I’ve got a craving lately. Picture: a hot bath, a good book, a warm blanket. The mood and atmosphere present: serenity and silence. The chosen activity: withdraw, retreat, reflect.
In my training to be a health coach we look at cravings as a tool to understand what is out of balance. They are your body speaking to you. Often times when people crave food, it’s a substitute for something else that they’re missing. We eat so that we don’t feel lonely. We drink so that we can ignore that we’re in a relationship that doesn’t work for us. We smoke because it gives us permission to take a break at work and experience a moment of solitude.
We’re entering the holidays, a time of year that can feel very conflicting for people, myself included. This “most wonderful time of the year” carries with it a folklore that suicides spike around Christmastime. I’ve bought into that belief for many years, and just learned a moment ago that it’s false (according to studies by the people who study such things). I think it says a lot about our culture that we have created this myth and that we perpetuate it. It speaks to the yin and yang we feel as we enter the winter season. We spend more time with family–which can be a blessing and a curse. I feel like the holidays have the potential to bring out a manic side of people. Sometimes we get manic in a good way, sometimes…not so much. I feel like there’s a societal and cultural pressure for every Christmas to be better than the last, to choose (or make!) the perfect gifts for everyone on your list, to throw a party with the right amount of both fancy and fun. If you’re from a divorced family like both myself and my husband are, there are many schedules to coordinate, many people to please. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (talking to you mom, dad, Lorry and Jerry 😉), it just means that the holidays for me involve a lot of logistics, they have from a very young age, and they likely will for as long as I walk this Earth as Danielle Cleary.
When I think back on the ghosts of Christmas Past, there’s one Christmas in particular that stands out for me. It draws my attention and my longing and I dream out loud to Jerry about recreating that Christmas. I don’t remember what year it was, maybe 2004 or 2005? Definitely before babies, and probably after Phish broke up for a bit (we often align our travels with seeing music). The Christmas that I yearn for is the one that Jerry and I spent hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. We stayed in Palm Springs, I remember putting our few Christmas presents underneath the fake plant in our motel room. We spent most of the day in the park, probably packed a picnic lunch, definitely brought some wine. It was quiet, we encountered just a few other hikers on our journeys. One thing I loved about living in Southern California is that it’s SO different than New England. That contrast also made me long for New England while I was living in Southern California. But what a trip it is for a native New Englander to experience the desert, to hear the electric energy in the air, to see flora and fauna that just don’t exist in the part of the world I hail from.
Whenever people came out to visit me, I made it a point to bring them to the desert. For me, visiting the desert was a spiritual journey. The heat, the quiet, the landscape both barren and alive with energy. Cell phones didn’t work and the likelihood you’d run into someone on a Tuesday afternoon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park weren’t very high. Of course, that meant if you got into trouble…it could get interesting. I took my brother out for a visit once, and my trusty little Hyundai Sonata got stuck on a rock. As I drove over it, my car got wedged on top of the rock, specifically my gas tank or something else I deemed important (this was 12 years ago now, my memory is a bit fuzzy). We were faced with the challenge of removing ourselves from the rock without removing or piercing a hole in the part of the undercarriage that was stuck. We made it off the rock and made it home in one piece (as did my Hyundai) but we were shaping up to be in the kind of situation that Dateline specials are made of.
There are aspects of the yang desert energy that don’t appeal to me. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang represent two opposite yet complementary forces. We need them to be in balance in order to experience health and wellness. Yin is a feminine energy, its defining qualities are: cool, dark, moist, moon/night, passive, intuition, up, female, sensitive, expansive, and future. Yang is known as a masculine energy, its defining qualities are: hot, light, dry, sun/day, active, logic, down, male, strong, contractive, past. Over time the extreme dryness of the desert makes me feel like my whole body is parched. This New England girl never quite adapted to the hot days that turned into freezing cold nights. I’m from the land where when it’s hot, it’s hot all damn day and night, and you didn’t need 6 different changes of clothes or multiple layers to survive a 24 hour period. And when it’s cold here, it’s cold. I missed hot and humid summer August evenings, although I sure did love watching the Super Bowl outdoors and celebrating Easter with a picnic by the bay.
