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

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The Reader: Final Thought on Journal of a Novel

the reader
Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

I was going to wax poetic about how wonderfully magical Journal of a Novel was, but the last page summed up the whole book.

“The Reader – Well, by God, Pat, he’s just like me, no stranger at all. He’ll take from my book what he can bring to it. The dull witted will get dullness and the brilliant may find things in my book I didn’t know where there.

And just as he is like me, I hope my book is enough like him so that he may find in it interest and recognition and some beauty as one finds in a friend.”

That’s exactly what happened when I read East of Eden. It’s what happens each time I read any book. That’s what is supposed to happen. A book, especially a novel, isn’t a lesson or a lecture, it’s a version of events. We each bring to the story our own being and when we read it, something magical happens. There’s an interaction, almost a chemical reaction of sorts. Something new is created in us.

And when we share those interpretations with others, combine them with the world we know and the impressions others had while reading those same stories, something even bigger comes of it all. The author’s struggles and efforts to put words together turns out to be more than what he had thought to create.

Life can be lived in much the same way if we allow ourselves to be honest. When we come together to share our stories, we create new ones, if we can keep an open mind and respect the being of those around us.

Hmm… I’m still reading Reflections on a Mountain Lake each morning before my meditation time, and just this morning she was mentioning something similar. Each time I meet a new person, read a new book, or experience some new something, I grow a little bit if I allow myself to be open to the experience and not try to control it, let it be there as it is instead of trying to force it onto a frame of my own construction.

I’m so glad I found this book. It was a beautiful follow-up to East of Eden. As a writer, it gave me so much to relate to. I feel like a part of a community. I’m not alone or completely nuts. I was never a fan of John Steinbeck’s books, but now I feel like we’re friends.

Sapiens: DNF

Remember that book I talked about yesterday that made me sad? Here’s that story.

I received an unexpected book in the mail last month. When I opened my mailbox, there it was. I wondered…did I order a book and forget? Hmm… I checked my Amazon orders just in case but found nothing. And then I remembered! I have a friend that loves to send random books from time to time, ones he thinks I haven’t heard of, but I might enjoy. Yeah, I’m lucky enough to have a friend like that!

sapiens

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

This book is heavy, and I don’t mean deep and wonderous. It’s literally heavy and it’s not even that thick of a book, only around 400 pages. It’s printed on thick semi-gloss paper, which makes it heavy AND hard to see under my book light because of glare. I wonder at publisher’s choice.

About a week after the book came to me, I happened to see a podcast interview with the author on People I (Mostly) Admire, a podcast I regularly listen to, so I added it to my playlist. The interview was wonderful, and it made me look forward to reading the book even more.

My notes from that podcast are pretty sketchy. I was taking notes as I drove home from a few days in Arizona. I didn’t even do a Podcast Roundup about that drive. It had been a long, emotional week for me and I just didn’t have the energy to do much of anything. I did get the vague idea that he was no Pollyanna, he could see clearly the human race does have some big problems, but still felt hopeful because he said some things I’ve been thinking myself.

This world is all about suffering and there isn’t some big overarching meaning or direction to existence. That shouldn’t depress you because to your family and friends you are everything, and that’s where you have the most influence in this world. And that’s where you should be focusing your energy.

The best way to live is to be amazed by the most ordinary things.

Take time off. You don’t need to be ON all the time, even though through technology we CAN.

There was so much more on this podcast, and he said it so well. I highly recommend listening to it. He talked about why he wrote this book and how it came into existence. It was a wonderful conversation, and that’s why the book was such a disappointment. After only page 75, I’m putting it down and marking it DNF.

Why? Several reasons but the biggest is that it has this underlying hatred of humanity and it colors everything in the text with negativity. It’s depressing. Yes, humans have an amazing capacity for destruction (so do most animals from the prey’s perspective), but you know what else we have: the capacity to notice, change, and create. I’m fairly certain that if you follow any other animal through time, you’d find that they overpowered other species, changed the environment, and made space for themselves, until another species did it to them or learned to live alongside them. Humans were not dropped here on earth from another planet. We are not an invasive species. We are part of the ecosystem like any other animal. We will evolve or die out, as any other animal has.

