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Downward to Darkness

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Downward to darkness/On extended wing"

This phrase, from a poem by Wallace Stevens called "Sunday Morning", is one I often think of on Sundays at this time of the year as the days get shorter. It describes a couple who seem to be on that "downward glide", post middle-age: reasonably prosperous, comfortable, generally satisfied with their lot in life.

Although not entirely so. We hear their reservations: apparently it hasn't been quite all they would have hoped. One of them admits, "But in contentment I still feel/The need of some imperishable bliss".

Well. Why not a little imperishable bliss? We do need that. And surely it's not too much to ask. Should be available at Costco this week on special. Right? Or if they're all sold out, maybe there are still a couple of cartons left on the shelf at Wal-Mart.

It cannot be a coincidence that almost every culture seems to have evolved a "staving off of darkness" festival. And it cannot be a coincidence that -- whether we take a religious approach or a secular approach or adopt a hybrid of the two -- our Christmas celebrations are overlaid upon a much more ancient and pagan solstice rite. So these December celebrations answer a deep human need to halt the plunging mood evoked by the lessening of light. The end of the growing season. Anticipating the inevitable end of each of our own lives. Like the lives of everyone who went before us and the lives of everyone who will follow. Not imperishable, after all.

We scurry around shopping. What we want most can't be bought. But we try to acquire it for ourselves, and we try to giftwrap it for others. Just a small portion of bliss. As I scurry in compliance with the seasonal imperatives, I experience my own resistance to that "downward to darkness" movement with a fluctuating sustainability which I expect is famliar to most of us. There IS joy. There is also slush, crowded parking lots, frayed tempers, too much to do. And joy again. More slush. Joy in the interstices, okay, but not necessarily more than that.

Today it was close to twilight by 4:30 or so in the afternoon. I had had a late but more substantial-than-usual breakfast -- including a toasted wholewheat bagel -- and then braved the crowds to get my grocery shopping done. By the time everything was put away, I was ready for an early supper, including a steaming bowlful of this week's soup: a lively curried chickpea and lentil stew. Mmmmm.

Imperishable bliss? Well the soup was good. Very good even. And I was wearing my cozy sheepskin slippers while I enjoyed it. Quite pleasant, actually. But perhaps not amounting to bliss exactly, imperishable or otherwise.

The snowy white narcissus blooming on my kitchen window sill? Not imperishable either. But lovely. Especially lovely against the dark and deep red pine forest in the park outside the window.

Downward to darkness; can't stop it happening. And then?

With agonizing slowness, almost imperceptibly, the days will begin lengthening. All the while, it will get colder yet and there will be much much more snow. Howling winds. Gusting blizzards. Snowbanks higher than my head.

But there will be occasional days of bright blue skies and sunshine sparkling on frost-etched tree branches. In February there will be light still at the end of the workday; I will drive home to spectacular winter sunsets. And by late March there will be snowdrops outside my door.

I'm counting on it.



  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

PHEBESS 12/20/2009 4:27PM

    You do write beautifully. I think some of us get seasonal affective disorder - others, like my DH, get more like mid-life affective disorder. I also often think that we tend to be so busy becoming, we forget how to just be. And sometimes we miss out on the moment, because we're so busy looking at what we aren't.

And unfortunately, most bliss is perishable, is transient - because we're always looking for the next blissful moment. It doesn't last. Life is up and down. Because, well, when we flatline, it's all over, right?

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DARLENA3 12/16/2009 7:55PM

    I have been having an especially hard time adjusting to the winter weather since I have not stayed in the Northern parts during this time of the year for three winters. I look forward to the "occasional days of bright blue skies and sunshine sparkling on frost-etched tree branches".

Thank you for sharing and putting a positive spin on downward to darkness.

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TRYINGHARD1948 12/14/2009 1:29AM

    You have put a new meaning on this solstice celebration for me. Coming from Scotland I have always thought of it as the turning toward (in Scotland) longer days and shorter nights. Here in Australia it is the turning towards shorter days and longer nights but never to the extent of Scotland. From ancient times we need to celebrate these times as they tell of us the continual renewal that is necessary for vibrancy and the miracle of life. Thank you Ellen, you give so much of yourself in your blogs, it is truly appreciated.

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NORLANA 12/13/2009 9:07PM

    I followed the GRRL and MAHA here too. Thank you for this beautiful post. Although the darkness is difficult for me, I love that I can find joy each day, maybe not an orgasmic bliss kind of joy, but joy none the less. It is time for quite as lady earth sleeps a little only to burst forth in March ... not too far off the first day of spring :) emoticon

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BRIGHTSPARK7 12/13/2009 8:26PM

    Ellen, when darkness descends outside let your light shine! For me, the season celebrates the inner light of the soul, the source of imperishable bliss. Enjoyed reading your blog. You are a graceful writer. xo Usha.

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VALERIEMAHA 12/13/2009 7:56PM

    I followed The Grrl here to your beautifully crafted journal, making use of master poet Stevens' exquisite piece.

