Floating in Introvert Heaven and the Bliss of Being Still

Owning one’s introversion has become trendy these days yet this is not an introvert-friendly world. Noise and busyness abound with countless smartphone notifications, phone calls, emails, and the ever-increasing, ever-present audio and visual drone from our 24-hour society. Add in multiple open browser windows (on the screen and in our head) and the pressure of being many things to many people, and you have the perfect recipe for exhaustion.

We need an “off” switch.

With my lifelong affinity for water and innate need for introversion “cave time,” I was immediately intrigued when I heard about float therapy: effortlessly floating in salt water, cut off from noise and people. Introvert heaven. When I heard that Float-Sixty was opening in Schererville, I was determined to float.

I finally had my chance yesterday – Sunday, when I could go to the appointment relaxed, kids with dad, no keeping track of the clock, happy belated birthday splurge to me.  I’m a coffee-holic but I heeded the spa’s advice to lay off the coffee a few hours beforehand so I didn’t ruin the experience with caffeine-induced jitteriness. Still, I was giddy walking in for feel-good me-time.

Float-Sixty has a relaxing, charming, and unpretentious zennish vibe. A guide walked me through a brief tour before I went into my individual pool room. No swimsuit needed; you disrobe and shower first before entering the pool. After putting in ear plugs to keep the salt water out (the salt is great for keeping one buoyant but not so great in the ear canals), I entered directly from the shower into a pool roomy enough for just one.

Pure bliss. All that salt means you float effortlessly in body-temperature water.  I exhaled and repeatedly thanked Jesus for an experience of happiness.  Then, the lights went off and absolute darkness triggered my claustrophobia. The lights are timed to go off after ten minutes. My heart racing, I reached over for the little switch to turn the muted, soft overhead lights back on (something the guide helpfully pointed out, along with an intercom to page them if needed). Once the lights were on, I inhaled and exhaled slowly to slow my heart rate down.

If you’re going for total sensory deprivation, floating in total darkness will take you to another level. In addition to the lights-optional pool rooms, Float-Sixty has a tank tailor-made for those who want to go “all in” for sensory deprivation. But, if you’re claustrophobic like me, I advise keeping the soft lights on.

I can’t remember my time in my mother’s womb but I imagine it was similar to that sensation of effortless floating.

I used to meditate but have fallen out of the discipline. Since my kids were born, I’ve either been too busy – or too busy feeling guilty about things I should be doing – to be still enough to meditate. Though I pray daily, spend time in the Word, and listen to and sing songs in and of worship, there are times…more times than I’d like to admit…where I feel disconnected. I’ve grown enough in Christ to recognize that the disconnection issue lies with the receiver and not the sender.

For many of us – women and mothers in particular – our workload and mental load often leaves no space to pause. When I was at the park with my kids a couple of weeks ago, I put my phone away and felt joy in my heart as I was reminded of the solid, glorious truth of who He is and who we are because of Him as I felt the breeze and the sun on my face.

The peace we feel in the pause reminds us that God meets us and delights in our downtime.

And yet I continually immerse myself in busyness and wonder why I feel an undercurrent of anxiety and fatigue I can’t quite shake.

We’ve been deceived into thinking we’re selfish for hitting the pause button and taking a breather.

Free floating, free from distractions of the outside world and of my own design, I meditated more deeply than I have in years. Many Christians are leery of meditation, but they shouldn’t be. There’s nothing weird or voodoo-hooey about it, especially if you intentionally center it in and around Christ; it’s prayer as a process of letting go of the inner noise. It was precisely that phrase – let go – that I chose as my mantra to quiet my inner monologue of to-do lists; could-have, should-have, and need-to nags; and the other thoughts that serve as both means of productivity and self-defeat.  Soon I was in a state where I barely felt my body – a nice little break from an aching back and that morning’s headache – and the typical undercurrent of stress. I felt peace.

Peace transcends description but those who’ve found it know it for what, and Who, it is.

After sixty minutes, an additional light and the water jets go on to let you know your time is up. I showered once again to get all the salt off, and was offered tea or water and invited to sit on a couch to reflect on my experience before leaving.

I haven’t felt that relaxed in years. Unlike most times when I get into my vehicle, I didn’t check my social media accounts on my phone or turn on my radio. I was content to drive home in silence.

It’s impossible, and irresponsible, to be still all the time. And, for all but the wealthiest among us, attaining inner peace via frequent spa appointments isn’t feasible. But, if you’re stubbornly busy and it takes a spa experience to “make” yourself take the first step in incorporating times to pause…then it’s worth it. You’re worth it. Your relationships with your loved ones, and God, are worth it.