The sad part is that I want the information. I’m curious about the science of this world: how long the planet has been making creatures, how some groups may have evolved and spread, how the weather and geology was created and changed. There’s so much to learn that it overwhelms me. Sometimes I think maybe I should take a class or at least start watching some lectures about these things, but there’s just so much I don’t understand. And so many different perspectives and theories, all of which believe they are the RIGHT one. You know, in a past life I considered a geology major. Crazy right?

But the style of writing in Sapiens just made me sad, far too sad, and it read like a textbook. I knew I’d be in this book for weeks, and I just couldn’t take it. I’ll keep it on my shelf for reference. It’s an easy book to look up a topic and get an overview from. But I just can’t read it cover to cover. I’m moving on.

Calming the Surface: Meditation Practice

I write a lot about my meditation practice, and I probably talk a lot about it too, but I’m learning so much. I can’t help but share.

meditation practice

My beef with meditation in the past was I felt it wasn’t working. I’d sit and focus on my breath for ten minutes every morning. So what? I’m calm for those ten minutes, and then go into the rest of my day only to lose that calm almost immediately.

Ten minutes of exercise, while a good start and better than nothing, isn’t going to make anyone strong.

I increased my time to twenty minutes, made a point of doing it daily without exception, and made some progress. My mornings started with more calm, but by the afternoon…ugg…

I started an afternoon practice. Thirty minutes before my husband stops working, I sit in meditation and then journal. It helped smooth my evenings.

But what the heck? The only way to remain calm is to be in retreat from the world and spend more and more time in silent meditation? That doesn’t seem like living. I can’t wall myself off from the world.

I kept meditating and reading, studying, trying to learn more. There has to be more. And then I find this:

“…there are two streams of meditation practice within Buddhism. Their Sanskrit names are shamatha and vipashyana. Shamatha means “to calm the mind” whereas vipashyana means “to look into the mind.” Shamatha is usually translated into English as “calm abiding” and vipashyana as “insight.” It means seeing clearly.

There is a traditional example used to illustrate the differences between these two approaches to meditation. Imagine a lake surrounded by hills and snow-capped mountains. It is a clear mountain lake which reflects the surrounding mountains so accurately that it can be difficult to tell which image is the mountains and which just the reflection of the mountains on the lake’s surface. But when this lake becomes agitated by the elements, various things happen.

First of all, the surface of the lake breaks up so that it no longer reflects the mountains accurately. The image is still there, but it is distorted. In addition, because there are many waves and the surface is choppy, it is difficult for us to see into the lake to any depth. Not only is the surface of the water choppy, but the mud at the bottom of the lake is also stirred up. This pollutes the water, making it muddy and opaque.

This state is very much like our ordinary everyday mind, which is continually being agitated by the winds of the six senses.”

Ani Tenzin Palmo – Reflections on a Mountain Lake

The point of meditation is to calm the surface of the lake so that we can reflect the world with fewer distortions and see beneath more clearly to reach beneath and examine what we find.

This past six months, since I have increased my meditation time and made a concerted effort to keep up the practice daily, has changed things. My husband has commented on it, and so has my son. I don’t seem to react as quickly, I’m more reflective and less agitated by the little things.

I’ve found myself stopping to think when I feel something, sorting it out before I respond. I get less angry. I’m less depressed. I love myself more and I can easily extend that love to others, even those that seem to be determined to drive me crazy.

Don’t get me wrong. People still irk me with their behavior and choices, but I’m more likely to see them as beings in need of love and patience instead of enemies. Maybe not instantly, but in a reasonable amount of time before I react to them and make everything worse. This is part of the practice.

I’ve struggled with anger, depression, and stress my whole life. I’ve sought help from doctors that directed me to drugs, and therapists that seemed only to make the situation worse. I’ve lost money, time, and done damage to my body. And nothing has helped like one hour a day in mediation, reading, and journaling.