The Eastern spiritual masters tell us that "imperishable bliss" is our true nature and we have *only* to remove the layers to find it. Easy for THEM to say!

Thanks for transporting me to a different plane, though not quite to that place of imperishable bliss.

Bright blessings,
Maha

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SLIMMERJESSE 12/13/2009 7:23PM

    Beautifully written. Thank you.

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STLRZGRRL 12/13/2009 6:57PM

    Ah.

There WILL be light... one day... not yet... just not yet...

I so so love Wallace Stevens... just as I love the idea of finding some bliss somewhere... the kind with no expiration date on it...

And giving some... to YOU, Dear Ellen...

and to all of us but especially you just now...

Or some sunshine in the aseptic packaging... the kind with the little straw attached so it can be plunged into the pouch and the wonderful light can pour out...

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MRBIGPAPPA 12/13/2009 6:53PM

    I live in Iceland during the winter the sun comes up at 11am and down by 3:30 today. But during the summer 24 hours of sunlight.

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RE-ENTRY AFTER VACATION

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Is it worth it to take a holiday?

Hmmmm. Scramble to clear the desk before you go. Avalance upon return. Some good times, some good memories, a week of non-stop parties. Beautiful family wedding. Plus a bit of a peek at that curious phenomenon known as AMERICAN Thanksgiving: way way way more intense than the Canadian version! Now I know why American SP friends both love it and hate it.

But: didn't gain any weight! (even though not nutrition tracking and not getting to the gym either . . .). That's encouraging! Maybe I'm learning to eat with innate restraint ??

Or maybe not: not willing to risk it anyhow. Despite straight 10 hour days++ every day since I got back I have found time to nutrition- track faithfully. Haven't done much else on SP though. And haven't made it to the gym.

Still exhausted. Also feeling a bit panicky about absolutely no Christmas shopping or any other Christmas planning even contemplated yet either . . . why can't I be one of those people who gets it all done by about mid September???

Next week will look better. Gotta!!

And next year I'll have all of Christmas organized by, say, August 1. Right.

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

CMB2048 12/12/2009 11:27PM

    I take a vacation day each year and do all my shopping in one day. I usually take a Monday because fewer people are shopping and I like going really, really late to the mall. Ours here is open until 11 PM until christmas so I go between 8 and 11 PM.

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FROSTIERACES 12/8/2009 4:50PM

    Christmas is always a little too soon ...a little too quick around the corner for me too! I am one of those people as well..that WISH they had all their holiday shopping and whatnot done early...but I wonder if it's just not meant to be that way for me! as this year I've not yet begone Christmas shopping YET ..AGAIN!.. EITHER! ugH. glad to know I'm not the only one..

:) oh and YES vacations are worth it! Glad you had a great time..what did you end up wearing to the wedding..in Texas was it? Was the weather warm? It's snowing here today in Minnesota...and chillyyy! :)

Hope you're having a great week!

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BEAUTIFUL_BABY 12/8/2009 6:44AM

    Good for you that you were able to maintain. Thats shows you are still on the right track! :)

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DARLENA3 12/6/2009 4:47PM

    Heres to easing yourself back emoticon into the real world. How wonderful that you restrained yourself food-wise to make up for lack of gym time. You know I am struggling there, but I love ya for your will power. emoticon

I have to say I agree with the others Christmas will come and somehow things will be done. You will be posting on how to prepare a low-cal, low fuss Christmas dinner.

Much love, Darlena


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TRYINGHARD1948 12/5/2009 9:19PM

    Right. Ellen, you and I both know that we will get out of bed on the 25th and it will all go absolutely perfectly. I say the same thing every year, I will be better prepared, but here I am, sitting at the PC when I should be out Christmas shopping. It will happen, I hope.

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MRSWIGGLY6 12/5/2009 8:10PM

    Ellen, You sound like the hustle and bustle of the holidays is getting the best of you. Relax hun as it isn't going to do you any good fretting over things that you can't help.

Star and STLRZGRRL has given you some great advice. I too had to cut back. In fact I decorated some today and didn't even put out half the things that was taken down out of our attic.

Christmas brings such a time of love and you need to love you and what you stand for.

If this makes you feel any better I haven't went shopping yet either. But when you do this will be a great time for you to go walk the mall a little while getting it done. Make a point to go walk it one time without stopping.

Marilyn
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KIZIDOG 12/5/2009 8:00PM

    I agree with STLRZGRRL. Relax. You just got back from vacation, yes you need to nutrition track and work out, but you don't need to clear your desk in one day.
Yes us Americans know how to do a holiday up right. and we do love and hate them. We have all these preperations then it is over soo quickly. It is wonderful while it lasts though. I'm
sure that other people think we overdo way tooo much.
As far as Christmas cut back to what is really important. That is what I did a couple years ago and I really enjoy the holiday much better. There are things that have been done for years and no one really knows why, so most of them have been cut out, there are things that we all enjoy a whole lot and we have kept those. I have cut way back on my card list, and also on Christmas gifts. See what you can cut out.

