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

Tag: mental health Page 1 of 2

Where Do I Belong? Seeking Healthy Community

Here I am still seeking community. And strangely, I was listening to a podcast just this morning about ways to build community and why we should. Loneliness is rough. Almost all of us feel it more often these days and no one comes out and says it. I’ll be writing more about that later this week.

The following is a repost, something I wrote nearly four years ago. I’m feeling defeated and sad. It seems nothing has changed.

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Talking with a friend over the weekend, I found a few things suddenly come into focus. I love the way that works. I listen, I read, I think, and then while I’m saying something over lasagna, it all comes into focus on one point…like magic. My poor friend must have thought I was insane when I stopped in mid-sentence, “Shit! That’s it!”

Belonging to a community can be unhealthy. I know, you’re thinking…she’s lost her mind! We all need to belong to a community! Of course, we do…but, it can be unhealthy. You know that. You’ve probably been there. Belonging to a community is a relationship and some relationships can be unhealthy. When we come into relationships wounded and bleeding, the community probably won’t fix that, unless it’s a community of doctors.

In my life, I’ve always been hunting for a community to belong to. My family, my school, my work, my church, my homeschool groups, they all ended up in the same way. I walked in, I embraced it, I started to feel the ideas there resonate with me and then, at some point, I began to feel lonely. I started grasping at straws, maybe if I became more directly involved? What if I took the reigns here? What if I confided in another member how I was feeling? I became needy to those around me, or controlling, and then I felt neglected and misunderstood. And then I blamed them and left.

Am I alone in this? I doubt it. I’ve heard over and over again from several different ends of the earth, “I want to feel connected.” “I just want to feel like I belong.” “I need a community of like-minded people, but I just can’t find it.”

It made me think, do we all feel this way? Do most of us walk around thinking we’re alone in this world, that everyone else is part of a group, and we are the only one outside of the circle? Several times in my life, I’ve talked to friends from my past (thanks to social media connecting everyone) and found that when I believed I was hanging on to them and their close circle of friends, they believed the exact opposite. They thought that those were my friends they were tagging along with, my church they came to visit, my family they pretended to be a part of. It’s weird how different our perceptions can be of the same events.

So…what makes a community unhealthy? You. You make it that way. We need to start with ourselves, make ourselves healthy and ready for the give and take of a relationship. The relationship will not make you healthy and that’s just what community is, a relationship.

How does one start to make themselves healthy? Look inward, that’s a good place. For me, it was meditation that started me on the path to self-discovery. Ten minutes of meditation a day, helped me begin to take control of my own mind. One “7-day free trial” of an app, led to 21 days, a month, and then a year. That ten minutes, let to twenty, led to thirty, where I’ve happily been starting my day for several years. I never would have believed it would have the impact it has, but seeing is believing and here I am.

Journaling is the second thing. Whether you keep a notebook around to write in, an app to take notes in throughout the day, or sit at your computer tapping out words on a screen, writing can be very helpful to understanding yourself better, even if you never read those words again. There’s just something about writing out words that helps one to organize the thoughts, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. You don’t need to even write whole sentences. You can draw pictures, make lists, or just scribble. Some of my journals have pages filled with hateful thoughts. It’s as if I wrote them down to let them go.

A long time ago, I was seeing a therapist and the one thing that actually did help to bring about big changes in my life was making note of my moods on a regular basis. She had me get out a notebook and just start making a happy face, a sad face, or an angry face at intervals throughout the day. Next to the face, I’d write a word or two about my activities at that moment. No judgement, no thinking, nothing, just make a note. Happy Face: reading, Sad Face: watching the kids, Angry Face: going to bed. At the end of the week I could flip through and see my mood changes. Was the week mostly happy? Mostly angry? Was I busy? Most of the time, I would feel like my bad mood had followed me all week long, but looking back at my notes, it just wasn’t so. The more I did it, the happier I found myself. Simple and effective. I loved it. Whenever I find myself stuck in a negative feedback loop, I go back to charting like that. And guess what? Wait for it…now there’s an app for it! The one I’ve been using lately is called Daylio. It’s free but if you pay $5, you can set as many reminders to “check in” throughout the day as you want. I like paying for apps like this. I feel like it encourages people to make them. Give it a try!

And finally, for me, there was spiritual guidance. That guidance did not come from a church when I started. Church is just another community, another relationship to navigate. My guidance came straight from God. I opened my bible and started reading, not to understand but just to listen. I started making notes in my bible, writing down questions, and spending time in prayer and meditation. And then I went to reading books about specific topics, bible studies, etc., all mostly Christian based. I’m not sure how these books came across my path. I usually found them through articles I was reading, discussions I had with friends, ads (yes, they come in handy from time to time), and searches for “best books on…”

Some of the books felt useless to me, some were handed to me with perfect timing. All I did was try to keep reading, writing, and praying. I tried to keep my mind and heart open. I still do and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Finding Jesus saved my life. I feel like he was there all along, waiting for me to reach out for him, and when I did, I felt at rest, saved. I found myself there.

