Milestone ~ 100 Posts

This marks my one hundredth post since beginning my challenge to write every day.  While for many it is important to take a day off to refresh and rejuvenate, for some reason I tend to just drift away.  This has been the case for so many things that I enjoyed and looked forward to; morning walks, going to the gym, eating healthfully, watching the nightly news; the list is endless.

I suspect this results from a lack of self-discipline and a somewhat drifty personality.  I lose interest easily, or rather I gain interest in something else easily and leave all of my best laid plans behind.  As part if my personal Happiness Project and overall growth, I realized this was one thing that lead to much unhappiness in my life.  Not only was I not doing something I deeply love, writing, but I had a long list of unfinished projects, unmet goals, unestablished habits.  This blog became my first step in the process of finding a way to make something I value stick.  Taking a day off from it has seemed like falling back into my pattern of drifting away, never to return.  As my regular followers know, I lost a day to a technology glitch, but I am happy to say I picked up the very next day.

Writing daily has other hazards as well.  Repetition being the first and a huge one at that.  I am not offering timely diet tips, a log of my struggles with weight or parenting or learning to dance.  This has become daily philosophical musings, and the topics are often interrelated and have been examined for centuries by great minds and even in my case discussed more than once.  In considering this I began to worry that this blog and its direction have grown stale.  I reminded myself that sometimes I must hear the same thing several times and from several angles before it really takes.  I also reminded myself that every day new readers find me and may only read a couple of entries, which then are new to them.  With that consolation I will continue looking at life, truth, the senses, reading, writing, happiness and the rest.  I look forward to the next one hundred posts and hope that you will as well.

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.

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.

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.

Excavation

Sometimes in the course of trying to find happiness, one stumbles upon a deep unhappiness that should be unearthed, dusted off, and given a good look.  Even though we can choose our conscious state of happiness, at times our sub-conscious is just not ready to let go of a particular unhappiness.  For many, that unhappiness appears in dreams that can leave one troubled upon waking.  It is by its nature not a pleasant undertaking to really examine an unhappiness, but in the end, if one can come to some sort of peace or at least a truce, there is greater room for true happiness to reside in the sub-conscious as well.

Since today is a day of tackling nagging tasks, I might as well add examining the unhappiness.  To balance my day and not tip it into the rather depressing exercise it could become, I will spend time outside doing physical work on this bright, sunny still day.  With balance, I hope to put my unhappiness items in perspective and look at them in a way that leads me back to my chosen path. After all, how can I not look out on this bright sunny morning and not feel joy?

Loose Ends

I realized last night that in my enthusiasm to do new things, and find my happiness in everything, I have started more projects than I have the time to devote to them.  Today I will wrap up a few loose ends to allow myself more time to devote to the things that truly make me happy – happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. Today will be a day of less fun tasks that will lead to greater happiness in the long run.

  • Finish vacuuming the rest of the house with my new vacuüm – that means the baseboard, the window sills, everything!
  • File or throw away every computer related CD & instructions – just do it!
  • Create order for my books in progress – too many
  • If I stumble upon something that I can wrap up in fifteen minutes or less I will do it now.

 I know that spring in western Montana is a little of this and a little of that but it may be on its way!  Last night we had rain, such a soothing sound that I slept with my window open enough to hear it.  This morning there was a dusting of snow but the sun is out and it has melted in the sunny spots already.  Another beautiful day in the neighborhood!

On mindfulness, I bought a little notebook to track all of my food and beverage consumption, which I will decorate to make the un-fun a little more so.  I need to pay more attention to what goes in my mouth, and knowing I have to commit it in writing may slow me down some.  I found an acronym from someone  who had been in rehab; I think it is  a healthy tool to use to bring oneself back to mindfulness in the present.  Ask myself:

  • H – Hungry?
  • A – Angry?
  • L – Lonely?
  • T – Tired?

And then use a mindfulness technique to become fully present while sitting quietly with eyes closed:

  • S – sense – what do I feel in my body? Cold, eyes tired, back hurts, blister…
  • I – image – what do I see with my eyes closed?
  • F – feeling – what emotions am I feeling right now?
  • T – thinking – what am I thinking?

By the time I go through HALT and SIFT I may have lost the urge to mindlessly graze – one can hope!  Time to start my terrific Tuesday – I can hardly wait to see how much I can finish today.