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December 2023

Hey, Adults: Let’s Have a Little Talk About Emotional Regulation

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What does it mean to be an adult?

It’s a fun question about in the (inevitable?) messy family aftermath of Christmas. Come on, admit it. You totally know what Ram Dass was talking about when he said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”

I live on the other side of the world from my family — and not without reason. Many of my friends refuse to see certain people in their family over the holidays, creating boundaries and heartache as they learn to carve out safe emotional spaces in their lives. It takes a lot of self-awareness and inner growth to break free from unhealthy family dynamics. And I don’t even have Trumpers in the family, thank God. We all agree politically, at least there’s that.

The holidays can be a really hard time for adults. You have to deal with your family and go into debt at the same time buying everyone the perfect expression of your love for them. Add in excessive sugar, baked goods, and alcohol, and it’s exhausting physically, emotionally, and mentally. I’ve become sensitive to the disruption of Circadian rhythms, and of course my clients want to wrap up big projects by the end of the year.

I have been living in Stressville. (Can I keep plugging my book by saying that I hope it’s not a one-way ticket? Yes, I think I can.)

Not everyone I know has a challenging relationship with the end-of-the-year holiday season. I also have friends with amazingly loving and fun families who make each other smile and provide support whenever someone is in need. But those families can get messy, too.

Life is messy. The older we get, often the messier it gets. Trauma has a way of coming into every life in an endless variety of ways.

So, the question is then, OK, adults: How do you handle things when life gets messy?

Remember when Marie Kondo admitted that she could no longer be tidy while raising three kids? Perfectionism is the ultimate emotional constipation. Humans are imperfect by design.

When you are overcome with emotions that are complex and difficult to process, what do you do to get yourself back to a calm center? This is called emotional regulation, and I suspect it’s at the heart of what it means to be an adult. I wrote about adulting when I turned forty, but I was just starting to feel the feels then.

Now, I live in a Spanish city where I hear a lot of this: “MIRA! MIRA! MIRA!” which, often from the mouth of babes, translates loosely as, “Please turn your eyeballs toward me, because I am so insecure as to whether or not you even love me and if you give me some positive attention, all is right in my world.” If the plea is ignored, it’s usually shortly followed by screaming or sobs.

Who witnessed a Christmas meltdown? Raise your hand.

I feel this. I sometimes regress to a plea for attention, but in a mature, type-A go-getter way. I win awards, publish books, travel around the world, and live a big life filled with love. I’ve done a lot of work to relax from within (to stop the MIRA!) and regulate my emotions (to have as little crying and acting out as possible).

I’m not always successful. We all “fall off the wagon,” right? We commit to a healthy way of living, and then we veer off course for whatever reason. I participate in a few accountability groups, and I often see and hear excuses from others. I read recently to call them “reasons” instead of “excuses.” But if you’re arguing with yourself over something you “want” to do, well, you’re arguing against success on your own terms.

I’m not always perfect with my daily healthy habits, but I’m better than if I didn’t try to do them at all. I know that I only do what I want to do. So, if I don’t do something, it’s because I just don’t prioritize it.

My friend Michael, may he rest in peace, told me once about how he wanted to date a woman who hated cigarette smoke. So, he quit the next day. I’ll never forget that. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances! Yet, his story shows that controlling your behavior — just like regulating your emotions — is mind over matter. (He returned to smoking once they broke up.)

And wow, do those habits come in handy when life starts handing you lemons. You’ll go one of two paths when the cookie crumbles: You cry like a baby, or you deal with it like an adult. I currently employ a mix of both.

Perhaps babies cry because they know how hard life is and parents say "no no everything is fine" because they've forgotten. The baby's right: There's a lot to cry about. Emotional regulation is hard.

Your ability to regulate your emotions and relax back into the feeling determines where you fall on the spectrum of adulthood. As you get older, you have to learn how to the “feel the feels” and be OK with it all —or else you suffer.

