Monday, November 21, 2011

How to Achieve Immortality; or, Take the Advice of My Friend Dr. Andrew Weil

I ♥ Dr. Beard.

As I read Dr. Andrew Weil's latest book, Spontaneous Happiness, I find myself saying over and over, "yes." The amazing thing about written communication is its ability to connect people with similar values and ideas despite the likelihood they'll never physically meet. Having read most of Dr. Weil's books and using his website as my go-to place for all things health and wellness, I feel like he's my friend. If I met him, I'd throw my arms around him and invite him to sit on my front porch swing with me and catch up, despite the fact he'd have no idea who the hell I am. I have lots of writer friends like that. Harper Lee, Alice Walker, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, all are my friends even though they never return my calls. I don't care that two of them are dead.

I gave a speech on this topic once. I had to take Public Speaking at the community college in order to get my associate's degree. I was in my late-twenties, and despite limiting my consumption of beverages and being far more well-adjusted than I was if I had taken the class right out of high school, I still felt like peeing my pants. I got through it by pretending I had my writer friends by my side.

I was quite pleased with myself for having the gumption to tout the superior nature of written communication over verbal communication in a speech in front of my Public Speaking instructor. I played the song "Virginia Woolf" by the Indigo Girls and talked about its theme of how written communication brings seemingly unsimilar people together through common interests. Here I was, a middle-class suburban young woman living in the middle of the United States in an area known more for its slaughterhouses and barbeque than its literary feed. I would never physically meet Virginia Woolf, but because of my appreciation for a song by two women I'd also likely never meet, I became connected to her words and her life.

When the speech was over, I rejoined my classmates as I took my seat. I could feel my cheeks burning red under the layer of makeup I'd put on to hide the inevitable blushing. I remember breathing out and thinking to myself, "I did it." The instructor validated what I already felt when he stopped me after class and asked if he could have a copy of my speech to share with future students as an example of a good speech.

I was able to overcome my anxiety about public speaking by publically sharing how much I hate to talk to people I don't know very well and arguing that written communication is better at connecting people with each other's ideas.

"If you need to know that you weathered the storm
Of cruel mortality
A hundred years later I'm sittin' here living proof..." --Indigo Girls, "Virginia Woolf"

So let's weather the storm together, friends, even if we never meet. Let me share my friend Dr. Weil's advice about mental wellness so that our ideas and our friendship shall remain immortal:

"If you cultivate emotional resilience, you don't have to resist feeling appropriate sadness; you learn that your moods are dynamic and flexible and that they soon return to the neutral balance point, the zone of contentment, comfort, and serenity."

And here's another good one:

"I suggest that the ability to feel contentment is a key component of emotional well-being. It is also a goal of many religions and philosophies that recognize that the source of human unhappiness is our habit of comparing our experiences to those of others and finding our reality to be wanting. The choice is ours: we can keep on craving what we don't have, and so perpetuate our unhappiness, or we can adjust our attitude toward what we do have so that our expectations conform to our experience."

I'm only on page 18, so expect much more to follow.