Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Evolution of the Self

I love the idea that change is a universal property.  All things change and all things are constantly changing.  And that includes us!  Our sense of Self may feel eternal, and I do think on a deep-spiritual level, we have eternal qualities...but I also believe that we hold the capacity to create ourselves, every minute of every day.

One of the basic concepts of the Law of Attraction is that our thoughts create the world around us.  It's one of those things that people often look at just the surface of the idea, and think it looks crazy.  But the deeper you delve into it, the more it makes sense.  The more connections you see between spirituality and science, and the less fantastical it becomes.

We are often so focused on the external world, that we don't look at the root of it all:  how the Self changes and how those changes ripple outward.  One of the reasons why I first started walking this path I am on is because it demands a level of self awareness and acceptance.  You start off with the premise that YOU are responsible for your actions, your growth, your path, your evolution.

And while I do think that we all start off at different places, we are gifted (or challenged) with certain qualities and capabilities.  But, for the most part, we can work and change just about everything!  I was blessed with parents that told me I could do whatever I set my mind to, and who also made me appreciate the benefits of hard work.

It sounds like an inspirational poster, but science has been looking into how our thoughts effect not only our mental outlook (which is why affirmations are so powerful), but also how they literally effect our body chemistry and how our physical selves are made up.

When you have a thought, you are creating a connection between the things that thought is associated with in your brain.  The more you have similar thoughts, the more connections are made.  If those thoughts are emotional, there are often chemicals released by the brain, chemicals that create responses in our body. 

What is really interesting to me is that the cells in our bodies become attuned to the chemicals we habitually expose them to.  Not only do they become more receptive to them, but as they die and are replaced (as a natural part of their growth cycle), the new cells will come into being with more receptors for the types of chemicals their 'parent' cells had the most exposure to.  Our body will actually become better at experiencing certain emotional responses, through repeated exposure to them.

So what does this mean?  It means the more you experience feelings of love, the more your will feel love!  The more you practice feeling calm, the more your body will respond with feelings of calm, and the quicker it will respond.  But also, the more you let yourself be angry, the more likely you will to be overwhelmed with anger!

Knowing this, you can take your own life into your hands (or rather your mind).  You can take time to build up practices that embody what you want to feel in your life.  If you want more calmness, you can meditate.  If you want more love, spend time looking at pictures of people (or animals!) that you love.  Find your triggers, figure out what makes you feel a certain way, and adjust your life based on what you want to have more or less of.

We can feel physical sensations when our brain tells us we feel them.  There is a really interesting experiment where someone will sit, with one of their hands on the other side of a barrier (so they can't see it), and a fake hand will be placed where they can see it.  Both the fake hand, and their real hand, are stroked with a pen, so they see the movement and feel the sensation.  But then, the fake hand is pricked with a pin (or hit with a hammer!), and the person feels a reaction...because their brain has identified that fake hand as part of them.  A similar experience is when people who have lost a limb feel phantom sensations, because their brain remembers having that limb.

An interesting application of this is using visualization to increase physical competence.  By fully visualizing a physical action, say for example shooting a basketball into the hoop, your body will actually become better at doing it, almost effective as if you had spent the same amount of time physically practicing shooting hoops.  Adding visualization alongside a physical practice makes both more effective.  Even better, when you visualize, you can practice making the perfect shot every time, so you are creating repetition with the best possible outcome.

It can feel very intimidating to try to think about retraining your mind, especially if you suffer from repetitive thought patterns.  But, there is a lot of work being done right now in how to break free from these bad habits that our brains have developed, and to start changing how we react to things.  One simple way to start creating change is to notice where you are having undesirable thoughts, and to find something positive to say in response to the automatic, negative thought.

For example, if you are in the habit of feeling frustrated when you get a setback, and your mental talk is always something like, "Of course this would happen, I always have bad luck!" you could reframe that thought to, "Okay, I made a mistake, but now I know next time to do something differently."  If even that is too hard for you, start by taking a deep breath, and just being grateful that you are there, and that you can take that breath.  You could try telling yourself, "Things feel bad right now, but I am alive and that means I can try to make it better."

The biggest thing to remember is that this is a process.  And that EVERY single time you take a step forward you are creating change.  It will take time, and it will take doing the same thing over and over.  And there will be mistakes, there will be days where you just can't think positive or you slip back into your old habits and don't notice it until much later.  But that is okay!  Just give yourself a little mental hug, and tell yourself that you can do it, and repeat your positive thought, and keep your eyes focused on where you want to be.

