The unexamined life is not worth living.  Socrates.

Tomorrow, August 1, I will be 74 years old, at least according to my mother and my birth1942-2 Julian + Brianda are born21042014 (4) certificate. Personally, I can’t vouch for it. As far as I know, I was born this morning and my mind has this movie called “Brianda’s life” that it projects for me all the time. I just play along.

I was born in 1942 in New York City. My father came from Jerez de la Frontera, a wine producing town in Andalusia, Spain and my mother was a native New Yorker. I was their first child. My mother was 27 years old when I was born. Seeing that that number is a multiple of 9,  every eleven years, from the time I turned 3 and my mother turned 30, we would celebrate something that my father called, in Spanish, capicúa. I now know that capicúa (from the catalan, cap i cua meaning head and tail) means a number that is the same forwards or backwards, a palindromic number, and this is not so for the numerical phenomenon that we celebrated, but that is what we called it . So, when my mother was 41 I was 14, when she was 52 I was 25 and so forth. In other

words, when my mother turned 74 I was 47.HELEN IN CARRIAGE 1895 (2)


But the title of this post has nothing to do with my mother or my father, but rather with my grandmother, Helen Cook, nee Moeller. My grandmother was a very important person in my life; I spent a lot of time with her and I loved her deeply, almost like a second mother. When she was 71 my grandfather died and, although she had fought with him all their lives together (mostly about his drinking), she was lost without him and began HELEN 5 monthswandering back and forth between New York (where she lived) and Mexico (where we lived at that time). As it turned out, she came to Mexico for her 75th birthday.

I was 25, married and already had my two children and my mother had invited us to come and celebrate her birthday. When I arrived she was still in her bedroom (which had been my room) so I went up to congratulate her. As I hugged her and gave her a kiss, she sadly shook her head and said:

“I am seventy-five years old, and I have no idea what I have done with my life.”

Helen Moeller and Mary Smith (her grandmother) (2)She went on, certainly, but it was that phrase that struck me so hard it glued itself to my mind and has remianed all these years. I remember writing a poem that began something like: ‘To be 75 and not know where life has gone’. That was a long  time ago and has either been lost or thrown out (I have never been able to write poetry: no sense of rhythm), but to this day I can see her sitting on the edge of the bed shaking her head sadly and offering up this devastating summary of her time on Earth.

In that moment, I swore to myself that no matter what my life was like, I would do anything so as not to arrive at seventy-five not knowing where all those years had gone.

Soooo, I am Almost There! And my life… No: my two lives are very present in my mind. I know exactly what I have done with my lives, the one that ended at 50 and the other that began immediately after (which would make me actually only 24 years old tomorrow). I know the few books I have written, the mistakes (although I am conscious that mistakes don’t exist) I’ve made, the children I have borne, the grandchildren they have given me, 1919 Helen 26, Betty 317042014the marriages (2), the friends, the relations, the trips, the moves from house to house, and then from country to country… The whole movie is here, in my head as clear as it was while it happened day by day, minute by minute. I can see the path I have followed and the times I have not followed it (and that is not true: one is always following one’s path, it just doesn’t always go where we think it should). I can see the goals I sometimes set out, and those achieved or not. I can see the struggles and the conquests, the beds I’ve slept in, the boys I`ve kissed. I have kept diaries of my dreams, of my confusions, of the things I believed and then didn’t, of my spiritual paths.

1923  HELEN 30 YRS OLD17042014Perhaps, when I heard that phrase from my grandmother, I believed then that I had to make a life that was important to me and to others; I remember wanting be a famous writer, to have recognition and applause and leave a definite footprint on some field of endeavor. But life itself has shown me that that was not my path, that the applause I did receive for the few things I have done publically, did actually nothing to enhance my existence; quite the opposite. It inflated an ego that could do nothing but lead me down paths of self-destruction.1942-2 Julian + Brianda are born21042014 (10)

However, those very paths of self-destruction guided me to my real purpose: to know myself as best I could. Every single thing that might have seemed like a ‘mistake’ in my life, has been what has shown me where my true destiny lay: the search for self.

