Expect Less, Find More

“As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man, upon easier terms than I was formerly.” ~Samuel Johnson

As I know more of myself, I expect less, and am ready now to call a man a good man, upon easier terms than I was formerly.  Holding oneself and humankind  to a standard of perfection will lead to disappointment and sorrow.  Finding room for the imperfections, the failings, the sheer humanness in the self and humanity is to not only see the world as it is, but to become open to the hidden good within.

As a recovering perfectionist I find that as I have learned to be easier and more forgiving of myself I am easier and more forgiving of the others in my life and the world at large.  It is a burden that weighs heavily to believe one should be able to achieve that which is unachievable, and doubly heavy to believe that about others.  Never finding satisfaction in “good enough”, striving, pushing for just a little more, all sounded like the keys to success to me and perhaps they are.  But when nothing is ever quite right, that more could always have been done, steals away the precious moments of rest and gratification.  To court such disappointment and failing is the expressway to unhappiness.

Viewing oneself and others with a forgiving mind and heart allows the focus to shift from the negative to the positive.  Looking at imperfections as a clue to the hidden value of another, actively searching for the best in each, while embracing the lack of perfection, offers insight and access to the good.  With the focus on the flaws we only see a man, focusing on the merit behind the flaws allows us to see the good man.  The art of turning one’s focus is one of the key secrets to a happy and contented life.  Like a houseplant stretching toward the light we too can grow towards the sun.

Lowering expectations from the unrealistic to the realistic brings the self into alignment with the world as it is.  From there we can look to the good in the man, choose to search for the best in what is, and ease the burden of seeking that which cannot be.

We Are Not Alone

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
~F. Scott Fitzgerald

As I continue to write this blog I have come to discover so many like-minded people out there who are doing the same.  As my followers grow, I look to their writing to see what might have resonated for them.  Some are a mystery, in others I find kindred spirits. The longing for connection is universal; the ability to connect with such a diverse and far-flung audience is one of the great gifts of technology against which I sometimes rail.

Literature takes the connection into the realm of flight.  Words knitted together with golden needles; emotions laid bare, stripped naked; portraits of places visited only in dreams; all found lashed together, placed in a pocket or bag and carried about for quiet moments of reflection and joy.  Peopled with characters familiar as a friend; struggling, celebrating, tackling the fearsome and mundane with grace or collapse; relatable all.  Literature, the craft, the inspiration and the gift do not come to most who write. It is rarified air those few breathe, as they take what is known and recognizable and build around it a stone castle of enchantment and wonder, a cave of terror and pain, turning the people and problems on end to tell the tale.

In the end though, the thing that captures us is the ah-ha moment when we see ourselves and know that we are not in this alone.  That another must have felt the same sorrow or despair to be able to so clearly describe it, to feel as though they were peering into one’s mind at the very moment of grief, gives us a small dose of hope in the darkness.  Be transported, uplifted, informed, inspired; great authors connect your world with theirs.

Comparisons

“If God had not made brown honey, men would think figs far sweeter than they do.”   ~Xenophanes

It is in our nature to compare, we use the technique often to make judgements and decisions.  We compare prices when we shop, we compare the features of a car or appliance to decide which one will be the best for our use.  Because it is an habitual way of thinking, it is often applied to people as well.  The problem lies in the myriad of “features” that come with each person, and to weigh one against another is opening oneself to the risk of overlooking traits absent in one or another.

The measure of comparing a human is against one’s own moral beliefs, tastes, interests and peccadilloes.  To hold one person up against the other we may develop mis-information, but to evaluate  whether a person is an asset to our lives we must observe how they fit one’s way of being.  It demands of us that we look more deeply and carefully than we would if we were to say, “he is kinder, she is more generous”.  It is the whole and not the sum of the parts of a person that we must come to know.

Being judgemental has the connotation of being unfair, yet relying on judgement to make choices and to discern the value and importance of each factor is vital in making good choices for one’s best interest.  Weighing instead against life experience rather than another person, we gain the essence of someone, and the way they might fit with us or that in fact, there are critical elements missing that we recognize we cannot do without.

