Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Category: Other

Who Am I? Still Searching

It’s Sunday! And that means a “Blast from the Past” repost from my old blog! Are you excited? I am, I think. I scrolled through old posts this morning, pulling up lots of angry words about wildfires, politics, and rants about Facebook, wanting to use my time machine to give myself a big hug. There was so much fear behind those words. Then I pulled up a post with the title, “Who Am I?” from August 3, 2015.

About halfway through reading it, I was reminded of the Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I had it written in my journal in bold letters just this past week, along with the words, “OH MY FREAKIN…I GET IT!” Deep stuff, you know? Full of insight, my journal is.

who am i

Something other than politics and social media angst was driving my stress train in 2015. My sons were 13 and 14 at the time, my homeschool “career” was quickly coming to a close, changes were coming, and I wasn’t sure where I’d go next. I didn’t know who I was going to be without the title “homeschool mom.”

Sidenote: I’m still working on that. It’s a big part of why I started this blog.

On with the post!

Did anyone else read that title and think it in Jean Valjean’s voice? Am I the only one?

Why am I here? Why do I post publicly instead of in a personal journal? Much of what I write on my blog is about what I’m thinking. It’s what I would talk about if I were sitting among a group of friends, but hopefully more thought out and prepared. I read a lot; books, articles, blogs, newspapers, the dreaded Facebook post. I have thoughts I would much rather process out loud but when I talk my thoughts tend to get scattered and forget the words I would most like to use. When I’m writing, I can go back and edit a thought or find a kinder way to say it. And sometimes I’m not as kind in my writing as I would be in real life. Sometimes I just want to get an angry or dissatisfied word out.

But why not just write all that in my journal, close it, and move on? Why post it here for the world to see? Connection.

Out here in the desert you are alone a lot. It’s not necessarily lonely. I have a group of friends and very dear family. But the group is small and to continue to move in social circles you need to reign in the talk of politics and religion. Also, few people in my social circles read as much as I do, and I don’t know any that read the same books. There isn’t much of an outlet for discussion. It can feel like I’m the only person out there trying to put thoughts together, trying to make sense of the world around me instead of just marching on.

I post it in the hopes that there is someone out there doing the same. My hope is that my posts aren’t just rants and raves. Someone might read it and want to chat about it, politely challenge my choice of words or point of view. I know that isn’t likely. In the current online climate, I’d expect more people at best to dismiss what I’ve written, at worst to pass it around and ridicule me personally, maybe start a protest about what kind of an awful person I am because of my post. But I will still take that chance.

This is my second blog. My first was more of an online journal of our family’s adventures in homeschooling. It was there to entertain and inform my long-distance family of what we were up to, maybe even convince them we weren’t isolated and watching TV all day. Hopefully, somewhere along the line we inspired another family to investigate homeschooling the way we did. It changed our lives for the better and I’d love to spread that around! I’m working on another blog that will do that as well but not as personally as we used to.

This blog is only a few months old. It won’t be about my family or lifestyle really, although that does come into it a bit. It’s more about my personal journey, a search for intelligent life so to speak. My hope is that through writing my ideas out and sharing them with others, I can expand my world beyond my own backyard and share that experience with my family.

So here I sit after a long hot day, re-reading and editing this post with what we might have for dinner rolling around the back of my mind. Should I wait a few hours, read it again, and then post it? Or should I just go for it and set it free?

I think I’ll let it set sail and see where it goes.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? Perpetual solitude. To me, the point of solitude is to recharge and connect with yourself so that you can come back and move in the world in magical new ways. These ways cannot be created alone. They need connection and collaboration to take off.

I’m having a hard time putting it into words. It’s too big. I’m going to have to ponder this longer. But it has to do with why I write here, instead of simply journal in a book. I set my thoughts free into the world and see where they go. The magic doesn’t work in secret, alone, locked up on a shelf in my mind.

Yeah, I’ll be driving today thinking about it.

Thoughts from the Epiphany Machine: The Shower

I heard the story of Zen Master Hakuin on the podcast Secular Buddhism a few days ago on my drive into the city. I made a note about it and moved on, not thinking much about it until around 24 hours later when “Is that so?” came to mind while I was taking a shower, you know, the epiphany machine!

Later that day, I looked up the story online so I could read it through. I found a great version on Kannon Do. I highly recommend reading it. The idea I kept going back to is accepting the curve balls that are thrown at us. It’s something I have always struggled with.

