I just got back from the doctors. The news was good.
About six weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Diabetes. Everyone was surprised. I don’t have the normal lifestyle of a diabetic. Yes, I am almost 60, but I’ve maintained my weight pretty well, live a fairly active life. and all in all, I’ve had a pretty healthy life. And now I had this thing that, if I didn’t take care of it, has pretty dire consequences. There was already worry about my kidneys (bad numbers there) and eyes and a host of other things. Uncontrolled Diabetes, for those of you who don’t have it, seems to affect all sorts of other things. But it’s a sneaky disease. There are few symptoms of Diabetes per se, so it’s easy to ignore. But you do so at your own peril.
Most of my family has had a good old age. So good in fact, that I probably have a warped sense of what old age is. My vision of it is not that different than how I am now. Greyer hair but pretty vital, pretty alert, involved in life and the world, always growing right up to the end. And this diagnosis threatened that vision.
So I did the stuff I was supposed to do. Cut out sugar, most of my carbs, ramped up my activity, cut back on the caffeine.
What sucked worse was admitting, as I had to do when I thought about it is that for most of my adult life I have eaten the perfect “let’s get Diabetes” diet. I didn’t just eat a cookie, I ate the box. I didn’t have a few chips. I ate the bag. Portion control was non-existent. I just never thought about it. I mean, why bother? I ate what I wanted. My blood pressure was fine. My weight was fine. I felt good. All was well.
Until of course, it wasn’t.
SO I had to become mindful of what I ate.
I have a built-in resistance to being mindful. I’ve run much of my life on auto pilot. Good genes, a decent agile brain and good luck let me get away with it. But the last decade has forced me to slowly become more aware, more mindful. I took up meditation as part of my therapy as depression set and had screwed up my thinking. But I fought it kicking and screaming. I wanted nothing to do with that that Eastern voodoo stuff! Not me! I was a self sufficient old style American Christian type.
But I did it anyway. And it has transformed my life.
And that whole therapy thing? I was raised to think that therapy was for weaklings. If I was struggling I just had to man up and deal with it. Only, there are times in our life that overcome us. Or there are ways of thinking embedded in our heads that sabotage us from being who and what we want to be. We all need people – pastors, honest friends, counselors, coaches, to help us become our best. Doing it alone, and running our life on autopilot may get us SOMEWHERE, but it doesn’t get us to our best place. To get to our best place takes work and mindfulness, an awareness of what is going on inside us, and why, and the discipline to act, not react.
Discipline. I hate it.
That may surprise people who know me professionally. I have always been disciplined, very disciplined, in my work. Whether it is my broadcast work, my role as a manager, my coaching/consulting work, my pastoral work – I manage myself, my people, my time, really well. I an efficient and generally get a lot more done than most people in way less time. But it is not a natural thing for me. I have to work at it. That dang discipline stuff again.
What I WANT is tons of time to just think, navel gaze, let things sink in, bat ideas around. That too is part of why I am good at the things I do. But the natural tendency is that when we allow those static things in our lives free reign, instead of being disciplined and balanced with them, then they seem to take over. “Things fall apart.” says the poet William Butler Yeats. And they do, without work. Without admitting that they fall apart and being mindful. And mindfulness is a discipline, a special kind of discipline that involves awareness, honesty and discipline.
All things my nature resists. I like to go with the flow. I like to ignore problems (a throwback to a family dynamic that was full of world class professionals in ignoring problems.). I like being undisciplined, dang it.
A lot of people are like me. All that problem facing, self honesty, discipline stuff is hard work. But sooner or later not doing it catches up with us. Like my Diabetes. Like waking up at 50 or worse, at 75 and realizing you are not who you wanted to be. Like….. oh yes, it’s a long list. A really long list.
This, the Diabetes, I could not ignore. So I have been a good boy. No sugary desserts (even though desserts were such a part of my life that we had a dessert table to hold them all.), There’s a whole Doritos factory that has probably closed down since I stopped eating them. Hardly any bread (They miss me at the bakery, I am sure.), On and on. It’s not habit yet. I still actively miss all the stuff I’ve cut out of my diet, but mostly, I realize, what I miss is not having to think about it.
Still, it has paid off. My glucose numbers have dropped by more than half, without insulin. The other numbers indicate that my kidneys and eyes are hunky dory with the changes and there was no permanent damage to anything. If I am a good boy for the next twenty years or so (Bleah), barring something unexpected, I have a good shot at that version of old age I envision for myself.
See that’s the thing I have learned, not just here, but in virtually every aspect of my life. I may hate the idea of mindfulness. I may always have resistance to it. But every time I have made myself apply it, and I mean EVERY time, the dividends have been huge. I have improved my health, my work, my faith, my relationships, my art, my…. yeah, pretty much everything. I have learned what we all know intrinsically, that if we are more aware, more mindful, more purposeful, then we have the chance to become our best.
The big surprise, for me, was that becoming more mindful was work, but only for the first month or so. In every case where I have applied it, if I was diligent for a month or so, that mindfulness became a habit, like brushing my teeth in the morning. I no longer had to think hard about it. It just happened.
But it begins with some self honesty. That I was in a bad place and needed therapy, that I had diabetes, that my faith needed an overhaul, that my art had withered. That my relationships were not what I wanted them to be. None of these were pleasant to admit. None of them. That in fact, is where I think the real resistance is, admitting that things about me didn’t match my self image, and that I had to do something if I wanted to become the best me. Diabetes was just the latest jolt.
Each time I get a jolt, it seems to be easier. This whole Diabetes thing sucks. But it has been easier making the changes and becoming mindful this go around than when I first began making life changes a a decade ago. Maybe, at nearly 60 (I turn sixty later this week), I am finally growing up. It’s probably a good thing that I’ve helped my chances at a quality old age with this latest round of changes. This way I can actually enjoy being an adult for a few years.
What I have I learned in all this? Mindfulness is good. It’s work but only for a time. The dividends are beyond our imagining. And, perhaps most important, it’s never too late to become better, to become the person we want to be. Good lessons, all.
Be well. Travel Wisely.