Star emoticon

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STLRZGRRL 12/5/2009 5:53PM

    Ellen! Don't you have ENOUGH to worry over? You had a fabulous vacation... got to see what whacked out people the Americans are over holidays (THAT had to be worth the price of admission...) and STILL you are within ONE POUND of your goal?

You are a WONDER!!!

As for why you are not one of THOSE people... I couldn't bear it if you WERE, my excellent, thoughtful, always upward-looking pal from the North Country...

I have it on the highest authority that Christmas will come whether you have killed yourself to make it perfect or not...

I am giving you an official license to relax... anyone complains, you send 'em to ME.
Mmm-wah
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MAKING THE CASE FOR YOURSELF

Saturday, November 21, 2009

That's the title of the very best diet book I've ever read.

Over this past week -- just to refresh my motivation and my weight loss maintenance techniques -- I 've been rereading it once again. And I still think it's a great read for people like me who know they will always need eternal vigilance to keep excess pounds at bay.

Making the Case for Yourself has sat on my bedside table since I acquired it June 11 2001. As I recall, it was on the remainder table at the big box book store and I got if for a ridiculously low cost: $5.00. To me, it's easily worth 100 or even 1000 times the price I paid.

When I bought Making the Case for Yourself I weighed 230 pounds. The day before, I had shared a box of six large doughnuts with my husband at a roadside pit stop. Doughnuts!! On that warm day in June 2001 I was wearing size 18 shorts and filled with self-loathing: but I still ate three of those six doughnuts!

So when I saw Susan Estrich's 1998 book, Making the Case for Yourself, I was desperate but not genuinely hopeful. I'd read lots of diet books. I knew all about calorie counting and I knew all about exercise -- or so I thought. Before I went back to school in 1992 (in my early 40s, commuting, with a 6 year old and a 9 year old) I was probably about 170 at 5'9" and wore a size 12: not thin, maybe, but certainly not fat. And I had been fit: I'd been running 10 km most days. I'd been a certified fitness instructor and volunteered at my gym leading fitness classes. As a teenager, I'd been a lifeguard and swim instructor.

But between 1992 and 2001 I'd earned three more degrees, articled (the year's internship required to practice law), and spent one more year revising my thesis for publication while working. On that June day in 2001 I'd just sent the proofs back to the editor. Done.

None of it counted, really. Instead of feeling jubilant, I was thoroughly unhappy with myself. Waddling, thighs chafing, grossly overweight, out of control: how was it I'd lost sight of myself?

Sure, I'd tried to keep up my fitness, even sacrificing sleep to do it. I'd been catching the early commuter bus, reading frantically for the hour+ ride to the university, heading for the gym before class, reading frantically again all the way home after class, carving out three hours with my kids every day before they went to bed, and then working on my studies again from 9 to midnight or later. Stressful. Deluding myself that appearance didn't matter as I bought ever-larger sizes of jeans. Telling myself that I wasn't eating that much too much. And probably I was not. Maybe 100 extra calories a day. However that 100 extra calories had been enough for me to accumulate just about 10 extra pounds a year. Not paying attention to myself at all.

So --my eye fell on the catchy title, Making the Case for Yourself, and I wondered, who was this Susan Estrich? And then I saw the subtitle, A Diet Book for SMART women. Whoa, then, that pretty much disqualified me from reading it! Because if I was so SMART, why was I so (yup, no other word for it) FAT? I put the book down, then changed my mind and picked it up again. Five bucks, why not? Couldn't be too much of a dumb waste of money!

Hmmm. About Estrich. On the back cover: pretty impressive. First woman editor of the Harvard Law Review. First woman to run a presidential campaign. One of the leading American scholars on rape law. A feminist, pretty likely. Former Harvard law professor, current University of Southern California law professor. Nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, television columnist on legal affairs and political events.

This was a woman with SERIOUS academic creds. So what was she doing writing a frivolous, slender little book on dieting and weight loss??

And what could she possibly know about it anyhow? Her picture -- so feminine, so cute! Blonde, toned arms, lovely proud posture. Not anorexic, but not an extra ounce anywhere that I could see.

Didn't look as if she'd ever been overweight a day in her life.

But: she had.

And she had me hooked from the very beginning of the very first chapter:

"For at least the last twenty years, I've been struck by a very central contradiction in my life. I could do almost any task I set for myself. Except one. Lose weight. " I took her book home and started gulping it back.

Written in a disarmingly candid style as if she were chatting with a girlfriend, Susan Estrich dished out the straight goods. She'd been a size 14 most of her life (me too) and on a diet for 23 years without success. But then for the past 3 years, a size 6 (or even a 4). Now she wore sleeveless tops to showcase those biceps achieved by lifting weights. She went shopping not necessarily to buy anything, but just for the sheer pleasure of trying on clothes (jean shorts! sparkly slip dresses!) and hearing the sales clerks comment on her nice figure. And she admitted it!

So how did she do it? And could I do it too?

She assured me I could, and that she would show me how -- by marshalling the legal arguments, the techniques of legal reasoning which I had learned and was applying in my work. If I could make a case for my clients, I could also "make the case for myself". Just as she had made the case for herself. You apply the rules; you structure the argument; you anticipate the objections, and you deal with them in advance.