Remaining mindful that comparisons have their place, and taking care to use them only when necessary, we avoid the distressing and happiness stripping habit of holding up unlike things against each other.  To be fully in the moment requires letting go of the past moments and choosing to savor whatever this one has to offer.  Developing the ability to stay present, using judgement to make good choices, and comparison for buying a new washing machine, gives us the tools to be kind to ourselves and find our way to the people and moments that will enrich our lives.

Wonder-ful!

“Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.”―L. Frank Baum author of the “Oz” series

A sense of wonder has such a child-like characteristic to it, the very word evokes a vision of wide eyes, large smiles, standing on tip-toe, holding one’s breath.  How often as adults do we tap into our sense of wonder?  Wonder is magical and we become too jaded to experience that sense with any regularity.  Caught up in the adult sense of “knowing” we begin to lose the openness and sheer joy that comes from experiencing wonder.

I recently read an article about extremophiles.  Upon seeing the word I assumed it was about people who love the extreme; ones who would be good at reality television shows jumping off tall buildings onto a pile of pillows.  But no, it is a class of organisms that live in the extremes of heat, cold and pressure where it was previously thought no life forms could exist.  Digging deeper into the story, it describes an organism that has lived in a gas bubble in a crystal, and the crystal was fifty MILLION years old!  The organism apparently had not developed any way to divide or reproduce because it did not need to.  I continued to read filled with wonder.  The upshot of the article was we are discovering an entire new classification of life here on this planet; the obvious usefulness of which is to guide us to look for life in places we believed it could not exist here or on any other planet.

To understand how and why these creatures came into existence is far beyond my grasp, but I do not deny the truth of their being.  I am filled with awe and wonder at the things that are in our very midst and we are ignorant of their presence until someone with imagination and courage finds them.  The world outside and within is teeming with the undiscovered and when we allow ourselves the freedom of the wonder of it all, we become open to the great mysteries and excitement of life.

Opening up to that which strikes us as unlikely if not impossible with an inquiring mind and a receptive heart creates an entirely new space to grow oneself.  Tapping back into the sense of amazement at the world around us with a joyful sense of discovery feeds one’s creativity, imagination and freshens the perceptions of all that one believes and knows.

Let yourself believe for a moment in the magical, reclaim your sense of wonder, rediscover delight.

What Remains?

“All natural goods perish. Riches take wings; fame is a breath; love is a cheat; youth and health and pleasure vanish.”  William James

These words could be construed as the mutterings of a bitter old man, with a purely naturalistic view of life.  They are, when taken in the context of “The Varieties of Religious Experience”, presented as an example of the “sick soul”, a soul that cannot find the ease of living, forever searching and striving to discover some value, some greater worth than that which one possesses.  In the same piece James quotes Edward Everett Hale, “I can remember perfectly that when I was coming to manhood, the half-philosophical novels of the time had a deal to say about the young men and maidens who were facing ‘the problem of life.’ I had no idea whatever what the problem of life was. To live with all my might seemed to me easy; to learn where there was so much to learn seemed pleasant and almost of course; to lend a hand, if one had a chance, natural; and if one did this, why, he enjoyed life because he could not help it, and without proving to himself that he ought to enjoy it…”, as an example of what James calls the healthy-minded.  He acknowledges that there are degrees of healthy-mindedness and sickness of soul; and concludes that the sick soul has the more overlapping perceptions of reality.

Does this mean then that we should turn away from greater happiness, that we give up on the hope for a joyful existence to live a “real” life?  There is room in the mix for a respectful acknowledgement of evil, sadness, fear, loss, and all the elements the “sick soul” tends to dwell upon, without becoming consumed with the “problem of life”.  When it seems that all in life has the potential to eventually fade away, what is it that we might hold on to in the face of the inevitable loss?

When indeed all the material is gone, youth and health have fled, we are left with memories.  The memories of a lifetime of choices and chances taken; of seizing the moment to run free, making time for the joyous bounding adventures.  Memories of the people we have known, those we have helped and who have helped us; memories of tenderness, kindness and expressions of love.  Our fully integrated self has stored these and more in our bodies as well as our minds, and until both completely fail we retain the ability to remember, not just thoughts, but emotions and the physical sensations of those cherished moments.