Sorry to break it to you, but I’m surely not the only one: You simply can’t drink, eat, shop, sex, scroll, drug, or video-game the bad feelings away. Well, you can, but it’s only temporary. When you stuff down your emotions, you end up with what I call emotional constipation. It feels worse. Then you have to medicate for that along with whatever was the problem in the first place.

The older you are, the more likely your emotional constipation, or so it seems. There’s just more to stuff down. So many older people can’t take a joke. If I hear one more person complain about how grammar rules are more important than people’s feelings over what pronoun they want to identify with, I’m going semicolon. And those young whippersnappers also are so soft that they can’t get poked without crying. It’s time for everyone to regulate.

Not every senior is a grump, of course. I loved the TED Radio Hour interview with Dan Buettner, the National Geographic researcher of the Blue Zones, where people live the longest. He said longest-living humans are full of joy and fun to be around. It’s not just about staying alive a long time — you also want to live a happy life along the way. You want to be emotionally fit along while also being able to avoid slip-and-falls. One way to do this is through the concept of Ikigai.

The idea is that people stay alive when they have a good reason to do so. For many people in Blue Zones, researchers discovered that even a simple garden can qualify as a raison d’être. Having something to do with yourself is part of emotional regulation.

This reminds me of the dog in my apartment complex. It barks for hours. It took me a while to realize that it was the same as shouting “MIRA! MIRA! MIRA!” That same universal cry for attention and love. Unfortunately, the dog can’t very well tend a garden. But adults can.

I have an abundance of things to do in my day. I’m never bored. Years ago, I learned about bullet journaling. That’s a system that uses pen and paper notebooks to create simple, personalized daily planners. I carried one for years (I used one like this), and my favorite section each month was a habit tracker. I drew an X-Y access with the day numbers of the month on the X and my habits on the Y. When I completed a task, I made a bullet point on my chart. I’ve been tracking habits for years, although I got rid of the paper journal this year.

Now that I’m a full-fledged adult without children, real estate, or possessions beyond what I can stuff into my trusty 65-liter backpack, I use a digital app called Habit Tracker. This list of things I want to do with myself every day encourages me to stay off social media, away from the ice cream, and other not-great activities. It’s rare that I check everything in a day because I have a big list.

When I don’t know what else to do because I’m overwhelmed with emotions, I can act on autopilot with these healthy activities. I’m more likely to lace up my shoes and take a walk along the paseo if I do that every day. I know somehow that I should call a beloved friend to talk if I make a habit of connecting every day. I will pick up my ukulele and sing a song, even if I feel bad, if that’s something I do daily.

Beyond being able to regulate my emotions, these habits help me create the life I want to live. If you think, gosh that’s a lot, then you’ve already started making excuses for why you shouldn’t be the main character in your life story. Your list can look however you want it to look. My daily habit goals include:

  • Daily intermittent fasting
  • Daily exercise
  • Estudio español
  • Meditation
  • No scrolling
  • No junk food
  • No alcohol
  • Good sleep
  • Play ukulele
  • Journal
  • Drink water and take vitamins
  • Connect with friends
  • Rest (usually a nap)
  • Seva (selfless service)
  • Be in nature
  • Make money
  • Write weekly blog post (check!)

If I do all those things every day, I don’t have time for the unhealthy stuff. I won’t have time for unhealthy thoughts. I won’t do unhealthy things. I’ll feel better. I’ll be better prepared for when the inevitable chaotic storm approaches. Because it’s coming, fellow adults: The next family holiday will be here before you know it. Will you be ready?

Christmas as a Minimalist

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I completed my small version of the pre-Christmas rush on Saturday, as I popped in from store to store here in Spain to pick up the ingredients for the chickpea-cauliflower-curry loaf with homemade mango barbecue sauce I was baking for a holiday feast with my new roommate and friends.

I was in the depth of one of those catch-all, cheap import shops, searching for a cheesecloth for a new kombucha brew, when into my earphones did play the Fresh Air podcast’s David Byrne Christmas Special. Byrne’s Christmas playlist of kooky songs included an unknown and unironic tune by Joseph Washington Jr.

“I’m going shopping, shopping, shopping downtown/ I’ve got my Christmas list together, going to buy presents … for everyone who’s been so good to me!”

