A Virtual Colloquy - What are YOU reading?!

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“The Noticer” by Andy Andrews

The Noticer book cover on a desert background.

This doesn’t happen very often, but I didn’t know what I was going to read when I picked up “The Noticer” by Andy Andrews off the shelf. It’s a perfect case of judging a book by its cover!

Remember when I said I was going to try reading one book at a time for a while? You don’t? Well, I did. Maybe it was in my monthly newsletter (which you can go sign up for at my Autobibilography page). Anyway…it’s not working already.

I like a lot of wonderful non-fiction books but I’m not always in the right frame of mind to read them. Sometimes they are a more difficult read and I need to be fresh minded, or it needs to be very quiet in the house for me to focus. In the afternoon, that’s not likely to be the case, but I do occasionally have some time to grab a cup of tea and read a bit. So, what can I do?

Have a second, easier book on hand! That book is typically a novel. Fiction is imagination work and not as hard for me to read. I can jump in anytime, pick up where I left off, and enjoy the journey. That’s not so much true with non-fiction.

Backstory…just a little. Last month, you may remember, a reader friend of mine had to move out of state suddenly and gifted her entire library for me to redistribute. I know…don’t be jealous. Needless to say, I kept a few, ok several, maybe ninety, books for myself. What’s happening with the rest of them? That’s another post!

So yesterday morning, I walked over to that glorious stack of gifted books looking for a nice easy novel to read with my third cup of coffee and breakfast cookie (don’t judge me). I found this cute little book and figured it would be an inspiring read.

It has the quote “This is the best book I have ever read in my life” on the cover. How can I go wrong?

I took it to my spot on the couch and began adding the title to my reading journal.

Title. “The Noticer”
Author. Andy Andrews
Year published. 2009
Genre. I wrote fiction but then flipped the book over and found “self-help” in the corner. Groan. That’s not what I was looking for, but I was already in my spot with coffee and I’d already added it in my cute new book. I’m already too invested. I may as well keep going.

I’m hooked. It’s adorable! Have you read it? If you have, give me a comment about what you thought. If you’d like to read along with me, go buy “The Noticer” on Amazon. Of course, buying the book through the link puts some change in my pocket but doesn’t add to your cost of the book!

There Is Time To Pause and Think – Take It

“Giving yourself a little bit of time, even if it’s just a minute or two, to develop an opinion could help you catch yourself when you’re simply going along with the crowd.” 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do by Amy Morin

Even a “Mom’s Night” Gives You an Opportunity to Pause and Think

Have you ever been to one of these events? A group of Mom’s, either friends before kids or maybe they’re friends because of the kids; scouts, school, or sports, has brought these parents together. They’ve made connections while the kids do their thing, so they organize a “Mom’s Night” to have fun without kids in tow.

I never was one to have close female friends, even in school. Somehow the idea of hanging out with a group of women never appealed to me. I always felt like an outsider, a little too rough and “non-feminine” to hang out with the girls. I was far more interested in what the guys were doing, in more than a “can I grab myself a new boyfriend” way. I wanted to talk about fixing things, tell dirty jokes, and not worry so much about hurting feelings.

Amazingly enough, I have made female friends over the years though, mostly through homeschool groups my sons attended. And I have found myself at a few “Mom’s Night” events and had fun, despite my reservations about going.

How is this related to giving yourself time to think , Michelle? Get to it. We don’t have all day!

Well, one of the ways I practiced giving myself a minute to see if I was just following the crowd was at a “Mom’s Night.” Choosing a movie to see, a restaurant to go to, or what picture to paint at Paint Night, was a chance to take a second and think. Is this really what I want to do, or am I following what the women around me are choosing?

Many times, my pause to think allowed others to do the same and we ended up going in an entirely different direction.

At a dinner, when the waitress started asking, “What can I get you to drink?” and the table started with “iced tea,” “water,” or “cola,” I took a pause. I thought this was a night out?! I ordered a beer…and the rest of the table changed their orders, except one woman that really did just want a cola without her kids begging to have some too. We all laughed. We were doing what we thought everyone expected of us, not what we really wanted.

Our natural herd mentality is a strong instinct. Safety first! Right? Better to go with the flow and stick to what everyone else is doing! Except when the person that picked the direction of the flow in the first place is nothing like you or has none of the wants and needs that you do.