I’m not the perfect Christian. I don’t pretend to understand it all. I do try to listen, and I follow my heart. I apply what I’ve learned in other aspects of my life to my relationship with God. When I feel hungry, I find heathy ways to eat. Usually I eat something good for me. Sometimes I don’t. I do what feels good, what seems right at the time. I learn from my mistakes and I forgive myself when I screw up. I don’t adhere to the dogma of one human church or another. I love my neighbor as I would myself and I love God with all my heart.

Over the years I’ve continued to try to find a community to fit into, one I would really feel a part of. I’m still searching, but now that I’ve really started to know myself and accept myself (with all my strangeness, mistakes, and frailties) as I would any other friend, I know I’ll soon be able to contribute to a community instead of use it. And that means the right one will fall into my lap just as I need it.Do you know your true self? Have you accepted that person as good? Do you love her/him?

Resolving Conflict is Complicated

Resolving conflict is on my mind today. Actually, it’s been on my mind a long time. I’ve never been very good at resolving conflict in a rational, non-harming, way. My “go to” as a child was to cry and throw myself on the floor, in the hopes of instilling guilt on those around me until they decided to do what was right, a.k.a. what I wanted. As an adult, the silent treatment worked well for a time, until I would explode with anger and unleash hell upon those around me.

If you are one that has not experienced this with me, count yourself lucky. I’m not exaggerating.

As a wife and then a parent, you’d think I would have grown up a bit, but not really. One thing I’ve learned is that we all fall short of perfection, every single one of us. Our only hope is that we keep learning, and possibly surround ourselves with people that can forgive, love, and give us space to grow.

This morning, I read this in my study of Reflections on a Mountain Lake by Ani Tenzin Palmo:

It struck me that if we act out of the root of anger, we will only experience more anger in return. The Buddha himself said, “Hatred doesn’t cease by hatred. Hatred can only cease by love or by non-hatred.” This is because if you keep putting out anger, no matter how justified the cause, you will stir up the huge reservoir of anger in your antagonist, whoever it may be. So however justified it may seem at the time, all you’ll get in return is more opposition.

It’s obvious. All anger, no matter how justified, how righteous, how holy it is, comes from the same source, which is antipathy, aversion, or hatred. Whether it expresses itself in violence or nonviolence, it’s still anger, and so however “justified,” it will never bring about circumstances leading to peace, love, and reconciliation. How can it!

Anger…you know what Yoda says… When I’m feeling angry, I know to take a step back, give myself some space, and think, “What is it that I’m not liking exactly?” And then I think about the person or situation I’m angry with, “How can I gain understanding and reconnect?” My goal is to live in peace.

It’s not easy. I am not good at it. I’m still learning. Daily meditation in the form of two twenty-minute sessions has helped me slow down and become more aware of my feelings and the thoughts that follow them.

Also, this morning, I read from Elizabeth Anderson:

We each have moral authority with respect to one another. This authority is, of course, not absolute. No one has the authority to order anyone else to blind obedience. Rather, each of us has the authority to make claims on others, to call upon people to heed our interests and concerns.

Whenever we lodge a complaint, or otherwise lay a claim on others attention and conduct, we presuppose our own authority to give others reasons for action that are not dependent on appealing to the desires and preferences they already have.

But whatever grounds we have for assuming our own authority to make claims is equally well possessed by anyone who we expect to heed our own claims.

Resolving conflict involves two people or parties respecting the rights of the others. If we cannot come to some understanding, we need to separate and live apart from each other. Where my right to be me ends, is where your right to be you starts. We can’t step on each other. Why can’t that be easy?

resolving conflict

I posted this meme to my Facebook page this morning, not realizing that it was related until after I had let it sit there an hour.

I’m not a believer in astrology, but I often identify with Sagittarius memes. This one was especially funny to me. It’s why I have such a conflict with Facebook.

There you all are, living your (to me) bullshit, and I so want to call you on it. (Sidenote: We are ALL living bullshit that others think is simply nuts.)

What stops me?

If I’m honest with myself I can say that I don’t because I know if I call yours out, you’ll call mine out, and I really don’t like that. I should be able to take it, right? It’s a good way to learn, putting forth your ideas, being questioned, and then rethinking them. In person, I’m getting much better at that, but online… yeah, you know things are different, so I take a step back and stay quiet.

That’s how this works. You’ve angered me. I think on it, take some time to put things into perspective, so that I’m respecting your person and position, because I want a relationship with you. We work together to resolve our differences and live in peace, somehow, because we are all sentient beings with the authority to run our own lives.

Now…if I can only remember that when the feelings strike. Back to meditation practice!

A Little Self Awareness Exercise

A self awareness exercise is a great way to connect with others, don’t you think? The better I know myself, the better my chances of finding places we intersect.

Yesterday, as I was scrolling through the WordPress Reader wasting time…not really, I was relaxing. It’s so hot and humid, you guys. I’m just not used to this. What happened to my dry desert heat?!

self awareness
Self Awareness Tip: I have found it isn’t HEAT that bothers me, it’s HUMIDITY.
This is out my back porch yesterday afternoon.