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!

Final Thoughts on The Power of Now

Let’s see…how do we begin this? I didn’t just “pick up” The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, I ordered it from Amazon on my phone while I was still out. I’d heard it mentioned on the podcast I was listening to, which now I can’t remember the title of. I found it in my mailbox two days later, a miracle in my neighborhood, and added ten minutes of reading it into my morning routine, just after my meditation time.

the power of now

Did I love it? Not really and I feel a little bad about that. If I had not impulse bought it, if I had come home and researched it a little, I probably would have moved on to something a little less…spiritual. What did I expect from a book with the subtitle A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment? But then again, if I had, I would have lost the gems I did find in it.

“I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.”

Who is this person that I can’t live with anymore? It’s my mind! Around the same time I started reading this is when I also started talking to her in kinder tones. We’ve been getting along much better lately.

“Emotion literally means “disturbance.” The word comes from the Latin emovere, meaning “to disturb.”

Think about that for a second. You’re a spider on a web, and there’s a disturbance. You turn in that direction, wait, see if there’s anything there that needs your attention. And then move on.

“Don’t get stuck on the level of words. A word is no more than a means to an end. It’s an abstraction.”

We could be trying to express the same emotion but using different words and actions. What if we try to get understanding instead of attacking each other over semantics?

“The inner equivalent to objects in space such as furniture, walls, and so on are your mind objects: thoughts emotions, and the objects of the senses. And the inner equivalent of space is the consciousness that enables your mind objects to be, just as space allows all things to be.”

I wrote this one on a post-it and keep it close to my desk. “Pay attention to that space between things.” Silence is the space between thought. When we’re paying attention to the space, we allow more peace in, and we tend to relax and see the bigger picture.

“Most people pursue physical pleasures or various forms of psychological gratification because they believe that those things will make them happy or free them from a feeling of fear or lack.”

This one hit me like a brick. I’m the one that says, “If you just texted me…” “If you just did the dishes…” “If you…” That’s not what makes anyone happy. The happy comes when you accept the world around you as it is, without conditions. That doesn’t mean you take all the crap that comes and live miserable. There’s more about that in this book.

“A victim identity is the belief that the past is more powerful than the present, which is the opposite of the truth. It is the belief that other people and what they did to you are responsible for who you are now, for your emotional pain or your inability to be your true self.”

The world just is. What are you going to do now? I refuse to call myself a victim of anything.

“When a condition or situation that the mind has attached itself to and identified with changes or disappears, the mind cannot accept it. It will cling to the disappearing condition and resist the change. It is almost as if a limb were being torn off your body.”

When I’m sad about how something is going, I can feel it in my body like I’m having a heart attack. It really sucks and causes panic, which I respond to and then create more drama. I recently tried NOT doing that, sitting with the pain, knowing it was my mind, feeling it all over, and then…it left me. More magic. Emotions aren’t real. They are primal warnings to things that may or may not be there.

“Don’t look for peace. Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender.”

This last one was my favorite. It sounds totally nuts, but it works. I tried it myself. One morning I woke up grumpy. I had a bad dream, didn’t sleep well, felt like an ogre. In the past I would have begun a downward spiral. “This isn’t what I want! I should do better than this! All this practice is for nothing!” Angrier and angrier until someone in the house said or did something that irked me even more, and then BOOM. Michelle is on a rampage and hating herself for it.

What I tried this time was to say to myself, “Yeah, that night sucked. I’m tired and grumpy. I’m human!” And then I altered my day a bit, chilled more, read more, watched my favorite show and had some popcorn and a cola. When my husband asked me how my day was going, I said, “I am feeling grumpy and tired, so I took the day off. Let’s go get tacos!” I surrendered and accepted my feelings instead of fighting with them.

There were so many little sparks to capture in this book. I wrote many more down but tried to distill it to only my favorites here. I wasn’t a fan of the spiritual bend this author takes. I felt like he was trying to pull in several different religions to explain things instead of letting them be based in psychology or human nature. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone just getting started with meditation, but it does have a lot to teach if you have the patience to wade through. But if the spiritual speaks to you, it might be right up your alley!