We don’t have to go against the grain in every circumstance. There is such a thing as common sense, behavior and choices that generally benefit humans. But we do need to watch ourselves and make sure that we are, in fact, making the choice to follow. If we don’t we’ll end up exactly where everyone else does and that might not be where YOU want to be.

No More Passive Invitations

“Technology has changed the way we interact with people. Social invitations are often sent over text message or social media. And rather than ask, “Do you want to go shopping with me?” many people are inclined to say something more like “I’m going shopping. Let me know if you want to go.” Wording it this way means you don’t have to face rejection.

And while it also means you don’t have to put someone on the spot, saying “You can join me if you want” is also a way to protect yourself.”

13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do by Amy Morin

Oh, boy, did it feel good to read those words in print. I’m not alone in this! It’s actually something a lot of people are doing. At first, I thought passive invitations were a great way for someone like me, extroverted but terribly shy, to carefully and tactfully extend invitations to friends. If no one responded, no harm, no foul! A few years into this new social tactic and I realized that I wasn’t doing myself any favors.

While I do enjoy being alone, quiet time to myself, and small events, I’m not an introvert. In person conversation and connection with others is what fuels me. After a few days of being alone, I start to crave social interaction to build up my creative energy. But I’m naturally shy. I don’t know why, and I’ve worked hard most of my life to overcome that tendency.

Social media gave me an escape from the rigorous practice of approaching people directly and now I’m so out of practice that the simple act of asking people out to lunch takes an incredible amount of effort. Texting or, god forbid, calling another human being (even my Dad) is making myself vulnerable, presenting myself in a way that I have the chance of being shot down. My ego has been fragile lately and I don’t know if I can survive another hit. The more time I spend away from people, the more fragile I feel and the less likely I am to present myself to others.

The more chances I get to interact with others, the thicker my skin becomes and let downs aren’t as painful. When I’m built up with yes’s, the no’s don’t hurt as much. But…opening myself up first? What if the first answer is no? Lately, I feel like I get more no’s to my attempts to connect, than yes’s. It makes me put up walls, and that just keeps the yes’s out too.

I know I need to throw out those social media, passive request crutches to socializing, but it’s so hard. Just like getting strong physically, so it goes with becoming emotionally strong, baby steps. Ask a friend out for coffee, or a walk, or anything. Getting a “no thanks” or “another time” doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person, it means they’re busy. Some days are harder than others, but the more I try, the more likely I am to find a yes, so I keep asking!

“Search Your Feelings…”

“When you feel hurt, avoid jumping to conclusions and lashing out in anger.”

13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do” by Amy Morin

Sounds so easy. Duh! Of course! But we don’t. That’s the thing about pain. When something hurts, our instinct is to lash out in an attempt to make that pain stop…immediately. And many times, all we do is push the pain to others, or extend the pain’s timeline.

I’m thinking of instances where I can build up this skill. A text not answered. A message received. A social media post that makes me cringe. These are some of the things that trigger my “anger.” But what’s the initial feeling behind the anger?

“Search your feelings, Luke.” Star Wars comes up a lot in my daily thinking. I think the Jedi were onto something.

Much of what I react in anger to comes from hurt or embarrassment. My ego has been bruised somehow. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was only me lashing out, but it seems that every human on this planet is hurting in varying degrees and we all react to pain by causing more, creating ripples that turn into waves of more pain.

What can I do? Take a step back and ask myself, “Why am I angry?” And then sit with it awhile. Maybe use that meditation technique, make some space for that feeling to move around in and see what it shows me.

Using Anger as a Shield

“Anger is a powerful protective shield. It feels better to be angry than sad or hurt. Anger gives you energy, but just below the surface, fear, embarrassment, and pain often lurk.”

13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do by Amy Morin

Why is that? Because anger isn’t vulnerable and sad or hurt is. When you tell people your angry, they react. You have a right to be angry. Something has offended me and, dammit, you better get to fixing that right now!

But tell someone you feel hurt by their words or actions? Or, worse, tell someone you feel sad about something that has happened? Imagine that reaction.

“Sticks and stones…don’t be so sensitive!”
“Into every life, some rain must fall…it’ll pass.”

When I tell someone that I’m sad or hurt, I’m opening myself up to criticism. It’s me with the problem, not you. I am the one feeling. And usually, all I want is a little compassion, a pat on the back, a hug, or a shared look of love and support while I work through it. What I usually get is condemnation for … for what? Allowing myself to be vulnerable? For asking for support instead of toughening up?