It was a catchy tune, and it made me laugh. Why? Because I do not enjoy shopping at all. Ever since I sold all my possessions and moved on to a 32-foot sailboat in 2015, I have had no interest in accumulating things around me. And I’m not particularly interested in encouraging anyone else to do the same.

Christmas can be a strange time for a minimalist.

Everyone around me is wearing seasonal sweaters they only get out of the closet once a year. I passed a woman wearing plastic reindeer antlers on the street. In every store, there were opportunities to buy buy buy. You’d think as an American, I would be used to this. But I’ve been out of the Christmas game.

For the past many years, my life has been so nomadic that I really haven’t celebrated the holiday season. There wasn’t really any need for shopping. Last year, I had just injured my Achilles tendon and it was unseasonably cold in Lake Worth, Florida, where I was cat-sitting. I simply laid around in bed and read my book on Christmas. The year before that, I was in Daytona Beach, again caring for cats and staying quiet.

I dreamed of a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine when I was a kid, but even then I knew it was a ridiculous waste of money and never actually told my parents I wanted it.

The year before that, I was visiting friends outside Fresno, California. One friend had a quintessential holiday meltdown when we exchanged gifts. I don’t talk to that guy anymore. I guess you could say that Christmas really isn’t much of a holiday for me.

But it certainly is in Spain! There are plenty of parties, dinners, outdoor concerts, and even larger-than-life sculptures in the sand of Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and the rest of the characters in the Christmas story. There is no avoiding going shopping, shopping, shopping downtown.

I was torn. I love to get perfect gifts for friends and loved ones, just like Joseph Washington Jr. sang about. But I barely know the people who are coming to dinner on Sunday, and I’m not in a place to spend a bunch of money on stupid stuff that no one really wants. Besides, we all know that Christmas isn’t about getting stuff — although, of course, that’s exactly what it’s about for at least the first decade or two of life. This holiday is about sharing love. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Now, I know what a lot of readers are thinking right now: Give experiences, not things. But that doesn’t really happen after you turn 7 and it’s no longer appropriate to give coupons for things like shoulder rubs, dog walks, and car washes. Maybe if you’re in a serious relationship you can buy concert tickets or one-way tickets to exotic destinations. It is possible — but I came up short when I thought about the people on my Christmas list. Not that it’s very long.

I used to do a lot for Christmas. It is all in the name of God, after all. Now I honestly do as little as possible during the holiday season. About a year ago, I discovered a fantastic gift for my parents: a subscription to a local coffee roaster’s coffee of the month club. It’s easier to keep it rolling throughout the year to cover birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Christmas for them both. And they love it. And it’s not more stuff.

I’m persona non grata for the other members of my family, so the only other people on my list are my new roommate and the people I barely know coming to holiday dinner. I am cooking a main dish, a vegan chickpea-cauliflower-curry loaf. I bought a package of construction paper for one euro and made colorful origami cranes, strung a hemp cord through it, and created ornaments. I wrapped them with a star that reads, “Feliz Navidad!” We’re in Spain, after all. My roommate gets a pair of earrings I bought in Turkïye that are cool but a little too heavy for my ears.

It's taken some maturing as a minimalist to understand that there is value in the act of giving gifts, even though it underscores the cultural construct that relationships can be translated into money. I know when I sold and gave away everything I owned to move on to the sailboat, one friend in particular was very upset to see that I sold a candleholder she gave me. Did she think I was going to take it on the sailboat? Was it more ethical to give it back? She also gave me a beautiful Native American bamboo flute, and I asked her if she wanted that back. She accepted it, then never talked to me again.

So, when it’s a holiday season, I try to balance between letting people know that I love them through the love language of gifts while also not getting caught up in the idea that things equal love. This goes for what I buy myself, too. Since I know, eventually, I’ll be back down to a 65-liter, 20-kilogram backpack (which is already too big, please don’t get me started), I only buy things I need or are willing to leave behind whenever I go to my next country. That means the dress I’ll wearing tomorrow is the same dress I bought a year ago at a consignment shop, and I’ll put on a little eyeliner to be extra fancy.

