The tension preceding freedom

The last couple months have been strangely suffocating. My chest has been tight and my heart rate elevated off and on. It’s been purely psychological — I’m healthy as a freaking horse. (Though I could always stand to eat more veggies and probably drink a little less wine.)

I knew it was psychological in part because I recognize the feeling. It’s familiar to me. It marks several significant periods in my life. This tightness of chest is how I feel when I’m about to make some kind of personal breakthrough, when something about the way I’ve been living or thinking has progressed to the point of unhealthy. It’s basically a physical manifestation of some deep, unconscious realization that I have something I need to learn and am close to learning it.

What makes the physical struggle even more frustrating is that I rarely know very far in advance just what I’m going to learn, or what I’m really struggling with. The tightness is the tightness that comes from me not knowing myself, from my ignorance about what it is I’ve been doing or thinking that has been harming my life and relationships.

It’s also anticipatory — the weight and pressure of knowing I’m about to learn something about humans and thus about myself that will set me free from something destructive. In that odd way, the chest tightening is hopeful. It means I’m going to experience a deep release… at some point. It signals to me that my brain and body are in a place where I’m ready to receive hard, transformative truths. I just need to learn how to relax into that tension, to literally breathe into it, and stay open to whatever lessons I’m about to learn in whatever form they are taught or given to me.

I didn’t expect it, but I read myself into two breakthroughs while on vacation, and then a couple more in the days we got back. As per usual, I went to my favorite local used bookstore, BookEnds in Kailua, and bought some books for our week vacation to the Big Island. I’m always drawn to non-fiction, but I am so happy (and amazed?!) with the options available and what I happened across. I bought Brene Brown’s Rising Strong and Erich Fromm’s To Have or To Be? (I also bought a novel set during the Holocaust, so clearly I should make listicles of great beach reading.) Brown’s book was front and center in the new releases, but I came upon Fromm’s book when perusing the psychology section. I found a first edition, with dust jacket intact. Happy happy me. (heart eye emoji) I didn’t know what to expect nor what I’d be able to read while on the Big Island, but knew I’d found some quality Jana-vacation reading.

I ended up devouring both in the drowsy vacation-morning hours when the house was quiet, the coffee hot, and the view stunning. (Everyone else slept in instead of reading life-changing books — WHAT KIND OF VACATION DO THESE MONSTERS TAKE.)

Admittedly, it can be hard to focus on the pages when you have views like this.

At the risk of being too navel-gazing, I thought I’d write a couple posts about how those books touched on some deep and defining things in my life — the way I live, the way I love, and the way I think — in the hopes that others might be motivated to pick up the books and discover their own gems and truths. Both are phenomenal and worth reading for anyone who cares about their relationships and for the well-being of humanity beyond our meager days.

Yep, I totally just laid down a guilt-trip so you’ll at least consider reading Brown and Fromm. SORRY NOT SORRY.


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