The Gift of Passion

IMG_8442I woke up at 5:10 am today, a Saturday morning, because of it. Lying there in bed telling myself I should just try to sleep in did not work. I figured I might as well just get up and do what I wanted to do. The several random thoughts floating about in my head since about 3:30 am were kind of interesting (or so my sleepy mind thought) and I did not want to lose them. And then it struck me how joyful it felt to be compelled to get out of bed because you want to do something that you enjoy so much. And after THAT I realized, even though it is not specifically about eating, food, weight, health and all that, I wanted to write about it. Because, in a way, it’s all inter-tangled.

I am no expert on “passion”, but I do recognize it in others. And, although I often take it for granted, I know I am blessed with feeling passionate about many things in my life, my work being just one of them. Many of my closest friends know just what I mean (probably why I was drawn to them in the first place). They all work, or have worked in jobs that were much more than a paycheck. A few of them were special ed teachers, now retired. Now that I work in a school with over a hundred special needs kids, I totally get it. Your body can be filled with joy just walking down the hallway, watching the interactions of the dedicated staff and the children who love them. One of my friends who is a retired teacher (and who worked with behaviorally challenged inner city teens) now volunteers in a prison, helping to teach incarcerated men in hopes that they will have a chance at a new life.  After many years of working, you would think she might want to sit around and relax awhile, but no. I am sure the gift of joy she gets when she leaves that prison far outweighs anything else. For some of my friends, caring for elder parents as well as being there for older children fills that need. And almost all of my friends have a passion for connecting and entertaining, sharing the joy of their homes and lives with each other.

Passion for some has nothing to do with their work (let’s face it, most of us tend to take jobs we may like, but also need to make ends meet). But, they find their joy in other ways. It could be creating the most amazing desserts in the world and watching the smiles on everyone’s face when they sink their teeth in. Or maybe it is renovating things, making old things new again. Creating things such as jewelry, playing an instrument, taking up a new sport, all of these things add a dimension to life that has nothing to do with making money. Gardening is a passion for many of my friends, myself included. Even when it is covered in a foot of snow, I still get that feeling when I look out at my garden with it’s angel statues and bird baths, ice covered pond and mini windmill spinning in the cold breeze. I know what’s under there and what will be popping up in just 60 days (but who’s counting?).

What happens when people don’t have a passion? We all know someone who tends to complain about everything. Or, maybe they just never seem too happy. Their lives may appear to be OK by typical standards. They have a good job, good relationship, health, a nice place to live, yet, something is “missing”. There is no feeling of joy present. Their energy does not fill you up, but instead tends to drain you. Of course, some people have big problems in life, and it definitely affect their happiness. That is not what I am talking about. It’s when everything in life is going smoothly, yet joy is still absent. What’s going on?

Could it be the absence of passion? I don’t believe it. I think we all have something we absolutely feel passionate about, but we ignore it. We are kind of brain-washed in our culture to do what it takes to be successful, make money, support yourself (unless that is just my experience or feeling, yours may be different). So we stop giving ourselves permission to act on our passions because they no longer are the priority in life. There’s no time.

Or, maybe we lose our passion because we just can’t accomplish it. We may have something we feel strongly about and want to share it with the world in our writing, or art or music. The reality hits that getting the word out on whatever it is that is so important to you may not go far. It’s easy to give up.

Maybe there is a way to reconnect with passion and add joy to life again. Ask yourself this question: what do I love to do? what makes me happy? Then, be honest about the first thing that comes to mind (“hula-hooping” popped into my mind….may have to go to the garage and drag it out). Or, is there something you have been working on because of your convictions, passion, beliefs? Have you started a novel, a painting, a cookbook, a small company but stopped because things aren’t moving as fast as you thought? Consider the way you feel when you are creating……isn’t it in the process that you feel that passion? Doesn’t that bring joy to life?

Making time for our passion is another story. Life is busy, yes, but if you are recording even one television show, then you have time (Beachfront Bargain, This Is Us, Walking Dead, I get it). Escaping with television, Facebook and YouTube might be relaxing, but making time for your passion, and finding joy in life is worth it.

So back to this morning and my tossing and turning and deciding to just get up. I was mentally working on a presentation I am doing (on a topic I happen to feel passionate about, Motivational Interviewing for Dietitians) specifically, how to use an empathetic counseling approach when it comes to helping children with weight issues. I came up with a few ideas for slides I did not want to forget. The second thing that was mixed up right in there with the slides was how to make a vegetarian lasagna for a gathering at my mom’s today. I literally was going through all of the ingredients I knew I had (fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, cauliflower, fresh basil, garlic, black beans, fresh Parmesan) and trying to decide if I need to run out to the store. Yes, cooking is another passion of mine, especially if I can be creative. And, one more thing jumbled up in there was figuring out my tasting for my nutrition class on Monday. Since another storm is brewing for Sunday, do I need to get to the store today? Another passion, making those kids happy.

One article in Psychology Today describes passion as “the last thing you think of before going to bed”, and “the first thing you think of when you wake up”. For some people with eating and body image issues, the obsessive thoughts about restricting, exercising, dieting, etc. do not represent healthy passion, and are anything but joyful. Maybe, getting reconnected with a healthy passion can add something positive to think about. Adding even one small happy thing to life is a step in the right direction. Plant a seed. Paint a picture. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Take your grandmother out for ice cream. Make a new recipe.Sing a song. Jump rope, dance, and yes, hula hoop.

Find your passion. It’s all good.


