darkness of the hotel room in bliss.

The road trip had been magical. I felt renewed, more in touch with myself than in a long time. Infinite possibilities stood before me. I could do anything. Life was amazing. It didn’t matter how a messy life existed back in Moorhead,  waiting for me. In that moment, all was clear.

I’ve since learned what I experienced on that day in April of 2013 : a peak experience.

Abraham Maslow, of the hierarchy of needs fame, described peak experiences as occurring when a person “feels himself, more than other times, to be the responsible, active, creating center of his activities and of his perceptions. He feels more like a prime-mover, more self-determined (rather than caused, determined, helpless, dependent, passive, weak, bossed). He feels himself to be his own boss, fully responsible, fully volitional, with more ‘free-will’ than at other times, master of his fate, an agent.”

Maslow also said, “Think of the most wonderful experience of your life: the happiest moments, ecstatic moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in love, or from listening to music or suddenly ‘being hit’ by a book or painting, or from some creative moment.”

I’ve been considering my own dedication to the experience and pursual of peak experiences recently.

Everyone who knows me would probably agree I’m a sensation lover, a novelty seeker, and an experience-minded person, sometimes to the detriment of stability or comfort. But comfort, to me, is stifling. (In one sense of the word, that is; comfort can have different meanings.)

There is a song by American Authors which I don’t particularly love, but these lines always stands out to me:

“I guess I’m going home,

’cause all my cash is gone,

I spent it all trying to feel alive.

Go big or go home…”

The rest of the song eludes to the singer being adventurous, sleeping when he’s dead etc. So he’s….going big, yay! Oh wait…he can’t anymore. He’s going home.

And that, I feel, is the struggle. I don’t want to give in to the status quo. Life IS too short for that. I’ve been lucky enough to live with few regrets (but some I’m still trying to work through, such as moving my entire family to North Dakota after college).

Maslow speaks of being hit by a book as an example of a peak experience. This can happen for free at your house. It’s certainly happened to me (Harry Potter, seven times over). I’ve felt this even more through my life over movies.

I remember leaving the movie theater -Tinseltown- at age thirteen after watching Good Will Hunting. I cried in bed that night, feeling so ALIVE. I was never going to be a math genius – but when Matt Damon drove down the road to get Minnie Driver, I realized I could come from my own version of Southie and be anything I wanted to be and go anywhere I wanted to go. Life stretched before me.

(I could list movie examples all day. For example, I still can’t listen to Secret Garden by Bruce Springsteen without feeling the same deep emotions evoked from the Jerry Maguire movie soundtrack…..)

Another ‘free’ peak experience I’ve been consistently hung up on is love. Maslow would concur love invokes incredible peak experience potential. Some of the times I’ve felt most brave, most myself, and the most clarity is regarding matters of romantic love and maternal love for my son. When I started dating my now-husband Alex, I felt I practically floated through life. I was riding a cloud of elation from his flat to my flat, and the town we lived in took on a character of its own. Edinburgh, Scotland will forever equal LOVE to me because of this connotation. The city doesn’t provide clarity to me the way Maslow’s peak experience theory would suggest, but it does evoke the emotion of the true peak experience which occurred there, when I fell head-over-heels for Alex. I just get off the plane there and feel like a better version of myself.

I’m not a drinker, a smoker or a drug taker. When people say they get ‘high on life’ , though, I understand what they mean. Because life is where the genuine ecstasy comes from. It can be hard, and sometimes life feels like lurching from one doldrum to another with some tragedy and unfairness thrown in. But peak experiences can be sought and lived, and they make life out of day-to-day living.

I want to live a life full of peak experiences. I urge others to do the same.

( And what’s healthy for the soul is healthy for the mind and body, too.)

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One of my first and most profound peak experience occurred while traveling to California with my best friend our first year of college. This adventure seemed epic enough to warrant its own blog post, Where Dreams and Hobbits Come True….

