The Laboratory of My Life

When I was a little girl, I had a chemistry kit. It was a hand me down from my sisters who are seven and 10 years older than me. The kit contained several different chemicals, all in neat little labeled jars, and some basic equipment such as a beaker, pipet, and test tubes with a rack.

test tubes

But the kit lacked an instruction book. Somewhere along the way over the years, it had become lost. So one day I decided to start experimenting with the chemicals based not on hypotheses, but purely on my intuition and most playful imagination. I had no experience working in a chemistry lab or with any of the individual chemicals, and I had no idea that mixing chemicals could be dangerous; the world was, to me, a safe and happy place.

And so with the help of an almost as mischievous as me friend, we began to experiment. And by experiment, I mean mixing chemicals together until we got a result — a small but not dangerous explosion.

You would think that I would have learned my lesson, but probably about five years later, when visiting a cousin who was my summer sister, we decided to bleach our jeans by mixing hydrogen peroxide and ammonia (obviously, it was the 1980s). My aunt arrived home as the jeans soaked in the tub and our innocent little lungs soaked up the noxious fumes. She clearly set us straight by shouting as she ran around the house opening all of the windows.

Never again have I ever mixed chemicals outside of a lab under the instruction of a professor. A professor at DeSales University to be exact, whose name I cannot remember but I recall he lived in Delaware and had a long commute every day.

Our lives are like ongoing experiments, one in which many, many resources are available. It may be a cliche, but it is true that life doesn’t come with an instruction book. We can play with these the resources — ideas, places, people, things, colors, sounds — by forming unique combinations, even when the results are unknown. While we have the benefit of being able to form hypotheses based on our life experience, we sometimes need to overlook these as our own life experience represents only a small range of human possibility. The most bold, and the most potentially transformational, hypotheses are those that integrate a piece of ourselves with something external that somehow comes into our field of consciousness.

For example, I might form a hypothesis that I am moody because I am bipolar. And I can collect a lot of evidence to support this educated guess! A whole lot, some of my friends and family might tell you. But this hypothesis could be transformed into a crutch upon which I lean when I discover evidence in my life and am too lazy and uncreative to explore other possible meanings. It can be used as an excuse for bad behavior, and that is not acceptable to me. Therefore, this hypothesis is faulty and should be eliminated from my life experiments. At least as it is written.

I could alternatively form a hypothesis that the social construct of bipolar disorder provides a lens through which a beautiful kaleidoscope of emotions swirls through my brain. It may not be a perfect representation of reality, or my interpretation thereof, but it is certainly more liberating than simply blaming my rapidly changing, complex moods on a medical condition. One which shapes them, no doubt, but not one that prohibits me from openly exploring other options.

In our life, we make hypotheses all the time without even being aware. These hypothesis limit our minds and our actions. I try to pay attention to the assumptions behind the hypotheses that I make, and eliminate those that do not promote emotional freedom and well-being. It isn’t always easy, because they are tricky little ideas that disguise themselves as protection, but I try nonetheless.

40 for 40 #2: An Evening with Andre

OK, so it wasn’t the first time I had ever seen Andre Watts. Nor was it the first time I ever saw him at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. And it really doesn’t compare to that magical night in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens last spring. But my yearlong celebration of my 40th birthday would not be complete without a night with Andre. No one can play Rachmaninoff like he does, except of course for the maestro himself. Hearing Andre play is always an ethereal experience during which I feel suspended somewhere between reality and a magical world where I embody my idolized purple pegasus and soar around the world at least 20 times. I always need to constantly remind myself to be present, to be focused on the experience, when I hear him play because, no matter if he is playing Rachmaninoff or a less favoured composer, he takes me to another world.

Carpe Diem

People have been seizing the day since Horace offered this delicious phrase to the world in 23 BCE. Yet over time, we intuitively fall into a flow of anticipating the cycles of seasons and days. Habits are established. Life loses its pristine novelty, too often without capturing our notice.

I sometimes wonder, worry really, if I have fallen into an intermittent willful resignation. My life sometimes feels pre-scripted. Other times, it feels like a play I have repeatedly seen. Sure, I uncover additional nuance with each performance, every viewing, but there are empty seats awaiting me in the theatre down the street — not to mention across the country and around the world.

About eight years ago, a psychologist told me that I was bored because I had adopted a conventional life, one that contrasted greatly with that of my past. Being able to manage my emotions and behavior to achieve my life goals, even to maintain stability in my life, has been useful. But sometimes it just isn’t enough. It doesn’t fulfill and excite me. I feel dull, numb, and nearly half dead at times.

For me, there is a constant tension between carefully controlling my life so that I am able to function and fully living in, and appreciating, the moment as it occurs. Perhaps everyone experiences this phenomenon, but my loss of control could potentially be destructive, devastating, and disastrous. I suppose this is true for most people, to one degree or another.

Learning to reconcile this tension in a healthy way, and to live a naturally integrated, complete life is an ongoing process. With time, I continually discover my own cycles and rhythms to complement the harmony I wish to create in my life. There are no shortcuts to realizing authentic wholeness, and with both patience and practice the moments I feel that level of connection — with myself and the planet — will surely grow in both frequency and duration.