Monthly Archives: January 2012

I’m Jealous of Oprah (It’s Not What You Think)

Oprah Winfrey and I celebrate our birthdays just a few days apart. She has zillions in the bank and can spend her special day anywhere on the planet with 200 of her favorite people in tow. I have, well, less money in the bank and often spend my birthdays with a handful of friends in or around my neighborhood. But Oprah’s incredible wealth, access and adventures are not what make me jealous of her.

Nope, it’s the fact that she has a best friend named Gayle King whom she calls every day. From what I can tell, Gayle and Oprah do pretty much every meaningful thing together and rehash it on the phone.

I often wish I had a Gayle King.

Kim and Lisa

Lisa and I goofing around, late 1960s

As a little girl, I lived next door to my best friend Lisa. We hung out in each other’s homes making Easy Bake Oven cakes, watching Mr. Rogers, and playing dress up. We also spent hours setting up elaborate apartment complexes for Barbie, Ken, assorted doll friends, and my brother’s GI Joe (for added intrigue). Often, just as we put the last piece of cardboard furniture in place, one of our moms would disrupt the whole scene by shouting, “Dinner!” We didn’t really care, though, because we just loved being together.

A few years later, my dad moved our family to another state and I tearfully said goodbye to Lisa. Little did I know that it was the beginning of a pattern.

At this point in my life I’ve moved about eight times and moved on from several jobs, leaving countless friends and communities behind. I tried to stay connected to high school and college friends, but those ties weakened as our careers and lives blossomed in different cities. In my 30s I lived my own version of Sex and the City with gal pals Julie, Alice, and Liz amid cocktails, cigarettes and debauched nights in Manhattan. When that lifestyle took its toll, I left my party pals to reclaim my soul in a yoga ashram. Two years later I moved to Boston.

And so it went for decades, these departures that left me with dear friends in faraway places. I, too, have been left behind by girlfriends who’ve been called elsewhere. Despite our good intentions, months and years can pass without a call or visit, and so Facebook is where we end up hanging out. I have 600 friends on Facebook and, while they give me a much-needed sense of community at times, I’d trade most of them for a nearby BFF.

Which is why I’m in awe of Oprah and Gayle who, after three decades, seem closer than sisters (something else I don’t have). I’d love regular check-ins with a girlfriend like that to relay the fascinating details of my fascinating life. I used to pay my therapist for this privilege and now I force my husband to listen, but it’s really not his forte. While he’s loving and devoted and willingly does the dishes, he rarely asks about the right details or wants to hear about my feeelings the way girlfriends do.

People like John Gray warned me about the whole Mars/Venus thing.

A friend of mine jokes that she processes her day with her cats each night. While my cat is a really good listener, she rarely gives feedback, poses leading questions or affirms my fabulousness. Except when she wants something.

I know that I’m not unique in wanting more meaningful and consistent relationships in my life, and I sometimes wonder if loneliness is an American epidemic, despite all the tweeting and texting. A yoga student of mine confesses that her loneliness sends her to the kitchen for beloved companions like Godiva chocolates and Ben and Jerry. The problem is, they don’t really love her back.

My husband is from Senegal, where people hang out together all the time and steady human companionship is a given. His favorite American TV show is Seinfeld, because Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer remind him of his mates back home and make him laugh after a day of commuting and working alongside New Englanders who avoid eye contact.

“I’m used to it,” he says, about the isolation he feels in this culture, and that makes me sad.

It takes real effort and determination to maintain friendships in this age of transience, social fragmentation, and over committed lives.

Proximity helps, too.

As I write I’m heating up a pot of homemade lentil soup, thanks to my neighbor Ellen, who supplied the recipe after I enjoyed some at her house. Ellen and I are cultivating a friendship via email, Facebook, phone calls and, yes, face-to-face visits, and “Hey, got any bay leaves?” moments across the fence. It’s the perfect fusion of modern and old-fashioned relating, and it makes my world feel cozier.

I just hope neither one of us moves anytime soon.

Resolving to Do Better

I’ve heard that nearly 90 percent of New Year’s resolutions are broken by February, and my acupuncturist says that spring is actually a more fruitful time to make significant life changes. But the start of a new year offers itself up like a landscape of fresh snow, unmarked by footprints and tire tracks, and begs the question: Can we make better use of the next 365 days?

For several years I’ve participated in Burning Bowl ceremonies on New Year’s Eve. They involve writing a list of things we want to shed – from resentments, to self-destructive habits, to those extra ten pounds – and burning them. We’re supposed to accept and even thank those things before we place them in the fire (because what we resist persists), and immediately create a list of positive intentions for the New Year (because nature abhors a vacuum).

Topping my burn list this year was a “my way or the highway” attitude that can impair my ability to see things from another’s perspective and tie me in knots when people don’t do what I want them to do. It’s related to being a control freak, I’m afraid to admit, and it can poison all kinds of relationships, including the one I have with myself. I know where it comes from and I can see how it once served me in a twisted way, but it’s really gotta go now.  In its place I seek to practice more acceptance, curiosity, compassion, and patience…and to begin all over again when I slip.

I asked friends and family members to share their own lists of things to burn in the fire of transformation and I heard much about shedding fears, worries, negative thinking and procrastination. A former student says, “I wish to shed my habit of living under the cloud of a never-ending to do list,” while another wants to let go of “the tendency to compare myself to others and beat myself up.”  I, too, want to use my precious time more wisely in 2012 and halt the downward spiral of “compare/despair” thinking.

“I want to allow everyone the freedom and sovereignty to be who they are, and where they are, in their journey and level of self-awareness,” one student writes, and a friend of mine chimes in with wanting to release, “the need to enforce my ideas on certain family members…I seek to have compassion for the mother of my grandchildren and patience with my grandchildren when they display ‘inappropriate behavior.’”

Trying to see our own part in the dramas around us is an important step towards ending them.

On September 11, 2001, I was visiting the island of St. John when the twin towers crumbled. As evening fell I walked down to the beach to escape the television screens. Waves lapped the shore and the sun set amid pink-orange clouds, oblivious to the human suffering in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. I thought about the terrorists and asked myself where I similarly harbored hatred for another in my heart. The answer came quickly, and I was humbled. I certainly couldn’t relate to those acts of terror, but I could examine my own prejudices and resentments in response, and aim to do something about them.

The next day I saw an email that was circulating among those trying to make sense of the attacks. It referenced a Sufi teaching that says, “Past the seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them, he cried, ‘Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?’ God said, ‘I did do something. I made you.’”

Such is the central message of the moving documentary film I Am. I watched it the other night with friends and we discussed its powerful teachings about the emptiness of materialism, the interconnectedness of all life, our inborn instinct for cooperation and empathy, and our ability to be the change we seek in a world full of so much unnecessary suffering.

And so while I do want to shed a few pounds, amp up the exercise, and experience more ease and fun this year, I also want to be part of the solution. I can do this by treating others as I want to be treated, appreciating and sharing my blessings, and forgiving myself and others for our mistakes and ignorance.  As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better you do better.”

Doing better this year is one resolution I believe I can keep.

(Note: You can also read this essay at: www.jasminbalance.com/2012/01/09/how-can-we-resolve-to-do-and-be-better-in-the-new-year/)