…sigh… Acceptance of what is. Complaining doesn’t help. Reframing thoughts.

Since it’s so hot outside, I spend a lot more time indoors drinking large glasses of ice water and reading, both books and other blogs. That’s when I found My Rollercoaster Journey’s post about Self-Awareness Questions. Reading their answers and becoming inspired, I started to think… Maybe it would be fun to write my answers and link back!

And here I am!

It looks like these questions came in a newsletter from Social Self, a company founded by David Morin to improve mental health and relationships. I don’t know much about it, but it looks interesting. Always good to find new input. And it seems everyone around me is struggling with the same problems lately, searching for answers to life.

I’m on that journey as well. The more I look around me, the more I see how much awesomeness there is in this world, and how little I have appreciated it in the past. I’ve had bouts of awareness and clarity, but my inner peace has always been generally shaky. I’m learning and growing every day, though, eager to share what I’ve found with anyone that will listen, much to my immediate family’s dismay. Sorry guys! I love you!

So, without further delay, here are MY answers:

What am I really proud of in my life?

My life’s work, aka my family. I chose to focus on being a mom and wife above everything else, and I would not change that for the world. For my efforts, I have two sons and stepdaughter out in the world making their own way. Hopefully, we gave them a head start in this world. I like to think we have, because they seem like pretty awesome people on every level.

What would I like to go back in time and change?

That old question. It’s hard because, like they say, your past is what made you who you are today. There is one thing I regret most in my past and that was how I dealt with my stepdaughter. Our relationship was strained from the get-go, and I was not the person I wanted to be. I would do everything differently, knowing myself the way I do now.

What made me happy as a child, and would that make me happy now?

Holidays made me happy. Big parties with aunts and uncles, cousins, people that were our relatives, but I wasn’t sure how. What is your mother’s cousin’s kid to you?! Sometimes I only saw these people a few times a year. And I didn’t realize back then that it wouldn’t always be this way. All day parties that start early with some of us cooking in the wee hours of the morning, breakfast casseroles made the night before, people that stay all day, and others that come for a few hours.  Food, kids, and chaos everywhere.

That’s what would make me happy now. It all ended long BCB (before covid bullshit). Families grow apart, I’m told. How can I start it all up again?

What word would I most like others to use to describe me?

Happy and curious. That’s how I feel most of the time, but I’m afraid it doesn’t show up in the nice ways I hope that it would.

What word would I be most unhappy about others using to describe me?

Judgmental and overthinking. I know I have a tendency to judge others and I’m working on it very hard. And I’m introspective, I tend to think about things other people don’t notice. It bothers some people and that makes me sad.

What is my most unconventional/unpopular opinion, and why do I hold it?

I think public education (in general) is a load of bullshit that we accept as a necessary evil. Why do I hold it? Because I hated every single day of school, so did my husband. My stepdaughter had to attend school at her mother’s insistence, and it was soul crushing to watch. Most people I have talked to as my kids grew up without school only commented that “We suffered through it and lived, why shouldn’t our kids?” I think this is a sadistic answer and I refuse to participate. Our sons were raised without school at all, and they are fine, upstanding men without the twelve wasted years and emotional damage.

Yeah. Strong opinions there.

What would I change about myself if I could?

I recently found a description for my problem. I’m “love blind.”

In the same way that some people cannot tell the difference between red/orange or blue/green and have to find a person they trust to tell them that their socks don’t match, I have a very hard time seeing that people truly love me, that I’m needed and appreciated, and need people I trust to tell me that I’m not being left behind. How do you find people that you trust when you can’t see that you are loved?

Before you cry for me, I’ve found a key that does help. I’ve started to learn to love and trust myself first. That has begun to open so many doors, but please, wave a magic wand and make me see it easier. Or at least go back in time and help me see the issue more clearly earlier and give me people I can trust to guide me in the right direction.

What wouldn’t I change about myself under any circumstances?

My enthusiasm for life. I’m naturally excitable. That means that same tendency to scream, “Oh my GOURD! I can’t take it anymore! What is wrong with you and me?!” Is the same one that makes me run in circles and exclaim the virtues of the prairie dogs I see in the field or the brand-new flavor of cereal that I’m fanatically in love with this week.

What couldn’t I change about myself and still be ‘me’?

My love/hate of people in general. Spend some time with me and you’ll see, my rollercoaster relationship with world around me is…well… Have you ever been to a Six Flags park? One day I’m inventing new ways to serve mankind, help those around me grow, expand the world around me, and then I’m planning on how serve mankind up for a dinner to whatever ravenous beast I can find.

I’m not sure why. A close friend once said that she thinks it’s because I have such high expectations of people. I see what they could be, what we could do together and become, but then they fail those expectations, and I just can’t get over the disappointment. They aren’t even trying!

I’d love to tame that rollercoaster and make it more family friendly. Then maybe I’d still be “me” without so much drama.

What values are most important to me?

Honesty. Love. Trust.
I think they all go together. Can’t have one without the other and they make the world a far better place while we’re here.

So, there you go. Do you know me any better? Are you afraid?