How Kindness Affects Your Health

This past Friday when I left work I was feeling a bit stressed thinking about everything I wanted to do, and needed to get done over the weekend. My husband and I were planning on going out on a “date” because he was finally feeling better after having some minor surgery and I was really looking forward to it, but I needed to get to the grocery store first. I was making dinner on Saturday night for special company and I wanted it to be good. It was a gorgeous and warm Fall afternoon and I was hoping to get a walk in before our “date”since these days of beautiful weather are certainly numbered. Anyway, I pulled into the grocery store and of course, my luck, the car in front of me was taking FOREVER to park. FINALLY this car made it into a handicap spot, and then I felt kind of guilty for having no patience. I pulled around and parked my car, then walked quickly to get a carriage. Being the nosy person I am sometimes, I had to watch as this person was getting out of her car….or attempting to. I kind of froze in my tracks, watched and waited. She was a tiny little white-haired woman of maybe 5 feet tall. And she appeared to be struggling with something (getting out of the car? standing up?). So I just had to go check to see what was going on with her (I was hoping she would not be afraid that some stranger was approaching her). As I got closer I could see her struggling to get her walker out of the car and keep the door open at the same time. “Do you need some help?” I asked. She was so sweet, just like she looked and said “well, that would be nice, thank you”. It made me sad that she was alone, and I made some kind of comment like “wow, that is great that you are driving! My mom hates to drive”. I almost laughed when she said “well, I probably shouldn’t be! I am 94 years old!”. Yikes and Wow. Anyway, she proceeded to tell me that she usually has her niece pick up a few things for her, but today she could not wait because the town was doing a food pantry collection tomorrow morning and she needed to have a bag ready for them to pick up. She seemed so unsteady (after throwing her walker in a carriage she then uses the carriage as a walker apparently….that is the technique). So I just decided to walk around and chat with her as she shopped, giving her my opinion on what I thought would be good for a food pantry. She talked about her older (yes, older) sister who was not mobile, in a wheel chair but according to my new friend, her older sister is still “with it”, so smart “she could do your taxes!” she said. I found out that she has a neighbor who helps her too, and takes out her trash. By the time she checked out and I walked her to her car, I felt like I made a new friend. We actually exchanged numbers (her name is Leah) and I made her promise to call me if she was stuck and needed something (I kind of agreed with her that maybe she should not be driving). I worried about how she was going to get those groceries out (I made sure to separate everything so nothing was heavier than a jar of spaghetti sauce) and made her promise she would only take a few things at a time.

When she drove away I went back and did my shopping, but I felt especially happy. I felt like I shared a special time with someone who has been on this earth for 94 years. And remained sweet and kind and polite and just, well, nice. Someone who had determination and mustered the strength to do something kind of challenging (and scary)……. because she needed to help others. What an inspiration. I got so much from this encounter and it stuck with me.

Finally, after a very busy but fun weekend I had a chance to think about it. I decided to look into the research a bit. My question was “is there any connection between kindness and health?” Because clearly this special woman was so kind and giving, yet despite her older age she seemed content and happy. I also was affected from trying to be kind (not sure what drew me to help her, I think it may have been more about fear of an old person falling than consciously thinking about being kind). Anyway, what I found was striking, although I kind of expected it. YES, there is a connection between kindness and health, and get this….it probably starts with kindness to yourself. Yup, being good to yourself. Treating yourself with love and respect. That “self-talk” I have mentioned before, that can really affect your behavior if it is negative (“why did I eat that!? that was so stupid!), or worse. If you have ever heard someone beat themselves up for what they eat (or if you have done it yourself) then you know what I mean. Well, that kind of emotional beating does not lead to health. It usually leads to self-destructive behavior or even depression. According to this research study: The Affect of Loving Kindness  “Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a special type of Buddhist meditation that aims to cultivate unconditional kind attitudes toward oneself and others”. This is not some kind of religious thing, it is just an approach to life (oneself and others) that apparently is good for us. More research is needed it appears, but even the fact that psychologists are using the technique (or approach) called LKM or Loving Kindness Meditation is amazing to me. The fact that focusing on how you are thinking both toward yourself, and toward others, can affect your happiness is pretty cool if you ask me. We are all different in our brain chemistry (some people may be more prone to depression or eating disorders for instance), and all of us go through hard times and get depressed. But what if we made an attempt to think of others instead of ourselves? Could it really work to make us happier?

I think it needs to start with yourself. It has taken me years to be kinder to myself. I wish I treated myself the way I do now, but 20 years ago I gave myself a hard time. I expected way too much of myself if you ask me. Now, it is funny but as long as I feel I am doing my best (I make mistakes, say dumb things, do dumb things, but if my intentions are good, well, I forgive myself and move on). Back then, I didn’t. Then, when I started to work with people with eating issues, I learned that a lot of people are not good to themselves at all. For them, their eating was the focus of their lives, and it needed to be perfect. Nothing was good enough as far as how my patients looked at their eating, their bodies, or themselves. LKM may have really helped them. Especially with themselves. Learning first to be kind to yourself frees you to reap the rewards of being kind to others.

During the next few days we are going to decide our next President. I really don’t care what side you are on. I know people, really wonderful and kind-hearted friends who think differently and will vote differently than I will. But I am hoping that we all think about loving kindness, and being good to each other. Remember, most people (well, if you ask me) are good. We just may disagree on the way we look at things, but that is ok. Please think of my new friend Leah, a woman who can barely walk, yet who managed to get out and buy food for the needy, because that is what was burning on her mind, and that is what she needed to accomplish, and she did.  I want to be like Leah. I hope you do too.