At a loss for words this morning. Don’t laugh. It happens, even to me. So, I thought I’d search through my old blog and see where I’ve been.
The following post was entitled “Involvement” and was posted back in January 2017. It’s one of those posts or journal entries that makes me wonder if anything ever really changes.
Sometimes I feel as if the world is running around me in madness. If I “stop to smell the roses”, if I turn my focus inward, if I live to make my family’s life more pleasant, am I neglecting the good I could be doing outside my home? Is there something else I could be offering? In my heart, I know the answer is no. But sometimes the pace and frantic call of the world around me unsettles my soul. And to them, I only want to say, “Stop. Read. Write. Reflect.”
We should take care of ourselves and the people around us. Be kind and spread that love to others. Peace will spread even though we do not actually attempt to “end evil”. To pursue that is futile.
I don’t need to be directly involved with “them”, “him”, or “others”. My influence is felt through my kindness to those nearest me and continues to spread when others do the same.
Some things change and some don’t. I know why I’m at a loss for words today, I’m feeling rushed. I’ve written a long crazy rant that I want to share with you but it needs more time. For now, I’ll leave you here with this:
This moment where we are right now will never return. We will never be here again. Take a breath, really see it, take it all in.
Is this what a mid-life crisis feels like? It’s not quite an existential crisis, but I feel that something does need to be done.
I’ve been sitting at the corner of “The Past” and “The Future,” wondering what I’m supposed to be doing for quite some time now. I’m sure you’ve been there. You may be there right now. Life is just full of these intersections. Some of them have nice rest areas we should take advantage of before we move on.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been heading down one street and coming back, then heading down another, circling and ending up in the same place. I sit down and think, try to group my thoughts, and head off in another direction, only to feel like I’m still headed the wrong way and stop again.
This morning I was chatting with a friend and grumbling, not in a sad or frustrated way, just in a curious way, about what was going on in my head. He listened, threw out some suggestions, and virtually gave me hug and a “it’ll pass” pat on the back. That’s all I needed really, just to be heard.
At the end of the conversation, I decided not to write anything at all and got up to get in the shower to do some thinking. That’s where the best thinking happens. Right? Side note: I really need to start bringing my notebook in the bathroom with me to write down my idea before it gets whisked away by distracting chores. I held it in my mind this time though. It must be a good one.
When I was child, I didn’t give a flying leap about the future, and I had no past to ponder. All I cared about was if my mom would make cookies, if my dad would take us to the movies this weekend, and if there was going to be someone to play with at the park. Right now, right in front of me, was all that mattered.
Then adolescence came. Stupid teenage angst: wondering what I would do after high school, if that person liked me, who I would become. Soon I’d have to make it on my own, get a job or go to college, find an apartment, make my own dinner. And I wanted to, desperately. If I were on my own, I’d be in control of my destiny. No one could tell me no.
My young adult life proved that to be a false dream. Life tells you no all the damn time. But I was still happy. I had my own apartment, a great job that I thought I’d have forever. I was dating a lot, had a few good friends. The license plate frame on my truck said it best, “Part of the Magic.” I was a part of something bigger than myself.
Life snowballs. Did you know that? Sure, you did. Everyone knows that. Dating turned into serious relationships that in nasty, mean break ups. Jobs turned into careers. Debts were incurred and paid. Marriage. Kids. House. Car. Playgroups. Arrest. Yes, you read that right. I’ve written that book, but I’m afraid to try and publish it. Homeschool. Moving out of the city. Motocross. Eventually, the kids grew up and started their own lives. I know you’ve heard me tell that bit before.
And here I am now with that “Now what?!” feeling, that endless song loop playing in my mind.
I started reading more, writing this blog. I volunteered a bit. I’ve made some new friends and gone on a few adventures. But nothing seems to feel like it used to. I’m not part of something. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just wasting time and energy in the wrong direction.
This morning, it dawned on me. Could it be because I AM heading in the wrong direction?
The one thing I know for sure is that nothing is certain in the future we have coming to us. Just about everything is up in the air, anything can happen. My job right now is to get my own shit in order. Do the repairs that we haven’t had time for in the past. Save the money, pay off the debts. Clean up the stuff that has accumulated over the years and regroup. Reading, writing out my thoughts and posting them to this blog, meditation, and podcasts are part of my own preparation for what’s coming.
Life, right now, is preparation for what’s to come. I didn’t know what it was when I started college. I didn’t know what it was when I was building a career or my marriage and family. I don’t know what the future holds now either. All I know is that I’ve learned in the past to trust my gut and listen to myself. My place right now is making space, getting ready, building up skills to deal with whatever comes my way next. And I’ve never been very good at staying still and waiting.
What does that mean for this blog? It means that I’ll keep writing about the things I find when I find them. I’ll be making time to write and re-write, put my thoughts in order and post as often as I can. My hope is daily…unless I can’t, at which point I will not be freaking out and throwing things at myself because I’m such an awful blogger.
The point of what I write here is only to show someone else what I’ve learned. Teaching/showing is the best way to learn. I’m not telling anyone how to live their lives, what they should do, or how things should be done. I’m just here marveling at the world around me, the same way I would if you and I were on an adventure together. Yeah, I probably talk too much. I have a lot going on in my head. I get very excited about strange things, like this dwarf mongoose I saw at the zoo.
But I hope you’ll stick around. Adventuring alone isn’t any fun. Who would I look to and scream and point at things if you weren’t here?
Let’s talk about shortcuts for a second. Shortcuts are for driving and that’s it. (Wait. And computer desktops.) But then…if everyone took the shortcut, it would lose its value, wouldn’t it? It would be crammed with vehicles and make the trip longer than if you had just stayed on the highway.
When we take shortcuts for learning, we lose the value we get from the experience of study. When we take shortcuts on our diet, we lose the weight quickly, but we also lose the experience of learning to live in way that keeps that weight off and makes us healthy instead of just thin. When we take shortcuts within our relationships, sending a gift instead of connecting over lunch, posting to social media instead of calling and relating with individuals, we lose the real meaningful connection with others that we crave.
And what about compliance isn’t taking ownership of your life? When we blindly go along with whatever everyone else is doing, whatever the “authority” says you should do, we give the power of our lives to someone else. Don’t get me wrong, there is much good in taking the advice of experts and making informed choices that look much like what others around you are doing. What I’m talking about it is doing what others say you should without thought, even with the feeling that something is not right in your heart and mind, it’s just what one does, so you do.
What kind of things? Everything. Going to college, a career choice, joining the military or a church, getting married, having children, sending those children to school, going on vacation, what you eat, where you live, how you live. The list goes on and on and on.
When we give the power of making choices to others, when the results come in, we can say, “Well, that’s what happens. It’s not my fault.” I call bullshit. It is your fault. Everything we do is a choice, whether we are conscious of it or not. Take back your power.
If you’d like to read some of my other posts about quotes from this book, click back to “Love People Use Things: A New Read” to start at the beginning. At the bottom of that post, you’ll find links to others.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
“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.
“…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.