Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Get Out Of the Shower!


The water pelts down from the showerhead and I stick my hand into the spray, testing the temperature. It must be hot. Not warm. But almost unbearably hot. Stepping into the tiled shower stall I face away from the showerhead. The steam begins to rise and float out of the shower and fills the bathroom, condensing on the mirrors and windows, starting from the ceiling and drifting down. I close my eyes. 

The morning shower ritual feels like part massage, part sauna and part cleansing. It it is a prayer that washes away the nightmares of my troubled sleep. It re-calibrates my mind. At first there are creative, untethered, and even unimaginable thoughts that drift undisciplined through my mind. I surrender to the muse as words begin to form around my thoughts. Sometimes music drifts among the words.
But, too soon, the invasion of the day’s schedule and persistent priorities bring focus to ideas. Pragmatism begins to sweep away the secret sense of well-being. I know I cannot win this tug-of-war. It ends with silent resentment as the water stops, and cold air creeps towards me, across the floor, over my feet and up my legs. Resigned, I reach for the towel to dry my rapidly cooling body.

And so the day begins with the sacrament of the shower.

This morning I fought harder in the shower before I submitted to the demands of the day. Somehow, it being my 67th birthday, I felt a sense of entitlement, reward, and privilege. The luxury of those extra minutes lingering in the shower before stepping into the cold air was like a gift to myself. But I could not succumb to this temptation for long. I don’t sit down in a shower.  I may have to at some time in my life but for now, it just does not feel right.
Luxurious as it is, my shower is transition. Just as the dawn is the transition from night to day. It has a natural rhythm.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease constitute a harsh reality. Sometimes we who battle this disease seek to escape the pain, the frustration and the fatigue. A few glasses of wine, indulging ourselves, or simply giving in rather than fighting back. Understandable. But we cannot stay in the shower.

As I begin my 67th year, I know that the temptation to stay longer in the shower will increase. The inner struggle to stay where it is safe and warm will grow. Still, reality and purpose only exist outside the shower.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Rise - Is It Time to Change?

 It was seven in the morning, and I was up, dressed and waiting at the rendezvous point of the one-hour walk that would start four days of challenges. While characterized as a “retreat”, it was more like an annual boot camp specifically designed for people with Parkinson's disease. It was appropriately called “Rise”. Rise from sitting at a desk in front of a computer or a meeting for long hours every day. Rise from the denial, blissful ignorance and wishful thinking.  It was time for a realistic self-assessment.  Physical, mental, emotional, and even social changes needed to be made. Parkinson’s was increasing its grip. My willful blindness to the deteriorating state of my body, along with the deceptive nature of my thinking (or lack thereof), could no longer be ignored. Things had to change.

The past weeks were difficult. It has been time to confront and create a” new normal” where work was not all consuming. Now there were limited excuses to avoid serious self-care. The days at Rise demanded that I take initiatives and make changes. It was similar to the stretching that we engaged in at the boot camp. My muscles are stiff and unyielding despite my determination. Touching my toes was physically impossible, the equivalent of bending a 2 x 4 piece of lumber. My hamstrings and related muscles would not yield, coming to the end of their attempt with my hands touching just below my knees. Other stretches were equally laughable, disappointing or worse. Not only had my muscles contracted during recent years, but I ran out of breath easily, and by coordination was nonexistent. I have a long ways to go.

Some changes come easily. Others are thrust upon us, causing pain. Some changes come about slowly, almost imperceptibly. Whereas others strike unexpectedly like a flash of lightning. We can control some changes in our lives, while others may be out of our reach and inevitable. But how we respond to change, or even initiate it, can be of great significance.

What did I learn from Rise? Whether making changes, or adapting to the changes thrust upon us, it will be difficult. Let me distill the lessons of my four days of confronting change. These questions define a way forward for me.

1.       Why do we want to, or need to, make changes? This may be the easiest of the following questions. In my case, Parkinson’s unrelenting attack will increasingly seek to erode the quality of my life. I owe it myself and others (my wife, family and friends) to do the best that I can with “the cards I have been dealt”. Life is a gift to be handled with care, not squandered, abandoned or abused.

2      What exactly needs to change? Self-assessment produces, in my case at least, a list that is far too long, and embarrassing to share here. So much needs to change. But we can only do one thing at a time, and not everything can be a priority. For me, the priorities fall into a few categories: physical exercise, writing, soul care, and relational.

3.       How will I bring about needed change? Here is where the planning and commitment get derailed. For each priority I need a plan, a roadmap, an assessment of how I will take the necessary incremental steps to bring about change. It is easy for me to be na├»ve and overly optimistic. But I know from failed attempts in the past that grandiose plans often yield grandiose failures and discouragement.

4       Who will help me make the needed changes? In many cases, change involves more than myself. To change eating habits, carve out time for exercise, arranged for quiet time to think, write or read, and spend time with important relationships all involve others. But, engaging their assistance will also build accountability and encouragement. I need to be specific in my requests for the assistance of others.

     When will I start? Habits developed overnight are typically lost within a similar period of time.  A recent study of 96 people published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found it took on average 66 days to form a habit. However, this number varies widely dependent on the person and circumstances, as well as the particular habit..
It takes more than a 4-day weekend to make changes. But it’s a start, a much-needed new beginning. Let’s commit to change.  See website for Rise details.  https://www.risepdretreat.com