Our bodies are amazing things, and we are just now starting to really explore the breadth of what they are capable of, and the connection between mind and body.  There is definitely a case to be made for the accuracy of, "I think, therefor I am."

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Personal Freedom

Being an American, Freedom is something that we talk about all the time.  We celebrate Independence day, the day in which we declared our freedom as a nation.  There are a lot of hot topics involving Freedom, from slavery to troops to the right to marry.

But I think we don't always stop and think about what Freedom truly us as individuals.  Figuring out what makes you feel Free is the first step in achieving that Freedom in your life.  And what makes one person feel Free could make another person feel completely caged in.  This is where I think a lot of people make mistakes regarding Freedom...they assume that what works for them is what everyone else needs too.

The idea that always comes to my mind involves independence and feminism:  being a housewife.  I am a housewife, and I have been for most of my adult life.  I have worked, and I worked both before and after our son was born.  I also consider being a housewife as work, just a different kind of work.  Being in charge of the house, is a job that never ends, it doesn't have days off, and things have to keep happening, no matter what else is going on.

And in a lot of ways, it's like a never ending cycle.  As soon as you do one job, it starts building up to need to be redone.  Dishes washed will get dirty.  When you cook a meal, you know that soon there will be another that needs cooked.  It's a lot of maintenance work, a lot of keeping track of what needs to be done and making sure it gets done on time.

I also feel like taking care of my family is part of my job.  So making sure that everyone's schedules work...which sometimes takes some finangling!  But also, the emotional health of my family.  I tend to how my family feels.  This might mean massages for hubby after a long day of work, listening to son when he's frustrated about things, making sure they both are getting enough downtime when we get busy with whatever has come up.

There are a lot of people that would find this constricting.  I won't lie, sometimes I do to.  I don't have a car, I am often here, at the house, by myself.  I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the never-ending nature of what I just the sheer repetitiveness of it.  But most of the time I love it.  I love taking care of my family, I love being able to alter what I am doing as needed.  I love being in charge of my own life.

For me, this is a Freedom, and for other people it would be a prison.  For some people, working a 9-5 job that they love is a Freedom, while for others they only feel Free when they have no schedule at all. 

There are so many paths in this world, that it is time we start realizing that someone else might have chosen the path they are walking, no matter how alien it seems to us.  It can be a hard thing to do, especially when another person's path feels unhealthy to us.  And it can be really hard to see where the healthy boundary is, because what works for one person could be a toxic thing for another.  Sometimes, the people involved can't even see which side of the line they are on.

Which is why it is so important for us to examine, define and understand what our own measure of Freedom is.  We need to know why we crave the things we do, to make sure we are coming from a healthy perspective.  There are a lot of things that we might seek out for the wrong reasons, but we think we are doing what is right for us.

Mental struggles can make this really hard.  There are places in my life, that I can only see clearly when I'm not in the middle of them.  When I'm in a good mental space, I know where my troubles lie, and I know what I am going to struggle with.  I even know what I need to do to avoid or overcome my issues sometimes.  But when I am deep down in it, I can't see the other side.  All I can do is feel where I'm at, and take things one breath at a time.

This is another place where we can see Freedom:  Freedom from our own internal issues.  And this Freedom can take many different forms.  For some, Freedom might mean getting professional help, while for others they just need that one friend who will be there to listen to them.  Freedom might mean a strict regimen of medicine and therapy, or it might mean finding alternative treatments. 

Sometimes, Freedom also means acceptance.  Being Free to be who we are, no excuses, no changes....just to BE.  It may mean that you acknowledge that you will have down days, and that it's okay.  You may need someone to be your keeper, so that you can feel Free to go through what you are going through without worrying about whether or not you are going to hurt yourself or someone else.  You may need to ask for help, to handle your normal responsibilities while you are unable to.

Freedom is a beautiful thing, no matter what shape it takes.  Freedom lets our hearts sing and gives us wings to fly.  It lets us be who we are, and lets us shine in our own unique way.  So find your Freedom, figure out what makes you feel amazing and Free and the most you that you can be. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Failure: flipping your perspective

Failure is one of those things that we receive many conflicting messages about.  When we are very little, and everything is new to us, we fail a lot.  And we are encouraged to get back up, to keep trying, and cheered on when we finally succeed.  But the older we get, the less we are celebrated when we succeed and the more we are punished for failing.