Discovering Bertrand Russell

If the only thing I got from this book was Bertrand Russell, it would be 100% worth all the hours and pages.

Amazingly (because I thought it would be extremely boring or maddeningly condescending), I’m about halfway through The Portable Atheist – Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever selected and with introductions by Christopher Hitchens. I’ve changed my initial feelings about the book and now say they are essential readings by anyone, nonbeliever or believer. The essays have certainly shed a new light (for me) on many authors I thought I knew and helped me to think in a whole new direction. I wouldn’t say the collection has convinced me to become an atheist, but I can see their point of view more clearly.

bertrand russell

My problem with atheism is the same as theism. You’re saying you hold a position of belief, one that cannot be proven. I prefer to remain agnostic. I do not know. I have a belief that brings me peace of mind and directs my actions, but I would not go to battle over these beliefs or waste my efforts in forcing anyone else to believe them. My beliefs may change, probably will. In fact, I hope they will, because that means I’m learning and adapting, which seems to be the best way to live.

This past week, I read an essay in The Portable Atheist by Bertrand Russell called An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish. I’ve heard of him, seen quotes from him on social media, but I’ve never read any of his work. I’m sorry that I haven’t, and I’ll certainly be searching out more since I’ve read this.

The following are excerpts that outline some incredibly useful rules for anyone attempting to make their way through this plane of existence.

“To avoid the various foolish opinions to which mankind are prone, no superhuman genius is required. A few simple rules will keep you, not from all error, but from silly error.”

Not ALL error because every human is fallible. We make mistakes, big ones, even incredibly intelligent and famous people, even people in power like government officials and church leaders. Gasp!

#1 “If the matter is one that can be settled by observation, make the observation yourself.”

Don’t assume you know something. Go find out firsthand, if possible. And if not possible, you can ask, read, research, and come to your own conclusions, but they will always be yours alone.

#2 “If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do.”

I am SO guilty of this. My husband is much better at being curious. What we should be doing is thinking, “Hmm…this stirs something in me. Why?” And then asking questions to see if that person knows something we don’t.

“The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.”

#3 “A good way of ridding yourself of certain kinds of dogmatism is to become aware of opinions held in social circles different from your own.”

Getting your news from your favorite radio or television station, or social media, is not the way to do this. Branch out, be curious, see what else is out there and respect other people’s opinions.

#4 “Be very wary of opinions that flatter your self-esteem.”

There’s a perfect example of this in my circle of homeschoolers. We tend to pass around a meme that has a list of all the brilliant people that were homeschooled. It makes us feel good that we are in that company, but it is not proof that it is great and good. It IS, but it isn’t proof. (That’s me being funny. Insert sarcasm font.)

“It is more difficult to deal with the self-esteem of man as man, because we cannot argue out the matter with some nonhuman mind. The only way I know of dealing with this general human conceit is to remind ourselves that man is a brief episode in the life of a small planet in a little corner of the universe, and that, for aught we know, other parts of the cosmos may contain beings as superior to ourselves as we are to jellyfish.”

Maybe you can’t find a nonhuman mind to argue with, Bertrand, but some of us can. I’m not saying who. Let’s just say, some of us have ways of getting off this planet, and some have ways of getting on. At least, that’s what I’ve been led to believe by Star Trek, Dr. Who, and Rick & Morty.

#5 “Other passions besides self-esteem are common sources of error, of these perhaps the most important is fear.”

Fear. Yoda has it right, my friends. Fear is what keeps us from the greatest things in life and drops us into the depths of human depravity.

“Fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life.”

Let me repeat that last line because I believe it is now my new mantra.

“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life.”

Simple, right? I know that it isn’t. We get one down and then forget another. I’d like to create a poster with these and frame it on the wall where I read, write, and socialize most, my living room. Maybe then, I’d do a little bit better.

Surrender to the Present: Yielding

Yielding, a little known trick to driving that is more than just being polite. I came across the perfect analogy for “surrender to the present.” Stay with me a moment.

