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A Snowy December Segue

December 28, 2010

So 2010 is just about over. For me it’s been a very full year in a very full life. Many of my efforts are coming to fruition. I’ve managed to reduce my personal debt (including student loans) by some $10 grand this year. I completed a commitment to myself to go through every one of my possessions (you’ve got to understand I’ve been a pack rat all A my life, and had accumulated some 55 boxes containing thousands and thousands of everything, mostly in the form of newspapers; magazines; and writings of all sorts) and have succeeded in throwing most of them out. I continued to build my practice treating individuals and couples. I continued my part in building a local community of fellow-travellers and explorers.

I started this blog back in March and have faithfully posted to it every week. I had a great vacation, cruising in the Caribbean with Shelley. For our 10th anniversary (of our first date) I got her a cat. (She sometimes tells me “Romeo’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever gotten!” Hearing such a thing from your wife — what’s that worth?) We’ve also gone to some fantastic overnight parties and have had a blast. Our health has for the most part been great.

Actually, let’s stop right there. If I could only report that last sentence, dayeinu! (a Hebrew word meaning, it would be enough!). My father used to say, “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything!” Indeed, how can you have a good year, or a good life, if you don’t? For me this also means mental health. If you suffer daily from angst, worry, anger or melancholy that intrudes on your mood, you then lack a mental quality of life and this will infect your moments, days and years. That’s why I don’t understand people who settle for less than a great life, and who won’t do whatever it takes to get there. Because we’re here to make the most of it and help others do the same.

But I digress.

I’ve also been Captain this year of my men’s team The Fire Brothers, a talented, quirky and cantankerous bunch who’ve saved my spiritual butt on more than one occasion. I’ve also worked hard this year on my issues around my father; my lack of patience with myself; and my fear of speaking my mind.

In addition I’ve also come to appreciate this year that I’m someone who has bloomed where he has been planted. I’ve stuck it out by staying here, in New York and in Brooklyn, for decades, with my friends and my team and my profession. And so I’ve been able to weave myself into the fabric of life here. I make a difference — to my wife and family; to my patients (hopefully) and to my readers (ditto). To my men’s community; and to my very special community and extended family of friends.

So why do I feel so empty sometimes?

I’m meeting my goals and living a full and wide life, but I feel something’s missing. Now this would probably fit into the category of what my friend Danny Elder calls “First World problems.” I mean, I am sitting on top of the world with all I’ve got. (And you, too, no?) But something is definitely off for me. Out of balance. It’s been great to have all these ways to give, but sometimes this can be defensive, a subtle way of keeping people at a distance, and a way to keep from receiving, which requires a more open stance.

And further, and more fundamentally, I’ve fallen into being a human doing (an old habit) and have gotten lost in it. Much like this city – overworked and snowed under. I engage all over the place, but for now at least I feel I’ve lost my sense of direction. It’s true I’ve got a lot in my life, but I’m still hungry for more. (As I write this now I wonder if the opposite is true – if perhaps I’m hungry for less. My day, my desk, my world seems so cluttered that my spirit feels smothered.) I’m the kind of guy who always needs an overriding purpose, a deep sense of meaning and a quixotic goal that challenges all my abilities. In other words, a dream. And a need to make a major contribution. I need all this along with a sense of challenge, risk and adventure, and right now I don’t have it.

It’s funny. Everything’s working well in my life, but there’s something amiss. Like a well-tuned (and vintage) car, with gas and passengers, humming along well on an open road, but where is it going?

So I’m finding at this blizzardly holiday segue between the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one, that it’s a good time for me to take my own advice and slow down, so I can rejuvenate and recalibrate — or simply catch up to myself.

And this is where I find myself at the end of 2010. Blessed many times over, engaged, and also restless and ready, because something  inside of me is stirring and yearning to set sail for a new horizon.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2010 1:11 pm

    time for a silent retreat? just sit, just walk, just listen, just eat simply, don’t read, no computer or phone or conversations…take your cat along if possible.

  2. ellen permalink
    December 28, 2010 5:26 pm

    This doesn’t address your over-riding feeling of ennui, Charley, which may be the existential end-of-the-year where-am-I-headed confusion/discomfort that settles down on everybody’s shoulders at certain times. I think coming into a new year, as you say, wakens this discomfort and goads us to choose our next directions.

    But I’d like to address your comment, “Our health has for the most part been great” and subsequent conclusion that “how can you have a good year, or a good life, if you don’t [have it?].

    I’m here to tell you that you can have terrible health and still feel fully engaged with life–feel grateful for what you have, eager to see what comes next week/month/year–feel loving and loved–creative and whole mentally, spiritually, even physically to some extent. Because it’s possible to feel whole and have illness at the same time, something many people don’t understand, and to experience illness without suffering.

    But maybe this does link up with the way you feel: maybe you are expecting too much of life.
    Maybe you already have all your goodies, and don’t know–feel–it. Maybe “enough is as good as a feast,” but you’re not ready to see that. Maybe you need to slow down, as 99th Monkey said, and find ways to savor what you have.

