The One You Feed

I just celebrated my birthday the other day, and can I tell you what?

It was so fun.

Felt connected and loved and alive. Went out to a hip twinkly restaurant and drank bubbly and ate good food with people I love and wore homemade birthday crowns and baked chocolate cake and licked the frosting bowl with my kid.

(You know, compared to even ten years ago, in those ancient pre-Facebook days, this newfangled technology thing lends a whole new lovely and strangely-intimate-but-not energy to birthdays. All day long, I discovered sweet little messages from long-distance friends from so many different eras of my life, and felt touched and sentimental and open and light.)

It was kinda great.

Back in my twenties, when I was studying a lot of social theory and everything was socially constructed and nothing had meaning so why don't we all just give up already, I went through a long phase of being too cool for birthdays. They were depressing opportunities to get cynical and drink heavily; reminders of all that I felt I hadn't yet accomplished, ticking existentialist time-bombs warning me that I was one year closer to death without having any real achievements to my name.

But then two years ago my son was born on my birthday (crazy, yes; that's another story), and since then, late February is kind of like Second Christmas in our house. Big parties and lots of celebrating and wrapping paper and snail mail and candles and so much sparkle. It's certainly more fun with a little guy running around lifting his sippy cup and yelling "Cheers!"

As I imagine they do for most of us, birthdays always make me think about big topics like Life and Meaning and What's My Purpose and How can I seriously be 37 years old because isn't that someone's mom or mine or my elementary school teacher's age, but definitely not me? And isn't that awfully close to forty? And decidedly middle-aged? 

But then I think: damn, girl. You're still alive. You can still tie your shoes. You can still walk down the street. You can even still do the splits. You've birthed a baby and written a masters thesis and paid your taxes every year since college and you're really doing ok. Even if you're not President of the United States or a multimillionaire tech entrepreneur or Mother Teresa.

It's all about how you look at it, right? 

Birthdays changed for me after my father died at age 58.

I was only 23 when he got sick, and 26 when he died. It was hard to feel hopeful about my ever seeing retirement age. I wondered how anyone could be so foolish as to count on living to see her grandchildren, or what the point was of funneling money into an IRA if you were never going to get to use it.

A sobering revelation hit when I turned 29. I realized that, had I been my father, my life would already be half over. That we never know how many years we get. That, no matter how many chia seeds and kale salads we consume, we can't count on 80 years, or 90, or more. So I should savor these birthdays, these wide-open new years, and never be ashamed as the number grew higher and more wrinkly and grey-haired.

Because some people don't get the pleasure of seeing middle-age.

So now, these days, 37 feels like a gift, a grace, something I want to shout from the rooftops, like, hey, look what I got! Look what I did! Look what I get to wake up to and celebrate!

Holy amazing remarkable 37.

It makes me think of the Gayatri Mantra, a beloved devotional chant sung for thousands of years by Hindus, bowing to the morning sun. The Gayatri Mantra reminds us to look to the light, to meditate upon that luminescence, to turn our faces to that in our lives which is graceful and bright and life-giving.

Now, I have always been deeply suspicious of positive thinking movements a la The Secret. They make me throw up in my mouth. I can't bear the cheery forced positivity of much of the New Age and yoga worlds. My heart beats for sad music and melancholy literature and the real stuff of suffering. This shadow-side feels honest to me, human; rich.

But I also know that you've got to feed your good wolf.

Have you heard this parable before? It's so good.

Ahhhhh! Yes. The one you feed.

Lately, when I practice at home, I'll dial up a philosophy podcast to keep my mind focused and sharp and to prevent it from wandering and ruminating on politics and where I'll move after Trump wins the election and appoints Judge Judy to the Supreme Court and strikes down the Bill of Rights.

I discovered this one several months ago and have been really digging it. The One You Feed explores the parable of the two wolves. The creator-slash-host strikes me as down-to-earth and equally suspicious of simplistic positive thinking. But he also embraces and highlights many fantastic and multi-disciplinary techniques for feeding your good wolf.

I highly recommend his diverse array of interviews. They usually range from 40 minutes to an hour in length, and feature a wonderfully interesting variety of thinkers, activists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, coaches, writers, and more.

Here are a few personal favorites:
  • Rainn Wilson (aka Dwight from The Office)
  • Lodro Rinzler, Buddhist author and meditation teacher
  • Sharon Salzberg, Buddhist author and meditation teacher
  • Rich Roll, vegan endurance athlete
  • Lama Surya Das, Buddhist teacher
  • Susan Piver, Buddhist teacher and writer
  • Glennon Doyle Melton, writer and creator of Momastery
  • Monk Yunrou, Taoist teacher
  • Maria Popova, creator of Brain Pickings
  • Kino MacGregor, Ashtanga yogi and teacher
  • Dan Harris, ABC News anchor and meditator
  • Noah Levine, Buddhist teacher, author, and founder of Against The Stream

Give it a listen. Whether you're someone who has a little downtime in the car during your commute, or at the gym on the treadmill, or at home nursing a baby, or at work procrastinating, or up early to walk your dog, there's always a little time to build in an opportunity to feed your good wolf.


AutumnF said…
Ah-you always capture the light while acknowledging the dark. Thanks for the reminder that we have a choice on which to focus on!
When are you coming back to SF??
Rach said…
Thanks, sister! I miss you. :(

We'll be back in June for sure, but I'm working on scheduling a few dates this spring to teach some classes/workshops in Oakland, too. Hope to see you in the next month or two!


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