Have any of you experienced merging onto the freeway lately? I have, quite a bit, and I’ve been rather vocal about my frustration with other drivers. Do we all need a refresher course on how this is supposed to be done? Or do we know and not care; we are the center of the universe and those trucks be damned!

surrender to the present

Let me ‘splain.

I’m on my way into the big (to me) city and I need to get on the freeway. I see the on ramp and take it. Ever notice how long and smoothly curved an on-ramp is? That’s so that I can take a good look at the traffic pattern and match my speed to the cars and trucks already travelling there. My job is to speed up or slow down to get in front of or behind existing vehicles, and then think about what to do next.

It’s the safest and most efficient way to do it. If I don’t, if I insist that I am the most important player here and force trucks to move over, or slam on their brakes to accommodate my present trajectory, I wreak havoc. The rest of the freeway has to adjust itself to the lane and speed changes. This is how more accidents and traffic jams occur.

This morning while I was reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, this is visual that came to me when I read, “Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life.”

Surrender to what is currently happening around you isn’t giving up and accepting the crap you see. It’s being in the moment, creating less friction, and being able to see more clearly and make better decisions.

It’s matching the speed of the cars on already on the freeway, then taking a look around and making your next move. It’s smart and it respects the other drivers.

I knew I had used that photo before and when I searched for it, I smiled. My new Drive Time Mantra came up! I could write a book on the similarities between driving and life in general.

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.

The Portable Atheist: New Read

The Portable Atheist – Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever – selected and with introductions by Christopher Hitchens is another one of those books that I didn’t write down why I ordered it. There was a reason. It came to me through another book, or a podcast…something. Every book on my TBR list has an origin story. I hate when I lose track of them, and yet I can’t seem to create a system that helps me.

Anyway, it’s been on my shelf for a while now and I’ve been meaning to pick it up. It’s filled with some of my favorite authors: Thomas Hobbes, Percy Shelley, John Stuart Mill, Mark Twain, George Orwell, even Penn Jillette! So why has it taken so long for me to start reading it?

Fear of being mis-judged.

Even writing this, I’m afraid to admit how I really feel, what my real thoughts are. Why? Because not everyone that reads this will understand and some may be disappointed. These are two my biggest fears in life, two things that have held me in mortal terror. I wish they didn’t and I’m trying to repair that rip in my soul, but you probably know how complicated that is.

This morning I posted the picture of the book on my Facebook page with this,

I debated for days whether to post about this book here for fear of being seen by my friends and family as a member of one team or another for exploring a point of view.

I’m not having it. Think what you want. I know my own mind.”

If I could get one thing through to the whole world it would be that I’m not on one team or another, anywhere. I don’t believe in teams at all. In fact, I think the idea of teams is one of the biggest problems we have right now. This whole “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” crap is killing us. From politics and religion to lifestyle and race…please, just stop.

Why am I reading this book? Because I respect the opinions of others and wish to learn more about them, possibly even adopt some of them as my own.

This morning I finished reading the introduction and it was hard. The tone is what I’m not appreciating. It’s something I dislike about believers and nonbelievers alike. This “holier than thou” attitude, as if anyone that does not agree with them is clearly an imbecile and should be ashamed of themselves. It’s not the way to win friends and influence people. In the first few pages, I’ve already found much that I don’t agree with and much that I do. I’d love to sit and talk about it, page by page, with someone who is genuinely curious about humanity and religion.

Why is it that we create religions in the first place? It seems today we’ve created brand new “godless” ones to fight about and beat people with; science, politics, culture, and lifestyle. I honestly think it’s something about human nature, some evolutionary thing that drives us to make an authority outside our own selves and create community and belonging around it. And then we take it and fight to the death over it to stay safe from “others.”

I’m looking forward to reading all these essays. I know it will take me quite some time to read and digest it all. I hope you’ll stick with me and hear me out, maybe even chime in with your own thoughts from time to time.

