"Creativity-by definition-comes from mixing things up." Tom Peters
Not For Everybody!
"The autopsy ... revealed that his coronary arteries were clean. The heart attack had been caused by spasm of the coronary vessels, directly induced by hostility, resentment, impatience, fear, and exaggerated feelings of being indispensable."—Deepak Chopra, M.D., Creating Health
"Stop. Look. Listen."—Patrick Whiteside, Happiness
My first—and perhaps correct—inclination is not to share. This is private. Moreover, we all start our journeys toward Greater Awareness as a result of a unique set of circumstances that captures us and turns us toward action at a particular point in time—and not a moment before. Finally, what I am feeling is tender and largely untested, and, like 99 percent of New Year's Resolutions, may not stand the test of time.
Nonetheless, I am compelled to write a little something—in case, just as beach season unfolds, I happen to catch a single soul in the place I was five weeks ago.
On the surface, my life is a lark, if indeed a trying one, given, for instance, the emotional and physical wear and tear of 200 nights a year on the road, 26 years running. But it felt like no lark just five weeks ago. The work had suddenly (or was it a long accrual?) ceased to be either fun or rewarding, the strain of too much too much was wreaking havoc on health and relationships. (There's more—not so pretty—which I have no intention of sharing.)
So on 7 June 2004, I made a return trip to my favorite haven, Canyon Ranch/Berkshires. Last year I went for two weeks to work on my body-physiology. This year I went for five weeks to work on my ... soul.
Report: Unequivocally the best five weeks in my life. (Which, at 61, is saying something.)
As many know, I've been a long-time, passionate champion of women's causes. In the process I've given men short shrift—after all, we've been the ruling class approximately forever, so a hand up is hardly our just dessert.
Or is it?
I did a lot of reading at Canyon Ranch (see suggestions below), nothing more important than Sam Keen's Fire in the Belly. The following quotes exploded in my head (and heart!) like snipers' bullets:
"One day out of nowhere you realize that you don't know who you are, and none of the cards in your wallet provide the slightest clue to your real identity."
"When men who have spent their formative years in extroverted action first turn toward the unknown territory of the soul, they soon reach the desert—the vast nothingness. Before rebirth comes the painful awareness that we have long been dead. Before feeling comes the dreadful knowledge that we have been anesthetized and are numb."
"Little did we understand that by doing the manly thing, girding up our loins, pulling in our guts, pushing out our chests ... and constricting our breathing, we forced most feelings into exile in our unconscious."
"Perhaps the greatest price men have paid for their obsession with fearlessness is to have become tough on the outside but empty within. We are hollow men."
"We reduced our world to an arena within which courage is constantly demanded, and other virtues—patience, honesty, kindness, contentment ... wisdom—are not cultivated."
Strong language, you say. Over the top? Perhaps for you. Not for me. My reaction (relative to only myself): Right on. And: God help me.
Hence my fabulous month. Session after session with psychotherapists. Yoga. Chi Gong. Tai Chi. West African drumming. Visualization. Mind-mapping. Massage. Pilates. Cardio stress tests. Blood analysis. Healing sound therapy.
And ... learning to breathe!
Call it meditation, and it has connotations that put some off. So don't call it meditation if you don't want to. Call it breathing. It took me five weeks. At age 61, odd as it sounds, I have begun to learn to breathe ... and it has saved my life and is helping to save (or at least helping me find) my soul.
One respected Australian M.D. says that right breathing is more important to sustained mental and physical health than dieting, exercise, or ceasing to smoke. Fortunately, we don't have to make the trade-off.
So the healing sounds (CDs) stay on in the background for me all the time now. There are fresh flowers and, yes, scented candles in my writing studio. I start the morning with Chi Gong out by our lower Farm pond, and take 20-minute breathing-meditation breaks twice a day—as well as "mini-med" breaks hourly. (Hey, I even practiced walking breathing-meditation while in the seemingly endless Denver airport security line last week. And, yikes, it worked.) Construction plans are getting underway for a Japanese bath, and a meditative labyrinth in my very own Field of Dreams on the farm. And so on. And on.
Both years at Canyon Ranch have been miracle times. Last year I focused on diet and exercise. (Bring on the flaxseed!) (More fish oil!) I lost 40 pounds, and at least as importantly, radically altered my blood chemistry to the point that a damn near diabetic diagnosis in July 2003 has been supplanted by a ridiculously normal set of readings 11 months later—one key indicator dropped by 90 percent! (The right diet plus exercise can actually reverse decades of abuse, even at 61, not just fend off further deterioration.) My cholesterol went from somewhat high to abnormally low: Yes, I was just told to get my cholesterol up! (Bring back the cheese?) A score or more other indicators have also jumped from red zone to dark green.
As to my work, I'm re-energized, as I haven't been in a decade. I am wildly excited about getting back on the road, and beginning to put some much deeper meaning into what I do. (Just watch!) And ... Wow! ... I am seeing things—like the glory of my Vermont farm—for the first time. I am 10X more aware of my surroundings than I was five weeks ago. Great advice from one book: Stop! Look! Listen! (Not my style ... waaaay back in June.)
Will it last? As they chant in AA, one day at a time. So who knows? Pessimistic by nature, I am optimistic about this. Concerning those pointed Sam Keen quotes, I've begun to discover what I call my "missing half." And I don't intend to let it out of my grasp! It has quickly become precious to me. (Paradoxically, I caught myself thinking, this glorious morning, "I could die now—at least I'd know I'd lived." And I couldn't say that five weeks ago.) As Deepak Chopra put it once, "The full experience of your inner self is the most important and transforming adventure you will ever have."
* * * * *
Susan (my wife): "You seem so much more relaxed."
Me: "Not 'relaxed,' 'at peace.'"
* * * * *
Among other things, hats way off to Canyon Ranch. The ambience (Lenox, MA) is fabulous, the staff is world-class, and the approach is not dictatorial or doctrinaire. "CR" is my "safe house" relative these new and scary and profound experiments in living-being.
And of course, hats off to my wife, Susan Sargent, who bullied me into seeing that I was turning sour in the twilight—and insisted the I get back to Canyon Ranch. From now on I'll be visiting every six weeks for a "soul check" with my mentors (a stark contrast to yesterday's Keen-ian "gut checks").
This may not be for you! I would have said the same five weeks ago. Tom? Yoga? Drumming? Meditation? Stop? Look? Listen? Never!
Well, "never" arrived, in the nick of time.
The pick of my summer reading:
Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, Sam Keen
The Little Book of Happiness, Patrick Whiteside
The Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression without Drugs and without Talk Therapy, David Servan-Schreiber, M.D.
The Calm Technique: Meditation without Magic or Mysticism, Paul Wilson
Meditation for Wimps: Finding Your Balance in an Imperfect World, Miriam Austin
Creating Health, Deepak Chopra, M.D.
Ultra-Prevention: The 6-Week Plan That Will Make You Healthy for Life, Mark Hyman, M.D., and Mark Liponis, M.D. (Co-medical directors of Canyon Ranch)
A Morning Cup of Yoga: One Simple, Balanced Routine for a Lifetime of Health and Wellness, Jane Goad Trechsel
Freeze Frame: One Minute Stress Management, Doc Childre
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
Walden, Henry David Thoreau
Over to you ...
Before blogging became all the rage, Tom was posting book reviews and Observations (essentially early blog posts) to this site. You can find the archives below.