August Wellness–A Most Pleasing Double Entendre

I attended a corporate banquet with The Chef last weekend. It was his corporation, not mine. I’ve noticed most employees dread those things. Few people relish forced socializing with coworkers; forced meaning it isn’t their own idea or choice (and usually off the clock). I didn’t mind because it wasn’t my employer or my coworkers. It was mildly fun watching everyone else endure it. Free drinks were limited to two so I didn’t have to watch anyone get drunk and damage his or her corporate image. Folks seemed to be on their best behavior.

That statement now bothers me—on their best behavior, because our standard of behavior has changed. I sat at a table with eight other people. Everyone except my husband was a stranger to me yet they all had one thing in common. I was the only person at the table who did not check a cell phone during dinner. Over half of the other guests at the table kept their phones sitting on the table during the entire meal. This included women who carried purses and men who wore pants with pockets.

When the guests checked their phones they did not check for calls or texts, they checked social media. Watching for an kid-related emergency like folks are quick to claim? Nope. FaceInstaTwitChat as usual. I could see this plainly from my seat. What struck me most about this is that we were attending a social event. This was a social gathering. There were new people to meet in a social setting and new experiences available in a social situation. Instead of being social everyone checked social media for a better offer.

Someone could have made a new friend or a professional connection. Someone could have been exposed to a new perspective or maybe simply enjoyed interesting company. But no, it appears that social media trumps social interaction. I mean the real thing—flesh and blood social interaction, not the cyber variety.

Remember when this was question of manners? When cell phones first became mainstream it was considered bad manners to take or make calls during a meal in public. Even if that standard of behavior is more or less intact we clearly don’t consider it ill-mannered to make people feel that their dinner company isn’t sufficient to hold our attention. It feels more like we’ve developed an excuse not to connect with other people. Ironically, that excuse is constant connection to social media.

It makes me sad rather than angry, lest this come across as a rant. I remember how much fun it used to be to attend a dinner party and have conversations with people who would actually look at me while we spoke. I remember laughing at funny stories or jokes and learning new things. A social life was about social interaction. Now I sit at a table with eight people scrolling through feeds. I stare at the floral centerpiece. They stare at the little screens in their hands. I miss eye contact and open-ended questions. I miss ice-breakers and getting to know the proverbial you. I miss the pleasure of capturing someone’s attention and holding it with conversation. I miss having my own attention captivating by someone fascinating or just more knowledgeable than I am.

That’s really the overriding implication, isn’t it? When we reach for our phones and check social media in a situation like this we send a message. That message is You are not important or interesting enough to hold my attention. Even if all we used to do was clink our glasses together and complain that we had better things to do, now we are silently saying I’ve got better things to watch other people do.

Maybe it’s because I feel like an outsider now without social media but certain things that used to matter to me have risen back to the top of my social priorities. I want my own behavior patterns to shift back to the previous standard—you know, before they were eroded by what passes for socializing now. A firm handshake. A smile that conveys warmth. The art of giving a compliment. The art of receiving a compliment. Putting effort into meaningful conversation versus banal chitchat (or pretending to listen while I check my feed). Having someone leave my company and feel genuinely glad to meet me. Leaving someone’s company genuinely stimulated by our interaction. Everyone has something to offer. Everyone has a contribution. We used to discover and appreciate these things with interpersonal activity, heavy emphasis on the personal.

This banquet was the first social activity I have attended since I quit social media.  (I used to be feed-dependent too so I don’t mean to be a hypocrite but first times are important. First times make deliberate change relevant and remarkable.) My first social encounter with the general public since I broke my addition to the scroll was a cold hard confirmation. As much as I value the luxury of my smartphone, in this capacity I truly miss the good old days when spending time together was blissfully low-tech. Tech-less, even. Those who spent too much time spying on other people via the internet had to do it at home, and we considered them creeps.

That’s how it felt sitting at a table for nine while eight people hypnotically dipped their chins and stalked any other reality except the one they currently occupied—creepy. My instinct after considering this for a while was to start making a list of things to teach my grandchildren someday. I’d coach them to reinstate authentic social graces, minus the frivolous posturing. However, it has not escaped my notice that once again everyone else is exhibiting what is now “normal” behavior and I’m the weirdo. The operative phrase there is Once Again. It’s the story of my life.