Thanks, My Rollercoaster Journey, for sharing your answers with the world. I’m glad to have met you this way.

Chatter by Ethan Kross

Where did I hear about Chatter by Ethan Kross? On The Happiness Lab podcast! As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of podcasts, and before I get in the car for any trip, I load up my playlist with a few hours of “my shows.” When I saw the title “How Do I Stop Negative Self-talk?” I put it at the top immediately.

chatter by ethan kross

Negative self-talk is one of my most intrusive and upsetting habits. If you could hear it…ugg…you’d call social services and report abuse. It can get pretty bad. Something happens, I feel stupid and start to berate myself, then I get madder at myself for being mad in the first place, and then the spiral downward begins. How do I pull myself back out? I’m not sure. I know I’ve done it because I’m still here, but I have never been able to do it on purpose, until I read this book!

What was it that got my attention and helped me embrace some new practices? Science!

This book isn’t spiritual. It also doesn’t get so deep into the science of the brain that you get lost. It’s light and practical, as if a good friend (a smart one that has their shit together) is sharing some insights that they’ve found. The subtitle of the book is another clue to why I felt I could trust it, The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness It. We all have a superpower locked inside us. It’s time we start using it for good instead of evil.

While reading, I took eight whole pages of notes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to copy them all out here! Most of them are only important to me, personal thoughts and ideas. What I hope is to share enough with you to get you to go out and read this book. In my world, it’s required reading for the course!

The book took off like a shot for me with this glorious bit of encouragement.

“Introspection simply means actively paying attention to one’s own thoughts and feelings. The ability to do this is what allows us to imagine, remember, reflect, and then use these reveries to problem solve, innovate, and create.”

That’s such a better way to explain what my mind does all day long. I have been accused of “overthinking” so many times in my life and every time I hear that word I cringe. Yes, I am aware of the world around me, my actions in it, how they affect the people in my life, and consider how I can do better. I wish more people would.

Here’s another one.

“This pattern of hopscotching through time and space in their inner conversations highlights something we all noticed about our own mind: it is an avid time traveler.”

We’re time travelers! I knew it! And we all know that time travel can be a tricky thing. We don’t want to get stuck in a time loop!

“The ability to engage in mental time travel is an exceedingly valuable feature of the human mind. It allows us to make sense of our experiences in ways that other animals can’t, not to mention make plans and prepare for contingencies in the future.”

I read a lot about staying present, another skill I’ve been working on, but while reading about that I had a thought. If we stay in the present moment at all times, not considering the past or future, wouldn’t that make us the same as any other animal? One of the things that makes humans so amazing is that we CAN learn from our past and plan for the future, right? Maybe there’s a balance we can find.

In the last chapter, Kross (in his infinite wisdom) listed out the tools he had been describing in detail throughout the book, a sort of cheat-sheet! My favorite tools, ones that I have written down to practice, are:

“Distanced self-talk:” using your name and second person you. Sounds crazy, but it works immediately. Several times already, I’ve come up to some feeling I wasn’t thrilled to have and stopped in my tracks. “Listen, Michelle, you know this is only temporary. Take a deep breath and calm those nerves of yours, you can handle this.”

“Reinterpret your body’s chatter response.” This is much like meditation practice, feeling whatever you are feeling in your body and accepting its presence. When I feel sad or scared, I FEEL it all over my body. It starts as pain in my chest and radiates down my arms and into my hands, up into my throat, and into my stomach. I feel like I’m dying and panic to stop whatever I think is causing it, usually causing even more painful problems. Lately, I’ve been sitting with that pain and letting it flow over me. Instead of succumbing the negative chatter, I speak kindly to myself, “You’ve felt this before. It is not death. Just wait.”

This one is my favorite.

“Reframe your experience as a challenge.” Reframing in general is one of my favorite thought practices these days. It works wonders! Social situations are perfect for this. Instead of attempting to flee immediately, or move through it, head down, hands clenched, I can say to myself, “Can I get through this without losing my shit? Possibly. Let’s see.” The last few situations I’ve been in have been progressively better. Sure, I had a few small panic attacks, and I yelled a bit about this thing, BUT I did GO, I didn’t complain every moment, or work out different ways to get out of it, and no one looked like they were afraid I was going to explode. Progress!

One more thing before I go, and you go out and get this book.

“The human mind is one of evolution’s greatest creations, not just because it allowed our species to survive and thrive, but because in spite of the inevitable pain that comes with life, it also endowed us with a voice in our head capable of not only celebrating the best times but also making meaning out of the worst times. It’s this voice, not the din of chatter, that we should listen to.”

Our minds are amazing, and we should be using them, not letting them use us. We all tend to hyper-focus. We all think we are the center of the universe. There are ways to help ourselves and those around us to put some distance between us and our problems, sense the awe and wonder in the world, use our physical world to bring us peace and order, use mind magic to heal ourselves through placebo, and remind ourselves of the big picture through personal rituals.

Another piece of the puzzle set in place because I listened to a podcast on my way into the city.

Self-Help Books: Yea or Nay?