Because: it's important. It is as important to make the case for yourself (about yourself) as it ever could be to make the case for others in the legal realm. And losing weight is not an issue of frivolity or shallowness; we all want to look and feel and be as healthy as we can. We are reluctant to admit it only because we are afraid of failing. But there is no need to fail. I've got only about an 80% chance of winning my best case in a court of law. because ultimately that result depends upon the judge and the client, but I've got a 100% chance of making the case for myself.

Susan Estrich's succinct summation persuaded me: I could decide that losing weight is important and make space in my life for it OR I could decide that losing weight is not so important and not make a place for it. But what I was actually doing was really stupid: namely, believing and deciding that losing weight was really important to me -- maybe a 9 on a scale of 1-10 -- but that it wasn't important enough to treat it as a priority.

I started treating it as a priority.

I set appointments with myself for my gym time -- regular cardio, weights, abs, stretching -- characterizing the time as "billable hours" foregone as an investment in myself. I was worth it. With respect to my eating I imposed upon myself the appropriate duty of care (a familiar tort law concept) . I made a contract with myself commiting myself to tracking my progress. I launched my weight loss with Susan's Miracle Diets One, Two and Three. I used her "rules" which taught me once again how to eat better, and also provided for gradual transitioning to the point that I could establish my own rules: my own "constitution" of rights and responsibilities that was best suited for my own constitution.

Susan reminded me to carry myself better and to breathe better. Very important, she even gave me permission to buy myself pretty pretty new underwear. Right away BEFORE I had lost enough weight to "deserve" it. Just because I deserved it anyhow. This was about reclaiming my pride.

Making the Case for Yourself is a book I've reread again and again since 2001, probably 25 times at least. It's still funny, and I still learn new things every time I read it. If I've fallen off the rails a little, I might return to the discipline of Miracle Diet One: it only lasts for three days, but it's great for a little "re-education".

Do you have to be a lawyer to understand Making the Case for Yourself? Not at all: Estrich is pitching her argument to the members of our internal "jury". And we know that a jury panel is comprised of average folks with good common sense who only have to be prepared to listen. To be persuaded by the facts, in the context of the law. Which is not that difficult. Because the "law" in this case is comprised of the two rules of dieting we already know: you've gotta track your calories and you've gotta track your exercise, so you don't take on more fuel than you burn. Simple. Really.

Is the book a little dated? Maybe in places: we know more now, for example, about the importance of healthy fats in appropriate quantities (within calorie restraints) for satiety and to optimize the release of vitamins from our vegetables. And a few of Estrich's references to then-contemporary political events (she is a law and politics academic, after all) may not immediately resonate with those who didn't live through the times.

And Susan can be the confrontational law professor at times. Mercilessly grilling you about whether you've done your homework. Absolutely prepared to use your guilt against you, to play the "good mother" card, to play the "stop being a martyr" card -- whatever it takes . But: Susan Estrich's Making the Case for Yourself remains the most marvellously intimate, BFF-interventionist and ultimately useful "weigh of life" handbook I've ever read.

And (I checked her out on google) Susan Estrich herself, now about 57 years of age, still looks fantastic. It's obvious she's still maintaining, still making the case for herself.

Estrich's book worked for me. I made the case for myself. Between June 2001 and February 2002 I'd peeled off 80 pounds. And kept if off, too, but for that temporary blip after a health scare when between February and May 2009 I put on 20 pity party pounds.(SparkPeople got me back on track, thank you all, and that 20 pounds was gone again by August: kept off since then.)

SparkPeople is an amazing site and maybe all that anyone ever could require. But if Estrich's approach sounds appealing to you for your bedside table or for your reading on the elliptical cross trainer at the gym, I checked the title at several on-line book stores. Her book, Making the Case for Yourself, IS still readily available, new and used copies both.

And the book still costs so much less than it's worth, at least for me.





  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

FREELADY 3/22/2011 12:03AM

    I am so glad you referenced this on Travelgrrls's page, (3/19/11) so I could find this amazing blog. You held me riveted. I will be chewing on this, and on the book when I locate it, for quite some time!

Thank you for giving us such wonderful information, in so enjoyable a manner!

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FOSSE_OF_LOVE 12/12/2009 5:51AM

    This is the best book review I have EVER read. I know your speaking from the heart but I could see you in the promotional business. If I ever need a lawyer Iíll come to Canada and look you up.

Outdated or not this review has me in the halls of Amazon. Thank you for bringing it to our attention and seeing the value of making a case for ourselves.


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DARLENA3 12/2/2009 10:07PM

    Hello there my emoticon,

I should have read this before my last blog. You are always so inspirational and I have been feeling like such a loser, well obviously not a loser of weight, but you know what I mean. I did a internet search on the lady and will be ordering the book. But I got of couple of other books on my hit list right now and don't want to confuse myself.