P.S. Here’s a better video than the American Authors’ one about the same kind of thing (if you like EDM) :

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Nevertheless…

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My fourth grade classroom was on the top floor of a century-old, brick elementary school, since demolished. My teacher, Mrs. C.,  was a middle-aged woman with a frizzy perm whom I remember little of, except for this incident, which will stay with me forever.

The school implemented a ‘Gifted and Talented Program’  that year and by some process chose a few students who would leave regular classroom time, go with a special teacher from the district, and work on puzzles and word games and other mental gymnastics to utilize and ripen those ‘gifted’ brains.

One day, Mrs. C gave the class some busy work and called out a handful of names, mine included, and asked us to go with her into the hallway. Here we stood in a circle while she enthusiastically explained we’d been chosen for the Gifted and Talented program, and we should be very proud. It would be additional schoolwork on top of our already heavy fourth-grade workload, she warned, but with a blanket statement of praise explained she knew we could do it.

I  loved school, got good grades and great test scores, and when Mrs. C explained the program, I felt eager and happy.

I swelled with pride. I stood with my gangly limbs, my long stringy hair and thick plastic glasses and all of a sudden felt older, confident, excited. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom and dad.

Mrs. C dismissed us from the hallway and we started to file back into the classroom, chattering under our breath.

“Alana,” Mrs. C, whispered, “I’d like to talk with you a minute.”

She closed the door behind the other children so we were alone in the hallway. Maybe she wanted me to be in charge of the group in some way? Why was I being singled out?

And then, Mrs. C  let out a breath and told me she was…..concerned…..that my name had been on the Gifted and Talented list. She held reservations about whether or not I could keep up with other students in the group. She told me she was concerned about me doing additional work and expressed it may be too hard for me. She asked if I really wanted to do it.

I stood, dumbfounded. My pride extinguished, my confidence deflated. My teacher didn’t want me to do it. She didn’t think I could.

The memory of the disappointment in the pit of my stomach is as vivid as the day this happened. I stammered that I was certain I could handle it, and I did. But each time I went with the Gifted and Talented group, I felt somehow less than, like I wasn’t really meant to be there.

My teacher’s words really hurt me. They affected how I went forward with the program.

Nevertheless, I did it. And I kept my grades up. And when I ‘graduated’ from fifth grade a year later, it was with some kind of presidential academic award ‘signed’ by President Bill Clinton, as well as the title of co-Class President.

Ten years later and a continent away, I lay on my boyfriend’s couch by the light of a golden IKEA lamp. The Scottish autumn made the nights draw in quickly, and we lounged in the near-dark and chatted, Alex in his soft Edinburgh brogue and me in my neutral Colorado accent. Long, mundane chats were the first thing we did when we met up at the end of the day. He’d rest on his back and I’d lay sprawled out across him,  my elbows near his ears and our faces inches from each other. I’d keep brushing my hair off his face as we laughed and talked about everything, anything. But this day was different, somehow. Alex seemed jittery, and more intense.

He sat me up so I was half on his lap and he sat up, too, growing serious. I was scared to know what was coming, taking in his nervousness. We knew I only had six months in Scotland, and we’d just take it easy and date, but everything between us seemed to move quickly, intensely.

“I have to tell you something,” he said breathlessly. “And you don’t have to answer me, it’s fine. But…..I love you.”

The world was spinning.  I was scared to respond. The way his face lit up as he looked at me, the gentle grip he held around my waist, the way I felt his chest heaving against mine from my spot on his lap. I took it all in, and I thought of Colorado. Of home. How I’d be leaving in a few short months.

“I……I can’t tell you I love you,” I said, terrified. Terrified I did love him, terrified I didn’t. Mostly, terrified of leaving him and going back to a country that didn’t have Alex.

A week or so later- time never seemed to matter with Alex – we were walking across the cobblestones to see Love, Actually at the movie theater. We were holding hands, walking in step, practically bouncing with the glee of young love.

I let go of his hand outside the theater, turned to face him with a rush of traffic behind me, and blurted out, “I have to tell you, I love you too.”