You know what pulling myself up alone leads to? Resentment and then anger. I can get righteous attention for my anger. People jump up and listen when I start shouting, in person or online. And I’ve created a habit of projecting anger at the first sign of any feeling. All it’s done is helped me build bigger and bigger walls between the people around me.

What do I do these days when I feel that anger rise up in my chest? I have a few tactics lately. One is to write it down before I speak it and sit with it until the next day. I ask myself, “What is this anger in reaction to?” Sometimes I can see the hurt or fear just beneath and tease it out of hiding. I’ve even had the chance to express that fear instead of reacting in anger.

And guess what? Most of my fears are unfounded. And most of my sadness is just a mood that passes. All I really needed was to express my actual feeling around people that know me best. I’ve learned to ask for what I need, not wait for someone to guess…and then get angry about their lack of mindreading abilities.

Quotes from The Mastery of Love – Two

“We learn to pretend to be what we are not, and we practice trying to be someone else, just to be good enough…”

“Soon we forget who we really are, and we start to live our images.”

“The woman has an outer image that she tries to project to others, but when she is alone she has another image of herself.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miquel Ruiz

Taking this quote out of context makes it sound so sinister, as if there is some evil forcing all of us to mold ourselves into something horrific, as if there is some force out there hell bent on changing us all so that we don’t achieve our greatness as humans. Maybe there is.

But to me, it’s just human nature. Somehow over the millennia, it was important for us to adapt to each other and stay in a homogenous group to survive and thrive, but things have changed. The world, technology, human needs, have all changed and so should we. Unfortunately, change takes a lot of time. Generations even.

My parents changed a little and so did theirs. I’m changing a bit more in the hopes that my children will take that torch and do more with it, or theirs will.

This generation has more time and resources to discover who they really are and who they want to be than every generation before. I plan on using it as best I can. I used to think I should have started earlier, I would have gotten so much more done, but these days…I’m starting to see that I did. I’ve always been evolving into who I was. We all are.

Awareness takes time, small steps are hard to see, and we all move at our own pace.

“The emotional body perceives emotions, but not through the eyes.”

“Children feel emotions and their reasoning mind doesn’t interpret or question them.”

The Master of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz

Have you ever asked a child, “What are you crying about?” Or “Why did you do that?” They rarely have a logical answer and I’ve heard parents (way too often) get angry and accuse the child of lying, hiding, or being ridiculous. If I could change one thing that adults do to children, it would be this.

Children are primal little beings. They simply feel things from the very start. They are attuned and primed to fear…everything. They are born helpless and they instinctually know this. As adults, we teach them that there are things they can count on, things they never need to question or fear: the first being that this large person nearby will help, sooth, and care for them. And then their brains begin growing and developing into the higher being that they are.

As we grow up, we learn to feel the primal emotion and instead of blindly following it, like an animal, we learn to use our logical minds to decide how to use that emotion to the best of our ability. In my opinion, this is what sets us apart from other animals. It is what religions call the spark of being human, the god within every one of us.

Fear is our first emotion and without a loving and kind adult to show us there is comfort in this scary world from the very start, we learn to dwell on that fear. And you know what Yoda says, right? “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate leads to suffering.” I know, it’s corny, but it’s true. If we learn to face our fear, work through it, we tend to be less angry, and less angry leads straight on to less suffering in every single instance.

Mind Over Mood

Confession: I love self-help books and videos, especially workbooks.

I started reading this yesterday afternoon in the hopes of getting some help for myself. I’ve taken anti-depressants in the past, had some small semblance of counseling, but in the long run nothing helped but time. Stresses change, kids grow up, relocation; time changes the situations but not my thinking. For a long time, I honestly thought I had changed. I had cured myself, all I needed was some time and space to breathe.

But here we are. And I’m not ok. I don’t deal with stress well at all and I can easily spiral out of control, creating a vortex of depressive thoughts that spin into a storm of angry chaos, destroying everything around me, leaving behind only those strong enough to weather the storm. It’s not fun for me and it’s hardly fair to my friends and family. Something needs to change.