My typical M.O. is to stress and freak out about whatever unexpected scenario comes my way. My initial response is usually, “Oh my! No! This is bad. What are we going to do?” And then, if no one mirrors my panic and runs with it, I usually back down from Defcon 2 to Defcon 5 fairly quickly. My next step is to pretend like I’ve always been completely at peace with the current situation but harbor a low-level state of fear just below the surface for a while just in case the sky does fall.

I’m fun. Trust me.

For the longest time, I believed this was a brilliant coping mechanism. Sure, my reactions can be a bit jarring for those that don’t know they’re coming (my poor husband), but equilibrium, forgiveness, and peace are quick to return. No harm, no foul. Right?

Yeah…not always.

Buddhist parables and stories sometimes cause me to doubt my practices. Maybe I’m doing this wrong? I try a few different tactics, fail, try again, get a little better, realize what I’m doing, accept the journey and keep going.

Two of the notes I had in my journal from that podcast I mentioned early were, “No doubt = No awakening” and “Unlearn.” I read those words, flipped through the pages in exasperation, “Seriously? That’s it? What does that even mean?” There was nothing about “Is that so?”

I went back to the podcast and skipped through it on fast forward.

“Ooooh! It’s all starting to come together!”

When the Zen Master was faced with unexpected situations, he simply said, “Is that so?” and “embraced the situation without judgement.”

When I experience an unexpected situation, I jump to conclusions about what should or will happen next. This shouldn’t have happened. It’s not what I want to happen. It’s going to end terribly for everyone. Everything is ruined. I have no doubt about it. I know.

No doubt = no awakening. My eyes and heart are closed to the world around me. I know what’s going to happen. I’m at level 49 here! I’ve learned a lot over the years!

What if, instead, I did doubt what I had learned over the years. What if I decided to let go of what I think I know, unlearn, and take a step back? Would things be harder or easier?

That’s what the Zen Master did in the story. He doubted he could know what would happen, accommodated the situation, and took care of the things and people around him. What happened, happened.

I can hear the old me in the background, “But…what about being prepared? Making things better? Fighting for what’s right?!”

The new me answers, “Has crying, yelling, and stressing about what is happening, who’s fault it is, and what we’re going to do, ever made anything better? Or did it only make it harder for you and those around you to adapt?”

Shower thoughts are so profound. The story of “Is that so?” isn’t what I made notes about. It wasn’t foremost in my mind, but it was in there. The night before, I had been stressing about some news and what my future would look like. This whole “empty nest” thing has me running in circles. We really need to change that visual, but that’s a post for another day.

My mind was blank, the morning habits had taken over, and then it came into my head, “Is that so?” A puzzle piece fell into place. What can I do when the unexpected happens? I can take a breath and relax, be kind, love on, and watch to see what happens. Stop trying to control everything.

That doesn’t mean I’ll be happy with the results. I may not get what I thought I wanted. I may be worse off than I was. But only that negative thing will be happening. I won’t be adding to it, making it worse for myself and those around me by panicking throughout the whole process.

I’ll just ask, “Hmm…interesting. What happens next?”

Me And Myself Have Been Arguing A Lot Lately

Yeah…so this day got away from me, and it all started yesterday afternoon.

me and myself
Me. And. My. Shaaadoow.

(insert memory special effect here)

I’m not even sure what happened, what triggered me, or who was the culprit. All I know is that my negative mind went down the rabbit hole of doom pretty quickly and that’s when I started texting people what I really thought about them.

Actually…wait. I do know. I didn’t want to go to the grocery store, but I did. And then the people…man…and then that checker…ugg…and then on I drove home and…

Yeah. I was in a funk.

This morning, against my better judgement, I met a friend for breakfast in the city and then went to Target, and I’m glad I didn’t listen to my judgement because I came home in a much better frame of mind.

Distractions can be a blessing of a reset.

I put my things away, harassed my husband while he worked a moment, got myself a bowl of popcorn and a Coors light and settled into the couch to continue my morning routine where I left off. I read a bit, journaled, meditated, and then finished reading Will by Will Smith with Mark Manson. I’ll tell you all about that delicious book tomorrow.

Today I have two things to share.

First, I found an amazing new blog to read, Voices in My Head: A Blog About Everything and Nothing. Her post Sunny Side Up thrilled me. It was like a far more productive and successful me was out there writing great stuff and now I’m inspired to get my butt in gear…again. Hopefully this time it will stick? We’ll see. Check out her work. I’m enjoying it immensely.

