life events

The Art of Wanting and Waking

I’m sitting down to write this now because I want to. Certainly, that sounds like a mundane and obvious statement, but bear with me as I explain why I find this basic point noteworthy. These days, I find it exceedingly difficult to see the difference between what I do purely out of my own want and what I do out of duty and what I suppose to be an amalgamation of those two things – performing the more menial portions of the larger functions I’ve chosen for myself. This uncertainty has been vexing to the point of driving me to despair.

I’ve been meeting with this angel lady – Doctor Em, I call her. I’m not positive she’s literally a Doctor in the phD sense, but that’s what I call her anyway. I mentioned to her this week that most of the time I feel like it’s not really me doing the things I do each day. It’s not really me peeling myself from bed hours before daylight and wishing I could halt time so I’m able to sleep awhile longer and leave enough minutes to savor my morning coffee before crawling through twenty-two miles of hopelessly constipated traffic and still allow a precious additional hour to whittle away at the fifty ton block of words that’s been crushing my brain for more years than I can remember, and then beating my own ass into submission to the frustrating duties of middle management. That isn’t me; can’t be, cause why would I be putting myself through this when it all makes me feel so trapped – a helpless observer of my own existence?

When I told this to Doctor Em, she talked a little about making some changes. My personality type is the sort that gets chewed up and spit out by jobs like the one I’m employed in. What I mean is, when the multi-directional tasks of my day ramp up the way they do, I become much like a near-sighted racquetball player, lunging at zipping balls way too late because my brain can’t process them as fast as they come. I still get to the balls – most of them, anyway – but all of the mental running around has me dazed and exhausted.

“Your hypothalamus is not functioning.” says Doctor Em.
Setting aside all the scientific jargon, the hypothalamus is this piece of the brain that allows you to function like a normal human being and make calm, rational decisions. The problem is, occasionally our bodies need to “turn off” the hypothalamus because sometimes there are higher priorities than being rational. Sometimes, for the sake of survival, we need adrenaline to take over; this is what most of us know as “fight or flight” mode.


“You’re stuck in fight or flight mode.” she says. “That’s why everything feels surreal all the time, like life is flying by without you.”

Doctor Em gave me a graphic that shows emotions, going from 0 to 10, and you want as much as possible to keep yourself somewhere between a 4 and a 7 on that graph. When you’re above a 7, that means lights out for the poor little hypothalamus.

“So try to monitor and catch yourself before you get above 7.”

“But I’m always above 7.” I told her.

There’s a bunch more, but something I learned was to assess. OK, I’m at an 8 right now. But that’s not the worst thing, because if there’s an 8, and I’m there, that means there’s a 7 and a 6 and so on. It is possible to back this thing down and wake up the poor, beleaguered hypothalamus. The next morning, I did it. I woke up feeling the same butterflies and racing heartbeat, but I slowed things down somehow, did some deep breathing, and for the first time in ages, I got calm. And I stayed that way for several sweet, blessed hours. I’ve been able to get back there a few more times since then.

The result has astounded me. I can actually figure out whether I want to do something, or not. Earlier today, it occurred to me to take the kids to the store and pick out a gift for dear Ms. Christmas, and we did just that. Why? Was I hoping for some sort of reaction from her? Was I doing it out of duty? Should I not have done it, for fear of her not liking what we got her? Doesn’t matter. I did it.
I did it because she’s great and because I wanted to.
How liberating.

24 replies »

  1. Glad you’ve found a way through. Working with a skilled therapist is so helpful. I wish you the best of luck in getting the hang of the meditation. As for the “constipated” traffic, I can only offer my sincerest sympathy. I have been there. (1.5 hr one way). Perhaps in time you will find a more suitable job. Again, best of luck! 🙂

  2. This is a beautiful post. I wish you well in maintaining your 4-7 zone. I, too, have fallen out of that zone at times, and it definitely feels good to return to neutral.

  3. Oh for the gift of the quiet and clear mind. AWESOME. It’s who we really are is how I see it. When we can just be. I love it. The daily grind just about killed me and this lump of something that sits here right now typing is the result. Very well expressed here I hope it’s cathartic to put it down on paper bud.

  4. Good for you, Lucas! Isn’t it a great feeling to feel like doing something for the sheer joy of it and not because you should/someone else wants you to/you have to? My brain is often at a 7 or above too, so I know how you feel. Here’s hoping your brain continues to chill out!

  5. Luke, sounds like you need some Yoga! It teaches breathing and calming down! It also sounds like you need to just become an author! Now, somehow you will have to figure out how to get a paycheck doing just that! Hang in there -it will happen! I love you , Mom

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