What I find most distressing about this attitude that failure is inherently bad is that we equate failing at a thing with failing as a person.  We tell people who have failed that they are flawed, and that making mistakes diminishes them.

There are tons of reasons why we might fail at something.  We might have been overly ambitious, and bitten off more than we could chew.  Life might have thrown a bunch of twists our way, and we just couldn't conquer them all.  We may have been lazy or simply forgotten.  Or, it might have been something that was extra hard for us, and while we tried our best, we just couldn't manage it.

Out of all of those reasons, only one is really a negative reflection on yourself (being lazy), and even then, that laziness might have other factors that led into it (life is complicated, rarely are things JUST caused by one thing).

Failure can lead us to so many new places though!  Many people get into a particular routine, they form habits, and they stick to them because it is easier.  It takes something really big, like a failure, to break them free from these patterns and let them pursue new directions.  This is especially true if you have family pressure to live your life along a prescribed path.  Sometimes, utterly failing at what is expected of us is needed to show everyone, yourself included, that this way is not the way for you.

Other times we have these huge, amazing dreams, that we are really excited about.  We are so caught up in the fantasy of it all, we aren't grounded, and we aren't thinking practically.  We fail, but that doesn't have to be the end of it.  We can adjust, we can refine, and we can make our dream something that we can achieve.  That initial failure becomes more determination to actually succeed, and drives us to think of ways to overcome our limitations, instead of being bound by them.

And sometimes failure just knocks us over and lets us see things in a completely different way.  It exposes you to brand new ideas, things that weren't even in your realm of consciousness.  It gives you whole new worlds to explore, that you would have never come across if you hadn't had that failure.

Above it all, failure isn't a definition of who you are!  We need to bring ourselves back to that early childhood perspective.  When the world is so huge and so new that we know we are going to fail at things, but we don't even think about the failures.  When you watch a little kid trying to walk, because they see a toy on the other side of the room they want to play with, and they fall down, they don't even stop, they just keep looking at that toy, and they get back up and try again.  They can fail a million times, and they will always get back up.  And when they get to the toy, they don't give a moments thought to how long it took them to get there, they just are so delighted to have the toy (until the next thing draws their interest).

As adults, we can add even more to this, by looking back and seeing what our failures can teach us.  We can look for the ways in which they caused us to grow, the ways in which they changed how we think and how we see the world.  And we can use our failures as lessons for the future.  They can be guideposts that help us avoid needless mistakes, or that help us mitigate the mistakes that we do make.

One thing I've seen, about swapping our perspective on small failures, has to do with our tendency to apologize for everything, even when it's not our fault.  If there was traffic, and we were late meeting a friend, we say we are sorry for being late.  If we get sick and can't make a party, we apologize for not attending.  If we forget a promise we made, we apologize for forgetting and for not fulfilling our word!

All of those apologies reinforce the idea that we are at fault, that we have failed, and that we have let the other person down.  But instead, what if we turned our words to words of gratitude?  Instead of saying that we are sorry we are late, thank the person for waiting for us!  When we are sick and can't make a party, we can thank the host for inviting us and for their understanding in our need for self-care (and for not spreading our sickness!)  If we forget a promise, we might thank someone who took care of it for us, or simply thank them for reminding us about it.

It can be hard, sometimes, to flip things around and be thankful instead of apologetic.  The need to apologize is ingrained in us.  We say "I'm sorry," anytime anything happens, without thought.  If we are standing still and someone else bumps into us, we say we're sorry, as if we shouldn't even be taking up that space! 

We can start by practicing being loving and forgiving with ourselves, when we fail.  What if you sent yourself messages of love and acceptance, every time things didn't turn out the way you wanted.  What if you spent time looking for the rainbows instead of checking to see how much rain there was? 

Self-talk is so pervasive, and so insidious because we often don't even notice how we talk to ourselves.  But we are in our own heads, all day long, and we are constantly talking to ourselves, about every little thing we do.  When you make a mistake, what is your self-talk like?