What was the other thing? Hmm…let me see… (thumbs through notes)

Oh yes! Something I made a note to myself about on the drive down to Panera this morning.

“Those moments in my day where I feel like I HAVE to talk to someone. What if I chose not to?”

Instead of listening to podcasts this morning, I just drove in silence with my notebook out. It felt good. About halfway there, I was thinking about the times I get moody and cranky. They are mostly when the house is just too quiet, and my mind is too active. Almost always, I send a few texts. When no one answers immediately, I start to panic. Then I start abusing my closest friends. How dare they all have lives and not have their phone in their hand waiting for the moment I call!?

Yes, I know…you don’t need to explain the problem here.

What got me thinking about it (other than feeling terrible about myself) was a podcast on lengthening meditation time. He said to sit in silence and when you feel like moving, or stopping, or whatever, see if you can set that feeling aside and sit a little longer, then stop.

What if I did the same thing when I feel like I MUST speak to another human NOW?! Instead of picking up my phone or running into my husband’s office and interrupting his workflow, is there something else I can do?

Possibly. Writing, reading, go for a walk, clean something, all might help ease that anxiety.

I’ve been curious what a silent retreat would be like. Why not try one of my own, right here in my house? Practice not reaching for help every time my mind starts saying mean things to me. Instead, I can sit with nasty mean girl and give her a hug, maybe see what the problem really is.

I’m doing it. The next time I feel that…ick…I’m going to tell myself I’m starting a silent retreat immediately. Maybe my mind and I will learn to get along if we’re left alone to face each other.

Lack of Focus: A Confession

I have a confession to make. This may come as a shock to you, so I hope you’re sitting down while you read this and not standing in line at the grocery store with a cart full of Corned Beef and Irish Whiskey. I’d hate to be the cause of embarrassment when you gasp in horror, as if some rando sent you an unsolicited…you know.

“Ok. Out with it.” I’m getting there!

Deep breath.

I believe I have noticed something about myself lately. I hate to even type it.                                                                                            

Here it goes…

I use reading as an excuse to avoid real work. THAT’S why I get through so many books. THAT’S why I’m always posting about a new book I started. I may be upping my reading stats, but I’m not getting anything else done, let alone getting much out of the books I read.

This morning, I finished reading Attached by Levine and Heller. I could not put that book down, wolfed it down like a starving animal. I made some notes, mostly highlights and ah-ha comments. I like to get the big picture of any book and then go back through for the details.

I tell myself I have big plans for those notes.

Then I went through some of my morning routine; an hour in my book, yoga practice…then I remembered. I’m hungry! As I sat there eating my breakfast, with my finished book nearby along side my notebook, I thought, “I should sit here and go through this, make some comprehensible notes, and write something brilliant.”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“Or I could get a cup of coffee and read that novel I wanted to start. I can think and write later.”

That’s when it dawned on me. I’m reading to avoid real work! I’m not gathering information and processing it. That’s hard. I’m not sitting with what I’ve already read and making sense of it. I’m just wasting time, avoiding anything difficult or deep.

I’m more obsessed with racking up progress, putting “finished” next to the title, than getting anything out of what I’m reading. Something needs to change.

Writing is hard. I’m not even sure it’s what I want to do, but at the moment I’m not sure there are any other options. I think I’m having some sort of mid-life crisis. I’m bored, I complain a lot (much to the sadness of my husband who is trapped here with me), and I’m not getting anything done, other than read books.

Hmm…so much to think about.

That’s all I have for you today. I messed around all morning, lost track of time, ate some lunch, and watered the yard. It’s almost 2pm and I haven’t accomplished a single task…not that there is much to get done. You think with all the time I have on my hands I’d have the whole house clean and organized, the remodel projects done, the yard tip-top, books read, sewing projects stacked up…

My mind is scattered. I have a lack of focus I can’t seem to resolve.

A Last Minute Boysenberry Feast: Repost

In keeping with my new “Sunday Repost” plan, I hopped over to my old blog and landed on a post from April 30, 2019, entitled “Sick.” That’s a terrible title. Isn’t it? The post wasn’t even about my stupid sick day, not really. And, for the record, that post also documented the last time I was sick at all until a few weeks ago. I’m still not that great at titles but I’ll try and do better this time around.

