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

Tag: self improvement Page 1 of 3

Letting Go & Making Space

I know I said wasn’t going to post this coming week, but…I changed my mind! Letting go of the past, not only of the physical stuff but the mental stuff as well, to make space for the now, has been on my mind a lot this month.

Letting go
Photo Confession

Reading Love People Use Things, they did an experiment by packing up the entire house like they were going to move and then only getting out the things they needed to use. After a while, you start to see how much of the house just sits there unused, taking up space.

I thought of when we go on an adventure with out trailer. We’re out there on the road for a few weeks at a time without all the things that are in our house, and most of them we don’t miss at all. The box of cables, the old shirts, the stuff we’re saving for later, it isn’t really needed. We could live without it.

Letting go
Photo Confession

When I go to clean out a closet, I look at the things and start to think, “But what if I need that later?” I have boxes of cables that go to nothing, a cupboard of old computers that hasn’t been opened in years, plastic totes filled with interesting things that have no real use but to spark memories (which could be done just as well with a photo).

I’m starting to thing 2021 will be the year of letting go and making space, not only in my home but in my mind. I’m holding on to a lot of stuff that isn’t useful.

If you’d like to read more about this book, go back to my first post, “Love People Use Things: A New Read” to start at the beginning. You’ll find links at the bottom of that post to other articles.

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.”

Tetris: Can my Zen Master Level be Applied to Life?

I heard something fantastic on the Secular Buddhism podcast yesterday. He said, “Life is more like a game of Tetris than Chess.” Imagine Linus when Lucy explains the meaning of “pantaphobia” and you’ll know my reaction to that analogy as I drove into the city.

PS I remember this as being in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special with Charlie Brown being the one receiving enlightenment, but I guess it’s elsewhere as well. Thanks, internet search!

Tetris and my Game Boy
Vintage! Can you still see my name written on it?!

I am the undisputed master of Tetris. In 1990, I was 18 when I got a Nintendo Game Boy for Christmas, and the first games I got were Tetris and Centipede. Tetris was by far my favorite pastime. I brought it everywhere I went; at school, at home, waiting for my car to be repaired. At work on Space Mountain at Disneyland, you would find me in the breakroom playing it, eyes glued to the screen, fingers tensely poised waiting for the next block.

When it got too easy to beat all ten levels, I made it harder by turning off the preview block, and then starting at the higher speed so that blocks didn’t ramp up coming down faster, they just started throwing themselves down. Undisputed I tell you! Twenty years later, when my sons were pre-teens, I wowed them with my skills when I brought out that bad boy and showed them what’s what.

So when Noah Rasheta said Tetris, my ears perked up immediately and it all came into focus. He went on with the analogy and I added some to it in my mind.

Have you played Tetris? It’s an simple game, not like these crazy ones they make today. Different shapes of blocks come sliding down the screen and you turn and pile them up to complete lines across the bottom so that they disappear. The lines pile up if you don’t complete them and then you lose. The key is to wait to see the piece, turn it to fit below in the best way possible, and return to the top. The pieces don’t stop falling and will speed up as you complete levels.

It’s fun. Trust me.

You run into trouble if you panic. Maybe you planned on getting a long piece to complete a Tetris (four lines complete at the same time), but you got a square and that’s not going to help. Maybe you accidently slammed the cross piece down in the wrong place and now you have a bunch of empty spots you can’t fill. Lines pile up. Heart rate increases. You freak out and turn it off.

That’s life. We can’t plan life out ten pieces into the future. If we’re lucky we can plan for the one we have and then next, but that’s it. The best way we can deal with it is to wait to see what happens, take a deep breath, and find a way to best fit that piece into our life. The alternative is messy and not fun.

Life throws us a square when we needed a straight piece, a left L shape when we wanted an X. It’s not what we get that makes us nuts, it’s panicking and making a bigger mess that throws us.

One of my biggest issues is that I am always trying to anticipate what the next ten pieces will be in my life and then forgetting to deal with the current piece that’s coming down the screen. Instead of doing the dishes, folding the laundry, and enjoying watching cartoons with my babies today, I’m worrying what we’ll do about the bad neighborhood we live in, whether my husband will be able to keep working, or if we’ll be able to afford going on a grand vacation next year. That’s a great way to miss life completely.

The other issue I thought of while I was contemplating the Tetris analogy, was that my already completed lines at the bottom might move out of place or not want a new piece to fit in with them at all. That doesn’t happen in the game! If I were operating alone in this world, levels would be simple to complete, but I’m not. I have a husband, children, extended family, and close friends to consider. But, then again, I am the Zen master of Tetris and those are the challenges that make the game more fun.