I can be very judgy, inside my own head.  I have this idea of what I should be doing, and where I should be at, and when I don't make that, it is very tempting to yell at myself.  But I practice finding the silver lining, and instead of berating myself for not sticking to my to-do list, I might remind myself that I needed extra down time that day, and so I chose to honor my need for self-care.  I can remember that when I'm feeling worn down, and can't get everything done,  I have wonderful people in my life, people who will help me out and will do things for me. 

There is so much to be grateful for, and no reason to beat ourselves up for failing.  Harmful self-talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.  The more we tell ourselves we are no good and that we constantly fail, the more we find ways to fail, because that is what our identity of our Self is:  a failure. 

It doesn't matter how many times you have failed...this time could be different.  It only takes one time, one try, to succeed.  I love the quote by Edison, "I have not failed, I've just found 1000 ways that don't work."  Failure isn't the end, it is the beginning!  It is the start of our quest to succeed.  It is the start of a new phase in our life.  It is the start of a new outlook.

So, don't let failure get you down.  Change how you talk to yourself.  Build up your self-talk to support you in whatever you do.  Change how you talk to other people.  Let your words help them to encourage you along the way!  Change your perspective, and don't see failure as a reflection of your Self, but simply as one more experience along the way, one more moment that you can use to do whatever you want to do in this life!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Revel in your senses!

We experience the world around us through our senses, but we sometimes don't pay attention to what they are telling us.  In fact, if we actually paid attention to every sensation we felt, we would be completely overwhelmed and unable to do anything.  But, we can, from time to time, drop into one particular sense, we can focus and experience so much more than is our usual.  This practice has many benefits, and can be used for a variety of reasons.

Mindfulness is something that I have been working on (and in many ways struggling with) for many, many years.  At it's core, mindfulness is exactly what I was talking about:  tuning in to what your senses are telling you.  In order to be fully present in the moment (which is what mindfulness is), you have to actually stop thinking about what has happened or what is to happen, stop judging and comparing everything, and just start noticing things.

The actual practice of mindfulness is something I can do.  I can immerse myself into a sense, put all my attention on what my fingers are touching or a particular sound.  I can tune into a scent or taste and let it fill em up.  What I personally struggle with is remembering to do this!

So, why is mindfulness so important as a practice?  There are a lot of things that we may do, either in our ordinary life, or in our spiritual practice, that we may find we have a tendency to do by rote.  You may be familiar with finishing a task, knowing you have done it, but having no actual memory of the process of doing the task.  I find myself in this place a lot.  For some things I don't mind.  When I am doing chores, sometimes it is okay to zone out and just do the task while thinking about something else (or nothing at all). 

But I also find myself doing this sometimes with my spiritual practices, like daily affirmations or meditations.  Of course, this is not something that I want to be doing!  It's the repetition of it that makes it something I start to tune out.  By becoming very familiar with a task, by repeating it often, my brain no longer has to think to do it.  I can start a practice, and my brain will set me on my path and do it, but with me actually paying attention to it.  I counteract this tendency two ways. 

Firstly, I pull myself back into my body (even with a visualization practice!), and I focus on the sensations as I do things.  This may mean thinking about how my body is feeling, or paying attention to the world around me.  This actually works very well if you are struggling with sitting for meditation.  You can narrow your world down to just one sense.  Try to catalog everything you are smelling, or everything you hear.  With your eyes closed, try to remember and visualize something in exact detail. 

The second thing I do is swap up my routine, so that when things start to become too familiar, I try something new.  This forces me to think about it as I do it, and makes me less likely to be able to do it by rote.  Even going back to an older practice creates this necessary focus, as time causes older practices to be less familiar.  And often, I find that when I come back to an older practice, I have grown since I last practiced it, so there is now more depth to explore.

Another reason to practice mindfulness is to help pull you out of a distressful mental place.  I have issues with anxious thoughts.  I know that I can end up in an anxiety loop, where I'll have an anxious thought, and even though I know it's my anxiety talking, just having that thought makes me more anxious.  Sometimes, I can refocus my thoughts by using affirmations or distracting my brain with something else (like a book/movie), but sometimes even that doesn't work.

I saw a tip for dealing with anxiety attacks, that suggested when you are starting to feel anxious, to start paying attention to your senses.  You look around and name five different things you can see, then four things you can hear, then three things you can touch, and two things you can smell and one you can taste (you can really mix up the numbers and senses any way you want...but the order of it makes you focus and think, so do the count down and use a different sense for each number).  By giving yourself this task, which forces you to start paying attention to things outside your head, it helps you break free from the anxious thoughts.