I learned about cognitive behavior therapy years ago and only recently felt pulled toward trying it. Yes, I know…I should probably talk to a therapist too, but if you know me at all you’ll know that just won’t work. I’m a “do it myself” kind of girl! Besides, all they are going to do is say what’s in these books and I can read in the comfort of my own home. They’d also ask questions…which is why this book is awesome. It’s a workbook!

For the foreseeable future, I’ll be spending thirty minutes a day in this book. I intend to read and then sit reflectively with the workbook pages alone.

Yesterday when I pulled the book off the shelf, I flipped it open and found the first chapter is called, “Understanding Your Problems.” I laughed and showed my son as he walked by. That’s when we both laughed. “You’re going to be in that chapter a long time, Mom.”

The fact that my sons are open about reminding me how crazy and confused I am, leads me to believe I can be saved. I may be a bit “touched in the head” but they love me.

I’ll be posting about my progress as I go. Maybe this book will help you, too!

“I Am Enough” Book

This was one of those books I had to add to my Amazon wishlist because I heard her interviewed on a podcast on one of my drives into the city. And, as usual, I can’t remember which podcast! When will I ever learn to write these things down? Probably never. Free-range brain, I guess.

I loved the interview. Her ideas about retraining your mind to focus on positive thoughts seemed like something I could really use, so as soon as I got home, I looked up her book.

I’m taking it in small doses, trying to let the ideas sink in. So far there are some good ones. I’ll be posting my favorites on my Instagram as I go along.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety all my adult life and most of it is because somehow along the way, I got the idea that I need someone to acknowledge what I’m doing and express their approval verbally at every turn. If they do, then I know I’m doing “right” and “good.” If they don’t I must be failing somehow and scramble to fix my behavior.

What if I only worried about what was making me happy? What if I was satisfied with what I was doing and accomplishing? What if I were enough for MYSELF?

That’s what I’m hoping to learn. This book seems like a good start down that road.

Should I Stay or Go? – The Verdict

So my kind and wonderful reader, I hate to say it but I still don’t have an answer about social media. My thoughts over the past few weeks have sat firmly on, “If this is social, I’m not sure I enjoy it.” And if I’m not enjoying it and it doesn’t serve my life, what’s the point of being there? Would I keep going to a party filled with people that I don’t enjoy being around? Would I keep working at a job that brought me only stress and no income? Would I continue a relationship with a person that only made me cry?

Of course, I wouldn’t, but is that what social media is doing to me? No. In the past, the negatives were buried far beneath all the positives. Logging on each morning and scrolling through the “gossip pages” (that’s what we should really call it) brought me a bit of joy: my friend from high school got a new job, a cousin had a baby, my mom went fishing, etc. There was a bit of news from around the world. My writer group and my inspiration pages posted some tidbit of joy.

I’d share a piece of my life there as well and feel a connection with friends and family as we bonded over the jokes, photos, or articles we posted.

The negatives? You know what they are. A new medium always brings out the weird in some people. Social graces, manners, and rules of etiquette have to be reestablished. And there are always things that people share that you just didn’t want to know about them. It was easy to ignore the minor squabbles and navigate around the things I’d rather not discuss. “To each his own.” I’d think and move on.

This month, as we all are very well aware, has been different. Our lives have been abruptly changed by outside forces and we’ve all had to suddenly adjust. For me, the biggest hurdle hasn’t been the change in lifestyle but has more to do with dealing with people’s reactions online without the important benefit of physical and emotional context.

I’ll admit, which I really didn’t want to do and why I took a pause over the weekend to think about it, I’m struggling. I’m struggling to hold on to my compassion for others. I’m struggling not to withdraw and be fearful of others. I’m struggling not to lash out in my fear and anger.

Like someone threatened with drowning, I have to make a choice. Do I push people off my raft because I know they’ll pull me under? How do I stay alive without losing my humanity in the process? It sounds so overly dramatic but mental health is like that. No, I’m not threatened with immediate physical harm. There is no one with a gun pointed to my head or a mob at my door with a rope, but here I am with my heart rate up and my breathing rapid. Our minds are awesome and terrible things.

What’s your point, Michelle? Where are you going with this?

I’m getting to that. Hold your horses.

Human nature makes us do crazy, stupid, and terrible things to each other when we’re scared. I am human. I don’t want to add to the chaos, so I withdraw my participation. BUT, I also don’t want to withdraw my own point of view from the world outside my own four walls. I have joy and peace to share, experience and insight. I love my friends and family that I only see through social media. I love my readers, my fans, and my followers. You all add to my life in a very wonderful way. I don’t want to push you off my raft!