Hearing that analogy yesterday eased my troubled heart. There’s just so much up in the air, so much that could change. It’s hard to make plans for the future. But I can live right now as things are. Sure, I can take a glance out the corner of my eye at what might be coming in that small preview space, but my focus should be on the piece I have.

Life changes in the blink of an eye. I can’t let what might have been, what could be, or what everyone else is doing, distract me from what I have right here in front of me. I am the Zen master of Tetris. Bring it!

It turns out I’ve at the Tetris thought before! Check out Managing Distraction: A Repost to see some progress.

Lord Jim & This ‘Cancel’ Idea

Lord Jim book review

I really got into Lord Jim even though there were times when I wasn’t sure what was going on. Joseph Conrad tends to ramble, say things that seem to have no cause or effect, and then come back around to them. I liked it.

Poor Jim. He made a mistake when he was just a boy by our standards, and he felt guilty about it for the rest of his life, right up to the end. It made me think of a lot of news stories I’ve been seeing lately. This person went to a party and was a racist. That person did drugs. This one made sexist remarks. All accusations made about events at least twenty years in the past.

We all do things we regret, every single one of us, and not all of us dwell on it for the rest of our lives. I don’t think we are meant to. We learn from our mistakes (or not) and move on with our lives. Thanks to our new permanent and worldwide media, we can’t escape our past and our culture seems to lean into and celebrate that.

Now that I think about it, that’s not a new thing, is it? It’s just that we have more opportunities to record and bring up proof of the past. Throughout the ages, we’ve ostracized people for their past discrepancies: bad business deals, sexual infidelities, where people were born or to whom.

What good does it do? If I do something to offend someone when I’m twenty years old, does that mean I’m a terrible person and unfit for service when I’m forty? Jim thought so. He fell into a big mistake, following along with the people around him, and ended up being the only one that paid legally for it. Then socially, too. He was ruined, not only in society, but in his head and heart.

A friend believed he was a good man and helped him start a new life. It was good one. He did well, helped people, made a life for himself, but in the back of his mind was that fateful deed. He never forgave himself and ended up paying for it again and again until he died.

Is that what we want today for everyone? Is that what seems like justice, community, progressive thinking? I think what we’re doing is harmful to our society. We expect people to be perfect right from the start, never make a misstep, and to be clairvoyant enough to know what a misstep will look like in the future. All we’re going to get is a neurotic society, afraid to step out of line, afraid of the people around them, afraid to make any remark, create anything, or to let go even a little.

Jim’s story was a sad one, echoing now from 120 years in the past.

If you want to read more posts based on quotes from “Lord Jim”, you’ll find a list of them at the bottom of my first post, “Joseph Conrad is my Next Read: Lord Jim”

Peace in The Motion of the Waves

Peace in the motion of the waves.
Photo by Derek Story on Unsplash

Peace comes and goes, like the waves, I guess. Maybe I’m just watching for stories in the clouds, but it seems that things just come together in impossible ways if you just sit back and wait a bit.

This photo is in honor of my youngest son, whose wave is building up again. May he ride it well, accept the break, and rise again with tide.

So may we all.

“At the first bend he lost sight of the sea with its labouring waves for ever rising, sinking, and vanishing to rise again – the very image of struggling mankind – and faced the immovable forests rooted deep in the soil, soaring towards the sunshine, everlasting in the shadowy might of their tradition, like life itself.”

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Did you find peace in that quote the way I did?

We think mankind is always moving forward, but in reality, over the thousands of years our kind has been on this planet, we rise, sink, vanish, over and over again. Individuals, families, clans, and civilizations, nations all have come and gone, only to build up and rise again. The next time I see the waves, I’ll think of that.

There’s no need to lose our minds over the state of society. We do what we can to enjoy the time we have here, to leave our space a little bit nicer than how we found it, if we can. And then we’re gone.

The only thing that continues is life itself, that immovable forest. People talk about humans destroying the earth, but really, we can only destroy the environment to the extent that we finally go extinct. And if humans are gone, the earth remains, life goes on as it always has since the beginning of time.

No one person’s life is that important in the grand scheme of things. It reminds me where to put my own focus. The place any of us can make the biggest impact is right at home. It starts with our relationship with ourselves, moves into that of our family and friends, and into our co-workers (or in my case, those people I see at the grocery store, or you).

If we all spent our days making our immediate surroundings more pleasant, wouldn’t the whole world be a bit more pleasant? What if we stopped fighting the crashing of our waves on the shore and enjoyed the ride, found peace in the cycle? Life will go on no matter what you choose to do.

