A Virtual Book Club - What are YOU reading?!

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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?

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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.

Gone Missing

geocache

My geocache went missing! What’s a geocache?! Seriously? You’re missing out, friend! Go check it out. What do you need to play this game? A smartphone and the app, a pen or pencil, and some trinkets, coins, buttons, or whatever you have lying around that you’d like to leave behind. I collect things to take with me on geocache hunts. Buttons, coins, cards, stickers, small toys. I even bought a small bag of “Live a Great Story” buttons to leave behind because it was just such a cool thought. Most of the caches I’ve found lately have been pretty sparse, nothing much in them to trade, but I leave something cool for the next person that finds it. It’s probably because the ones I find are out of the way, out in the desert, or along mountain trails. I tend to travel most in those places where people are not.

I lost a geocache (a dying hobby of nerds) and I didn’t have a negative reaction. Sure, I was sad to have lost it after all those years of having it up there, but I do have pictures and shit happens. Who knows what happened to it and who besides me even cares? I thought as I sat on the hill, “I should write about this experience.” I mean, I know a lot of people that would lose their shit about it, blaming it on kids these days or the times we live in, but really, who knows what happened to it. People are weird and do strange things. Maybe some kids were hiking and brought it back to camp and forgot about returning it. Maybe some drunk 20 somethings thought it would be hilarious to fuck with a geocache geek. Maybe a BLM person found it and thought it was trash hidden under a rock. Or maybe it dropped into a time portal when someone came from the future or another world. Or a hawk decided it was a cool thing to take to its nest somewhere on the mountain. Maybe I’ll find it years later, hidden in the cleft of a rock a mile away.

Moral of the story, we don’t need to jump to conclusions or dwell on the fact that something we had is gone. We can choose not to react and move on.

I’ve replaced it. Maybe it will go missing again! Too bad I can’t put a tracker on it!

Why Consume So Much Information?

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Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

I get discouraged when I spend a lot of time reading, listening, and experiencing but rarely creating. I feel like I’m consuming life instead of adding to it when the scale tips more to the input than the output side of creativity.

And then I heard the analogy of “a block of clay.”

The artist is in all of us, born within us. What we spend most of our life doing is gathering a block of clay to sculpt in the future.

I gather clay by reading, watching, and experiencing life. I stay curious. I research and study. I travel and listen. And each experience adds to my block, making it bigger and bigger.

When I make time for myself to reflect, I look at the block of clay and start peeling away pieces, chiseling out parts and sculpting it into a piece of artwork that is unique from my hands, from my perspective. My story, my article, my social media post is the result of that creative time.

The time we spend consciously gathering input from any source added to the time we take to reflect and process it, equals our creative output. That output can be anything, from poetry, painting, music, and storytelling, to our children, our businesses, and our homes.

What are you gathering these days? Do you know what that creative output will be or are you still searching for it?

Success vs. Fulfillment

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What’s the difference between success and fulfillment?

Successful: adjective, accomplishing an aim or purpose.

Fulfilled: adjective, satisfied or happy because of fully developing one’s abilities or character.

Is it that others may decide if you’re successful but only you decide if you are fulfilled?

If someone asks me to do something, they decide if I have successfully accomplished the task. If I decide that I want to learn to play guitar, whether I’m successful at it or not is up to those that hear me play.

On the other hand, I decide if my chosen task fulfills me. I decide if the job I do is fulfilling. No one can answer the question “Is this fulfilling?” for me.

A relationship, a job, a goal can be successful but unfulfilling, or fulfilling and unsuccessful.

In life, I choose to work toward the feeling of fulfillment. I can choose to feel good about an unsuccessful attempt. I can’t choose if I’m successful.

You Really Are the Master of Your Own Universe

You know how some toys are kind of boring if you just buy one part and so you keep buying accessories? The car, the clothes, the house, the spouse, the kids, the career. It just goes on and on.

There are video games like that too. Sure, you can download it and play for free, but you only get two levels and then you have to pay to upgrade. You play more but now you see that you have to buy a couple extras, charms that help you rack up the points and levels faster.

Humans aren’t like that at all. We’re a whole, functioning human being right from birth. All our accessories are built-in. Sure, we need a bit of extra care at first, but we learn and grow quickly with good support and before you know it, we’re out in the world on our own, doing our thing whatever that is.

But lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of people that look like they are searching for their missing piece. They wander from job to job, adventure to adventure, and relationship to relationship, never really getting anything from the experience and lamenting that the whole thing even happened while they transition to the next. They proclaim loudly that they won’t give up, they’ll find that career, place, or person that will complete them and make their lives better. That job wasn’t right for me. This place doesn’t have what I need. This person didn’t give me their all and left, so they suck.

What if I told you (lol) that you don’t need any of that to be complete? What if you have the power to stand on your own two feet, to control your own destiny?

You do.

Every time we start a new job, try out a new location or enter into a new relationship, we could be learning more about ourselves and the world around us. We could be using that information to make our lives more interesting and more comfortable for ourselves and those around us. It doesn’t matter what the job is or how long the relationship lasts. It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship you have: long or short term, purely sexual or platonic. It doesn’t matter if you buy a house and live there for ten years or rent out a basement and live there for three months. It doesn’t matter if you go to college right out of high school, wait until you’re 45, or ever go at all.

What does matter? It matters that we learn something about ourselves and that we connect with other humans in as many ways as possible, that we live every day no matter what’s going on.

The Stoics have a decent idea, “Memento Mori” Remember, we die. We don’t live forever and (as far as we know) we only have one life. We need to stop wasting time.

Nothing is a waste of time if you learn something from the experience. That one night stand you had with that hot babe you met? Not a waste of time if you enjoyed it and look back on the moment fondly. That two years you spent at an expensive university, only to drop out and work at an amusement park? Not a waste of time or money. You gained experience, you met people, and you had fun in ways you never knew existed. And money? You can always make more. Money was created to spend. And what about that “failed” marriage? Did it “fail” or did it just serve its purpose and now you’re both moving on to something else? That job you spent five years at and then switched careers gave you fresh insight about your abilities and a set of skills that you can use anywhere.

What exactly do we think we’re working toward? What are we stockpiling for the future? What will we do with all of this shit we’ve accumulated? We’ll die. That’s it. And all your stuff will be redistributed.

So why not stop working toward anything and just enjoy what you have? If you don’t like the job you are in, find another one. If you don’t like the area you live in, move. If you don’t like the relationship you’re in, move on. Stop collecting things and start experiencing things. If you have no friends or family to experience it with, do it alone! Maybe you’d find it more fun or fulfilling if you had someone to share it with? Then blog about it and post pictures on Instagram! Or start dating…anyone, right off OKCupid! Or join a club online or in person!

You are a complete package all by yourself. You don’t need anything to start living and experiencing the world around you. Just live, damn it! Why not?

We all walk around acting as if we are pawns in someone else’s game but we’re absolutely not. It’s your life. Do what you want with it.

You do have the power. You’re using it right now.

Mind Your Own Business

Can you imagine how much we’d all get done if we just focused on our own lives and stopped worrying about everyone else?

But…Michelle! Then the bad guys would take over!

How? If we all were taking care of ourselves and the people closest to us, wouldn’t that spread out over the world like a virus? Here I am, putting on my own oxygen mask first, making myself stable and secure, then I look to my partner, my children, my family, and friends. Each of their lives is made a little better and then they do the same. It spreads across the world.

Too simplistic you say. So, you do nothing. Instead, you sit in your house and gripe. You watch TV, scroll through social media, and see all the things so far away that you can’t do anything about. You demand that somebody do something about those horrors. You decide the best thing you can do is make a poignant post about how awful people are and that if we had only elected this other person or passed this law, all of this would be better.

Meanwhile, your partner is lonely, you don’t know where your children are, the house is a mess, your mom could use a phone call, and there’s nothing to eat in your fridge. You are tired, grumpy, and overwhelmed because you’re not taking care of yourself. All of these are things YOU could do something about right now, but you’re too busy following politicians and arguing with strangers about why they should be thinking a different way.

What can I do to make the world a better place right now? Take care of myself and then the space and people around me so that they can do the same.

Don’t just “start” with yourself, focus on yourself and stay right there. Do what you need to do to be healthy, happy, and strong right where you are. Then move outward and support others on their journey to be healthy, happy, and strong where they are.

Lean In To Fear

I checked my email just before dinner last night and there was a cool message (seeming directly at me at that very moment) from Zen Habits.

“What if we could fall in love with the way things are, in this moment?

Try it right now: notice what you’re resisting, what you don’t want about this moment. Maybe it’s stress, maybe it’s uncertainty, maybe it’s pain or anger.

See if you can turn towards it, open up to it, maybe find gratitude about it.  See if you can love it, even a little. Maybe a lot.”