There seems to be some mental switch that flips when I get too close to my goal. I am not sure what does it and I need to take the time to pray over that and seek the answer. Is it that I just don't take the time to make myself a priority? Do I get close to that magic number emoticon and feel like ok that is enough time for time for me now let's move on? I know maintenance is just as hard as losing. These issues continue to weigh (pun intended) me down, repeatedly.

OK - enough about that! emoticon

Recover quickly from your American Thanksgiving . emoticon

emoticon for sharing your insights they are always inspirational!

emoticon emoticon emoticon

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THATCARRIEGIRL 11/22/2009 8:05PM

    I'm so glad I read this blog! I definitely think this book would be good for me. I knew that as soon as you quoted this: "For at least the last twenty years, I've been struck by a very central contradiction in my life. I could do almost any task I set for myself. Except one. Lose weight. "

Hello, let's take a look in the mirror, shall we? I feel EXACTLY like that. Or make that, I FELT exactly like that.

Definitely need to check out this book! Thanks for the suggestion.



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BEAUTIFUL_BABY 11/21/2009 11:08PM

    Thanks so much for sharing this!!

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BRIGHTSPARK7 11/21/2009 8:17PM

    Thanks for sharing what has inspired you. I am also learning to make self-care a priority. emoticon

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KIMDONN 11/21/2009 5:27PM

    WOW, WOW and OH WOW!!! Thank you sooooooo MUCH for sharing this. I am so going to check this out. I am no lawyer but can totally relate to having no time to deal and needing to do that for myself!!! I had a much better week this week due to getting off my ass and either walking or riding and I have been trying to make a case for myself all this year, I lost 20 and want to lose maybe 20 more....I am so getting this book. Thanks for always commenting on my blogs and your encouragement!!! emoticon emoticon emoticon

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TRYINGHARD1948 11/21/2009 4:34PM

    This blog resonates with me Ellen. How wonderful you found it and shared it with us. You are so right that even having reached our goal we still need times to reflect and re-establish the whys and hows for keeping this healthy lifestyle every now and again. Blessings and thank you.

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CYNFULMISTI 11/21/2009 4:32PM

    I think I'll go out and buy myself a copy! Thanks for sharing! It might be just what I need to get me through this holiday season. Thanks again. emoticon

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AKRASIA -- a crazy, uh?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A recent blog by LADYBUG7157 about how hard it is to make herself do what she wants to do really hit a nerve with me. And it made me think about AKRASIA again -- that is, it made me think about AKRASIA again consciously, because akrasia has a powerful hold on my being and is pretty much where I live most of the time anyhow!

So what's akrasia? When I tossed the word out to her jokingly, LADYBUG7157 came back with a useful definition -- it's "the state of acting against one's better judgment".

But for myself, I think of it more along the lines of absolutely deciding NOT to do x (say, eating a piece of bittersweet chocolate) and then finding myself doing it anyhow. Mmmmm. So good! And maybe another piece would taste even better!! And so on.

I decide NOT to do it, and then do it anyhow. Eat it. And then I dump all over myself.

OR I decide TO do it -- get up at 5 a.m. and head to the gym -- and then turn off the alarm and roll over and go back to sleep. Compound NOT doing it with two warm croissants with butter and jam for breakfast. And then dump all over myself.

Akrasia, then, is pretty closely linked with self-condemnation. Bad bad bad bad bad.

As TS Eliot put it, "Between the idea and the reality/Falls the shadow". Yup -- it's called "akrasia" because it makes you crazy. Or that's what I believe.

OK, maybe that's not the etymological origin of the term. Akrasia is actually derived from the Greek word for power, "kratos", so a person in the grip of akrasia is acting without will power, or contrary to her "sincerely held" moral values. Which means akrasia has nothing to do with being crazy at all! But when it's happening, it sure does feel pretty crazy-making.

Akrasia is vividly present in many areas of human experience. Young woman decides that third date is too early for . . . erm, you know. But: scarcely notices she's changed the sheets and shaved her legs and put on the lacy undies anyhow because . . . she's already acknowledging that because of the power of powerlessness, akrasia, it just MIGHT happen!! Or: middle-aged fella heads to the casino with $50.00, just $50.00, because he's not going to spend a dime more, no way, no how. Gonna zero the MasterCard bill. But: completely forgets to take his debit card for the ATM out of his wallet and . . . probably it wouldn't hurt to play a little longer, and if necessary just pay the minimum on that whopping credit card this month, right??

Of course here on SparkPeople we're most aware of the akrastic "deciding to do something and not doing it and beating ourselves up " thingy in the context of weight loss. Or failure to lose weight. Or gaining back weight that once was lost and now is found . . .

Jumping into bed too fast and gambling away too much money are familiar moral situations where we expect to beat ourselves up if we don't meet our self-imposed expectations. So: if we writhe with self-loathing at SparkPeople when we can't make ourselves stick with the programme, is it because losing weight and controlling weight is a moral value? Yes, most of the time we probably think it is. There is the moral value of taking care of the body I've got -- avoiding diabetes or obesity-related cancers -- keeping myself strong so that I can be useful to others and my community -- not wasting food that others could use -- not wasting money on replacing clothes that no longer fit -- and so on and so on.