If you want to read more posts based on quotes from “Lord Jim”, you’ll find a list of them at the bottom of my first post, “Joseph Conrad is my Next Read: Lord Jim”

Cultivate Unconditional Love for Others

“Love is based on respect. Fear doesn’t respect anything, including itself.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miquel Ruiz

I’m a big proponent of “unconditional love,” at least I say I am, and I do my best to practice it. Sometimes though, my fear and judgement of others is blaringly obvious, and I learn something new.

I started to write “and I wonder what’s wrong with me. Will I ever learn to behave better?” but I caught myself and wrote, “learn something new” instead. Growth comes when we see what we’re doing in a new light and change our behavior instead of judge ourselves. Unconditional self-love comes from self-respect and is the first step to loving others better.

I was scrolling through social media the other day and getting frustrated with a few friends. The things they post…can’t we just be nice? Do we have to share every ugly thing we come across on the internet? Is there nothing that you are experiencing that is positive and joyful? I mean…unconditional love is hard when you all give me nothing to work with. I’m over here working so hard every day to be a better human and look at you! You guys aren’t even trying.

That’s when I realized my error. Unconditional love is hard to achieve when you judge yourself and your behavior as superior to others and then look out into the world. If I love myself, consider myself capable, loving, and kind, it becomes easier to love others. I know that I’m a flawed human. I don’t always do what I should, I can’t always win, and I make mistakes, have bad days, and so does everyone else.

Everyone I meet in person and online has a different opinion about how the government should be run, how to raise children, how to live well, or be successful. We’re all at different places in our lives. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have at the moment. We’re all hurting a bit, some more than others.

When I respect others for where they are in life, that’s love. And that’s what helps people grow, not criticism or chastisement, not berating them or explaining to them how they could do better. Each one of us has our own life to live and being heard and respected for our opinions, whether they are positive and helpful or not, helps us learn to do the same for others. Only then can we evolve into better people.

I thumbed through the book to find my last quote about it. There are just so many wonderful ideas to think about here. This one summed up the whole thing for me, though.

“It’s not about following any imposed idea; it’s about finding yourself, expressing yourself in your own particular way. That is why your life is an art.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miquel Ruiz

That’s what life is all about, Charlie Brown. Ha! Remember Charlie Brown Christmas? That’s what I thought of when I read this in the last chapter.

We are all life, and that life in us is part of bigger picture. When we discover it and accept it in ourselves and those around us, we become better people and it’s far easier to love and be happy with our lives. Your life is an art and art doesn’t need to be perfect and beautiful. It doesn’t need to be famous or sell well. It doesn’t need to be marketed as a product. It just is. Art for art’s sake? It’s just life.

Quotes from The Mastery of Love – One

“…the instinct to love is so strong that you pay a high price to have a relationship with others.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miquel Ruiz

That it is. No matter how many times we’ve been hurt, how many times we’ve lost, the primal urge to connect with others pushes us forward.

We create new and inventive ways to protect ourselves, ways that sometimes don’t seem to make sense or get us anywhere near where we want to be, but we’ll do anything to love and be loved.

Ruiz makes a beautiful analogy about the human condition. He says we all act as though everyone’s skin is covered in painful sores. The longer we live, the more we have. It hurts to touch and be touched, yet we crave it. The worst part is that most of us aren’t even aware the sores are there or that others have them too. We react badly when people touch us, thinking they are deliberately hurting us, and hurt them back.

The solution? Awareness of the pain we carry from our injuries and allowing others to touch us anyway. Awareness that everyone else has that pain and may not yet be aware of it themselves. Touch gently. Love and be loved. Pay the price and you begin to heal and grow strong until loving and reacting in love becomes the new habit.

“We domesticate humans the same way we domesticate a dog or any other animal: with punishment and reward.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miquel Ruiz

Another quote from the same book that touched me. It reminded me of the way we raised our kids. We tried our best not to use punishments and rewards to control behavior. Instead, we tried not to control behavior at all but learn to communicate and get along with each other, make space and time in the hopes of filling everyone’s needs as much as possible.

When it wasn’t, we attempted to negotiate and make sure everyone had as much input as possible. It didn’t always work. There were times when rewards were handed out and punishment meted, but it was usually when we (the adults) were not at our best.

This is the way that humans are in this world. Your behavior or activity is disrupting. Your needs are too much for those around you to accommodate. You are rewarded for not bothering people and punished when your behavior steps out of the bounds the authority as made for themselves. It sounds so medieval, but it’s not that crazy.