I started to think this post wasn’t going to be about books at all, but it turns out it is. The idea came to me while I was browsing through my bookcase looking for something I read recently. I realized that I have several shelves of what are labeled “self-help” books. These books are my version of therapy, books that have brought me closer to discovering myself and finding what happiness means to me.

Why do I get the feeling that in many circles these kinds of books are looked down on? Why the wise cracks in movies, tv, and radio shows about the people that read them?

What’s so wrong about attempting to help yourself through difficult times? Why do I feel the compulsion to hide and downplay how many of these books I read?

Hold the phone! Aren’t all books “self-help” books?

When I want to learn more about something, I usually go find a book (or five) to read about the subject. History, economics, religion, science, any book opens a whole new way of thinking, or dives deep into a subject I only had an inkling about. I’m helping myself to learning.

If you scroll through my Autobibilography page, you’ll find many titles labeled “self-help” and I am proud that I read them. I put them there so that someone else might find them, explore my thoughts, and decide whether or not that book might help them.

And it’s not just books that lead us to discovery of the world around us, and ourselves. Movies, documentaries, websites, and articles, all help us keep learning and growing, even when they are fiction.

Instagram has been a wealth of self-discovery for me the past few years. I’ve found writers, mental health professionals, quilters, and even comedians that have changed my life for the better. They inspire me with their posts about what they are reading, writing, and learning. They make me laugh with their observations about the world around us. They give me ideas about what I can create right here in my own home.

Three posts I saw this morning sum up what I’m currently working on in my mind.

Balanced between “I’m scared of change.” And “I’m scared of staying the same.”

Who else feels this way? Years ago, my sons pointed out that I am a special kind of crazy because I really don’t like change AND I get bored quickly. I’ve always struggled with that, but then again, doesn’t everyone? I want to stay where I’m comfortable and capable, the tried and true. I want a challenge too, but that’s scary.

And this one: “Self-Care for Highly Sensitive People Means”

Many of these suggestions sound like a nightmare, especially “spend time alone.” Being alone is something I actively avoid, the reason I keep reading, posting, and asking for input. I call people, attempt to set up dates, send texts in the hopes of starting a conversation, all in order to end the “spending time alone” part of self-care.

My fear is that if I get used to that time alone, everyone will be gone, off on their own adventures, when I finally decide that I’ve had enough and want company again.

I think I’ll print this one out and put it out where I can see it. If these things are hard for me to do, maybe that means I need to  practice them. Maybe that’s what will make me feel better.

And then I see this, “What if you told yourself you are worthy just the way you are and you believed it?”

I don’t believe it. Just this morning I found myself journalling negativity to myself. “If you would just…” “If you could only…” “You’re just asking too much.” “Then you’d be happy because you would deserve to be happy.”

Where the hell does THAT come from?

I have one more…a bonus!

A visual representation I would do very well to remember. Somewhere along the line, I’ve learned to believe that self-criticism will make me work harder to be a better person and self-compassion will make me lazy and stuck.

Neither are true.

Every time I’ve practiced self-compassion lately, in the form of some kind words to myself or one of those self-care actions described above, I feel better about myself and I’m happy and content. Happy and content are the better goals in life, the ones you lay on your deathbed smiling and reminiscing about.

When I practice self-criticism, I feel worse and get less done. I’m unhappy and spread that unhappiness to everyone around me. In response, the very people I want so badly to feel connected to begin to pull away from me. The very thing I fear is being caused by the action I have believed would keep it at bay.

See?! Self-help! The critics are right, probably the worst thing in the world for people to do is to attempt to solve their own problems with self-discovery and discussion with others instead of relying on the professionals to coach one on one and charge you obscene amounts of money to do so, making us say things like, “Hey government! I can’t afford what I NEED, so take something from someone else and give it to me so I can!”

But that’s a whole other topic of discussion!

Thanks for reading today. You really helped me out by being here to listen. I hope you found something useful as well. How do you feel about the self-help genre in general? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Live Today as it is Dealt

It’s cliché, I know. Live today as it is dealt. It’s the only day we have. It seems that we keep forgetting.

You might think it’s strange, but the combination of reading Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution and personal events are working on my mind. I knew this would happen. Remember? Wild connections are begin made. The human mind is so good at that.

I went to sleep yesterday with many thoughts running through my mind, mostly centered around a single theme. Want to read about it? It won’t take long.

Do what you believe is best for you, in the moment you believe is right, and leave everyone else to do the same. Live YOUR life right now, not later.

So many times in my life, I’ve wondered…am I doing the right thing? Fear, and the fears of others, stopped me from doing what I had planned. Who can know what I’ve missed? But that’s ok because I am where I am now because of those decisions and this life right here is all we have. We can’t relive and try again. We might as well enjoy it, wherever we are.

Thinking that I really don’t know what the best decision is for myself most times or where it will lead, I wondered why we even try to direct other people’s lives, even the lives of people we love most?

Do we not trust them to know their own situation best? Leave them to their lives. Support them when they ask for help. Be there when they need you. But it’s their life. Don’t let your fears and insecurities alter their trajectory.

live today
These two know how to live!