Flash back to present day, and I see that I have a deep longing for the spiritual energy of the desert. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you I’m a “busy” person. I create busy, I attract busy, it’s both a pleasure and a burden for me. I love the feeling of connecting with people, I love making a difference in the lives of others, I love me some positive energy and a good time. It took a long time, however, to honor my need for yin energy. I can remember walking into my dorm room one afternoon my senior year in college. As a full-time Harvard student who juggled up to four jobs at any given point in my college career, it was a rare afternoon where I found myself with nothing to do. On this particular day, my common room was empty of roommates, so I headed downstairs to visit our friends in the “8-Man” (yes, 8 men lived there). Nobody there either. This was before the time of cell phones and texting; if people weren’t home, that was that. I may have looked further for someone to hang out with, that piece of the story hasn’t stuck with me, but what HAS stuck with me was this overwhelming feeling that I MUST find people to be with. The thought of being by myself, in my room, with my own thoughts, was unbearable.
For someone who had built a life on DOING, BEING was unbearable. You want to get shit done? Call me. I’ll do it. It may crush my spirit, but I can produce. I may resent you every step of the way, but I’ll do whatever I can to check things off that list. Except…except. Lately? Maybe not. You see, I’ve got this craving. And it seems to have coincided with my kids both entering school full time. And it seems to be that the more I feed it, the more I want it. It was always there, whether I acknowledged it or not. It’s that craving that drives me to “consume” books, like when I read all of the books in the Game of Thrones Series (4,273 pages) in a 60 day span in 2012. It’s that craving that makes escaping into a hot bath one of my favorite relaxation activities (especially in winter). And although I actively disliked running for most of my life, it’s that craving that made me appreciate running as a moving meditation, one that allowed me to escape and be free of other people’s (especially little people’s) needs and chatter, whether for 50 minutes or just 15.
So here we are, on the first day of the last month of 2015. 24 more shopping days ’til Christmas, 30 days left to hit your sales goals (I’m married to a salesman), and how are you doing with all those things you said you were going to do this year? There are parties to plan, cookies to bake, cards to mail, presents to wrap. I find myself wanting to escape from all of it. At the very least, I’m resisting getting caught up in it. The logical yang side of me wants to make this craving wrong. Who has time to sit on the couch and read when there is so much to do and so little time to do it? Although I felt a very strong pull this afternoon to sit down and write to process through the thoughts running through my head, that too was an exercise in contradiction. I just wrote and published a blog entry last weekend. I should be doing something else with my time. Who has time to read any of this stuff around this time of year anyway?
As it turns out, I listened to my intuition, the yin side of me, the side that I’m learning to love and respect and honor this year. By allowing for more balance in my life, I’m now craving it. The Christmas spent in Joshua Tree National Park was special because it honored that side of me that was long neglected. It’s a special moment in my past, and it has many lessons for me if I slow down long enough to notice them. What I’m finally starting to understand is that I don’t need to head to the desert on Christmas Day to meet my need for quiet and solitude; with young kids, I can’t imagine that would be appropriate or enjoyable. But where can I bring the energy of the desert into my New England December? When can I quiet the voices in my head, the voices that are judging and critiquing how I spend my time this month? How can I meet my needs and still meet the needs of those around me?
I don’t have the answers yet; I may not ever have them. And if I figure something out this year, it likely won’t apply next year (ahh, the beauty of living a dynamic and ever-changing life). The value is in the inquiry. As Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” This December, I’m choosing to let my intuition rule over my logic, to honor my needs rather than make them wrong, to create space for quiet reflection regularly. What will you create this December?
P.S. After writing this, I’ve been reflecting more on my draw to the desert. In April 2002, Jerry proposed to me in the desert. We got up super early on our dating anniversary, drove to the desert, and hiked to an oasis. He asked me to marry him as the sun rose. In April 2006, we took our babymoon to the Sedona, Arizona, and drove through lots of desert to get there. Until I sat down to write this I had totally dismissed and forgotten the role the desert played in my life. Are there any parts of yourself that you’ve forgotten about that, if remembered, would reignite your soul?