Scan0009I remember not long after my shock at my grandmother’s assessment of her life, I made a decision, a decision that I now can see has shaped everything I have done even though many times I have been unaware this. I decided I wanted to understand, to know what it was to be a human, to be a woman, to be alive and the only way I could know that was being my own laboratory rat, was observing my life, was becoming a conscious being living a conscious life in the deepest sense of the word.

This search has guided me through religion, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy in its many  varied forms and numerous self-help methods. It has led me through literature, through leadership, through marriage and maternity, through feminism and divorce. It has taken me from house to house, from country to 1969 Helencountry and from language to language. And every step of the way has been worth whatever I have known of pain and suffering, of joy and serenity, of turmoil and peace. I doubt I’ve done it My Way, but I certainly know today the way I have done it for all 74 years.

So now that I am almost there, almost arriving at my grandmother’s 75 years of age, … (I had to stop writing because I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude so all-powerful that I found myself sobbing; this poor body still gets very emotional when it feels gratitude …) and, as I listen to Edith Piaf sing Je ne regrette rien. (on internet ), with tears streaming down my face, I thank my grandmother, with all my heart, for having alerted me to the WIN_20160731_155612 (2)dangers of living an unexamined life. She was, without a doubt, my second mother, because thanks to her example I have lived what would seem to be the opposite of her experience: a life I never could have imagined even in my wildest dreams.


Little by little my weight has been increasing so that I have gained back almost 6 kilos of the 14 I lost three years ago. The problem is not so much the weight, as the where. My face, for example, has not gained back anything, which is unfortunate as it fell in unattractive folds with the previous weight loss. On the other hand, the ‘tires’ I’ve developed around the middle have increased and keep increasing, it seems, by the minute. Every time I have gone on a trip, I naturally put on weight (around the middle) because I go with the thought that I am travelling so I get to eat special things and more than usual; every time I try to take that weight off after the trip, I lose most of it from my face (which results in the characteristic ‘turkey-neck’ my grandmother so bitterly complained about). It has been a losing uphill (up-weight) battle the whole way, so on Wednesday of this week I made a decision.

Considering that what is difficult for me is to eat little which would ensure a smaller stomach and, therefore, a loss of weight, I asked myself if it would be possible to eat nothing. I remembered reading in Byron Katie’s book that she had gone 28 days without food so I found it worth a try. Of course, this is fasting and I have done it before but never accompanied by The Work.

On Wednesday morning I had no breakfast (which I falsely believed wouldn’t be very hard because my breakfast usually consists of an apple –one that gets bigger every day-, about 10 or 12 almonds and a heaping teaspoonful of goji berries); I drank a cup of green tea and lots of water. It wasn’t long before I began to feel what I normally would have called ‘hunger’ in my abdomen. I concentrated on the sensation and asked: “This is hunger, is it true?” I waited not losing touch with the sensation. The answer was I could not know it was hunger if I did not call it “hunger”. In other words, it only seemed like hunger because in that instant I believed the thought that hunger is a real thing and that that sensation pertained to a state of hunger. My answer had to be “no”; I could not know that that specific sensation was “hunger”. So I went to question 3.

How do I react when I believe the thought that this feeling is hunger? Again, I closed my eyes. Immediately my mind began parading in front of me juicy red apples, round full almonds, a plate of granola topped with milk and bananas; the food, its shapes, its smells, its colors, even its flavors (sweet, salty, bitter) paraded across my mind. My salivary glands began to react (just like Pavlov’s dog when he heard the bell); I even believed that I could taste each dish thanks only to a movie in my head. I understood in that moment that, if I weren’t doing The Work, I would run to the kitchen for something to eat to satisfy what I by then called this “gnawing hunger” in my stomach. Then I moved to question 4.

Who would I be, right in this moment, without the thought that this feeling is hunger? Again I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sensation in my stomach. I saw it for what it was: a very slight sensation of… I could have called it anything: hunger, satiety, nervousness, pressure, a little tightness… any name would have done. The sensation wasn’t even unpleasant and if I turned my attention to something else (the gorgeous, sunny day outside my window, for example) it completely disappeared from my conscious registry. Did it even exist if I were not concentrating on it which means ‘believing’ it? The answer was “no” again. So to answer the question: I would be someone ready to get to work on my computer.