In the same vein…

Live YOUR life right now. Take that vacation. Finish that project. Read that book. Call that person.

Do it. Right now.

We only have this one life, live it as it as the cards are dealt.

That doesn’t mean run out and spend all your money, throw your relationships out the window, and live dangerously. It means LIVE, right now. That lunch you’re making? Love it. That phone call you need to make or work meeting you need to go to? Be there. That child or parent that needs your attention doing that thing you aren’t that interested in? Give it to them.

There is no tomorrow. You can’t save up time for later.

What does this have to do with the Russian Revolution? Nothing specifically, but as I read, I wonder about all these people. What were they doing on their farm, at their factory, or on the warfront? As always, each person had a life they were living when this took place. Movies help us see this. Doctor Zhivago comes to mind.

There you are, studying at university, getting married, having children, while the world around you goes on. Plagues, revolutions, wars…crazy to think that nothing ever changes.

The only real difference between the past and our current times is the speed of communication. If you turn it off, put down the phone, stop checking the internet, and quit the news feeds, life slows down to a crawl. The world will go on doing what it does, even if you’re not watching, and nothing will be worse off because you weren’t.

That’s all I have for this fine Saturday morning. Yeah, feeling a little reflective today. There’s a lot going on here. Enjoy your weekend, reader. It’s the only one we have.

Lunch Date Leads to Self-Discovery

Let’s see here…what do I want to talk about…everything! Yep, that’s me. I’m a compulsive communicator, and this blog gives my mental health a huge lift. There’s just so much to tell the world. Maybe if I still worked at an amusement park, I’d have plenty of people to harass with my random thoughts every hour, but YOU, my dear reader, will receive the brunt of my self-discovery now (insert evil laugh here).

That fact that I can have to find my laptop, think, type out and then post what I want to communicate is a good thing. It slows me down and makes me think about what I want to say, if only for a few minutes. In person, I tend to talk off the top of my head, say whatever comes to mind. If I weren’t in the awesome circumstances I am in right now (i.e., far fewer people to talk to on a daily basis), my mental health would probably benefit much from working on my mouth filter.

This is one of the reasons I took social media off my phone and leave my laptop off. I found it far too easy to post a thought for the world to see and that led to some awkward situations. Text is far too subjective. If I were standing next to you telling you a joke or laughingly grumping about a situation, you’d be less likely to smack me for my behavior because I’m pretty cute. But in text…well…sarcasm just doesn’t work that well.

self-discovery
What kind of “seasoned” are we talking about? Taco? Italian?

But I digress. Some self-discovery is what I really came to tell you about.

Yesterday, I was not feeling well, mentally well. Lately, I’ve often found myself in a sad funk, like nothing matters, wanting to hide away, disappear. I’m tired of everything. It sucks. It’s not a new feeling. My closest friends and family know my pattern of despair. It passes and nothing is lacking or wrong, not really. Note to family: Do not read my journals. They will terrify you.

And, yes, I’m working on some better choices, eating better, less alcohol (don’t cry, a good tequila is still on the table, just not so many, so often), and getting some exercise. I fell away from a lot of that the past couple of years and it’s starting to show.

Yesterday, I had a lunch date with a dear friend scheduled, but I woke up thinking, “I should not share this shitty feeling with a friend. I am wasting my time and theirs trying to be sociable.” I texted to cancel and then promptly started crying…again. I moved on to my yoga practice but couldn’t focus. She replied, but then I immediately asked if I could change my mind. I needed to get out and do something. I jumped in the shower and headed out the door.

As I drove, I noticed something important. There are two ways my feelings can go when I cancel something I planned on doing: relieved or hurt. When I cancel something and feel relief, set the phone down, move on with my day or evening, that tells me that it was the right thing to do for ME. What I had planned was not something I wanted to do. When I cancel something and feel hurt or sad, set the phone down and cry, that means it was the wrong thing to do. My plans were hard, or I was not in good mood, so I was giving up.

One of the biggest things I get sad about when I attempt to give up is this stupid blog. It means the world to me and I’m not sure exactly why. Every time I get frustrated with technical problems, grow sad about a lack of readers or growth, get angry at myself for my lack of consistency, I start to think about deleting the whole thing and walking away.

You should have heard me this week. “It’s a waste of time,” I told myself. “Just think how much more housework I could get done, yard work, maybe I can get chickens, if I weren’t spending so much time tapping out words on a screen.” Then the sad moved in on me and I felt like I’d lost my best friend.

It was ugly, trust me.

So, I’m afraid the internet is stuck with me.

My VW bus looks like it would
be in one of these Urban Legends!

That being said, that book I started reading yesterday, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings by Jan Harold Brunvand, is so good. It was written in 1981 and it has all those oldies we loved as kids: the hook in the car door of the kids making out, the alligators in the sewer, pop rocks candy exploding in a kid’s stomach and killing them. There are more, and ones I hadn’t heard before, like the cat dies and they package it up to take it somewhere to bury it, but it gets stolen by shoplifters.