Childhood Games

Welcome to another post inspired by The Plottery and their fun July writing prompts that they posted on their Instagram account, @the.plottery! This prompt reminded me of childhood games.

“Write a short story where the characters don’t come of the couch the whole time.”

Sounds like my mornings. I get up at 4, grab a cup of coffee, my book, and my journals, and plant myself on the west end of the couch until 9am.

That’s not technically true. I get up for more coffee, to use the bathroom, do my yoga, and close the curtain when the sun comes streaming in to blind me, but essentially, I am planted. This is my spot. The cushions have become formed to the curve of butt and the arm has an indent where my elbow rests.

But my short story…more of a creative memory. It happened. I have pictures. But maybe it didn’t go exactly this way. Where shall it begin? On the couch, the same place it will end up.

childhood games
Proof the Crime

The floor is lava! The couch has always been a place of refuge and entertainment. There were four of us, my brother and I and two of our younger cousins, spread across the giant, L-shaped sectional in the living room of our grandparent’s house. We’d been swimming at the community pool all morning. Grandma made us sandwiches and we ate them with tropical punch Kool-Aid and potato ships at the kitchen dinette counter, where spills and crumbs were easy to clean up. Grandpa turned on the big console tv in the living room and instructed us all to relax a while.

As an adult, I can see exactly what this was now. Two older adults, four young and wild children. THEY needed to rest, not us. The hope (the same hope I have held on to with my own children) was that they had worn us out in the pool and fed us. Now, in the name of all things holy, maybe we’d settle into the couch and be quiet a while.

My grandma said that she needed to “rest her eyes” a bit. “Watch your shows. No horseplay. And stay on the couch.” And then she and grandpa headed off to their bedroom for a nap.

The peace lasted at least a few minutes, maybe even past the first commercial break, but then we got antsy.

My youngest cousin was the first to move towards the edge of the couch, but my brother stopped her. “Grandma said stay on the couch!” She shot a look, that look, right into his eyes and lowered her foot. “Don’t even!” Her brother grabbed her arm, and she began to tear up. The wail was coming. It would be loud…grandma would hear for sure…not acceptable.

My brother, ever ingenious, lifted the cushion next to him and threw it to the ground beneath her feet. Her brother released his grip and she landed on it. They all looked at me and grinned.

Being the oldest sucks. I’m supposed to be in charge, keep things as the adults want them to be. But how is that fair? I sat there silently with my arms crossed. This is not what she meant.

Another cushion flopped to the ground beside the first and in moments a lily pad arrangement took shape across the living room floor. They were hopping from one to the next, running across the bare couch, and back onto the floor again. Giggling quietly all the while.

At first, this only began while commercials were running. Once a cartoon came back on, everyone fell silent, like a game of red light/green light. At the next commercial break, they were at it again. Temptation to play along overwhelmed me and I joined in.

Every once in a while, someone would land a little too roughly. It was trick to silence our running and falling feet in a mobile home. The floor and foundation aren’t that solid like a foundation house would be and the walls are thin to save space and weight. Each mildly loud giggle or tumble would cause us all to freeze in place and wait for the “all-clear,” no sounds of movement from the other room.

I’m not sure how long we went on like this, but at one point, while we were all happily skipping around the room from one couch cushion to the next, one of my cousins froze mid-step and we all piled up behind him, pushing him forward and landing in pile…at our grandpa’s feet.

There he was looking down on us, hands clenched in fists at his hips, those few wisps of hair standing up on the top of his balding head. He didn’t say a word. My grandma came in the room seconds later. “Oh, heavens, you kids.”

That’s when my grandpa said, “You told them not to leave the couch and they didn’t.” and we all started laughing.

We spent the next hour piling up cushions and seeing if we could stand on them, spreading them out for leapfrog, or blocking them all together to make a large tumbling mat for living room gymnastics. Grandpa would stand beside the pile and hold out a steady hand, ready to stop us from falling over into the tv or cracking our heads open on the coffee table.

Exhausted from play, we settled down into watching cartoons and most of us took a long nap there before dinner. But we never left the couch!

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