I know that the people who appreciate me don’t care what I look like, just so I respect

In Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, everyone is just so friction' perfect. Are you from a family of perfectionists? It's exhausting. You don't have to be perfect and there's nothing you can buy that will make you so. There's no reason to try, either. Relaxation is the real flex.

the holiday. They aren’t going to care if I spent no money, spent five euro on each of them, or bought them all big, elaborate gifts. It’s not going to make them like me anymore. If it did, well, I might like them less.

The average household debt in America is more than $100,000. This includes student loads, mortgages, medical debt, and, of course, credit card debt. People pay about 10% of their income toward trying to pay down their debt. The average credit card debt is $6,365 per person. How do you compare?

I’m lucky because I was raised by parents who paid for everything only with cash. They paid cash for their house 36 years ago! Now, when I was a kid, this also meant that I had to work for my money. I was the home maintenance girl: trimming bushes, pulling weeds, water-sealing the deck and painting the garage door just to earn some money to go to the movies. I was babysitting at age 14 and had a part-time job at the local produce stand when I was 16. They taught me to work hard and never have any debt. I still work hard, and I still don’t have debt.

But a big reason why I don’t have debt is because I’m a minimalist. I don’t get joy from buying things. I once dated a hoarder, and it was an interesting peek into another world. He found joy in buying all the small appliances a kitchen could ever want, every piece of sporting equipment that could make an armchair athlete sweat, and endless shirts, shoes, and pants. In truth, though, he didn’t find joy. That’s the thing.

Shopping can only bring so much dopamine. It’s addictive just like alcohol, drugs, and social media. Shopping gets you excited in the same way that picking out the sweet in the bakery gets you excited. Or me, I should use the correct pronoun. My acupuncturist told me to stay off the baked goods, and I’ve been bread-free for the last couple of months. Hello, I’m Suzanne and I’m a chocolate croissant addict! I miss them most of all.

Did I really just search the Internet for a picture of a chocolate croissant? Oh yes, yes I did.

It also helps to live in a place with a low cost of living. I pay about a third of what I would pay for a third of the space if I were to be renting in the United States. I also live five blocks from the beach and have a large, private, and quiet space. I cook my own vegetarian food, don’t drink alcohol, and bought mostly secondhand furnishings for the apartment. Low overhead and low desires are keys to a debt-free, minimalist lifestyle.

I’ll warn you, though: It’s not easy to have few desires. You need to train your mind to understand that you can’t buy happiness, and then you have to find the joy in true financial freedom. After all, the fewer bills you have, the less you have to work. The less you work, the more time you have to pursue your dreams. You thought I was going to say play, but life is play when you get the balance right.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Michael Singer’s lectures lately, and in one he talks about how we all have that thing we’re crazy about. Maybe you’re crazy about yoga or craft beers or … maybe it’s the holidays. Maybe you’re crazy about giving a lovely gift to bring a smile to people’s faces. Some things it’s okay to be crazy about. I like making people smile, too. That’s why I made the origami for everyone.

We’ll also have a karaoke machine for performances after we eat. I plan to belt out the hits. I’m also practicing Happy Xmas (War Is Over) on the ukulele. After all, I wish most of all for you and the rest of the world a peaceful time now and always. Maybe if there weren’t so much stuff to fight about, we could also agree to stop fighting.


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You know how everyone tells you to “listen to your body”? 

If you’re like me, that’s easier said than done. There are days I’m not sure I even know the language my body speaks. (Insert a fart joke here)

It’s so hard to understand, honor, and accept what’s best for your physical self, let alone your mental or emotional self. Aren’t we all socially conditioned to detach from our bodies yet care passionately about our image? Women’s magazines and Instagram influencers make me feel a certain way about my body, there’s just no getting around it. 

I’m not alone. So many people I love have eating disorders, anxiety, and even just fears about getting older. Dreading birthdays isn’t just about not wanting wrinkles, gray hair, lumps, and pains. With age comes trauma. There’s no getting around that, either.

