How to fix your life in 27 steps. (Or in 1 single step, which is to stop asking how you’re going to fix your life.)
I am a big fan of and believer in the self-help book, blog, podcast, and even list – and I have been since I was about 14 years old (47 years ago now) when my dad, ever on the cutting edge of something or other, became obsessed with Prevention magazine.
Prevention was my gateway drug. Back then, as a tortured teenager in Catholic girls’ school (not allowed to take art classes or do team sports, which was, in fact, a cruel and unusual form of punishment), it seemed obvious to me that zinc, in the right doses (or whatever the featured vitamin was) would be the quick fix to any brain chemistry or endocrine chemistry ailing me (or failing me). #earlyhealthfoodstores #caveatemptormyfriends
I’d pour over those articles and think to myself that there lay hope in chemistry, in supplements, in eating better. And that any malfunctions in my behavior and mood were probably treatable in this simple and straightforward way. Because, in fact, sometimes they are.
Then I moved to Southern California for college, and the answer to whatever ailed me was not in supplements, in fact, but in boyfriends. They seemed to fix brain chemistry and endocrine chemistry in one fell swoop; it didn’t hurt that I was reading novels for credit, swimming in the college pool and running in the foothills past lemon and orange groves.
Then I moved to New York, and the boyfriends seemed to go two ways – sometimes briefly to health and vitality and then eventually to ill-health and despondency. For the most part, these were short-lived relationships shot through with illusion and fantasy. This is where I’d like to insert what I’ll call the Zinc Bookmark. A place where it becomes clear that zinc wasn’t going to bring me happiness, and neither was any boyfriend in NYC ever. (What I had not yet learned was that it was not the boyfriends or the supplements… it was me, and that I would be taking myself wherever I went. Just like they say. Just like they’ve said for millennia.)
Sidebar: What also happened in New York City, however, was that the publisher I was working for, Bantam Books, had started a line of new age books (Bantam New Age) and they were coming out fast and furious and mind-blowing and successful. Seminal books like Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain, Dancing Wu Li Masters, by Gary Zukav, Focusing by Eugene Gendlin, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! by Sheldon Kopp, To Have or To Be by Erich Fromm — and so many others. I would read these books and get on board with all the wisdom and all the brain stretching, the clarification and illumination. It was such an expansive view and it was like a glimmer in my consciousness, a familiar flame calling me back home. On the one hand, that is.
On the other hand, what these books didn’t do was help with the practicum of relationships. Nope, not really. I was still flailing in the human classroom where, presumably, pretty much everything of real importance is learned.
And so, lonely and thinking the primary problem was the kind of man available to me in NYC (or not available), I bolted, made my way to a place far away, someplace that captivated the imagination and made my story more important, and presumably offered up a different kind of guy. And yes, I found a different kind of guy, a guy much like Max in the story Dreaming of LaSal, who’d also bolted from back east to the mountains of Colorado to save himself from a fate worse than ordinary.
No surprise at all, two runaways do not a whole relationship make. We had lots of years together, to grow up or not grow up, and then he was snatched early — without our ever really having owned our patterns, our mirroring, our hurts, our illusions, our deepest thoughts. Without ever having split ourselves open for each other and gotten to intimacy. Like a lot of people out there, we just simply didn’t have the skills or the consciousness, however much we might have loved each other.
Today I am exploring marriage again and the territory is vast. But it’s still the territory we trudge through with ourselves on our own backs! It’s where everything seems to happen, all our bad habits haunt us, all our shortcomings are laid out, buttons are pushed, reactivity is activated. But slowly, ever so slooooowly, we can change our ways of thinking. We can stay in the room, disengage from the story, see our part, drop our weapons, and keep ours mouths shut.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the one touting the frankincense and cat’s claw, the hyaluronic acid, the collagen, the better diet. I’m still reading and listening to the fantastic books being written by all the incredibly smart, forward thinking, truth-telling, inspiring teachers of today (some the same as yesterday!). What has possibly changed is my commitment to finding peace somehow. To stop trying too hard, to move more slowly, to have less on my list, to check myself on the compulsion to be checking things off.
To just look around, take a deep breath, and say “ordinary is the new black.”