I didn’t want to love Alex, but I couldn’t help it. I was careless with my heart, knowing we came from different worlds.

Nevertheless, I did it. I let myself love him. And we worked so hard to keep ourselves in the same country. This week is our eleventh wedding anniversary, but in those eleven years I’ve had five different British visas and he, two different American ones.

Some love is measured in years, some love is measured through dedication to paperwork.

————–

When my mother was pregnant with me, she grew very ill. Her family was told she may not make it. Or that I would be born handicapped. The odds were against us.

Nevertheless, we’re both still here. And I was born healthy.

The list could go on. The stories could continue.

I believe everyone has a nevertheless experience or two, but the good news is, as long as you’re alive, there is ample opportunity for more.

We don’t need to be BECAUSE people, or DUE TO people, or IF ONLY people.

We can choose to be NEVERTHELESS people.

I saw this written on a gym mirror the other week: Our circumstances don’t determine our lives. Our actions do.

I believe sometimes, we are a victim of circumstance. It’s evident plenty of people get a leg up where others don’t. Not all things are equal or equitable as they should be. Circumstances dictate some things. They may dictate our past.

But they don’t need to dictate our future.

Even if something seems hard, do it anyway.

If a dozen obstacles stand in your way, adopt a nevertheless attitude and work through the obstacles one by one.

Sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on SHOULDS.

I know I do.

The expectations I have of others and myself leave a lot of undone SHOULDS.

But I say, even though this SHOULD happen, it’s not, and so….. nevertheless gosh darn it.

There is so much power in our actions.

And only we get to decide what our actions will be.

(Our reactions, too.)

Our choices determine our destiny.

But when circumstances step in….

May the odds be ever in your favor.

We can say nevertheless, I did it.

Perception is Nearly Everything, Sometimes

Like memories of what cannot be

Within the reign of memory

That shake our mortal frames to dust

– Hugh MacDiarmid

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1. Truth is relative

2. Except when it’s not, and you’re just wrong.

As John Mayer once said,

“You can be wrong and swear you’re right…some people been known to do it all their lives.”

But if something is wrong, does that mean it doesn’t exist? No.

Sometimes existence can be relative, too.

If you asked Professor McGonagall what non-being is, she’d tell you…. “Everything.”  *

* (“Where do vanished objects go?” “Into non-being, which is to say, everything.” Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

Here are some examples of times I’ve been wrong:

In a journal entry dated early 2008, I wrote:

I  am old. I am ancient. I am decrepit.

I am a 24 year old undergrad.

Ahhh, the humanity.

… I feel like I have been in college longer than that Stifler guy from American Pie must have been in high school. The fact that I am IN high school when American Pie came out shows how old I am.

Sooo, I went with my dear Lancaster-ians (my English friends from my English university) to the fall convocation and realized that the freshman class of CU this year was born in 1990!!

I wore my sunglasses and tried to hide my smile crinkles, and then was literally paraded with the freshman and study abroad students (oh, there may have been a few grad students and transfers in there but who can spot them with the blinding light of youth surrounding you) past a bunch of cheering, whooping, entirely too perfect looking sorority sisters.

Maybe I have some sort of mental issue going on here, but this campus is making me feel ancient….

Part of me wants to the join the mass of my fellow 2002 high school grads and start having babies. One precursory glance at myspace shows that a large portion of my high school cohorts have babies.

But then part of me wants to make the most of being (relatively) young and revel in my last year of college, even if I am the new Van Wilder (the mormon version lolol).”

Yes, I thought I was ancient at 24. Wrong.

Here is another time I was wrong, in 1997. I was 13:

Bad Idea
Bad Idea

I found this while doing all of my de-cluttering (see other posts). It was empty.

Making pro and con lists are always a sound choice, right?

No.

Again, from 1997:

Baaaad Idea
Baaaad Idea

It’s a bit hard to read, but it’s a list comparing two boys named John and Glynn (wherever they may be, I doubt they are readers of my blog). One ‘good’ thing about John is that he is a ‘ghetto wannabe.’  But then again, Glynn would ‘make a better father.’  What did they share on the Bad List? ‘Wears hats.’