I know, for me, the combined acts of naming and counting are very comforting.  It gives me a sense of order, and makes me feel more in control.  I also find that the more I challenge myself, the easier it is to avoid the anxious thoughts.  If I look for five things that are red instead of just five things, I may have to get creative.  I might have to go looking for things instead of just being able to look around me and find them.  Also, picking a more difficult sense can give you the same challenge.  You could pick five scents or five tastes.   Or you could give it a twist:  you could seek out things to sense.  You could make sounds to listen to (or listen to a song and try to pick out individual instruments).  You could find things in your kitchen to taste.  You can find interesting things to touch. 

This sort of leads into another reason to revel in your senses:  pleasure!  When you really tune in and focus on one specific sensation, you get to experience it in a much more intense way.  This is the standard mindfulness exercise:  eating an orange.  First you look at it..really look at it.  What color is it?  Are there blemishes or scars on it?  Do the wrinkles around the stem remind you of anything?  Is the skin smooth or sticky, warm or cold?  What does it smell like (before you start peeling it, during, and after)?  Slow down as you start peeling it.  Feel all the textures, and listen to the sound it makes as you rip into the peel.  Taste all the parts of it, and let those tastes roll around your mouth.

It takes a long time to fully experience eating an orange in a mindful way, but it is a pretty incredible experience.  You don't have to do the whole thing every time you want to practice mindfulness, however.  You can add in tiny moments of mindfulness into things you do already, everyday!

When you eat a meal, take a breath and enjoy the scent before you eat.  Let yourself savor that very first bite (this is especially fun to do with deserts, or your favorite snacks!)  I do this as part of my gratitude and prayer practice.  I can never remember to say prayers of gratitude before eating, but I can savor my food and send my gratitude towards the universe and all that sacrificed to make that food.

I love practicing mindfulness with my cats too.  When one of them is cuddled up with me, or wanting attention, I really drop into the moment of petting them and spending time with them.  There is something about the pure affection of animals that is super calming and restorative to me.  But I can tell you what my cat's smell like, what their fur smells like, what their breath smells like, and how their scent changes when you really smoosh your face into their side.  I know what parts of which cats are the softest, how prickly the fur is where one of the cats chews on her fur, and the slightly wiry feel of where our other cat doesn't groom by her tail as well.

Listening to music is one of my great pleasures in life, and while I often have music going all day long, so I can enjoy it while I'm doing other things, sometimes it's really nice to just lay down or sit in a comfy chair, close my eyes and just experience a song.

It's practices like this, that are great self-care for me.  I tend to be pretty busy, giving myself lots of tasks to do, and trying to figure out how to juggle them all with the time I have.  I might be doing two things at once (or in quick succession), so being able to slow down and just experience what is going on, without needing to DO anything...that is such a great feeling.

Our senses have so much to tell us, when we stop and pay attention to them.  Tuning in to one or all of our sense can help us appreciate the world around us, break free from repetitive or obsessive thoughts, or just refresh ourselves.  Cultivating a mindfulness practice, whether you take five minutes or thirty, is something anyone can do.  It something you can practice anytime, anywhere, and it doesn't require any special skills.

So take a moment, or two, and see what your senses have to tell you.  Drop into where you are, right now, and notice what draws your attention.  Don't let your life rush past you without your notice!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Embracing others for their differences!

While this post is somewhat inspired by Pride Month, I think it speaks to more than just gender/sexual identity.  There are SO many lines we draw, categories we put people into, based on who they are, what they do, what they like or how they think.  And in the current political climate, it is very easy to judge people based on our perceptions of these labels.

It is human nature to fear what we don't understand.  When we are faced with something that is outside of our realm of experience, it challenges how we think and often clashes with ideas we have had all our lives.  We are forced to completely re-evaluate how things work in the world, which often brings with it an admittance that we were wrong.  And this can be really hard for people to admit.

When we think about people who are different, regardless of WHY they are different, one of the first things that many people have to fight for is tolerance...acceptance...literally the acknowledgement that they exist!  It still sort of boggles my mind that this is even a thing, that people can be so closed minded that they feel like they know how someone else is experiencing their life more than the person who's life is being discussed.