There must be some sort of conspiracy, because I realized as I looked for a link to Knott’s Boysenberry Festival , that it just so happens to start this coming weekend. Of course, my son already knows and had planned on taking his girlfriend. I checked out the prices (because I love watching this kind of stuff) and found that the prices, no surprise, have gone up.

The last time my son and I went, we each bought a “taster card” for $35 that had six “tastes” of 14 different items. This was a big deal because our plan was to taste one of everything they offered. We shared our tastes and got a few bites of everything, other than the few things we opted out of. It was an epic day of eating, I assure you.

This year it the taster care is $50 for six tastes of 25 items. I’m not sure that’s much of a deal, especially since you do still have to buy an admission ticket which is another $69. It just goes to show, once again, that we were smart to go when we did. The experience (finding the post and researching current prices) only confirms my motto: “Go do what you want to do today. Tomorrow may never come.”

On to the repost!

It figures. I set aside a week to get things done at home and that’s the week I get sick. It’s a conspiracy!

We are the experts in last minute plans and this past weekend was no exception! My older son remembered on Friday that he wanted to go to the Boysenberry Festival at Knott’s and, of course, this is the last weekend of it! We asked if anyone else wanted to go but my husband wasn’t interested in spending $100 to eat berry themed food and my younger son said he’d rather not brave the crowds. So, he bought tickets for the two of us and we headed into the city on Saturday morning.

It was a great day. It’s been a long time since he and I spent the whole day doing something together. He said it reminded him of “one at a time Disneyland” when he was little. When we lived across the street from Disneyland, we used to go all the time, but it was super special when I would take just one of them. They got to be the boss of the day and not have to share anything!

One thing…I have never seen the park so crowded as it was that day. We knew it would be busy, but this was crazy. I’ve always had a hard time dealing with Knott’s and its inefficiency at moving people. The ride lines are always long and food lines…sheesh. If there are two or three people in line for a Coke, it’ll take twenty minutes. Makes me crazy. This day didn’t disappoint. It was worse than expected and guess what? We had a great time anyway. Just goes to show you, it’s your attitude that ruins it, not the crowd.

We were there for about nine hours. I think we only sat down a total of twenty minutes. We went on four rides and saw a couple shows. We got the “taster” card and got one of everything they had! All of it was good. Some of it was silly: boysenberry mashed potatoes. And some of it was amazing: boysenberry sausage and relish. We went back for seconds on that!

My favorite picture of the day!

We picked up a boysenberry pie for the rest of the family and headed home satisfyingly exhausted.

In other news, I started reading this book yesterday.

So far so good. Because of it, I’ve added six new books to my reading list. Thanks!

Sidenote from 2022: If you’d like to read the review (or really my notes and thoughts on the book), click over to “Religious Literacy?” for more.

What else? Oh, yes, I’m still sick. It’s just a nasty cold, but it makes me so tired that I can’t even read. I spent most of the last two days asleep on the couch or watching TV. Yesterday was good though because I got to watch the movie, “The Bookshop” which I’ve been meaning to see. It’s not a movie “of general interest” to my family, so I’d been waiting for a day I was home alone to see it. It did not disappoint!

Sidenote from 2022: I do not remember seeing this movie, or anything about it.

My experiment with staying off Facebook during the week is going great. I do share things like blog posts, articles, and podcasts, but I don’t go back to see comments or scroll through the feed until Friday afternoon for a little bit. I shared our Knott’s adventures as we went, but I didn’t go back to see comments until the next day. It is really helping me “stay in the moment.” I find myself wasting way too much time and mental energy on people that aren’t even in my close circle when I constantly check in there.

I’d like to write more about that. Facebook and I have a love/hate relationship that I’ve been seriously re-thinking lately. Maybe I’ll spend some time writing that out tomorrow. Today? I’m off for a snack and to get the laundry!

That was three years ago. Some things never change.

Rabbit Trails: ADD & Social Media

I spend my mornings on the couch. It’s still dark, very dark, unless the moon is out full and then that blue tint across the desert attracts my attention. By attention, I mean irritation. I’m trying to sleep and that moon shines right in my window at times, makes me think someone has turned on a searchlight. I sit up in bed and stare out at the night.

“Who has disturbed my dark slumber?!”

Realizing it’s the moon, I grumble about curtains, and pull the blanket over my head.

But all those other mornings, when the moon is not harassing me, it’s dark. So dark that I can’t see beyond the limits of my porch. I close the curtains over the kitchen sink in the dark, avoiding a direct look out into the darkness. An ancient fear. What if I see something I shouldn’t?