So, yes, I highly recommend float therapy. It is, absolutely, splurge-worthy; like the best nap you’ve ever had…but, so much better. But, even if float therapy’s not your thing – and even if you’re an all-out,all-the-people-all-the-time extrovert –  find your own way to hit the “off” button and be still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forty-Two Years

When I was twelve years old, I saw a car commercial which offered a “what if” scenario of 2018. I let my mind wander to the future adventures I’d enjoy when I was…as I did the math, I came to the realization that I would be in my forties. The time for adventure and possibilities would be over barely after the new century had begun. I felt robbed.

Today is my forty-second birthday. Life isn’t over and I’m not the old lady twelve-year-old me imagined. Over the last few years in particular, I have wrestled with my fair share of trepidation at what aging would mean. But, forty-two is a surprise and a revelation.

Some random observations; advice for others in their forties and beyond (and, for those who fear the approach of forty and beyond); and, things I’m preaching to myself about turning forty-two:

Own Your Number

Tradition holds that it’s rude to ask or reveal a lady’s age, and since my mid-thirties I’ve been hesitant at times to reveal my age or correct people when they’ve assumed I’m younger than I am.

What an insult to those denied another birthday to be ashamed of mine. As the saying goes, “Getting older is a privilege denied to many.”

The power we assign to arbitrary numbers is odd if you think about it. Who decided twenty-one is more relevant and desirable than forty-eight? Think about the “over the hill” cliché that we’ve blindly accepted. Who decided that your forties (and, in some circles, your thirties) was the cut-off point for youth, and why is it only this narrow definition of “youth” that is designated as something we’re supposed to scramble to hold on to? Why do we continue to give “them” the power to define who matters?

Numbers only have the power we allow them to have. We may not get to choose our age, but we do get to choose what that age means. What your number means is a narrative you get to construct.

We get to decide what pretty looks like and even if it matters, and what occupations and adventures are appropriate at our age. The Boomers and Generation X are redefining what it means to be forty, fifty, and beyond. From new careers to neon-hued hair, midlife isn’t the sedentary sentence of boredom and diminished opportunities it once was. We aren’t ‘has-beens’ in the twilight years of life.

Eat and Live Well

My knees, back, and eyes aren’t what they used to be. But, my body doesn’t limit me from holding down a job, taking care of my family, embracing my passions, or enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.

I watched my dad, good friend, and other loved ones lose their independence as cancer took away their ability to walk, think clearly, and enjoy life without chronic pain…a painful wake-up call to appreciate and nurture a body and mind that allows for the gift of a normal life.

I look back on my years of stupid starvation diets and treating my body like a human garbage can (that steady college diet of cigarettes and low-fat popcorn as a trusty meal substitute) with grief. Diet was just a means of self-punishment and producing a desired number on a scale and clothing label.

Now, swimsuit season means the joy of summer activities more than concern with what I look like in a swimsuit. When I walk through the water park with my kids in the summer, I feel genuine and profound gratitude for what my body can do. My legs are strong enough to walk through the park and climb up the stairs for the slides. Prescription glasses are a small price to pay to see the glory of a summer day. My back is still holding out well enough to go on the big water slides and amusement park rides with the kids.

I’m not without vanity and I wouldn’t mind being skinnier. But, as Scarlett O’Hara famously declared, I’ll never be hungry again. I can’t go back to that. Teen and twenty-something Amanda would be mortified/amazed to see forty-two-year-old Amanda eating to feel good rather than look good, with room for pizza and potato chips on Fridays (and, on vacation and special occasions, days other than Friday, too).

Embrace Freedom and Possibilities

We live in a youth-obsessed culture, and women in particular all too often become invisible to the mainstream as they age. As forty approached, I feared invisibility and the disappearance of “maybes” and “somedays.”

Yet the biggest surprise of my forties is the freedom and sense of possibility it’s ushered in. At forty-two, I have roots. I have a family. I’m a child of God. I have a safety net to risk and combat the fear of failure as I take on new adventures.

Forty-two is a heady mix of peace and anticipation of what may be and what’s to come.

Longing to Be the “It” Girl – and Learning to Let Go

Envy. It’s a hot topic these days, especially with the novel ways in which social media venues such as Facebook and Instagram can plant those ugly seeds of inadequacy, when we see daily images and words that remind us of how we’re not living up to the fabulousness of what we see on our screens. (Also, on a side note, I’m sure there are cooler sites like Snapchat or Hipster Hangout that inspire much cooler forms of envy, but I’m behind-the-times and blissfully unaware of these).

Everyone has her own particular triggers that incur a gnawing sense of incompleteness: for some, it may be seeing photos of the palatial home of your business associate. For others, it’s the infuriatingly ageless beauty of your fellow high school cheerleading frenemy that you graduated with 20 years ago who’s somehow managed to escape the ravages of time and metabolism slowdown.