What was I resisting at the moment? What is it that I fear most? Loneliness. Abandonment. When I begin to feel it, even the slightest tremor and react as if I’m being tortured. I reach out to grab something. I text, I call, I scroll through social media. If a text isn’t answered I begin to panic, contriving multiple scenarios about why it isn’t being answered, and in an effort to control the situation, I start a battle that usually ends either with me begging to be forgiven or the other party walking away from the crazy person.

I realized a few years ago that it’s an attention tactic, starting battles with people I love, and that fear triggers it. Yesterday was the first time I leaned into that fear, faced it, and let it wash over me successfully. It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t plan on doing it. Several things just happened to fall into place at the right moment. And now I find myself sitting here wondering if I can do it again. I want a reminder to look at, something that says “lean in to fear” maybe. Something to remind me that it’s just an emotion and I can survive it. I’ve done it before.

I started test it today. Instead of my typical behavior of texting or scrolling through my Facebook and Instagram feeds when I’m bored, I’m taking a deep breath and naming the fear.

“There is that feeling that fear. I’m alone in this room, but not in the world. And even if I was, so what? I won’t die.”  And then I’m going for a walk, reading a book, working in the yard, or cleaning my house. I’m setting a timer for thirty minutes and doing something even if I might not finish it.

It seems to be working. But I’ve been wrong before. I’ll be wrong again, I’m sure.

The strangest part is that when I am alone, I enjoy it. I was raised in a busy house. I grew up in the city. I worked at amusement parks. I have loving parents, a doting husband, and children that love me. I crave being alone in a room with no one interrupting, responsibilities set aside, only myself to cater to. When the opportunity to be alone presents itself, I jump at it…as long as I have something to do while I’m alone. Drive for hours? Clean the house? Write a blog post? Sure! In the past, working alone was always nice. I could play the music I wanted to hear, focus on my task, get a lot of work done. It always felt good.

The alone I fear is in my head. It’s not being physically alone. It’s the feeling of loneliness, the feeling that no one is out there, no one understands me, or wants to know me. It’s that lack of connection I fear and the reason that social media has been so attractive to me. It’s an instant gratification when that feeling lurks in the back of my mind. At any moment I can go there and “like” and comment. I can post a cat picture and get a response. See? There are people out there. They see me. But it isn’t connection, not really. It’s a false sense of security and it’s become an addiction and a new source of anxiety for me.

It’s not inherently unhealthy. Facebook has been an incredible source of entertainment for me over the years. I’ve made new friends, found old ones, and gotten to know people I would have believed lost forever. Lately though, when I consider walking away, I have panic attacks. If I’m not posting, if I’m not getting likes, if I’m not sharing what I love and what I’m doing, am I really alive? Am I still here? There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t share something. I don’t read articles and think, wow, that was interesting and informative. Instead I think, I need to share this on my wall so everyone can see it. Only sharing can validate my experience, give me the feedback that makes me feel better. If I’m reading a paper magazine (yes, they still exist) I feel like I’m missing out because I can’t share it.

I’ve never been one to cut things completely out of my life. I’m a moderation type of gal, one that likes to work to keep the good parts and overlook the bad, use the positive aspects and leave the negatives on the floor beside the trash can.

There are things I very much enjoy there, and I don’t want to lose those. I think I’ll experiment right now in creating new habits that add so more joy to my life that the negatives get pushed out. What can I do? You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Spend less time on social media by doing something else.

I’ve taken the buttons down from my main screen so that I have to search them out instead of habitually click. That’s step one. I’ve uninstalled them before. Doing so just caused me more problems than it solved. I am a writer and the world does operate on social media these days. I need to use it, not run and hide in the hills. If my fingers can’t automatically click the icon from my phone’s main screen, it creates a pause between the thought and the action. It works for me.

Step two is to create times when I do see what’s up on my feeds. Over lunch was perfect for me today. I munch on my sandwich while I scroll thru and laugh at all the silliness my friends and family post and then I put it away until dinner time. While I cook dinner will be another time I catch up and then put it away again.

I think that’s enough to work on for one week, don’t you? I wish I knew where this fear came from, but I doubt it would really help anything to drag that out. I don’t care how I got into the ditch; I just need to find a way out of it so I can get moving again.

I wrote a “post-it” reminder and stuck it to my computer and I think I’ll write another and keep it in my pocket all week. I’ll check back in with you guys in a week and tell you how it’s going!

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