But I’ve been trying to feel my body. For decades, I’ve been practicing yoga, Reiki energy, and all receiving kinds of massage and body work. I fast regularly, and I eat vegetarian foods. I don’t drink alcohol anymore. 

Then I completed a 10-day silent meditation Vipassana course. I didn’t get kicked out of the 10-day course. It was amazing. It is all about feeling your body, at depths I never knew possible.   

I got kicked out of the one-day “refresher” course a few months later. They actually refused to let me participate. I have feelings about that, too. 

Vipassana is a style of meditation popularized by S.N. Goenka, taught throughout the world in many different languages to thousands of people for decades. Years ago, I had come across it while traveling throughout Asia. I didn’t know too much about it. I just knew it was something I wanted to do. Everyone I’ve ever met who completed the course said it was transformational. 

Now that I’ve done it, I totally agree. 

I was first accepted to a course in Ontario, Canada in the beginning of June 2020. Of course, that was when the entire world was freaking out over COVID-19. I had recently purchased a solar-powered recreational vehicle, an RV. The plan was to drive it from Miami to Pennsylvania, to visit my parents, and then onward into Canada. Unfortunately, Canada closed its border — technically the first of two times I was denied an in-depth Vipassana experience.

I traveled along all the southern coasts of the Great Lakes and up in northern Idaho, Washington, and Wyoming and still have yet to know Canada!

Instead, I roamed around North America, took lots of hikes, and social-distanced myself in beautiful forests and desserts. I applied online to other 10-day Vipassana courses, but nothing lined up with my travels and timeline. Eventually, I sold that RV and moved to Europe. I was finally accepted to the course in Suffolk, United Kingdom in August 2023. I scheduled a cat-sitting gig in London and booked a plane ticket.

I knew the Vipassana experience was going to be intense, but I felt ready. In July, my meditation experience was a steady 20-minute sit every day. Sometimes I would practice one-pointed focus by myself. Other times I would meditate along with a group I belong to on Facebook called the Shakti Love Warriors. Those meditations could be guided with ambient music or quiet. I was meditating more than most people I knew.

And yet, like so many times in my life, I had no idea what I was getting into. An email from the Vipassana centre told me where to go, what time to arrive, and to bring a set of bed sheets and an alarm clock. I bought both items on the streets around the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and had them with me in my pack.

Dhamma Sukhakari Vipassana Centre in Haughley Green, UK

The course was held in the classic old English countryside. Moss grew in the cracks of brick buildings with windows overlooking natural ponds. I slept in the women’s dorm in a bunk bed in a room with five other female bunks. We ate in silence in a small dining hall. The men who participated ate in an area of the dining hall separated mostly by a wall. I never saw their dorm. There was no talking.

I was assigned the bottom bunk, for which I had extreme gratitude. The woman in the top bunk above mine was young in her early 20s from some Scandinavian country. She talked in her sleep restlessly, often waking me up. But early in the 10 days, she giggled in her sleep, cutely and mischievously like she was conspiring with classmates in her dreams.  I was patient with the rest of her mumbling.

We deposited our cell phones with the course manager and began with a meditation in the great hall. We could use as many cushions and blankets as we wanted to get comfortable for the next 10 days. I took a large cushion and four small squishy brick-size cushions, plus two blankets, and settled into my assigned spot at the back along the aisle that separated the men from the ladies. 

The daily schedule started at 4 a.m. Actually, my day always started five minutes earlier. I realized that if I set my alarm before the morning gong, I could jump in the shower before anyone else. I never had to wait for a morning shower, but often by the time I completed my fast shower there would be a line of sleepy women. I was clean, dressed, and ready for morning meditation by 4:20 every morning.  

We would have group meditation in the hall from 4:30 to 6:30 a.m., then a hearty breakfast, then some free time before an 8 to 10:30 a.m. meditation. There would be a short break, then at it again until 12:30 p.m., when it was lunch time. After an always-delicious lunch was a short break, after which we would meditate again for two hours. There would be another break, then again, two hours of meditation. Then there would be time for fruit or lemon water, rather than dinner. After dinner was a meditation followed by a videotaped lecture by Goenka, followed by more meditation. Lights out arrived at 9:30 p.m.

