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Embrace the Gray

This summer I had a fierce determination to lose weight and eat healthy. Diet and exercise play a huge role in mental health. When the weather is warm and the days are long, I have no problem finding the motivation to cycle 20 miles, or run three or four miles. From May to September, I was doing everything right and managed to lose 15 pounds.

On October 1st, my motivation switched off. I’m not sure why. Maybe the shorter days, cooler temperatures and grayer skies finally caused my psyche to reach a tipping point. Whatever the reason, I swerved from one side of the health highway to the other – now indulging every unhealthy craving my heart desires. I stopped counting calories, which was an important part of my weight-loss regimen. While I literally had to work my butt off to lose weight, putting it back on required no effort at all. The good news is what I’ve lacked in discipline regarding my health, I have compensated for in my productivity as a writer. I’ve discovered I have a finite amount of discipline, a kind of emotional stipend, I have to choose how to spend. Now, I choose writing.

I’ve been fortunate to connect with two people who play important roles in maintaining my positive outlook, during a time of year when I normally spiral into the abyss of depression. Talk therapy is tremendously beneficial. Guided by my therapist, I no longer beat myself up about having limited discipline. Instead, I find peace in whatever season presents itself. While summer may be for diet and exercise, fall and winter seem to be for writing and eating whatever the hell I want – and that’s OK.

An amazing workplace benefit I finally took advantage of was our Dream Mentor program. I am normally averse to the unbridled optimism of life coaches (though mine prefers the title “success coach”), but after hearing her talk about the role she plays in guiding people to complete their goals, I was sold.

One take-away from our coaching sessions was the advice to “embrace the gray.” Instead of allowing the gray zone of darker days and longer nights rob me of my joy and motivation, I press into the gray. I practice mindfulness – finding joy in the moment, knowing with each moment, there is an opportunity to create. The gray zone also applies to my creative aspirations. The goal I asked my success coach to help me with, was to become a published author. This dynamic has its own gray zone: The time between submitting my work to prospective publishers and getting their response - which is often “thanks, but no thanks.” Learning to manage expectations and not being “wiped out” when faced with rejection has meant a HUGE improvement in my remaining engaged and willingness to persevere.

Lastly, are my choices of external stimuli. To deal with the gray skies and shorter days, my psychiatrist recommended purchasing a light box, designed to emulate the light spectrum of the sun. I have no doubt light therapy would be good for me, but the cost of a light box is beyond my reach and it would be one more thing to further clutter my already cramped apartment.

Instead, I have chosen music therapy and believe it can be just as effective. I’m a lover of music anyway, and listen to music so much, I forget that it is actually playing a therapeutic role. Just as the blues were created to chase away the blues (not reinforce them as I once presumed), so there is music that enables me to “embrace the gray.” In fact, one of my favorite German groups from the early 80’s is actually called “Grayzone” (Grauzone in German). They have an austere sound that stimulates my appreciation for the potato soup skies of winter.

How many of us have seasonal bands we listen to? I have favorite tracks for each season. Each increase my appreciation for their unique attributes. If you’ve got “winter songs” you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. Include links in your comments. Keep in mind, I’m a fan of alt rock and jazz, so my suggestions will be tailored to those who like the same.

Here’s a few on my short list:

Harper Simon - Leaves Of Golden Brown

Anything from the Tord Gustavsen Quartet’s album, “Extended Circles.”

As already mentioned, Grauzone’s “Der Weg Zum Zweit”

None of these may appeal to you, but my point point is the same.

Rest in the season. Embrace the gray.

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