As we are mindful today, we are filling the storehouse of our bodies and souls with the thing that lingers; that which holds far greater value than the car driven, the title or letters following names, the balance in the bank.  Let the thing that lingers fill our vessel with the sweetness and the treasures of a celebratory life.

Technology….it giveth and it taketh!

This blog comes to the Internet via the wi-fi hotspot on my cell phone from my home on the upslope of the Bitterroot Mountains.  It is the sole source of Internet connectivity here.  Yesterday as I was getting ready to write, my phone shut down completely.  It would not even react to trying to restart…so frustrating!  I fiddled for a few minutes, wrote some notes for the blog that wasn’t, and went about my day, which was one of heavy physical outdoor labor.  By the time I was done and I came back to my home office to see if my phone had repaired itself, it had, I was too exhausted to do anything more than shut everything down and hope for a better start today.

One of the blogs I follow, Health Demystified, comments in part on our striving to be more efficient.  I have used the concept of efficiency in my daily activities to try to do more in the same amount of time.  Never go upstairs without taking something that needs to go up and vice versa.  When I started to wear the FitBit tracker I realized that I was saving time and saving steps but to the detriment of my overall health and fitness.  Keeping those trips up and down the stairs to a minimum, trying to do every task with the fewest trips to gather supplies, seemed the best way to accomplish the task related goals I had set.  Suddenly, aided by the awareness the FitBit gave me, I was looking at not bringing a tool I needed to the location I was working as an opportunity to add more steps to my daily total instead of berating myself for forgetfulness.  I have not become obsessed with my step count and activity level, but it has added a layer of mindfulness that I did not have before.

There can be amazing benefits from technology used wisely and with restraint.  It is like so many other things in life; just because “some” is good does not make “a lot” better.  I can read about the thoughts and ideas of people in places I may never visit, I can share my ideas with strangers I will never meet.  I have more information than I could ever process at my fingertips.  The trick is balance; to keep the technology and the devices as tools to learn, to grow, to stay in touch over distances.  One must guard against the over-reliance, the anxiety of being disconnected, the use of technology to replace human exchange.  Used as a tool for awareness, as my FitBit lesson taught me, it is useful in achieving other goals.  Spending hours surfing mindlessly, or feeling compelled to check every connectivity account constantly, moves our devices from the category of tools to that of unhealthy habit.

Even though I was frustrated with my lack of connection yesterday, I was able to set it aside, work hard and accomplish the goals for the day outdoors without giving my temperamental phone another thought.  And missing my first daily post but coming back today to continue where I left off gives me hope that I can stick with this for the long haul even when life and technology get in the way.

Waxing Philisophical

It occurred to me that I have done very little reading in contemporary philosophical thinking and to that end I availed myself of the trusty online catalog of my local library to see what was out there that might introduce me to new ideas or new spins on old ideas if you are of the school, ” there is nothing new under the sun”.

First up is Phillip Shepherd’s “New Self New World, Recovering our Senses in the Twenty-First Century”.  Having only worked my way through the Forward by Andrew Harvey and the Introduction and first chapter by the author, this is not a book review by any means.  If I am following correctly the main concept is to seek wholeness, within ourselves and with our connections with the outer world.  In order to accomplish this he believes that it comes through the work of the body, that we need to “get out of our heads”.

As much as the word mindfulness sounds like a “head” word it is very much a body word.  Learning to pay attention to one’s body can give a volume of information that helps identify placement in the present space and time.  Chosing to pay attention to the sensory input and the bodily response to it is a step on the road the wholeness.  The fully integrated self, in tune and in harmony with the inner and outer world, especially the physical senses, gravitates to wholeness.  It is the center of all life to seek completion of the whole, reproduction, the yin and yang, to and fro.  No joy comes without knowing sorrow, no honest tears flow without having laughed with abandon.

The exercises from https://cathrinemclaren.com/2012/03/06/loose-ends/ of H.A.L.T. and S.I.F.T. are a great way to get in touch with where one is in the moment.  It can be used as it is in Loose Ends, to identify the cause for emotional eating; but it has far broader applications in the practice of mindfulness.  When lost in one’s head it is easy to ignore the basics; often something as simple as addressing physical fatigue or hunger can transport one from sorrow and frustration to a more realistic view of the issue at hand.  Continuing to practice mindfulness as a strategy for getting out of one’s thoughts and moving towards body awareness begins the unification process of wholeness.