Clearly I want to be different I wouldn’t keep finding reasons/opportunities to distinguish myself from the herd. I must not want to belong. This scenario plays out as a theme over and over in my life so I’m obviously choosing it. At different times throughout my personal history I’ve thought of this as a failure or even a curse. Perhaps because my focus was always on the exclusion I never considered that maybe it is a calling. Perhaps this is meant to be or I wouldn’t be so particularly well-suited to it. Perhaps there’s a reason I keep rejecting and resisting—a practical purpose, I mean—and I just haven’t figured it out yet.

Or maybe I have figured it out and it’s called being a writer.  Since I seem to be likewise well-suited to writing about wellness this preoccupation with what makes us unwell is perfectly aligned. And I am my own best case study. Serving as my own therapist guru of wellness I’m choosing validation over incrimination. Weirdo is justified. Alignment is adjusted to embrace it.

Okay, August is over. It’s time for the monthly wellness highlight reel:

Although I’ve already written about it—so no surprises here—I quit Instagram. It came quickly on the heels of quitting Facebook. I haven’t tweeted anything unrelated to wellness in 58 days. That would have been longer but I re-tweeted a comic strip about grammar. Twitter might be next. Notifications are turned off so I forget it it’s even there until we get severe weather.

The Tinas project rolls on even though I’ve hit the wall. I hated every Tina I took this week but this is also part of the practice. (Seriously, y’all, when I become a ghost someday that’s how you’ll know I’m around. You’ll hear me whispering that manta around darkened corners and under the bed, “…this is also part of the practice.”)

But here’s what I DID do better (this month)…

I took a bona fide break from running for the month of August. This is the first break I’ve ever taken that wasn’t related to an injury. Two decades of running with no break? Yep. If it wasn’t a bone or a muscle or a joint feeling unwell, I ran without a deliberate break for two decades. So how was it? I’m glad it’s over. The first week was lovely. The second week was strange. At the three-week mark I was itching to get back on the road and almost caved. The fourth week has been tough to tolerate but today is the 31st. Tomorrow I’m back on the road. Whoo hoo!

Also as mentioned before, I made over my last makeover by the Ayurveda clock and I’ve stuck with it long enough for it to feel natural. This is why the break from running was necessary. The Ayurveda clock is not only a daily observance but a seasonal one as well. I cannot recommend it enough. However, since I already wrote so much about it throughout the month I won’t belabor the point. Those posts are easy to find if you’re so inclined.

I realize that every person’s wellness is supported differently in his or her living space. We don’t all need the same things to feel good at home. Some folks need a cozy environment at home. Some folks need a sense of enclosure. They need a certain amount of physical structure for balance and harmony. Piles, textures, layers, and opulence. I’m the opposite. I need space. Empty space. My wellness blooms in space and air flow and light and room to move and breathe. I took this requirement to task in August and the breath of fresh air through my humidity-laden home is invigorating. Perhaps it was the cabin fever from lack of running that finally pushed me to reduce until it felt more like home. Now that I’m flowing and smiling and loving it I wish I’d done it sooner.

I started with the most neglected room in most homes, the bedroom. I reduced the furniture in that room by 25%. I moved on to another room and reduced by 50%. I don’t mean accessories. I mean whole pieces of furniture. Beautiful or not, functional or not, they take up too much of my space. Done there, I moved to another room and reduced another 50%. I kept going until I could walk through my home and feel peaceful in every room instead of agitated and crowded. Sounds easy but it wasn’t, especially since I did it with no help. But since I wasn’t running I had energy to spare.

Again, it’s not for everyone but for me it is bliss. My bedroom now holds no dresser or desk or vanity or storage furniture at all. There’s a bed with a nightstand on each side and one tiny table.  This means I had to find a way to either fit everything into closets, baskets, other rooms, or get rid of stuff until it would fit. That was tough but it was worth it. The room in which I rest now supports nothing oriented to doing; only being.

YogaToes. Get you some. I’ve wanted to try these for years but I always scoffed at the expense. My friends, this is a price that needs to be paid. If the best thing I ever did for my body was to ditch high heels, this would be the runner-up best thing. I slide ‘em on when I relax for the evening and slowly but surely my stiff stuck-together toes are becoming straighter and more supple. You think I’m kidding–it’s like my last three toes are soldered together! It was time to get some air and space in there too. Maybe one day I will wake up and not have gargoyle feet.

So farewell, August. I have finished with you, August. You are dismissed for another year. Move aside for September and its promises of October.

–Cat Tangi

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