“Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: (sarcastically) What a great story.
Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”
I’ve always loved that exchange from the 1989 movie Parenthood, starring the always funny Steve Martin. At this point in the movie, Steve Martin is fretting about the fact that his oldest son has developed extreme anxiety issues, and his youngest son, a toddler, soothes himself by regularly ramming his head against the wall. The problems of parenthood seem to have multiplied overnight, and as a father, Martin is finding it difficult to cope. His grandmother tries to soothe his fears about his children by comparing life to a roller coaster.
The first time I watched this movie, I was just a teenager myself, and the probability of my ever becoming a mother was more theory than fact. I remember making a mental note of the grandmother’s attitude here, thinking it should be easy enough to emulate when the time came. Yet, like most people, I’ve found the actual experience of parenting, and of life itself, to be a wilder ride than I initially expected. The dips are far scarier, the turns more disorienting, and when the track finally begins climbing again, I question whether my frayed nerves are still capable of handling the next big drop.
Recently, my brothers, my sister-in-law, and my teenaged niece and nephew crammed themselves into a van and made a long-awaited trip to visit us in Toronto. We went to Canada’s Wonderland, Toronto’s own amusement park, home of rides like The Behemoth, Wild Beast, and the unforgettable Leviathan, one of the biggest and tallest roller coasters in the world. My husband, my two teen-aged sons, and my niece and nephew couldn’t get enough of those big coasters. They still enjoy a wild ride. They love the majestic view from the top of that first hill, the queasiness in their stomachs as they make that steep drop back to the ground, and the compression of their internal organs as they glide through all the twists and turns. As for me, I’m afraid I’ve lost my taste for it.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t eschew roller coasters completely. However, I have become more circumspect about the rides I choose to go on. During that special family outing, I still went on a few of the older roller coasters; the ones that were considered high back when I was a teenager. But my knees become weak as spaghetti noodles when I look high up into the sky at those new, exceptionally tall coasters. I don’t think I’m built for the stress of this new millenium!
It’s not just the roller coasters that are higher, or the falls that are steeper. It’s the clock that seems to move faster, the days that keep getting shorter, the ever-widening array of new technology that’s supposed to make my life easier but only succeeds in making me more stressed. It’s the uncertain future my children face, the health problems of my parents, the faltering economy. My nerves get more than enough rough emotional stimulation just from watching the news every day; I don’t need extra artificial stimulation from the rides at an amusement park!
I wasn’t the only adult there whose tolerance for roller coasters had waned over the years. My younger brother hadn’t been to an amusement park, or ridden on a roller coaster for more than ten years. After his ride on the Behemoth, he emerged with a reddened face, windswept hair, and eyes that looked wild and slightly unfocused. “I think that’s the first and the last roller coaster for me today!” he announced in a voice that was just a little louder than it should be. I knew how he felt. After my first roller coaster ride of the day, I could feel my blood pulsating unusually strongly through all the veins in my head, and my insides felt slightly bruised. I hoped nothing important had burst.
Why do we become so inflexible as we age, so much less adaptable to sudden changes in altitude and direction? In Chinese medicine, this occurs from a gradual decline in “yin” fluids, which keep all of our various tissues moistened so that they can stretch and bend with greater ease. As we age, we become drier and more brittle. More likely to break. As our physical bodies begin to harden, so too do our minds.
How do we keep ourselves flexible and better able to handle whatever life throws at us? Supplementing with yin tonics will help. Herbs such as those in our Shou Wu Tea supply the liver and kidneys with moisture and nutrients that can help to rewind the clock a few years. Doing daily deep breathing and stretching exercises will keep our lungs strong, and prevent tendons and ligaments from shortening. As we gently stretch out our limbs each day, it allows blood to enter the tissues, enriching them and helping them to stay supple and flexible. And finally, doing daily meditation can help prevent our minds from falling into an emotional rut, and can also stimulate new synaptic connections in our brains, which may ward against memory problems and age-related dementia.
Even after following all of these suggestions, you may still prefer to avoid extreme roller coasters, or amusement parks in general. After all, life provides plenty of stimulation on its own! As for my brother and I, we rested and visited together for a couple of hours, allowing our nerves some time to settle and heal. And then, we came upon the Dragon Fire and just had to give it a whirl. Life can be overwhelming at times, and then it’s best to sit it out for awhile. But as the grandmother in Parenthood said, the roller coaster rides are definitely more thrilling than the merry go round. If you can remain relaxed, flexible, and engaged with the roller coaster of your own life, you’ll definitely get more out of it!
About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.