All right then. If weight loss is a moral value, and moral values are a product of the rational decision to identify what is good and behave wisely, why can't we just gird our loins and determine that we will exercise all possible power and self control and stick to our "moral values" of not eating too much and exercising enough??

Reason over passion? Plato thought we could control passion with reason, and he thought that we SHOULD make reason our ultimate focus. But then Plato and his "philosopher king" notion provides us with a pretty dry and unidimensional picture of what it means to be human. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

Weight loss IS rational and technical: every excess pound is 3500 calories to be "not eaten" or to be "burned off" or some combo thereof. That's the wisdom of weight loss. But: I know too well when I try to compel myself to comply with unrelenting and unrealistic restrictions on calories, unrelenting and unrealistic prescriptions for exercise, then my decisions about nutrition and fitness may be rational but (don't know about you) they seldom work for me for long!

For me, weight control and fitness are also about emotion: vanity and appearance and black leather pencil skirts, right?? But deeper emotion too: the pleasure of feeling good, moving a fit body, experiencing strength, pride and comfort in my own skin.

Aristotle -- Aristotle was also fascinated by akrasia but much much more pragmatic than Plato about the whole thing. Aristotle was the great observer of how human beings actually do function and what human beings actually are capable of. That's because, I think, Aristotle understood that dwelling in the realm of conflicting impulses is where most of us spend most of our lives. And: here's the blinding insight into the obvious for me -- Aristotle knew it's essential that we do just that if we are to be fully human.

That's because for Aristotle there aren't Platonic certainties, Platonic absolutes, eternal Platonic ideals, Platonic wisdom. Virtue for Aristotle is the art of the possible, the kind of wisdom in action which permits us to change and make our lives better. For Aristotle, all moral decision-making is an active process of "phronesis" -- sifting and sorting among shifting and contextual factors, some of which we are scarcely conscious of at any given moment. We have to weigh the fleeting, the evanescent, the non-quantifiable. This kind of moral decision making is much tougher than following unbending rules; much more nuanced than following unbending rules; much more uncertain too because every single day we encounter circumstances which we have never encountered before. Will never encounter again.

So: phronesis may allow for the caramel meringue torte when I'm enjoying a leisurely coffee with my sister WITHOUT self-condemnation and self-loathing -- because it's a sweet moment calling for something sweet. It may allow it, depending. Perhaps because I know tomorrow I will get right back to my oatmeal and calcium-fortified skim milk with new enthusiasm. After the gym!

Phronesis operates on the inherent understanding that moral decision making requires the integration of reason and passion.

Amazingly, this Aristotelian insight is also completely congruent with the most recent brain function studies. For example, new MRIs demonstrate that when the emotional centres of the brain have been damaged in an accident or for some reason have been removed surgically, a person is actually incapable of making fully rational or moral decisions. Such a person faced with a moral decision is paralyzed. The "decision-making" areas of the brain don't light up. They actually fail to fire!

Aristotle, clever guy, knew what contemporary science demonstrates: that the human exercise of rationality requires an integration of the emotional components of human cognition in ways which can scarcely be articulated or fully understood. Smothering passion with reason kills both. We attempt to excise the emotional component of human cognition through an act of purely rational will power at our peril. We are more likely to fail than to succeed, and we become less fully human when we try.

What about the cherished concept of the neutral, objective, rational judge in a court who suspends emotional response to analyze the facts in the context of the law and render a verdict completely congruent with precedent? Can't happen. Doesn't happen. And the wise judge knows it's not happening. Because the circumstances of this case are always different from whatever went before.

And what about when it comes to judging ourselves?

Bad bad bad because I had the caramel meringue torte? Nope.

Good good good because I got up at 5 and burned 400 calories at the gym on the cross trainer??? Nope.

Human because I did both? Both in moderation? Without beating myself up for not eating less? For not exercising more? Made the decision at the time in accordance with the circumstances? Didn't make myself too crazy?? Yup.

I gotta do both if I want to sustain a healthy body and mind and heart in the long run as a way of life.

That's what it is. A weigh of life.




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  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

DARLENA3 11/18/2009 5:48AM

    Very powerful observation and beautiful blog that makes us deal with reality.

It really is about the circumstances and our desires.

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FROSTIERACES 11/16/2009 5:30PM

    What an amazing blog and yes, very deep inner look at our thoughts, our choices and the after effects of each decision we make. If we can just accept "us", that is a great place to start. A friend of mine said..."it's not about what size we fit in today...it's about feeling good about ourselves". I could argue...Yes, I feel good fitting in size 6 ...yet I should feel good in a 8 or 10 too because the people around me are happy - I should be too! To back that up a little, it's the choices that got me into my happy size whatevers that is the most important. Making the best of each day that we can...knowing it's okay to have some cake and icecream a long the way. Thanks for the insight and for sharing your extremely mindful thoughts.

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JOPAPGH 11/15/2009 3:51PM

    I agree, except for the part about fitting into the black pencil skirt.

