If the eyes are the windows into our souls, then what I see is very sad for most people walking the streets. For me, it is sad to see the light behind the eyes of so many people dimmed or distinguished. This is a group that spiritual leaders call the walking dead. We get this way by being so beaten down with our own emotional baggage that the way to physical, emotional and spiritual contentment is extremely difficult to see. And to be honest, when are we taught how to be balanced and healthy? Nearly 100% of the people I ask say they are happy or content with most areas of their lives but the eyes of those people tell a very different story.
Look around at the people on the streets and in your lives. Do you generally see people who are laughing and smiling with their eyes? You know, the kind of joy that lights up the entire face. When I look around I see people who are cursing because the light didn’t change soon enough, making snide remarks about their spouse, miserable in their work and achy in their physical body. What has happened to us? Why am I surprised when someone does something that interferes with my activity, and they actually apologize? That should be a matter of routine rather than an exception. Have you asked yourself, Where has our common courtesy gone? Why do people leer at each other in traffic rather than being helpful or understanding? It has gotten to epidemic proportions how many of us are emotionally shutdown and yet, we still don’t get it. I know I didn’t until I took a walk up a hill.
Several years ago, I felt a strong urge to go on a short trip to anyplace that was warm. It had been a long, cold, foggy winter in Reno and I needed to go and warm my bones. I closed my eyes and randomly placed my finger on a map. The winner was Arizona! I quickly made arrangements, left my husband behind and flew to the Phoenix area for a long weekend. While deciding what I would do to fill my days, I decided to turn this into a mini vision quest.
On the day of my quest, I grabbed a light lunch to take with me, plenty of water, a full tank of gas and lots of adventurous spirit. I headed onto the Apache Reservation being guided my nothing more than my intuition. I drove for a while before coming to a mini tourist rest stop consisting of a restaurant, gift shop and a local band playing country music. Still using my intuition I pulled into the parking lot. I had a hard time believing I had been traveled all this way to have an ice cream in the middle of the Reservation! When gathering my bearings, I noticed a large hill behind the facility. I parked my Jeep in the only spot available and directly in front of me was a trail with a swing gate. I was so happy cause it looked like it this adventure was going to be so easy for me! I grabbed water and began walking up this wonderfully laid out trail. As I was walking, the trail quickly ended and my hike turned into bushwhacking. I am not a bushwhacker! I started grumbling loudly about why everything had to be so hard to all the cactus and rabbits that would listen. As I walked up the hill, the various cacti, sagebrush, and all else that could draw blood were busily scratching me. I encountered what seemed to be a how in the world am I supposed to get up this cliff, battled my persistent urge to turn around and go home (after all who would know), and complained the whole way (why couldn’t the universe make this easy for me?) until I reached the top! I was relieved and proud that I had persevered while at the same time I was bruised and banged up. I sat on top of my hill overlooking a beautiful valley. Just as I was going to nap for bit and enjoy the sunshine on my face, a buzzard started flying close around me. I got up and shook my hand saying loudly to go away as I was not dead yet. He seemed to say back when are you going to come alive? When are you going to be a part of the living? He continued to fly around me but I figured I had moved around enough to establish that I was not suitable lunch. I really wanted to nap but I felt a strong urge to get back down the hill right then. So I did, I headed back down the small mountain. Still annoyed and grumbling loudly as I didn’t get my nap and was still getting cut up by the shrubbery. I was exuberant as I made it back to the small gift shop and restaurant. It felt strange to be back amongst the hustle and bustle but in reality I had only checked out for a few hours. Everyone was eating food, enjoying ice cream and buying gifts. I knew they all felt as though they were having good time but I felt contented, proud of myself, and felt that even though I was bruised and bloody, I was the one that had really received the gift. I bought a piece of Apache pottery as a souvenir, and headed back to my hotel for a massage and pampering. In my book, it is a good thing when bushwhacking and pampering can converge!
It took a good bit of time for me to fully process what the buzzard seemed to be saying to me about waking up. I thought I had been awake! It had not occurred to me that I too was part of the walking dead. I had been working on bettering myself for years before, felt very contented with myself and my life, had gotten comfortable enough with myself that I no longer felt boredom and loneliness. But yet, I was still part of the walking dead? In retrospect, it has not really been until now that I feel alive and free inside.
The evidence around us is overwhelming that the fire in us has been extinguished. We have lived far beyond our material means, we are over weight and out of shape, the divorce rate is over 60%, and we are not thoughtful or considerate of others. Do other people yank your chain either in traffic or otherwise? Do you give control of your emotions to others?
The good news is we can do something about it! Learning how to be part of the walking aware, the truly alive, is simple. Start taking responsibility for our emotions. There is nothing about a new IPhone, WII Fit, car, a piece of chocolate, being a member of the clean plate club, or feeling wonderful and alive because there is a new male or female in your life that is emotionally healthy. We are wired to be able to sit quietly and take in the environment around us and feel content. So many people cannot be just with themselves without outside noise or distraction for even an hour. When they try it they feel anxiety and the urge to do something else to distract them from themselves. So they make a phone call, turn on the television or radio, check something on the internet real quick, anything to take up the silence.
It is in the doing of other things that we forget the being with ourselves. If we cannot sit with ourselves quietly for a period of time it is a very clear indication we are not comfortable with ourselves. Can you sit with someone else for an hour with out needing a distraction? If yes, then ask yourself why is it hard for me to sit with me? Learning to enjoy the company of oneself without the distractions of other people, phones, or noise in the background is essential to learning to feel contentment in one’s skin and essential in attracting and maintaining healthy relationships. For relationships the mindset is, how can I expect others to want to be around me and enjoy my company, if I have a hard time doing it? There is so much to write about relationships that it will take a whole series of articles.
A homework assignment that I have given quite often is to start small. When you are alone in your car, turn off the radio and the phone. Drive in silence. Notice how it feels. Anxiety? Next spend an hour by yourself somewhere either around people or not. Being around people means sitting by your self and observing others at the mall, or a coffee house but not being with others just watching. This is an interim step working your way to being all by yourself so if you don’t feel that you need to do it go ahead to the next step. Spend an hour by yourself in a quiet place of your choosing. Either out in nature somewhere or in your own home. Just sit and using all of your senses take in what is around you. This is called being in the moment when you are totally observing what is in our space at any given time. What are the sights sounds and smells, what does the couch fabric or the rock texture feel like under your hand? Next turn your attention to how your body feels inside. Are you calm? Anxious? Both? If there is anxiety or some other feeling that is not totally comfortable, ask yourself why is it there? Where is it coming from? The first answer that pops in, either loud or faint, word or picture is the correct answer. as it is coming from the subconscious. At this point, typically two things will happen; either we don’t like the first answer and our mind takes over and quickly says that can’t be it and substitutes another more palatable answer. Or we are blank and nothing at all pops in. If this happens, try reframing the question to yourself, please show or tell me why I am anxious at this very moment? and wait for a reply. Your subconscious is really the expert of you so trust it.
Getting in touch with ourselves and leaning to be comfortable with our own company is one of the most valuable gifts that we can give ourselves. It is an essential step in finding contentment in our skins. It is also a place of peace that we can conjure up no matter what the craziness is around us. This is the beginning of how we become part of the walking awake rather than the walking dead.
Cynthia Pickett, MSW, LCSW, LADC