    It sounds like so much of what you’ve dreamed of having [from someone who has known you during your struggle to get where you are] is in your hands. Maybe you should think back to yourself a 30, or 40. I wonder what would happen if you had an internal dialogue between the fully-satisfied you and the aching-for-something you: I wonder what you’d hear. I’d love to know.

    • Charley Wininger permalink*
      December 31, 2010 7:12 am

      Dear Ellen,

      Your comments touch me deeply, and for many reasons.

      First, as one who has known me for over half my life, and as one who did know me at 30 and 40, your thoughts carry even more weight with me than they ordinarily would. And your idea for that dialogue is terrific! I might do it! (Ever consider becoming a Gestalt therapist?) And you’re right — there IS a part of me that is “fully satisfied”! I just haven’t slowed down enough to let him out recently.

      If I am “expecting too much out of life” it is only because of several peak experiences over my lifetime when I had a peak at heaven on earth. And, as you may know, once you’ve tasted that, it’s hard to forget it or aim lower.

      Finally, your comments about health wake me up and you poignantly make your point! I believe my father, whose words (“When you have your health you have everything”) I love to quote was really trying to tell me to count my blessings, and to not take my good health for granted. Your words, however, open me to a whole other perspective on this.

      But one question,. You write “…and to experience illness without suffering.” Have you? Here I am very intrigued: How?

      • ellen permalink
        January 4, 2011 11:21 pm

        I do understand about those high moments, the hunger for them to return, Charley. But I don’t think any of us can live there. I think they inform us, form us, but aren’t [to switch metaphors] our daily bread.

        I think we can remember those moments–I’m switching to “I” now–I can close my eyes and re-enter them, hear, see, taste them: the exuberance of our [Jim’s and my] wedding; the ecstasy of birthing our first child; the heat and light of climbing down a mountain in Italy together when I wasn’t able to climb up it. These moments glitter on the chain of my life. But somehow I don’t need them all the time,, though I won’t say “anymore.” There are other “high” moments that aren’t quite so high–seeing Jim after an absence [he’s mountain climbing in Patagonia right now and I know, just know, that when I see him again outside our apartment door it will be a high moment, a joy. Sometimes when we meet on a street corner and I see him before he sees me it’s a flash that makes me fall for him all over again. But I’m still not saying what I want you to hear…maybe this is it.

        Sometimes when our family is all together– and “all” has grown to include Jim’s mother [my Good Mother now], and each of our grown children with their delicious Significant Others, I feel high just in the joy of us being together whether we’r just chopping onions and garlic, or in Paris eating Bertillon ice cream. The gratitude I feel for them is that height of joy.

        I have this “Amplitude of Life” theory: That as far as the pendulum of my joy goes in one direction, that’s how far the pendulum will swing in the direction of my sorrow. I’ve always been willing to endure the sad swing in order to enjoy the heights of my joy.
        I don’t know if this image [or reality] helps you, but perhaps you’re in the downswing now. If there is any truth at all to this theory, you’ve probably passed the worst of your sorrow and are already swinging toward your joy. Part of my belief in this theory has always been my understanding [belief] that if you acknowledge the sorrow–which you have done–you will enjoy the high points more fully.

        So — it’s like taxis — they are always coming in your direction even if you don’t see them. Happy new year, my dear friend.

        I’ve said to much. Sorry. I’ll write you about your other question another time.

  3. December 28, 2010 7:15 pm

    What is missing that belongs in that empty space. If you could put it there, what would it be?
    The unfulfilled love for the one who is missing?

    • Charley Wininger permalink*
      December 31, 2010 6:56 am

      That’s part of it, Joe. But there’s more. It’s the unfulfilled potential of the life I am living.

  4. Lili B. permalink
    January 5, 2011 4:47 pm

    Thank you for sending this, Charley- it’s wonderfully written and articulates a common-enough ailment, I believe….this incessant striving for…? To get…where exactly?….How do we know when we’re….there?….
    So thank you. I appreciate your putting to words some subtle yet deep unsettledness…
    Nothing slows us down like these snow ‘events’….and I believe that these events also stir up that little kid inside that remembers the excitement of waking up to this snow and waiting to find out if school was out for the day….such small but significant joys! We have gotten so far from the simplicity of such innocent moments…
    And then that inner kid comes crashing into the adult us who resents being stopped against our will by the snow, stopped from being that human being we’ve accustomed ourselves to becoming….
    So I’ve thought for awhile now, that snow days do come to reflect back these ‘warring’ states in us, as gentle reminders to slow down and get the sled out 🙂

  5. Jeff Kelton permalink
    January 13, 2011 9:47 pm

    I guess I want to put a vote in for honoring that sense of “emptiness” Charley. I also want to applaud you in struggling to put into words what most of us experience. It takes guts and can be intimidating sharing feelings and ideas in a public forum like this. I was thinking about how your commentators were all quick to offer you a remedy to your dilemma as if it was only your problem and not their’s. I’m sure we all could do a thorough analysis about the conditions we live in today that can conjure up such feelings of emptiness and such. More importantly for me, is what these feelings prompt me to do. I believe there is a “Call” in these stirrings much like the Hero’s Journey. So I embrace your adventure and look forward to how much more you will become. I think your entry was less a request for help and more of an invitation to grow and play and not stop. Happy New Year.

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