So what can I do? I’m still not really sure but I know what I’ll try. I’ll keep posting my joy and peace. I’ll continue to write and think and share what I’ve found and learned. I’ll allow you into my digital world to do the same as I want for myself, take what you want and pass on the rest.

“Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams to another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted with words half spoken
And thoughts unclear

What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain
Wind and water
Believe it if you need it
If you don’t, just pass it on

Sun and shower
Wind and rain
In and out the window
like a moth before a flame”

“Box of Rain” by The Grateful Dead

Practice at Bringing Things Back into Focus

I think there three kinds of people in this world: reporters, people to report about, and those that haven’t learned to accept who they are. I’m one of the ones that haven’t yet learned.

I don’t want to be a reporter. I’m uncomfortable there, looking into things, finding out what’s going on, jumping into what everyone else is doing, but I’m also afraid to walk away from the crowd. I’m afraid of being alone. I’m afraid that if I’m not out there watching and reporting, I’ll miss out on something important.

I believe that I want to be alone and creating, alone and thinking, alone and at peace with myself. What stops me? Why do I allow the other voices, the ones outside my own head, tell me what it is I SHOULD be doing, what it is I SHOULD be caring about?

I read the book “Essentialism” by Greg Mckeown last year and it began to change my outlook in positive ways. I just added it to my “re-read in 2020” list. Through it, I learned that I can pare down, not just my stuff, but my thinking and my obligations so that I can focus and do my best on what is most important to me specifically.

Everyone is different. Some people need the community, the feeling of being busy, the camaraderie, to be happy. It has only brought me anxiety and confusion. I want to be more outgoing, but it doesn’t serve me. It drains me and leaves little energy for me to create with. From the outside, it may look like I have plenty of time to help you with your project, but I don’t, not without sacrificing my own.

I need more quiet, reflective time, away from outside obligations. I can start by curbing my social media habit. I can’t sit among three hundred conversations and have a clear thought of my own. I’m reacting 90% of my week. It doesn’t feel conducive to creativity.

Funny…I know I’ve complained about this before, very recently. I’m not complaining this time. I’m making observations and (hopefully) adjusting a course. To start, I took the social media buttons off my phone’s main screen. I had to go find the button to open it, remember that I was looking out of habit, and it gave me the space to stop myself. It didn’t last long though. I noticed they were still at the bottom of my “recently used” screen and my brain rerouted the habit through there.

Over the weekend, I took a complete social media fast. That worked well. I just did not look until Sunday evening when I wanted to share something cool. I put the phone away and focused on working in the yard all day on Saturday until I was exhausted. And then Sunday was spent going out to breakfast and then shopping at Costco with my husband. Yes, that is considered one of our favorite dates! We go up and down every aisle just looking at things, laughing, and wondering if we need that or if it’s a good deal. I think we were there for three hours. We’re easily entertained, and we came out with a month’s supply of our favorite foods, a new whiskey to try (they don’t give samples of alcohol, whatever), and some new sheets.

I was feeling overwhelmed and addicted but I willfully chose to do something else than my habit. I didn’t have to make an announcement. I didn’t have to find a way to stop the app from working on my phone. I didn’t have to call in reinforcements to make me stop. I simply chose not to open the apps. I gave myself a goal and I achieved it. One day without any social media turned into two. It was the start of a new habit.

On Monday, I kept the ball rolling by making the choice to only post my article and spend thirty minutes over lunch replying and checking in with friends. Then I put it away. By Wednesday, I was scrolling here and there to occupy myself while I waited and then it snowballed. My time total on Wednesday was over an hour and a half, far less than in the past but still too much. On Thursday, I started first thing in the morning and before noon I was grumpily tapping away responses to people (in my journal, not online) instead of writing anything productive.

It’s Monday now and I’ve refocused once again. I’m looking for a reminder, like a bell when I meditate, that pulls me out of my unconscious habit and brings me back to what I choose to focus on. Like learning to meditate longer and longer, instead of getting angry or frustrated that my mind has wandered, I notice it and bring it back to my peaceful focus. Each time I do, the focus is sustained longer and longer. It’s practice. And practice makes progress.

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