It was 11.5 hours of seated meditation every day. No exercise besides some light walks around a small field where only ladies had access. No yoga, although I stretched and did some gentle yin. I also did handstands in between meditation sessions. Everyone took a vow of noble silence, so no one could say anything. 

I made up nicknames in my head of everyone around me in the meditation hall. There was Clip, who sat in front of me for the first four days. She wore a clip in her hair. She couldn’t handle the meditation, I guess, and left early. I had an extra large space around me once her cushion was removed from the hall. Ghost sat behind me, so nicknamed because she sometimes beat me as the first one in the hall in the mornings and also because she was so quiet with her comings and goings. Poor Sniffles, to my right, was getting over a cold, but she was nothing compared to Cough-y (or Coffee, I never asked him), a man in the second row who was horribly sick with a cough. I would have gone home if I were Cough-y. I had a lot of gratitude for Ghost behind me and not Cough-y. Hat, who had many different hats but always a hat, sat next to Coughy-y on the man’s side. Beep was a man somewhere to my left who wore a watch with an hour chirp. That chirp only happened once before the course manager chastised him. But he’ll always be Beep to me.

At first, sitting for that long was physically grueling. I did not have anything majorly wrong with my body, beyond some natural stiffness, some knots in my shoulders, and sore hips every once in a while. But damn! Vipassana was no joke. I needed to put small brick cushions under my hands, two under my knees, and I was still having trouble keeping still. My foot kept falling asleep.

Three days in, they taught us the Vipassana technique. When I first learned to do it, my body was overcome with a sense of relaxation and well-being. But then I really started noticing all the sensations in my body. I was surprised to realize just how much energy was trapped in my body.

My arms ached. My legs ached. My shoulders ached. My God, I felt old! I was wondering why exactly I thought this whole 10-day silent meditation experience was such a good idea. I had little to do but follow the schedule and try my best not to fall asleep when I was supposed to be meditating. 

The whole thing was run by a nonprofit, so I wasn’t paying anything. I couldn’t really have any expectations. 

It was beautiful there in the English countryside. During meals, I liked to look out the window and watch the trees sway in the country breeze. After meals, I stopped by the garden to see the fat, fuzzy bumblebees floating near late summer flowers. 

I got these images from Google since I did not have my phone/camera with me during the retreat. My bunk was far right on the second floor — you can just make out my window through the branches. Behind the photographer was the meditation hall and walking field.

The course employed volunteers to cook and serve meals, so I didn’t have to worry about food at all. Breakfasts and lunches were always delicious and filling. I was used to fasting, so I was content with hot lemon water in the evening instead of a third meal.

I loved not having my phone around. I had no problem not talking to anyone. It actually was a relief to not make small talk or answer, “So, where ya from?” Besides, everyone looked miserable. I didn’t quite understand it. I mean, yeah, my body hurt but only really when I was sitting in meditation. It was actually strange: Once I got up, my arms and legs stopped aching. I loved taking peaceful walks around the property. In the mornings, I’d stop and admire the stars in the pre-dawn dark sky.

The days wore on. I hand-washed clothing just for something to do. One day, I tried to meditate outside near the pond — even though the strict rules clearly stated I could only meditate in the main hall or in my bedroom. Within minutes of closing my eyes, the course manager approached me and asked if everything were alright. When I replied that I was just meditating, I was instructed to go inside. I did, slightly annoyed.

My mind tried to avoid feeling the pain locked inside the body, but there were only so many nicknames, poems, and other distractions. I frequently emerged from the meditation hall in tears. But I have a strong practice of crying and letting emotion move through me. Since I had no relationship with anyone, I would sometimes dramatically and playfully throw myself on to the soft grass on the field outside the hall. This silly grounding, much like the handstand practice, made me smile and soon feel better. I could go back to smiling at the beautiful English countryside unveiling itself in front of me. I kept up with the schedule.

