I like to think that my neuroses are ahead of their time. For instance, there was the era about twelve years ago that I spoke ardently to all of the bridesmaids and groomsmen at my older brother’s wedding about how eating dirt was the secret to health. This was the result of having read one of those weird obscure books at Whole Foods about the tragic annihilation of friendly bacteria in our soil, back in the day when Whole Foods was so uncool that there were not yet compact parking spaces and it still smelled like patchouli rather than Mrs Meyers Lemon Verbena everything and coffee was not offered in non-judgmental luxury at a bar but instead in the aisle with the enema supplies. Obviously, I was looked at sideways the rest of the wedding, guests clutching their cocktails tight to their lips as they nodded skeptically during my dirty dirt impassioned diatribes. I think I even carried a bottle of the bacteria-laden dirt pills in my purse and evangelized refraining from swimming in chlorinated swimming pools ... or else.
And now look. Probiotics are all the rage. I’m telling you.
And then there was the time about a decade ago where I adhered to an “eating lifetsyle” that had you rename meat as “flesh” in order to be less interested in consuming it. And now, a happy omnivore who eats “meat” meat, I wish I had just held out for the current “plant-based” positive spin on the whole thing.
This is just the tip of the weird neurotic eating and being iceberg of my twenties.
Why, you ask? Well, at that time, I felt inside that there was something truly truly truly wrong with me. I felt sick. I felt weak. I was riddled with anxiety. I had been recently diagnosed with not one, but two autoimmune diseases, both of which win the prize for most exciting sounding names ever: Celiac and Hashimoto’s. I was puffy, lethargic, drained, unhappy and not vital in any sense of the word. I believed in my bones that if I just got the eating thing right, that I would finally land in my natural state of optimal health and well being. That somewhere over the rainbow of healthyland was the perfect diet and perfect exercise and perfect sleeping schedule that would help me find my shiny self. And, so I kept at it, glued to hopeful obsession. And in the process, I spent way too much money, depleted my body of it’s ability to heal on its own, and I isolated myself from the world around me. I did not get well, no matter how hard I tried.
I see this all the time in the work I do. People on this supposed road to health trying and trying to get "there." The cleanses, the diets, the restrictions, the promise of something toxic purged. And, to be honest, much like my own experience, the people I find on the most linear, focused, and contained version of health tend to be the most unwell. I'm not knocking a healthy diet or the occasional break from certain addictive foods that are causing inflammation, I'm just suggesting that sometimes ... perhaps ... maybe ... there is another layer of this wellness wagon.
First off, so you aren't locked in the image of me scaring perfectly harmless people with dirt pills, lemme give you a glimpse of my life today with food and health: I feel better and more vital than I ever have in my whole life, even though, logistically speaking, I have waaaaaaaay more stress than I did a decade ago. I eat what I want when I want. I see food in a gloriously decadent light as both fuel for my daily, very active grind and as pleasure for my tastebuds. I give my body the full expanse of being a temporary, constantly changing structure that I have the privilege of living inside. I love myself. I barely think about my autoimmune diseases. And I don’t remember the last time I took a probiotic. I feel well. Like, from a cellular level all the way to a spiritual level.
I wonder sometimes how this can be. How, with very little adherence to the way of the healthy eating/being I had once been willing to focus my entire existence on, can I be so settled into my skin with such a sense of energy and overall well being? Was it age? Did I finally switch into the right gear in terms of my metabolism and hormonal flow?
No. The answer is so clear. It is also simple. But it is not easy.
I finally agreed to line myself up with myself. I decided that no matter what, I’d listen to that whisper I’d been hearing all along. And the more I listened, the more I could distinguish that this ancient, deep hush wasn't asking me to tritate joy and pleasure or try a new diet or to get better at going to that crazy yoga class. The call was very different.
You have to be very very very very very very very very (ok that word looks weird now when I type it) quiet to hear what I’m about to say.
You hear that?