Yet for me, my biggest, hidden insecurity, present in everyday life but exacerbated by social media, is “it girl” envy. No, it’s not so much the physical beauty or material possessions that I see in my Facebook feed that brings on that queasy uneasiness of inadequacy. It’s displays of charisma, that hard-to-define magic that wins friends, admirers, followers, and overall memorability; the “it” girl always appears to seamlessly fit in and belong.

This is my confession of insecurity, of battling against a lifetime of deeply ingrained feelings of “not enoughness.” This is how I’m making peace with failing to be the “it girl.”

I couldn’t quite put a name to the current of uneasiness and insecurity within. Though it ebbs and flows depending on my particular season of life, that current has existed since early childhood. It was only when I started a Bible study with my female co-workers – and, by the way, I’m massively spoiled by working with sisters in Christ who continually encourage, care for, lovingly admonish, and affirm one another – when I started to realize, specifically, what that ache was and how much misery it was causing me by taking my eyes off of Christ and forgetting who I was as His beloved and redeemed.

We’re reading “Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison,” a book in which author Heather Holleman exposes and examines the pain and discontentedness that comes from striving after the wrong things, the wrong affirmations, and going down the wrong paths, in a search for “enoughness,” identity, and finding our tribe. She uses the analogy of tables – think of that scary walk as the new kid in school into the cafeteria at lunchtime, trying to find which table you’ll be welcome at because you sure don’t want to sit alone – that we strive to earn a seat at. We all have these tables of identity and achievement that we ache to belong at, though they’re not the same for all of us – for some, it’s the table of “thin enough,” for others it’s the table of “college degree or higher,” or perhaps it’s “Pinterest-approved, spotlessly organized home.” I have a few tables that I long to sit at, but the one I’ve pined for most of my life is a seat at the table of belonging.

These days it’s become acceptable, even fashionable, to own up to being an introvert. Yet not only was it uncool to be an introvert in my childhood, it wasn’t even a familiar term to me. I’d love to tell you that I was quiet and reserved in an elegant, mysterious way, but the sad truth is I was just awkward. Discussing the weather, exchanging pleasantries, and ordering fast food at the counter didn’t come naturally to me. Neither did making friends.

Growing up, thankfully, I did make friends though, then as now, as an introvert I’ve always tended towards a small number of close friends. And it’s not that I’ve ever wanted to be popular – that’s not false modesty, I’m simply not a center-stage type of person – it’s just that I’ve always felt like an outsider to some degree. I’ve never felt like I quite “fit” anywhere. I was the book nerd in a family of card players; the middle schooler who attended Sunday mass alone; the roller coaster enthusiast who is (I’m not entirely proud to admit) fearful (okay, terrified) of driving on congested interstates around large cities.

As I matured, I began to take pride in being independent and free from needing to conform to group dynamics…and there is a type of freedom in being an outsider…yet there’s always been that part of me, deep down, that’s on the lookout for that place, that “fit” on the inside of something, that seat at the table. I think that’s the ache that comes with seeing social media photos and posts about group outings, happenings, connections, and gatherings. It’s not popularity envy; it’s tribe – belonging – envy. Do you get it, too, a gnawing discontent caused by envy of those who are in the tribe while you’re on the outside looking in?

And here’s where we mess up, even those of us who are so grown up and should know better, when we exhaust and burn ourselves out in trying to achieve that place, that “fitting in,” that “enoughness.” We torment and starve ourselves on ridiculous diets…we spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need…we work longer and longer hours to get a title, a promotion, recognition…but even if we’re “successful,” why do we still feel hollow and recognize that it didn’t earn us the seat we’ve been longing for?

Even in the Church – even in churches that are gospel-oriented and infused with genuine fellowship – you will find cliques or, at least, people who “click,” or fit, more easily into certain groups, expectations, and hierarchies (churches are, after all, comprised of broken people in need of a Savior). I say this not as a condemnation of churches, but because I think so many people (at one point, I was one of them) come to church looking for that complete sense of belonging, that seat at the table, and are disappointed because it can never truly come from a church. It only comes from, and through, Him.

Yes, there are “it girls” and “it guys,” though I suspect even the “it people” of the world feel on the outside of something. “It person” or not, we are all outsiders in this world. And it doesn’t matter what book club, networking group, or church you find, there will always be something or someone that you’re on the outside of. That doesn’t negate or define your value in Christ. Christ has a place for every outsider, every misfit, every has-been, and every person who doesn’t quite fit in. There’s a seat reserved for you; you need only accept His invitation.

So to those of you (those of us) who don’t quite fit in…for the awkward, the broken…who are on the outside looking in…there’s a place; a tribe; an unconditional inner circle that you (we) won’t get kicked out of. True Belonging.