Then, something interesting happened during meditation: All the knots in my shoulders disappeared. I had been feeling those knots for years. I had gone to so many massage therapists. I knew one knot originated around the time a woman berated me unfairly at work. For a while, I owned a Theracane, and with it I could apply enough force into the knot to cry. But it never went away completely. After that meditation, it was gone. GONE! All of them!

It was on that seventh day when I finally figured out what Vipassana was all about: self-healing. I was healing myself with my mind. It was the ultimate mind-body connection.

I had the power to take what I learned about neuroplasticity and biohacking and reprogram my brain to stop feeling that unnecessary, stuck-energy pain. I barely needed my 3:55 a.m. alarm the next morning. I beat Ghost as the first in the meditation hall for the remaining days. 

As a yoga teacher, I had a mental file of every pain and discomfort in my body. Now that the shoulder knots were taken care of, next up were these hips. I knew emotions were stored in the hips, but now I was feeling it. I was determined to confront the pain I locked away because it hurt too much at the time. 

The Vipassana practice teaches you how to become aware of every sensation in the body while staying equanimous. That is, see the sensation but don’t create a drama around it. Just let it be. The result makes the sensation dissipate. I no longer required cushions and could sit still for hours. 

My hips felt better. My shoulders felt better. The pain in my arms alleviated. My foot stopped going numb. It was amazing. I went body part to body part, really giving each a strong yet loving mental look. Some pain had no origins I knew of. I figured they were generational or from a past life. I acknowledged the sensation and allowed it to be seen. With that, I could feel the pain transmuting and lightening. 

By the last day, when the 50 female participants were allowed to talk to each other, I felt buoyant. I was the last one out of the meditation hall when it was over. Even Ghost was gone.

For weeks afterward, I continued to practice Vipassana meditation for an hour each day. I found that my preferences for things naturally and dramatically diminished. I went to eat after the course ended: Did I want the rosemary and potato casserole or the spinach and cheese quiche? It really didn’t matter. I mean, does that kind of thing really matter? What does matter?

Here’s what does, according to the Vipassana organizers here in Spain: I didn’t give up my other practices, namely Reiki energy work. That was the reason I was denied when I tried to sign up for that one-day “refresher” course. 

I have been attending weekly Vipassana group meditation practice, and I’m loving it. I am still feeling all these sensations in my body. Like, a lot.

If you’ve never felt sensations in your body, at this point you may think that I should take a trip to the mental hospital. The funny thing was, the person running the one-day course said exactly that when he explained that I would have to give up Reiki energy work, to which I’ve been attuned since 2003, if I ever wanted to do another Vipassana course.

I loved Looney Tunes as a kid! A “loon” could refer to a person whose mental state was influenced by the moon, or la luna. A loon is really a bird, you old coot. Now get on to the looney bin, folks.

“The concern is that you may have to go to the mental hospital,” the organizer said. “Goenka himself declared these two practices incompatible. I’ve personally had to deal with people who practice Reiki having to go to the mental hospital. We can’t put ourselves or you at that kind of risk.”

Well, okay. This is all about accepting things as they are, right? 

At first it felt like rejection — after all, wasn’t Vipassana a tool for progressing spiritually so that I could eventually turn into a light being and connect permanently with the higher power and never have to reincarnate again and reach enlightenment? I’m all for that.

That stuff about a mental hospital, geez, that was a first. I was always proud of my stable mental health. (Insert fart joke here). And yet … I was really feeling overwhelmed with all my work deadlines, finishing up the work needed to publish my first major travel memoir, and trying to get fit while learning Spanish and making new friends in a new place. Maybe a weekend getaway in the mental hospital wouldn’t be that bad. Would they serve meals as nice as the Vipassana retreat in the UK? I bet the bed wouldn’t be a bunk bed. It really didn’t sound that bad.

But, no, I have a cozy bed in my own apartment, thanks. I make my own yummy food. I know there are many different paths, and I’m walking my own. I’ve learned that when my mind is at peace, my body is pain-free. 

I still meditate every day. I still practice Reiki. I’m still not in the mental hospital — at least, not at the time of publication!