It makes me wonder. With the invention of the internet and social media, I’m sure there are new versions of these old tales, wild stories we swear are true because it happened to a friend of a friend, or it was in the paper, so we share them to warn others. Do you know any?

Oh, wait! I forgot to tell you the OTHER thing I discovered yesterday! I wasn’t in the mood for podcasts yesterday while I drove, so I turned on the radio and stumbled across a “New Country” music station…and liked it. I know! It’s crazy. I’m a classic country fan: Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Alabama, and others. I grew up in the 80’s so I’m also a fan of Reba McEntire and Garth Brooks. I’d heard some new country years ago and HATED it, but this was different, or I was. I fell in love, wrote down snips of song lyrics so I could look it up later (stupid radio), and added them all to my Spotify playlist when I got home. “You Time” by Scotty McCreery and “Like a Lady” by Lady A are the two that I loved most yesterday.

Housekeeping & Some Final Thoughts on my Latest Read

A little housekeeping this morning: I’ve been having some technical issues with my website lately, so while I take some time considering what to do, (where to host, whether I should keep my domain name, or just use the free wordpress site), I’m going to be posting to both for safety.

For my followers on the Roadrunner Musings, I’m back! I don’t have time to sit and play with it today, but I’ll be back to update the site in a couple days. Stay tuned!

And for those who have found me on michellehuelle.com, you might want to follow at Roadrunner Musings. I may end up keeping only that site in the future.

The sun is starting to show itself. How’s that for a special start to the day?

housekeeping

I have a confession. I’m not feeling it today. Feeling what? “It.” You know…that special pull that makes you want to get out of bed and attack the world with a smile. I’m feeling a little lost these days. But that’s normal for me. I’m typically cycle through great highs and pretty deep lows. The rhythm changes though, or maybe “frequency” is a better word. I’m thinking electronics here.

Remember when I started reading How to Take Smart Notes a few days ago and was considering not bothering to finish it? I finished it yesterday. What can I say? I’m afraid I’ll miss something grand if I quit. It’s probably the same reason I keep on living through the downs. If I quit life now…on purpose…I might miss something. Can’t have that!

It wasn’t a boring book, and it wasn’t super long, so I went ahead and steamed through. And I found something interesting.

“We reinvent and rewrite our memory every time we try to retrieve information. The brain works with rules of thumb and makes things look like they fit, even if they don’t. It remembers events that never happened, connects unrelated episodes to convincing narratives and completes incomplete images. It cannot help but see patterns and meaning everywhere, even in the most random things.”

From How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens

Why are human minds so damn complicated? Sometimes it just seems like overkill. How in the world did we evolve this way? What purpose does it serve to make memory so unreliable?

Maybe it’s the thing that makes us “in the image of god,” this brain that sees patterns and meaning in everything. Is this what separates us from other animals? Is this the thing that gave us the edge and helped us to create our civilization?

All I do know is that my memory is not reliable. And that’s not just a getting older thing. Unless I take pictures or write things down, it will be lost. Even then, I know that much of what I believe I remember is distorted and warped by time. It’s part of why this blog is so important to me. Sometimes I read old posts of mine and have a hard time believing that I wrote them. I can’t count how many times I’ve come across pictures and stories of my past that I have no memory of happening. And don’t get me started on other people’s version of events we both experienced.

It makes me wonder. If we’re all like this, why do we fight over what we believe to be true? Why can’t we be slightly more rational and think, “You know…maybe I’m wrong” and live and let live?

Here’s another little gem I dug up.

“Learning itself requires deliberate practice, and I mean actual learning that helps to increase our understanding of the world, not just the learning that makes us pass a test.”

From How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens

Personal effort. Sigh. Why is everything so hard?

Sorry for the down mood today, my friends. I considered not writing, or at least not posting, today but then I thought, “That’s not very authentic of you, Michelle. You should share the real you.” Back to the electronics analogy, I don’t have a limiter on my signal. You get the intact original signal here.

The good thing is that I know myself pretty well. I’ll be back on the upswing in no time. Nothing gets me down for long.

To end this post on an even better note, I started reading The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings by Jan Harold Brunvand this morning. You’re going to LOVE this one!

No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners: New Read

How do I even begin to tell you, to explain what goes on in my head? You’ll think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. It’s true. I have a very hard time remembering things. How does that relate to the book No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners? You’ll see.

no-nonsense buddhism for beginners

I write things down a lot, lists of things I need to do, people I need to talk to. I make lists in retrospect as well, so that tomorrow I can look back and remember that I did that thing. I take screen shots of conversations and save them so that I don’t forget that someone loves me deeply. Playing cards with me is easy. You don’t ever need to worry about me seeing your cards. The moment I can’t see them anymore, I forget. Playing pinochle with my family was always hilarious because I have to put all my focus on remembering how many cards have been played. But that’s not really a big deal, right?

I know I’ve probably brought this up before but, there is a lot that I don’t remember about the books I’ve read shortly after I put them back on the shelf. I know I did read them because I wrote in the book. And there are some books that have stuck with me. I’ve read that I’m not alone there. Most people, when asked if they’ve read a certain book, can tell you yes or no, but then not be able to give the details about it. They just remember that they liked it or not. One of the reasons I write here is to put conscious effort into putting my thoughts in order and then keeping them to look back on. I remember more of what I talk about and/or explain than what I read.