After tolerance, most of the time people have to fight for equality.  And there is a misconception here, about equality.  Often, the people who were in the position of power, the ones who have the rights, feel like the other group having the same rights means their own position will be somehow lessened.  Think about this for a minute.  If this is actually true, then you are getting your power/position by taking it away from someone else...and now you are fighting to keep them from reclaiming what is theirs because you know you will have to give back what you have taken.

A phrase I have seen tossed around a LOT in recent years is that we shouldn't break up a friendship because of someone's views or opinions.  This kind of reminds me of the 'hate the sin but love the sinner' concept.  Except that sometimes peoples ideas lead to actions and those actions lead to other people getting hurt.  What we do (or do not do) ripples out into the world.  And those ripples can create huge waves that destroy things.  We need to start taking responsibility for our words, and our actions, and even our thoughts.

This is something that is sort in the core of my own belief system, and in many that I have read about.  When you want to change the world, you change YOUR actions, and to change your actions you change your words, and to change your words you change your thoughts.  If I am unhappy with how the world works, but I never do anything about it...that is on me (not the whole problem, obviously, but I need to accept the fact that I am part of the problem).  It is easy to think that I am just one person, or that I have no money/power/voice, but that's the funny thing about's not always easy to see what the effects of our actions might be.

We can truly never know just how much change we cause.  The things we say, they reach other people's ears.  Our words might be shared over and over, and the words may change, but the message remains.  And someone, somewhere, may hear that message and it sparks something within them.  They go on to make a wave, and create a movement, and real change starts to happen.  And it all began with a thought in your head and a word you said, that you might not even remember.

As great as words are, we can all take actions!  Actions is how momentum builds, and it is how the world grows.  Actions can be great and big and dramatic or they can be small and simple.  You might smile at someone in the grocery store, and change their mood and their day.  You might donate old clothing and someone who didn't have anything can now have choices.  You might give your time to help out with a cause you believe in, and together with the other people who show up to help, you make a difference.

Just as change starts with thought, changing your thoughts starts with listening.  Not just assuming, not just believing what  you have always been told...but actually going out, finding someone who thinks something different than you...and really listening to what they have to say. 

Active listening is a skill that isn't taught much, but really should be.  When we passively listen, it's like we are only half paying attention.  We might nod or comment in the right places, but part of our brain is thinking about something else.  One very common mistake, when having a conversation, is to be thinking about what you are going to say next, instead of listening to what the other person is trying to tell you.

When we actively listen, we are fully immersed in the process of listening...of trying to really understand not only the words, but the meaning behind them, the emotion that fuels them, and what they mean to the person speaking them.  It's a form of empathy, being able to imagine yourself in that person's shoes and really internalize what their experience is..what they are going through.

This is the one thing that I think we miss, in many of the hot-topic debates.  We are so focused on our side, our needs, our beliefs, our fears, that we don't think about the other side:  what are they experiencing, what is their reality, what are their hopes and fears.  We need to start from a place of empathy, of understanding, of being open to experiences that aren't our own.  And when we start to do this, we may find that our beliefs aren't as true as we though they were.

There is this big myth in our modern society, the myth of 'one true way'.  Because of the way that we draw lines in the dirt, the way we want to label everything and put things into different categories, and quantify everything on a scale from best to worst, we have developed this idea that there is some kind of perfect way, and that if something works for me, then obviously it should work for you too.

This is something I really see a lot when it comes to religion, and something I think that we need to let go of, if we are going to move forward as a global society.  But we also see in in the silliest, smallest things.  When people get into fights over whether coffee or tea is 'better', I really wonder about the future of us as a species.  If we can't accept that one person likes one drink while another likes a different one...and that is will we ever learn to accept the bigger issues?

One of the things I love most about this crazy, chaotic, amazing world we live in is the sheer amount of diversity that exists!  With the internet, it is fully possible to find groups dedicated to just about anything.  And when you talk to people who are really into something, their excitement is contagious.  Sure, you might never actually want to dress your dog up in historically inspired outfits, but listening to someone who does is fascinating. 

This curiosity about others is exactly the thing that brings us to a place of understanding.  When we stop being fearful and start being curious, we bring a different energy to the discussion.  We start looking for what might be interesting, and what we might learn, and we stop refusing to see what is there. 

