Almost everyone I know in my age group seems to be struggling mightily these days. Marriages are crumbling, parents are falling ill, children are morphing into terrifying teenagers, and upper arms are less tank-top-friendly than ever before, making the upcoming summer season a most mixed blessing. If anyone out there is happy and they know it, please do clap your hands (and let your arms jiggle joyfully) right now because there is not a whole lot of applause going on in my circle these days.
It almost makes one (me) want to seek something larger to believe in, something to make it all seem worthwhile. Something, dare I say, spiritual.
I’ve always been allergic to the arrogant we’re right, you’re not aspect of organized religion, having been raised by a lapsed-Catholic mother and Jewish-turned-Unitarian father (so, yeah, Christmas tree, but no menorah). Then I married an avowed atheist (who asked for a menorah for Christmas; go figure) and together we raised our two adorable little heathens. (The tradition continues!)
And now here I am, mired in midlife malaise, suffocated by cynicism. Given my spotty religious past, my god-seeking options are somewhat limited at this point. But there’s always the Buddha: Look at him, sitting there quietly, no crosses to bear, no persecution complex. Who wouldn’t want to have what he’s having? Plus he seems like a really nice guy, a total mensch.
My soul-searching fantasy is a month-long Visionquest involving bells and the Himalayas, but since that’s not feasible, I decided to try a meditation class advertised at a groovy, anything-goes church in my neighborhood called The Church of Gethsemane. (Bar mitzvah? Communion? Gay wedding? Some hybrid of all three? Nothing throws them, I promise.)
The South Slope meditation took place on a Monday evening in the church’s basement. In lieu of the Himalayas, I was hoping for low lighting, candles, incense, floor mats and liberal use of the word om. Instead, I entered a flourescently-lit basement with 3 rows of folding metal chairs and a table with a display of inspiring texts on meditation (which I misread twice–first as medication and then as mediation. Can you tell how fried I am?) A handful of blue-corn tortilla chip dregs sat unappetizingly on a cake-sized paper plate. I checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally walked into a 12-step meeting. Nope. We were going to meditate.
The upshot? It’s not easy to sit silently for 20 minutes on a folding chair under glaring, buzzing lights–but maybe that’s the point. I kept thinking that if only the lights were dim and we were sitting on the floor in the lotus position, then I’d be able to fully concentrate on my breath and stop obsessing about how I’m going to afford to fix the leaks in the bathroom ceiling and why I’m so lame at meditating and why I thought for a minute that I, of all people, could calm my busy, busy brain.
After the sitting part, the woman who led us gave a little talk on how we’re all so in our own heads and how we mistakenly believe that if we could just tweak our external circumstances–swap this for that, finally get our ducks in a row–everything would be OK and contentment would prevail. During the brief Q&A that followed, I was the only one who spoke up. I asked if the chairs and the bright lights were intentional, a lesson in finding peace among harsh external circumstances, perhaps? (Apparently not. Pure coincidence.)
So, while I didn’t emerge whole and fixed, as I’d hoped, I might possibly be one or two breaths less cynical, which is a start. Next up: The “Meditation for Beginners” DVD I ordered from Amazon.
(Oh and I still want to rename my blog to reflect my new focus on midlife musings, but I don’t want to rush into anything I might regret. Some possibilities: Under Construction; Midlife-a-thon; Woman in Progress. I’m open to suggestions, so suggest away.)
So it’s Monday afternoon and I’m at work, which means my laptop and I are cuddled up in bed together. I’m wearing jeans, a tank top and socks with Christmas trees on them; messy hair, no make-up. It is 2:43pm and I have not yet interacted with soap and water today.
This is the professional lifestyle I’ve been leading since before my 13-year-old was born. Way back when, I did the thing where you set an alarm clock, shower in the morning and head to an office, but then I snagged a breadwinner-type husband, became a mother, and settled into what, for a long time, was an ideal arrangement: I was part-time stay-at-home-mom, part-time freelance journalist–able to interview Gloria Steinem or research rheumatoid arthritis in the morning and spend the afternoon hosting playdates or going to the playground.
And then, as we know, my life changed a little. The relatively warm, fluffy loaf of bread that R provided for a family of four living under one roof became a thin smattering of crumbs when that family started living under two roofs. (Doesn’t it seem like it should be rooves?) Add the fact that the recession has put many publications out of business or eliminated their freelance budgets, and my semi-luxurious work-from-home existence went poof. (If Gloria Steinem needs to be interviewed now, they’ll make her do it herself.)
So, big news here in the land of the midlife makeover: Two weeks from now, I am going back to work full time in an office, where I will write about health for a series of consumer-friendly booklets and–get this–be given a regular paycheck for doing so. Apparently that means I’ll get paid even if I don’t call the accounting department 7 or 8 times first, which boggles the mind in such a good way. (Fellow freelancers, I know you hear me.)
I. Am. So. Psyched.
True, there are trade-offs. I won’t be able to take my sweaty yoga class at noon or grocery shop anytime I feel like it, and my younger daughter, especially, will not see me as much, which makes me sad. I might have to dust off my Crock-Pot so that a nutritious dinner is ready when I get home. (Got recipes? I want them.) I won’t work lying in bed in a tank top anymore, and when I wear my Christmas-tree socks, no one will know, because, well, Mama needs a new pair of shoes, and now it looks like she might get them.
Right after we separated, people were all over me with optimism and advice. This was an opportunity! A chance to turn misfortune into something positive! A new lease on life! A gift! R himself assured me that I was going to thrive once he left.
I can’t tell you how many times people suggested that I take a class, get re-acquainted with a long-forgotten hobby, find a new hobby, learn a language, or do volunteer work with people who were really suffering so as to get perspective (actually, that one was my idea). What I can tell you is how many copies of The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, were handed to me in those first few months: Three.
I have not yet read the book (and I doubt I will ever read all three copies, since I assume they say pretty much the same thing) nor have I taken a class or found a hobby or done volunteer work or even started composting. I’m not proud of my inertia in these areas. Instead of becoming all life-transforming and hobby-oriented, I was in a daze there for a while, focusing on little achievements like trying to cry every other day instead of every single day. And there were several hobbies I had to take up against my will, like mouse-icide, coping with my car’s mental illness, and online dating.
Then, a few months ago, my friend across the street tried to sell me on Bikram yoga–the one where you spend 90 minutes locked in a 105-degree room. She insisted that it would change my life, which got me vaguely interested. When she promised it would change my body too, turning me into a toned, lithe, uber-babe, I got onboard.
The first class was hell, mostly because I was terrified. People warned me that I would feel nauseous, dizzy and faint, but that it was worth it. So, even though I am not prone to any of those things, I spent the entire class fearing I was going to experience some kind of catastrophic physical event.
In fact, the only dramatic thing that happened was that I saw my shins sweat for the first time ever; it was miserably hot and humid in that room (think about it–have you ever seen your shins sweat?) Oh, and when I got home, I fell asleep for two hours.
Two days ago, I took my fourth class and I can see how it might become addictive. I’m not sure that Bikram will change my life, but I’ve started to groove on seeing those toxins spilling from my shins.