A cup of coffee, my journal, my book. I snuggle into the couch, cover up with a blanket, and say hello to my husband. He’s been up for an hour already, one of those strange people that sleeps less than I do.

The dog eats her breakfast, runs outside quick, and then runs back in to take her place in the blanket beside me. The cat meanders across the coffee table, over my feet propped up in the recliner, and into the blanket opposite the dog. I’m surrounded.

For the next hour or so, I read, sip my coffee, pet the animals, and watch the sky lighten. It’s my favorite time of day. Magical.

What happens after that is a crapshoot. You never know. I have a list of morning tasks, but they are rarely in the same order. Journal, yoga, breakfast, meditation, write, read more? It depends on my mood and my plans for the day.

Today, I went right from reading to writing here. The sun warmed up the curtains and I wanted to share it with someone. Is that so wrong?

Yesterday, two different conversations with friends got me to thinking. Do I have “have ADD?” And is my use of social media (or this blog) healthy for me? I spent most of my afternoon thinking about it and then rushed to finish dinner (I forgot I had to add the potatoes and carrots to the crock pot), make the cheesecake my son requested for his birthday dinner tonight, fold the laundry from the dryer, and do the dishes. Where did my day go?

ADD? Probably. Do I consider it a problem? Only sometimes, like when I’m trying to make something from a recipe and there are people to talk to. Lately, I’ve been craving more focus time but not finding a way to practice. Meditation is helping. I find my mind wandering most of the day, thinking I could probably get more done if I could focus on one task at a time.

My biggest distraction is my phone. Friends and family text and call, and I’m always available to answer. I consider putting my phone on my desk and answering later, but that makes me sad. It seems to be my life work to answer people and talk with them. It makes me happy. A phone call can recharge my batteries and motivate me. I don’t want to miss that connection.

Is social media healthy for me? I’m not sure. If you know me, or read here often, you know I fight about this all the time. I love it and then I hate it. There’s a nasty breakup and then I come crawling back. I’m social. I don’t want to be alone. I want to share my world. It’s the same reason I write here. Some people don’t have that need, but I do and sometimes I start to feel guilty about it.

I’m struggling this week. Not sure if I should be writing at all, not to mention what to write. Sometimes it feels like I’m burdening the world with all this, adding to the noise. Rethinking…again.

And why do I read so much? What’s the point? What else could I be doing? There’s yardwork, quilts, housecleaning, and other projects I could be doing.

Am I missing some big turnoff along this highway? Am I focused in the wrong direction? Is this all there is?

One of those weeks, I suppose.

It happens often and sometimes I share it here, like back in July last year with my post Mental Minimalism: Taking a Break. Why share the malaise? Because someone out there may be feeling it too, and then at least we’re not alone.

I Have Declared a Cheat Day!

What do you mean by “cheat day,” Michelle?

Well, you know when you’re dieting, and you just can’t seem to find anything tasty that isn’t 1000 calories? Or you know that you’re going out with some friends and there is NO WAY you’re NOT going to have that burger and a giant beer?

Cheat day, right? You’re not going to stop working toward your goal of losing the extra pounds, but in the name of mental health, you decide to take the day off and live a little.

That’s kind of what I’m doing today with this blog post. My goal is to write and post every day, but I never said it would be a brilliant piece of work EVERY time. I also have reached the milestone of 67 posts in a row. I can’t lose that streak! It would be devastating in my heart place!

So here we are having a blog post cheat day together!

What have I done today? Well…

In my defense, I did do the dishes this morning and make a nice breakfast for my mom and stepdad before they left. And I did my laundry. I also spent quite some time adding books from old reading journals into the database I’m setting up in Excel. I’ve gotten back to 2018 so far!

More importantly, I spent over three hours reading I. Asimov this morning. I’m enjoying it so much. He writes like he’s talking to friends over dinner. I think I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve read from him. He seems like the kind of guy that would be fun to have at a party. There’s only one downside to it though; it’s not a very quotable book. That’s why you’re not seeing many Instagram posts from me lately. It also makes it hard to write about what I’m reading without simply rehashing what he said.

I think I’ll start another book tomorrow morning to read alongside Mr. Asimov, in the interest of mixing things up a bit. I’m not sure what just yet, but I have five books that I bought over the last couple of weeks that I’m dying to get into. Which will it be?

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope your weekend is as blissfully quiet as mine will be. Maybe take a cheat day?

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