I love the term ally, because I think that everyone can use allies!  I love that we can stand up and say, "I may not be (whatever the thing is), but I fully support their right to do so...and I support them!"  How much better of a world would it be, if we could all start to find ways to be allies instead of finding ways to be foes?

There will always be viewpoints that are so opposed to our core Selves, that we could never ally ourselves with them.  But I think that there are less of those out there than we are led to believe.  So much deception goes on in the world, that many times what we think is someone who is fighting against us, is actually someone who is being misled into supporting something they don't actually believe.

They say the truth will set you free, and I believe this.  But truth can be subjective....I don't feel like we can understand Truth in any real way, so we are left with understanding each other's truths.  Know your own truth, and seek the truth of the people around you, whether you think you will like it or not.  It is through our collective sharing of truth that we will all grow, that society will grow, and that we will start to build the world that supports us all, instead of the one that seeks to divide us and make us fight each other.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Are your things happy?

In my heart, I am an animist.  I think that things, all things, have spirits.  I talk to my stuff.  I name things (not as many as I probably should...but many of my things have names).  But somehow I never made the mental jump to thinking about how my things feel.

I've been somewhat entranced by Marie Kondo lately, and her thoughts on home organization and tidiness.  She definitely goes much deeper into minimalist ideology than I do, because I love me some stuff, but I really like how she approaches thinking about the things we do keep.

In many of the videos I've watched of her, she talks about asking yourself if your things 'spark joy'.  This is the yardstick that she measures whether or not a thing could be kept.  It's such a lovely phrase, and way of orienting yourself.  I appreciate that she also qualifies this for work-related things:  do they make your work easier or harder?  Things that make work easier are, in effect, sparking joy with your job.

But what I really want to talk about today is how she handles things, both things that are being let go of and things that are kept.  When she was helping someone clean off their desk, and there were things that were being tossed, she stopped, with each one, held it and sent feelings of gratitude towards it.  She thanked the things!

Then, in a video of folding clothes (because she has a whole method for that...), she touches each piece, running her hands over it, sending love to it.  You know, this is a really interesting practice.  I think that we don't often extend our appreciation to the stuff in our life, even if we feel it is vital!

There are so many things in my life that I would feel somewhat lost without.  And I do sometimes express my appreciation (my computer knows how important it is to me!), but not nearly as much as I should!

I know this sounds a little woo-woo, but think about it this way.  If, when you interact with the things in your life, you spend time thinking about how much better they make your life, then you appreciate them even more!  It's a simple way to twist the gratitude practice a little, to really feel the bounty in our lives, and to focus on what we have and our feelings about it.

And perhaps you will find yourself resentful about certain things.  Maybe you have some plates that you just can't bring yourself to thank and love, because you kind of hate them.  That is a clue that these things are actually bringing you down!  You probably don't like to use them, and feel a bit resentful every time you are forced to (or whenever you think about them).  Get rid of them! 

I can definitely get behind this kind of thought process.  I think that there is so much stuff in this world, that the stuff we have should make us happy.  Most things in life, we can get by without, or we can choose a different version of.  I have to have clothes (society says so!), but I can choose which clothes make me happy, make me feel good, and put me in a good mood.  I am starting to realize that I have things in my closet that make me resentful...because they don't fit.  And every time I think about wearing them, I am reminded that they don't fit.  If I try to wear them, they make me physically uncomfortable (because they don't fit...are you sensing a trend here?)  And all of that makes me unhappy with myself!  I need to get rid of them, and buy different clothes, that make me happy when I choose them (I do have many clothing items I love...just some that need to go!)

Of course, there may be things in your life that you don't have a choice about.  Perhaps you have medication that makes you a little sick, but saves your life.  You know you have to take it, and on some level you are grateful for it...but you also sort of dread taking it.  You always grimace and try to get it over with as quick as possible.  Would turning your thoughts around change how you feel about your pills?  Would focusing on how they help you, instead of how they hurt you, help mitigate those feelings?  I don't think that our mental attitude can cure all ills, but I do think that the more we strive to focus on the good in life, the more we think about the benefits, the less anxious we are about the bad stuff, and that can create a big change!

One thing that Marie said, I think in one of her books (I heard it in a video someone made about her methods), was that she suggests asking yourself if your things are happy.  For example, when going through your closet, you are going to ask which things spark joy, but also look at the situation in your closet and ask if the clothes would be happy living there.

