11 January, 2013

Finding the balance between "off" and "on"

I used to get nervous and try to control everything, when faced with uncertainty. I suppose it is progress that I’ve let go of that to a great extent. But what I have noticed in its place is a new tendency to transition to a flat affect in the face of any type of pressure, whether it be an argument, or a stressful situation. It’s my new coping mechanism. And that’s interesting to me, because it’s a case of overcompensation. I spent so many years amped-up, and didn’t like the way that felt. Finally, I reached a point where shutting down was a viable alternative. But the ultimate balance will need to be somewhere in the middle. And it is not necessarily an averaging of the two extremes. It would be more accurate to ask “How can I be fully present, without being reactive?”

One way that I have seen this attenuation manifest itself has been when I am about to go on a trip somewhere new. It happened when I went to Italy a few months ago, and then it happened again for the past few days before this trip. It creates a bit of an awkward feeling for me, too, from a social perspective. People will say to me “You must be getting excited about your trip!” And my response is “Actually, not really. I am not really feeling anything. I can’t even really believe I will be going anywhere.” That ends up also creating a bit of depression, because then I start doing this “should” thing, where I think “Well, it’s kind of depressing that I should be feeling excited, but I am feeling nothing.” That’s one of the downsides. Another thing I have noticed is that I am much less of a planner than I used to be. I remember, when I was younger, I would have such a rich sense of what the experience was going to be like, from all the reading and planning I would do, that the actual experience was a bit like going to a movie after already reading the book: “Oh, yes. There’s the giant piece of driftwood they described on this secluded beach… Yes, it was extremely ill-advised to try to drive the rental car over those lava rocks… Yes, there were, indeed, howler monkeys on that trail… No, the food at the hotel was not worth the money…”

I have mixed feelings about that. Glass could either be half full or half empty here. On the one hand, I am not “reading up” on Thailand (though I do have all the books with me). But, on the other hand, part of me just wants to show up, and only plan so far ahead of me as I can see: “What should we do today?” rather than “At this time, on Wednesday, we’ll be eating Pad Thai from this vendor who got a really good review in Lonely Planet.”

In reality, I know what will happen. Once we actually hit the ground, we’ll start planning the time. And I also exaggerate, because we did book all of our accommodations, and in-country flights, and we booked two full-day snorkeling trips. So it’s not as if we’re landing without a clue. But I am curious about why I am not fueling the fire of excitement regarding this experience, which is about 13 hours away from becoming the present moment.

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