The turnarounds were easy: “This is not hunger.” More true; it doesn’t have a name it is a sensation in the body, not even a very strong one. If I didn’t know the word ‘hunger’ I wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what the sensation was, if I even felt it. “My thinking is hunger.” More true: it is my thoughts that are producing and needing food, not my body.

I continued working with my thoughts all during that first day and sipping water whenever I got the sensation in my gut that I had called hunger, noticing that sips of plain water seemed to be more than enough for my body. When the thought arose “I want to eat something”, I questioned it and was surprised by my reaction to the turnaround: “I don’t want to eat something”. Apart from the fact that I found it ever so more true, when I realized how true it was, a feeling of elation filled my body. I was so happy (and that would be just another name for a different physical sensation, but this one causes no side effects, like having to eat something, for example).

Then there is always the problem of what to do with all the time I usually dedicate to food: thinking about what I am going to eat, going to the store to buy something for a last minute whim, preparing and then actually consuming the meal requires an enormous amount of time that I had not been conscious of until I stopped doing it. I decided to keep myself busy so as not to be continually returning to the sensation in my stomach. I set about writing a couple of things –some only ideas, others completed- for my new blog in Spanish. Then I wrote some letters I owed, then I cleaned out my e-mail, then I played solitaire, then I took my dog for a long walk (Salomé kept nudging me with her nose, to tell me that it was time to go for lunch because she always gets tidbits; she still was believing the thought “I’m hungry” even though she had just finished her meal). When I came back I wrote some more; then I watched a film and discovered at the end that I had already watched it. It was a good movie so I didn’t mind the time spent, plus I seemed to have a surplus of it to use at my pleasure since I wasn’t spending so much of it putting things in my mouth.

In the evening, I prepared myself a very light supper: a small piece of chicken and some veggies and half an apple for desert. I ate it very slowly, enjoying each mouthful and was surprised to find, when I finished, that it had actually been enough. That night I slept beautifully, but that is nothing new: I usually sleep well.

The following day, Thursday, I did exactly the same and began noticing how much more I was getting done, how my concentration had improved (I wasn’t jumping up every few minutes for a snack) and even my energy level seemed to have risen. I didn’t feel at all weak or woozy or even hungry (as far as I could tell) and every time the sensation in my stomach came about, I would dedicate a few moments of concentration seeing if it was hunger. It never was. What did become obvious were the many times my mind would come up with, say, “almonds” or “apple” or “cheese and crackers” and expect me to interrupt my work and run to the kitchen. Each time I would simply notice the thought, ask if it was true that I wanted that in that moment and find that it was not. This allowed me to continue with my work and to feel very satisfied at the end of the day. Again, I ate a light supper.

Then last night I had a dream. It should have been a dream of loss and frustration, even anguish. My car slipped into the ocean and disappeared; my ex-husband told me I had never been the wife he had wanted and disappeared (just when I needed him to help recover my car) and the officer who I finally found to ask for aid, said it was not a good time for him to do anything. Surprisingly enough, the dream-me took everything in her stride without feeling loss or frustration or anguish. Strange as the dream was, what I found strangest was that I didn’t awake having to pull myself out of a series of tormented emotions. It would seem that even my dream-character had smoothed out with the practice of not eating.

Today I have eased up on the fasting and eaten a small apple and 7 almonds for breakfast and then not eaten again until 3:30 when I had a glass of ‘gazpacho’ -a cold Andalusian tomato soup- and again a light supper. I notice once more how full and absolutely satisfied I feel with supper, and how my mind keeps suggesting something more: a cracker, some cheese, an apple, some almonds… It never stops: image after image enters and leaves my mind and my salivary glands salivate, as I notice happily the feeling of fullness in my stomach… and yes, “fullness” it is just a thought too, but a thought that gives nothing but pleasure and doesn’t require me to do anything else but enjoy it.

And, by the way, my ‘tires’ are still here (of course) but this now has become something other than a way to lose weight; it has become an exercise in consciousness: much more fun!