I know we are back in woo-woo land, but bear with me for a moment.  It is easy for clutter to accumulate.  My closet is half organized, and half "where can I shove stuff so that it won't fall all over."  My actual clothes are all hung up, by type and color.  And everything else in the closet is contained in bags or boxes, so there isn't just piles of stuff.  But if you open most of those containers, it's very chaotic in there.  I definitely have way more clothing than I actually wear. 

So are my clothes happy?  What makes things happy?  I would say I probably need to thin out my closet a bit, let go of the things I don't use.  And tidy up the surrounding area (I actually don't like it when piles add up, or when my stuff isn't organized, so I can definitely see my stuff not liking being all jumbled up with other stuff).

But let's think a little more outside the box.  What makes people happy?  We typically like our senses to be experience pleasant sensations:  things that look pretty, colors that are pleasing, enjoyable scents, delicious tastes, lovely sounds, interesting textures.  Now, how many of those things are present (or logical...) in my closet?

I do okay on the visual side, as I said, I like things to be tidy, and I'm a bit particular about order, so having things organized by color is pleasing to me.  And, I actually have some lovely cedar wood in my closet to help it smell nice!  Sound is sort of tricky.  I do go into my closet when hubby is sleeping sometimes, so adding bells at the top are out (though I think that would be fun!).  And having a good tasting closet is just weird, so I don't think I have to worry about that one!  My clothes are all things that feel nice to touch (I really do kind of refuse to wear things that make me feel uncomfortable if I can at all avoid it).

But you get the idea.  If I were to go through my house, a little at a time, and see what things spark joy, and then think about if my things are happy...the energy in my house would change!  When I interact with things, taking a moment to give them thanks not only makes me appreciate them even more, but it helps keep me mindful about the things I am using (and how they might all cycles around!)

These are ideas I am just coming into, but I am excited to work more with them.  As I said, I'm an animist, I believe my things have spirits, and I like my stuff, I want it to be happy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

I am not content...

Content can be a very happy emotion for many people.  It brings to mind images of coziness, of satisfaction, of having enough.  But, for me, underneath that idyllic surface are other emotions:  settling, complacency, giving up.

Content is a perfectly fine word, and I am sure it works for many people, but I find it a little defeatist.  When I think "I am content with..." it makes me feel as if something is JUST okay.  It's something I can live with.  Content doesn't give me the same feelings of fulfillment as other words:  satisfied, happy, gratified, or my personal favorite, hygge.

The word content shares a root with contain, and contents also refer to the things inside something else.  There is this implication of restraint, of being kept in your place.  People who are content don't stretch, they don't reach, they stay where they are.

This isn't a place I want to be!  I may be happy where I am at, and there are many areas of my life that I am quite pleased with....but I still want more.  I don't want to stagnate, to be stuck where I am at, no matter how pleasant the circumstances.

Not to get too political, but I see contentment as a reflection of our times.  We are content with so many things that we don't strive for more and we don't fight when things go wrong...because we are content.  We let more and more slide past us, because we have been content so long and it is so hard to get moving once you have stopped. 

It's like the story of the frogs, and how you can put a frog in a pot of water, and it will stay in.  Then, if you start raising the temperature, little by little, the frog adjusts, and still stays in the water.  The frog will let itself be boiled, because it doesn't realize that things have changed.  Contentment can be like that...we are so settled into our place, that when something starts to rub us wrong, we just ignore it.  Eventually, the rub might knock you over, but by then fixing the issue will take so much more work than if you just fixed it to start with.  

Contentment also reminds me of the comfort zone.  It is the place that we know, the safe place, the comfortable place.  But it is also a literal barrier that stops us from trying new things or expanding.  If we stay in our comfort zone, we may be content but we will never soar.

I struggle with contentment.  My life is good, and it is very easy for me to fall into a routine.  It is so simple to let things continue, as they are, indefinitely.  But it kills my soul!  When things remain the same, I start to feel lethargic.  I loose my drive, for everything.  All I want to do is sit around, waste time and lounge around.  And that, in turn, makes me depressed.  I feel this emptiness inside, and it starts to build.  I need change, I need variety, and I need to not be content.

Contentment might work for other people, in a good way!  Content might mean something entirely different to you, and that is fine.  But for me, contentment is a trap, and I will gnaw my foot off to escape it.  I am not content, and I hope to never be!  But I am happy....