Needless to say, making this list was the Bad Choice here.

All kidding aside, how we perceive reality at any given moment is what’s ‘right,’ most of the time. I don’t want to go around in circles about moral absolutes or a lack of them (like murder), as that’s a topic for another day, but this is more about those of us who are ‘normal’ (functioning in society) and live out our lives in our own perceived reality.

I am one of the those people who finds meaning in everything. I’ve been that way since I was a child. I loved looking for ‘signs’ that I was on the right path, and I still look for those ‘God Winks’, or as some would say, coincidences. I love finding affirmation that the thing I believe is correct. And due to confirmation bias, our brains are pretty adept at doing this.

But it also means we can convince ourselves of untruths.

I’m not talking about a particular person or group of people or a set of beliefs. Because I think this just applies to everyone, as human beings.

I’m writing about this because I’ve been addressing my own mea culpa  as of late. Maybe it’s just becoming an adult, I don’t know. But I am seeing places where I’ve been wrong, even if I would have bet my life I was right, at the time.

Part of my ever-progressing journey into Letting It Go is accepting the times and places where I was truly….wrong.

I had this one idea perpetuating in my head for years (well, I’ve had plenty of ideas perpetuating in my head for years) and then one day a friend of mine told me, bluntly:

“Just stop.”

How does one simply enter Mordor  turn off an idea? It’s not easy. But once you accept it’s wrong, in some cases you really can

Just. Stop.

And some perceptions simply fade with time.  When I was a teenager, I literally believed I could, if opportunity presented itself, marry JC Chasez from N Sync. My best and I manipulated our movements in certain ways at N Sync concerts (trying to get picked to dance on stage, waiting outside certain doors or hotels) , so utterly convinced we were that if we could just MEET THEM, Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez would love us. How could they not?!?!

My first year of college, at 18, I began realizing how silly this seemed as  I was studying  in my psychology class how the adolescent mind quite easily accepts grandiose ideas

I don’t ever want to lose my dreams, my ambitions, or most of all, my sense of self ,  which has been shaping itself ever since all of the quirky incidents I’ve mentioned.

But I want to remember that while perception is everything at the time, sometimes…there are times we are just plain wrong.

And I’m sorry.

“Whatever it is, it’s okay.”

Last night I attended my final mindfulness seminar. The focus was on acceptance of what is and staying in the present. Letting the moment be and learning how to act in the moment.

We did a breathing exercise where we focused on the physical sensations associated with difficult thoughts or feelings. It was interesting to feel my heart beat faster and notice the feeling where you want tears to ‘spring’ to your eyes. I didn’t fight those feelings….I didn’t give in to them, either. Instead, I breathed and breathed and told myself, ‘Whatever it is, it’s okay. Whatever I’m feeling, it’s okay.’

Acceptance is something I went into mindfulness class NEEDING to learn. I’m always trying to change things, make things something other than what they are, or wanting people to act differently than they do. I’ve learned, sometimes, these are fair requests. Some things SHOULD be different. Some things aren’t fair. Some people SHOULD treat me differently.

The class didn’t give me some magic tool to all of a sudden stop wanting change. Acceptance isn’t about resignation. Acceptance is becoming fully aware of difficulties, feelings, and situations and responding in a skillful way, a thoughtful way, and a way which accepts our own feelings and acknowledges them as valid before making a next step.

So to you, dear reader, I say: Whatever it is, it’s okay. Take a deep breath. Allow yourself your feelings.

I know acceptance is something I will be working on for a long time. It won’t come easily to me. But one idea resonated with me deeply and immediately. It is best described in this quote from Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”   -Victor Frankl

As a class we pondered that space. That amazing, powerful space between stimulus and reaction. Nobody can fill that space but you. It’s all yours.

We can’t control the stimuli all the time. We can’t always control our circumstances. But we can always, always, choose our reaction.