What does that have to do with No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners?

I’ve been listening to Noah Rasheta’s podcast, Secular Buddhism, for several months. I like what he has to say. I feel like he explains the concepts in ways that are useful to me. But, in day-to-day interaction, I forget what I meant to remember. I keep trying to rewire the way I react to the world, remember that everything is connected, to take a breath and respond instead of reacting, to listen and watch the world around me, but I fail more often than not. It’s frustrating.

I bought his book because I thought having a physical book to flip through every day, instead of just listening once a week, would help cement the concepts into my mind so that I can use them. My goal is to read through it all once, and then go back and re-read each piece once a day, like a meditation practice.

Buddhist principles have helped my mental health tremendously this past year. I wish I had found it earlier in my life. It may have saved me a lot of heartache. This line is what keeps me on the path, “To be enlightened is to be liberated from our habitual reactivity, freed from our perceptions and ideas in order to see reality as it is without wanting it to be different.” That’s it! That’s what I want.

I’m a highly habitual person. I build up habits to keep order in my mind and make the world around me safe. Sometimes the habits aren’t helpful. I try to reassess my habits on a regular basis. I sit down with my notebook and write out my day, the things I do, and ask myself, “Is this serving me?” That’s easy to do with things like housework, exercise, and learning. But emotional habits are a whole other ballgame. Those are well engrained, and I’ve had a rough time changing them, no matter how badly I want to.

It’s like learning new eating habits. I start a new diet, get into it, really feel like I’m getting somewhere, and then BAM, a bad day, a party, a holiday, and I’m right back on the track of a poor diet filled with empty calories, loads of carbs, and plenty of alcohol. My body thanks me by feeling terrible, which makes me crave more “comfort” food, and I spiral down into “you suck” mode.

I have some pretty piss-poor relational habits that need to be resolved if I’m going to live well the next forty years. I’m trying so hard to change those habits in positive ways, but I keep forgetting the damn principles. Just like the game, when the cards are hidden from view, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I need reminders.

A few weeks ago, I was getting gas in town and across the island I saw a guy with a Buddhist mala prayer bead bracelet on. A light went on. The prayer beads are a reminder, each bead connects to the other to make a whole, just like we each connect to each other. They can also be a focus, moving along the chain and taking a breath, saying a mantra, or thinking a name, until you come back to the beginning.

Today, I ordered a set of wooden prayer beads. I’m hoping they’ll serve as a physical reminder that I’m changing. When I see them, I’ll remember my meditation, and (hopefully) pause to think a bit.

I’m about halfway through No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners already. I think keeping it close-by and ready for me to meditate on a page or two will help me build up these new habits. I’ll keep the beads with me as well and maybe, over time, my brain will connect the peace of what I read, my mediation, and the beads will serve to bring me back when I start to get lost.

I’ve written about my Buddhism journey many times before. Check out Zen Blogging: Writing to Learn? It’s one of my favorites. It’s also one that I have recently went back to and thought, “Wait…what? I’ve had this thought before?!” …sigh…

Mental Minimalism: Taking a Break

I went into my morning routine with a crummy attitude, set myself up for failure, and the surprisingly…I failed. Took a long shower, ate something tasty, had another cup of coffee, laughed with my husband, read an article. Had a thought…mental minimalism.

My original goal earlier this month was to sit here quietly every day for one hour, uninterrupted by the phone, and write anything that came to mind. If nothing came, I would just sit there with my laptop open to a blank page and stare out the window until the timer was up. Within a couple days though, that simple goal morphed into writing brilliance and posting on my blog every day as well. It didn’t feel good.

This morning, once I was interrupted by my company at the house and a text (because I forgot to turn my phone off), I lost my strong stride and got frustrated. Over the past couple of days, I had already begun to question what I was doing. This morning only confirmed my suspicions. This wasn’t going to be sustainable.

I need to rethink, refocus, and gain some perspective. Meditate on it a while and see if I can get a better picture of what the point of this blog is. What am I trying to do here? What am I offering to you? If I’m only writing for myself, why publish it at all? What if I really don’t have anything significant to add to the conversation in the world?

So many posts each week seem to just clutter up the place. In fact, this blog looks a lot like my mind if you could open it up and see all the rooms inside. My brain is like an open floorplan office space. Everyone loudly working on their own stuff, no boundaries, no privacy, no quiet time. Meetings in the middle, writers on one side, painters over there, and a construction crew adding on a balcony, all while someone else tries to make phone call in a corner. It’s a mess. Nothing gets done.

It’s time to do some decluttering and put what’s left in order, a little mental minimalism.

Today is my last day with a house full of people. I’m going to put away the writing and enjoy that moment. Tomorrow I’ll be driving to LA, then the weekend to rest a bit and think, and then a week with my mom. I won’t be posting here, but I’ll be back, and with some new floor plans for this metal office space.

“Always on the move.”

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