You are hurting me with your behavior, so I hurt you until you stop or go away. You’re not hurting me so  I reward you with my love and attention. Easy, right?

But when I think what one’s behavior means, it starts to sound ugly. Say you’re very tired and you don’t have the communication skills to convey that information, so you decide to pull your parent away from the people they are visiting with. The parent refuses. You are hurting her, so she hurts you to tell you your behavior is unacceptable. She knows no better way.

Is there a better way? I believe so. She could listen to you and attempt to figure out what you are trying to communicate with your behavior and see if you can come up with a solution. But in the world we live in, most people don’t see that as a way at all.

The same goes with all kinds of relationships. Your new boyfriend teases. Why? What is he trying to communicate? I doubt he’s trying to hurt you deliberately. There’s no need to retaliate. Your friend doesn’t answer your texts right away. Your mother insists on telling you how to run your household. All these relationships have been built on punishment and reward.

What if we assumed positive intent, validated everyone’s needs, and attempted to communicate directly instead? We only train animals that way because we can’t communicate with them directly. They don’t speak our language or have the ability to learn it.

You’re Making It So Hard

I’m struggling today. I’m not sure if it’s the crushing feeling of (virtual) bullshit all around me or that I’m simply not feeling well. My head hurts and I feel a little dizzy. I just want to eat something tasty.

I’ve decided to rest today and not go through my regular housework routine. Maybe I’ll read more, take a nap, and write something. At the moment all I can think to write is that I disagree. With what? Just about everyone it seems.

Wandering through the house, from the livingroom where my son is studying, to the bedroom office where my husband is working, I stopped in front of my TBR shelf. Maybe I’ll start a new book. I pick one up and thumb through the pages only to have my eyes stop on and read:

“Suppose we find that despite our attempts to prevent anger, the behavior of other people succeeds in angering us. It will help us to overcome our anger, says Seneca, if we remind ourselves that our behavior also angers other people: ‘We are bad men living among bad men, and only one thing can calm us – we must agree to go easy on one another.’”

Some would say God left that message, the universe intervened, or the spirits moved to direct my hands. But me? Coincidence. I buy books I know will help my thinking. I reached for the Stoics because I needed peace. I wanted grounding and looked to my thinkers for help.

I’m trying to be patient. I’m trying to understand and have compassion. But everyone is making it so hard.

Are Words Magic?

brendan-church-pKeF6Tt3c08-unsplash

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

“I’m just doing what I want to do,” he said. “Don’t call it by any other name. I’m just doing what I want to do – and that’s all my mother ever did, too. Just what she wanted to do.”

-The World According to Garp (p155)

I’ve heard a lot about “identity” over the last…oh, man…twenty years?! The two things I’ve discovered and decided to stay with until I find evidence to the contrary are these:

  1. What you do is not who you are.
  2. How you feel is not who you are.

I will not “identify” as anything but a human being. My “tribe” is human, as far as I can tell. There are so many facets that make up who we are and even if you had the same interests and background as I do, the odds are we still wouldn’t see the world the same way. We’d still interpret events differently because we are different people.

What’s the danger of defining your “identity?” The moment you start thinking of yourself as one specific thing, as part of a group, you put yourself in a box. You limit yourself.

Christians don’t do this. Mothers don’t act like that. Introverts don’t like these things.

The statements can go on and on forever until we’re chasing our own tails trying to be what the consensus of descriptions say we are, but who we are is not any of one of these things or any combination of them.

A personal example? If a homeschooler is what I am, what happens when I am not anymore? What am I when my child expresses an interest in going to school, my child’s father doesn’t want to homeschool, or I just find myself unhappy homeschooling? Suddenly, I have to change who I am. My whole worldview has to be adjusted. “I am homeschooling my children right now,” gives me more flexibility.

Michelle, that’s just semantics. You’re nitpicking about word choices.

Am I?

In my opinion, words have magic in the strangest ways. Even when we think we know what we really mean when we personally use a word, the culture we live in, the meanings that other people in our social groups give things, tend to creep into our thinking.

It reminds me of a witch’s spell and magic incantations. Ancient cultures believed that words could do magic. From Pagan rites to the Bible’s Genesis, words are powerful. We think we are beyond all that superstitious nonsense, but maybe we’re wrong. Words are potent. They can change how we perceive the world.

We should use them wisely. Instead of naming your group or identity, just do what you want to do, what feels good to you, and be honest with the people around you.

I am Michelle, a human and I’m on a path of my very own.

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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