Those of you who read “The Walrus” will find a superb article there this month about fat and body image, written by Katherine Ashenburg about a woman called Terry Poulton, who has wrestled with these issues throughout her life. Terry is the author of a book called “No Fat Chicks;” she has a new website and has re-released her work as an eBook. I’m proud that both of these accomplished women are very old friends of mine, though they just met a few months ago, when Katherine began to research her piece.
PBS is in fundraising mode, which means that, interspersed with the Fifties revival shows – aging doo-woppers staging a comeback – there’s a lot of self-help stuff being broadcast. That must be what pulls in the big bucks. I tuned in to some skinny woman talking about “Seven Foods to Cut Out for Optimal Health,” found out they include “peanuts, gluten and dairy,” and turned her off. She was talking to someone whose idea of heaven is a piece of peanut butter toast with a cup of hot chocolate. My health is pretty damn optimal, thank you very much.
But later came someone really interesting – a neuroscientist called Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, from Harvard, talking about the brain – actually, about mind over brain, how you can use your mind to change not only your thinking but your mental and physical health. He was talking about mindfulness – living in a mindful way – which he defined as paying real attention in a neutral manner, devoid of judgement, to what’s going on both inside and outside us.
He suggested we take time to be mindful with our senses, our internal and external body, mentally and socially. Take your time when you eat – taste. Be in touch with your body, listen to your breathing, your heartbeat. Be aware of those closest to you, then those further away. Pay attention; really listen.
Observe your own thoughts and feelings. “The real you,” he said – isn’t this something a philosopher has said? – “is the one observing your thoughts and feelings.” You are the user of your brain. Use your mind to rewire your brain. Persist. Practice. He pointed out, for example, that when we feel down, if we conjure up a happy memory or thought, our brain will actually release feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and endorphins. There’s a new field called neuro-immunology – how your brain can help you stay healthy.
What I liked most was that he said he repeats to himself, through his day, “I am okay right now. And there is only right now.” I have said this to myself several times since. It’s a mantra to allay anxiety about the past or the future. “Use your mind,” he concluded, “to take charge of your brain and create the life you want.”
Right now. Because that’s all there is.