Interesting musing that, to me, relates to the transition from losing to maintaining. I was diciplined and focused when I was losing, but probably a lot less fun than I am now. All about balance.

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PHEBESS 11/15/2009 2:24PM

    I am so glad I found your blogs! And yes, we need the dichotomy of both - maybe the paradox of both - because we are human, because we contain the paradox, because life is a contiuum containing both the want and the need, the war between the id and the ego/superego. We want something NOW (the sweet treat) but we also want the opposite (the fit body and healthy weight) and the two don't always exist in the same space at the same time.

Balance. It's all about balance. Think of Lady Justice, Blind Justice, holding the scales - sweets on one side, healthy weight and fitness on the other, and she doesn't see the difference - but we do. I'm constantly trying to find that balance.

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CAROLINE1000 11/15/2009 1:31PM

    Your blogs are refreshing - delicious food for thought on this Sunday morning.

To accept our humanity without judgment. To accept out judgments without judging. To accept our judgeship without judging? I have a very hard time not berating the humanity out of myself - then berating myself for berating myself.

To accept our judgments as what needed to happen in that time, space, moment realizing the moment is gone and a new one is here. You're lovely. I'm trying that.

Thanks.

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FLOWINGWATER 11/15/2009 11:57AM

    Thanks for the food for thought!

Non-judgment is a practice that buddhists strive to achieve, as well. It doesn't mean that there isn't emotion. It just means not getting attached to a particular emotion associated with an event. It's tough. And yet, a very worthwhile practice. I find that it's hardest to apply the concept to myself. Yet that's what I strive for.

We are, indeed, quite complex beings. I like trying to figure out what makes us tick. emoticon Thanks for the musings!

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SLIMMERJESSE 11/14/2009 10:33PM

    Addictions like gambling, hyperovereating, etc. go beyond mere reason or making a better choice. After reading "The End of Overeating," I understand a lot more about why food choices are not always just about willpower.

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TRYINGHARD1948 11/14/2009 9:12PM

    You are one deep thinker Ellen. Knowing what it is to be human and recoginising our and others humanity helps.

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DAWNLUVSPUPS 11/14/2009 8:39PM

    WOW, Seriously Philosophical Grizz!! emoticon

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STLRZGRRL 11/14/2009 7:54PM

    Yep yep yep. Another Grade A observation, Madam.

I don't know what kind of world Plato lived in but THESE... OUR times.,. are UNREASONABLE times! I mean. A #10 can of PEANUT BUTTER POWDER!? How on earth are you supposed to make a measured decision about whether to have a tablespoonful... or plunge your head in the can!?

What kind of world is it that we even have such a thing to decide? I s'pose we are lucky to have such high-dollar problems... but accepting our own humanity seems like a pretty good place to start...

YOU ARE WONDERFUL!


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MAGENTA VELVET

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Every weekend (or oftener if I run out) I make a big pot of fresh soup and keep it in the fridge for midweek suppers.

When I walk in the door from work, my self-discipline is generally at its lowest ebb for the day. I'm always insanely hungry.

Even if I've stopped for an appetite-quelling fat-free sugar-free yogourt from the office fridge just before I hop in my car, I'll be hungry.

And I know about myself only too well that I can resist anything but temptation.

I KNOW that I can inhale 800 calories (cheese, crackers, butter, wine . . . ) in about 15 minutes while I'm just THINKING about what to have for dinner. Done it way too many times. Lived the reality that just 100 extra calories a day meant 10 extra pounds in a year -- and the next year -- and the year after -- until in 2001 I was 80 pounds overweight.

Took it all off. And then put twenty pounds back on in early 2009.

Never again.

But if I did it before I COULD do it again. And I know just what time of day it's most likely to happen.

It's completely predictable at that crucial home-coming moment I could sabotage myself -- my 5:30 a.m. gym work out; my breakfast oatmeal; my leafy lunch salad -- my whole day's worth of careful attention to exercise and to nutrition.

So that's why it's vitally important for me to have supper ready to eat almost instantly. And for me what really hits the spot is a bowl of soup that I can nuke in the microwave in about four minutes.

Is four minutes fast enough? Nope. Sadly, experience tells me even the four minutes can be problematic. So weak-willed am I that four minutes is more than enough time to do myself a serious damage if I hang around waiting, opening and shutting cupboards, grazing mindlessly.

My soup has gotta be heated up while I'm outta the kitchen, away from temptation, shucking off my work clothes, getting into my jeans. Or into my jammies, depending upon how late it is when I roll in the door.

Soup. It works for me because I need something filling, something full of vitamins and minerals and complex carbs, but not too high in fats or in calories.

My protein intake generally requires attention, so the soup may be accompanied with a handful of almonds or walnuts, a spoonful of peanut butter, maybe a lilttle cheese, maybe some chicken or shrimp or chickpeas. And these protein partners could be "add-ins" to vary the basic soup or "on-the-sides" to go with the soup. If I'm still hungry after bowlful number one -- bowlful number two is a real possibility! A second bowlful will still be within my calorie budget!