Too Much

“I must learn to love the fool in me the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries”  Theodore Isaac Rubin

I have been told by others from time to time that I am too much.  Too intense, too demanding, too something.  We all may have an overabundence of a particular trait that we frame in the negative.  As we go about the business of choosing what our life will look like, would we really choose to diminish ourselves?

Embracing who we are in all of our extremes is a challenge at times; humor helps I think.  When I find myself running off at the mouth, I inwardly laugh and think,  “there I go again”.  It is a harmless acknowledgement of the otherwise negative,” I talk too much”.  People with large personalities are a vital ingredient in the soup of life.  The flamboyant, the enthusiastic, the highly charged, highly motivated introduce big ideas, inspire us to loftier thought and action if we do not allow ourselves to be intimidated and overwhelmed by their very presence.  And if we are one of the bigger than life personae in one manner or topic, we owe it to ourselves and the grand mix not to scale back, tone it down, shut it off at the source.

It is not the “fool in me” that needs love, it is the message of too much that we need to reframe.  If we are not one who loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, laughs and cries; are we fully human?  We are not fools to have a full range of emotion, the ability to err and fail, we are merely the less than perfect beings among an entire sea of beings all imperfect in their own ways.  There is joy to be found in embracing our quirks, laughing at our foibles, loving all the ingredients that make us unique; accepting our humanness.

Picking up the Ball

Going back through all of my posts has had an unexpected side effect…a severe case of “when did I lose track of that?”.  Although going through the ninety posts is slow going; I find I need to re-read each one to pick words that are somewhat reflective of the topic to use as tags.  I covered the first twenty or so and I know it will take longer as I go, the posts grew in length over time as well.

The first topic I lost track of was the “spin”.  Taking the negative or gloomy perspective and finding the positive, upbeat view.  Everything  from finding joy in a long gray day to finding the humor in an awkward encounter seems to have slipped away a bit.

Specific resolutions like Creativity Day and getting the filing under control – the work table for creative projects is now buried under all of that filing!  Some resolutions were kept and the one I hang on to as proof I can do this is writing daily.  So I will give myself a gold star on that one and pick one resolution to add in for the next ninety days. (Hey, I’m a slow reinforcer, most people it’s a month to six weeks, me, far more.)  So I will deal with my pigeon of discontent (as opposed to the Bluebird of Happiness, thanks G. Rubin), which is the filing.  It is not simply a stack of papers that need to go in folders, it is an entire shift of past years to boxes (need to buy one), make new files and purge the old, then put it all away.  But, once done, I am resolving to put the paper in the folder without it ever hitting the “to be filed” pile.  When I look at what has prevented me from doing this I realize, beyond it being a less than “fun” task, my perfectionist streak gets in the way as well.  The folder “needs labels” is the fattest, because I like printed labels, not hand written.  I will accept that it is important to me and make the time to print labels as needed, rather than “later”.

So here I am again circling back to mindfulness; paying attention to what is really happening or keeping me from attacking a project or task.  One of the huge benefits of putting things in writing is being able to look back as a check-up, to remind oneself where we were, where we thought we wanted to go, and hold that up against one’s current location.  There will always be some slipping, life happens, and all of our good intentions may lose some of their priority, but the good news is, with reminders, we can pick up the ball again.

Housekeeping

It was suggested by other readers who have blogs themselves that I add tags; words that will cause someone using a search word looking for blog topics to find mine.  It is a something I have meant to do, but it is spring and much to do otherwise so I have continued to write my daily philosophical pieces and left the other for a rainy day.  However, as I approach my 100th post, it occurred to me that I will never catch up if I don’t devote some time to it now.

Telling myself that I can stop; make a change for the better and then pick up again will be new for me as I tend to drop the thread of something if I diverge even slightly from the routine.  So this will also be a test to see if I can take a couple of days to make this site better and still come back to it and write daily as I made the commitment to do.

If I find a post that I particularly liked I may re-blog it; or if I find that there was something more I think needs saying I will add a follow-up piece.  Taking out the time to re-read the entire body of work to date will help I hope, to clarify my vision and help me gain further insight into the purpose behind the posts and maybe add a few more readers along the way.