I’m going to apply this idea to the greater issues surrounding me – my civic duties, my marriage, motherhood, my career. But on a micro level, this can be applied to how we respond to a negative comment. How we respond to temptation. How we respond to the urge the sit on the couch instead of walk all the way to the car and drive to the gym!

I’m about to go on blog hiatus for two weeks – I’m heading off to London on Thursday and then onto Scotland to graduate with an MA in Creative Writing. Until I’m back to my normal routine, I’ll leave you with another quote from the mindfulness seminar. It’s a different topic than acceptance, but it goes right along with not falling into resignation.

Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity.

The Struggle is Real

ILOVEYOUWhen I was studying creative writing, we learned about something called ‘tonal lurching.’ It’s pretty self-explanatory. If the tone of your writing is inconsistent, and you fall into the trap of tonal lurches, you quickly confuse the reader.

This blog doesn’t have a set tone yet. It hasn’t quite developed it’s identity. It’s a baby blog, if you will.

Just as I’m in the baby stages of making so many major lifestyle changes.

Ahh, synchronicity.

So What is this blog?

The aims of this blog are to:

– Empower others while sharing my own struggles and successes
– Provide meaningful dialogue in the areas of diet, nutrition, lifestyle and mind/body health
– Entertain and engage the reader and myself with light-hearted anecdotes, recipes, etc.

From this point on I’m going to stop numbering my posts in the titles (just tags). I will weigh-in every Thursday as promised. I won’t post every day unless I have something good to write (and I will be taking a two week vacation while I go receive my diploma in Scotland)

The brings me to the meat of this post:

The Struggle is Real

Last weekend I struggled with expectations of myself compared to others. I was honest about it in my blog.

But then the week started and I realized it wasn’t any different than the weekend, just busier. Monday I had my mindfulness group, then I had an exam to do for my freelance analyst job. I had homework and doctor’s appointments and on top of it all, my two year old, Alistair, was sick the entire week off and on. As is usual for me, I overthought it, and I kept him home under quarantine instead of taking him to the doctor. When I finally brought him in last night, I learned he had strep throat! And he was suffering all week with it while I had no idea and was busy calibrating body fat percentage and trying to book plane tickets and hotels for segments of our trip.

I’d been with Alistair all week (with help from his father, of course). I watched countless episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and made him all of his go-to foods and liquids. I snuggled with him, kept watch of his fever, and at one point slept on the floor of his room. Another night it was the two of us on the couch for many hours. And then finally one night he and I were awake in my bed from 3 to 6 am, just tossing and turning and snuggling and talking. That’s when it dawned on me. I was so busy wanting to AVOID germs, I hadn’t brought him to the doctor. But what if he had an ear infection? I mean, he was sick for five days.
So I brought him, and I’m so glad I did.

But the point is that my mind was in so many different places, it took ages for me to realize something obvious. While I was sacrificing sleep and doing intricate things like get-well-tea-parties, I could have just gotten him to the doctor.

My heart was in the right place, but my brain was just all over the place.

And that sums me up pretty well! Haha.

So.

I have had a lot of positive messages and feedback from this blog. I’ve had a lot of people ask questions about long-term strategy. And I just don’t have one. Yet.

Right now my plan is the same as stated before:

-Eat 1500 calories and chart them on My Fitness Pal
-Go to Zumba once a week and Yoga once a week an another class once a week. Walk Weasley, our dog.
-Drink 100 oz of water a day
-Do mindfulness and meditation every day, as part of prayer or separately
– Weigh in on my blog every Thursday

But I think I need to add some caveats.

-When family is sick, or you’re sick, be kind to yourself and take care of yourself
-Understand it’s all change, and even the simplest plan won’t be easy right away
-Taking breaks, like for graduation, is okay, because life is short

Some readers may think my approach is too relaxed. If I find that this relaxed approach doesn’t heed results, I will do something more strict. It’s all part of the journey. The struggle. And while I still do not advocate fat- acceptance movements, I AM going to  try to love myself as a person a little more.