My soups generally aren't based on any particular recipe -- it's just a matter of what happens to be available in the fridge or in the cupboard or in the cold cellar. I very rarely make the same soup twice, and that's probably why I don't get tired of eating the same soup every night for the week or so that the pot lasts.

Last weekend there were some amazing vegetable bargains at the supermarket. I bought 10 pounds of huge beets for $2; 10 pounds of onions for $2; 10 pounds of giant carrots for $2; and 20 pounds of potatoes for $2. All fresh from the farmers' fields just a few miles down the road from my house.

So this afternoon I scraped and steamed about 8 of the carrots, 6 of the beets, 2 of the onions and 4 of the potatoes in about four cups of water until they were quite soft.

Then I pureed them in small batches in the food processor, and stirred in a large can of diced tomatoes, some vegetable broth, and some rosemary plus some Frank's hot sauce for zip.

What a mess! Little splatters everywhere! With a serious potential for lethal staining -- I'll have to be careful not to spill any anywhere while I'm slurping away this coming week.

But: glorious flavour! glorious fall fragrance! glorious texture! above all, glorious colour!

I'll pick up a little fat free sour cream to swirl in each serving after heating it up, and chop some fresh dill on top for garnish.

So simple, so beautiful.

Magenta velvet in a bowl.

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

GEODAWG 12/4/2009 1:52PM

    Good ideas! I love soup. And it tastes even better after it blends a while.

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STLRZGRRL 11/14/2009 8:05PM

    Forethought + razor-sharp shopping skills = YUM!

Watermellen wins the innerwebz!!!



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SLIMMERJESSE 11/14/2009 5:50PM

    Sounds wonderful. And happy sparkiversary.

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FROSTIERACES 11/14/2009 7:24AM

    6:20 am in the morning here and I'm craving soup! Your idea is phenomenal and sounds soooo good! I can relate to that walk in the door from a busy day, just starving. I do the same thing, sometimes mindlessly ruining the hard days effort to eat well, the morning workout, the healthy lunch suddenly taken over by the starving stomach pains. I think you're doing great, this is a wonderful idea, thank you for sharing your plan to keep us successful through the entire day. Have a great weekend...enjoy!

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PHEBESS 11/12/2009 5:58PM

    I can just picture that gorgeous color!

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CAROLINE1000 11/11/2009 7:31PM

    Sounds gorgeous. I'm a sucker for most root veg and esp the eternally staining and vibrant beet. I agree with everything you wrote - I always have soup ready to nuke for emergencies and some sort of bean mush ("refried", hummus, puree) available that I can either stick my fingers in while it's microwaving or dunk in a stick of celery or carrot while I wait.

Thanks for the kind words - as usual - you're the best!

Have a good time with that soup!

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SLWRITER 11/11/2009 5:19PM

    I'd never have thought of combining those veggies. But you are so right about the deadly pre-dinner minutes and the wonders of soup. Now about that 5:30 a.m. trip to the gym...

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DSHONEYC 11/10/2009 5:39PM

    Ah, to know theyself. Something we should all strive to do. You take it one step further.

PS I love beets and am inspired to pick up some of those golden beauties that are sooooooooooo tasty.

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JOPAPGH 11/10/2009 7:22AM

    Sounds great. You have done such a great job maintaining. Laser beam focus!

Sadly "I can resist anything but temptation" is me right now and I have been tempted far off the reservation. Think the construction chaos is part of it. My routine is shot. And to be honest, I got lazy and tired of all the tracking. Maybe a little over confident.

I have had a few false starts, but I keep restarting. I have to figure something out going into the festive season.

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TRYINGHARD1948 11/9/2009 5:17AM

    Yum!

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JELLAJIGGLES 11/8/2009 10:02PM

    Hay I do the big pot of healthy soup every Sunday! This week (and last cause it was so darn good) was white turkey chili. Yum.

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RAYLINSTEPHENS 11/8/2009 8:01PM

    Sounds great! Good for you knowing your trouble time of day!

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DARLENA3 11/8/2009 7:01PM

    Sounds absolutely yummy! I just acquired a newfound love for beets. All through my childhood, I would never even touch them the colour freaked me out. But this soup sounds like a gotta have it.

Magenta velvet!
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WHOLY_FIT_48 11/8/2009 6:55PM

    Lovely...just lovely! I can almost taste the soup myself. And thanks for the wonderful idea about how to not sabotage myself at dinner time.

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IMAGINE_IT 11/8/2009 6:47PM

    I had a dreary..and a pity party for myself Sunday .....i am supposed to relax and recover from a little surgery i had on Thursday...i did relax....and i am recovering...but now you also have me smiling and ready to fix myself a Magenta Velvet Soup....Ellen i think you should start looking somewhere to go and publish your beautiful Blogs..they are awesome!!! Thank you..i can actually "see" this soup in my Mind!!! emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
P.S. Flamingo's on 6th Street sounds great!! Let your Son show you a good time in Austin Texas....you will not regret coming here..but make sure you save some calories for some authentic BBQ!! Promise??? emoticon

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