What is that thing that you can hear through the static asking for attention? What’s that thing that you are willing to distract yourself with diets and exercise programs and self-flagellating behaviors in order to ignore?
You may have convinced yourself it’s some hereditary traffic jam in your brainy brain or the residual smog left from that time in high school when you (fill in blank)ed. But, you can hear it every once in while. It sounds like this, “Hey there chiquita banana, I need you to at some point in the near future to stop doing that or start doing that or step into that.”
My whisper calls me chiquita banana. I dunno why. It just does.
Here’s the tricky part: That whisper often feels as credible as you might think a chiquita banana would be herself. There is often very little rational reason why you need to follow its chorus. On the other end of its beckoning is, in your summation, near death and destruction - or I should say, rather, that it at least feels impossible and really completely icky to do. And I can pretty much guarantee that neither the world you’ve got propped up around you nor the walls you’ve spent so many years forming are gonna feel like a great container for this whisper. That whisper feels like Elton John’s best outfit in a room full of suits and ties.
So. The way you know it’s not a brain fart or nervous tick or lost-cause-thought-misfire is that it stays constant, even when you hush it with self-containing behaviors. It’s always there. But, just because it’s always there does not mean it’s an authoritarian sort of presence. It’s the opposite actually. It’s just, um, present. And, oddly, feels a bit loving. Yet, the older you get without listening to it, the louder it will become. Which means you have to work that much harder to numb your senses out so you don’t hear it. And, as people have learned for generation and generations, the longer you ignore it, the more intense it reverberates until, yes, it finds a way to scream at you. Or crash into you. Or demolish the land you stand on so you can focus on it.
Most of us wait until we get to that point to listen to it, don’t we? I can’t blame us. The sooner we can all get over the shame in that part, the better.
Soon after I decided to end the phase of “Whisper Avoidance,” I spoke to a good friend of mine, who had crossed the murky waters of a similar phase before me, and she said: “I had the grace to stop (fill in blank) before I caused irreversible harm.”
The grace. To stop. Before. Irreversible harm.
When you can grasp that, you are getting more ready to be the adventurer you'll need to be. You start to see that this whisper resides in something Sue Monk Kidd, in her amazing book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, calls your “Golden Thread.” Basically, we all have one. It glows within us as part of us, as deep and integral as our veins carry blood. It is the unique and individual “right way” for each one of us. Caution: It does not look like the thread of anyone and it certainly can't be carved out in a diet or a book or a health plan. It's got its own tender demands for your life, each strand of its thick thread glimmering with another requirement for what will make you experience true wholeness.
And, at some point in life, you will have to just grab on to that Golden Thread and say, mercy mercy mercy me. Here we go. And it whispers back to you with instructions on exactly what you need to do to shine. You place your fingers around its girth and you say, no matter what, I've got this. You listen, even though it doesn’t make sense. You give things up. You say sacred yeses and holy no's. You hang on to its glow even in the dark - the “dark” being an important word to use, because as soon as you grab on and follow that whisper, shit will hit the fan. Your life will certainly crumble a bit. People will fall away. Security will shape shift. You will disappoint folks close to you. You will hurt and you will be hurt. You will make a radiant mess. But, you hang on because you trust that whisper that is sewn along the path of your Golden Thread. It’s all you got.
Yet. Despite the dark and the mess, the best part is that when you line up with that Golden Thread with 100% pro level effort, what you get back is your vitality. Your body takes a giant sigh and joins you in the journey. It ponies up and supports you, as do the things and people who are etched deeply into your Golden Thread.
In other words, you get to see that you can handle this thing called life. And you get to feel good and be good and know good and do good. You get to be courageous. You get to know that if the world were to blow up tomorrow, you have done what you needed to do. You get to love and be loved for you. You get to survive the fallibility of being human and still end the day praying for another sweet gasp of life as a human. I promise. It's all worth it. And your health will line up to prove that to you as soon as you grab hold to that Golden Thread. It's just The Absurdly Beautiful Design of Life.
Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. (go listen, then do. you can handle it.)