Surrender

It’s hard to rise above the conditioning that I will never be good enough, that this is a world of scarcity, that I live in a dystopia. But I’m getting there! Those stories are unfortunately true, in some people’s worlds, but in my own world there is love, creation, beauty, kindness, synchronicities. I try to focus on those things, to have gratitude.

I learn to be kind to myself. To be kind to others. To shut out the static and just breathe. To enjoy my body, my surroundings, my friends. To engage more with those who are flesh and blood, engage less with the ideas out there in the ether that aren’t real. The temptation to get stuck in an artificial mental state can be overwhelming. But that’s part of the world we live in, so I let it go and keep on learning.

I learn, with practice, to let my mind have fun engaging with the ether but not to take it all that seriously. In a vast cosmos where I am but a casing of water and dust on a thin rocky surface floating on magma, all those thoughts, those words, those ideas, those “isms,” those “truths” just can’t matter that much. They are but air: breathed in with urgency today, exhaled and dissipated tomorrow.

There are a few truths I live by. I choose to have love for others, not hate. I aim to do the least harm. I get more out of opening myself up than closing myself shut. I can always find joy and amazement. When I zone into the moment, it’s beautiful.

I surrender what’s not working for me outside of these truths.

Surrender

My anger flares at the latest outrage,
Siren chants: war, death, disease, destruction.
Who to blame? Do I need liposuction?
I toss my device, my unease lingers.
I stare at the wall. Silent. Dissecting.
I breath in the air breathed before by those
I’m told to hate. I breath in deep, connect.
Exhale the stale, inhale the new. Release.
I surrender fear. It keeps me silent.
I surrender rage. I can do nothing.
I surrender pride. It holds me hostage.
I surrender thoughts. Let them float away,
They won’t interfere with my growing heart.
I choose love instead. Love can’t be taken.

Inspiration: Everyone out there forging a new world.

AVOIDISM

I saw a guy in my trendy neighborhood rocking the perfect woolly black beard, sporting a black t-shirt emblazoned with one word in white all-caps: AVOIDISM. What a perfect word to describe just about everything these days, I thought.

Avoidism is so easy now. If somebody posts something we don’t like, there are tools to make sure we won’t see it again. It’s as simple as clicking the “Are you sure you want to block this person?” button. Poof! The icky ogre is gone.

Avoiding the icky extends to just about everything. Funerals are memorial services (“No icky dead bodies!”). News is curated (“Just give me what I want to know, no ick”). Nature is mono-cultured, with pesticides to rid us of all those pesky insects (“Insects are icky!”—I’ve known people like this). Meat comes conveniently packaged in pretty plastic packaging (“No icky feathers or fur”). I’m not saying any of this is right, but this is just the way things are, right? Avoidism is so … convenient.

I have to confess I’m as skilled at avoidism as the next person. I rarely bother with news stories I don’t want to hear. I cross the street to avoid “problematic” people. I avoid meaningful discussions on politics unless I trust the person I’m talking to is on the same page as me, so it won’t get all shouty. I’m not proud of any of this, but avoidism is a survival strategy. And it seems a lot of us are infected with the zombie avoidist bug where our desire to engage has been fried.

So what do we do to re-engage?

I could quote the Serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

And yes, this resonates. We should try to recognize what we can change and go for it, and not be foolish enough to beat ourselves up trying to change things we can’t. But I find this prayer insufficient. “Too problematic,” “Out of scope,” “Outside customary parameters,” “Not this department’s responsibility,” “Too many variables to include,” “Beyond normal risk tolerances,” “Needs further study”—our language is full of avoidist patterns of thought, serenely spoken, delivered with the ingrained wisdom that things cannot change so there’s no need to engage. But we all know things need to change.

So what do we do?

I recently read an article about Hillary Cottam, a British thinker and “social entrepreneur” renowned for her way of finding simple answers for difficult social challenges. She’s really engaged in things.

When she was at the World Bank, Cottam avoided the 5-star hotels and went into the field to figure out what they actually needed to make their lives better. In Zambia, she recommended a central pump (not a $140 million dam development as proposed). In London, she figured out that children weren’t settling down because their lockers were in a bully-infested dark corner of the school. By moving the lockers, bullying went down and academic scores went up. These sound like straightforward solutions, but it took lots of engagement to cut through the obstacles and make them happen.

So Cottam is an inspiration that there are simple solutions out there, and the people most affected already know the answers, if they spoke up. So maybe the Serenity Prayer still applies, but we need to focus on the words “courage” and “wisdom.” The courage to ask questions, imagine solutions, and speak up with the answers.

Alas, the article I link to above is negatively positioned as “There’s an idea that could transform Britain – but Brexit won’t let it be heard.” What a downer! But I found the mention of Cottam inspiring nonetheless. She is proof that there are people out there engaged with finding real solutions to real problems.

Envy

CN Tower in fog

It’s a human trait to torture ourselves with what we aren’t. Let’s call it envy. And I confess that I work really hard to suppress envy. It still creeps up on me when I compare myself to others and find myself wanting.

It goes like this: I wasn’t old enough (then too old). Not rich enough. Not forceful enough to be a high-powered Master of the Universe (and if we aren’t a Master of the Universe, then what are we?) I wasn’t muscly enough, then too muscled to be in fashion, back when skinny arms were a thing but maybe muscles are back in style again so am I OK now? You get the picture. I won’t go on … I don’t want to share ALL of my insecurities and I’m sure you don’t want to listen. 🙂

Then along came Instagram, and for a while my envy got even worse. That platform is designed to be a giant envy machine. If you feel remotely good about yourself, just go there and it’s guaranteed there will be somebody more ripped than you, certainly younger than you, traveling to gorgeous places, eating wonderful meals, and wearing all the right clothes. In short, it’s really easy now to feel crappy every day by envying other people’s images. Social media is designed this way and has created a whole new set of people called “Influencers” to do this to us.

And yet, maybe this whole Influencer overload was a good thing for me. Maybe through sheer overexposure it’s helped me understand that I don’t have the energy to compare myself to others all day and stay true to myself. Maybe I have finally learned simply to say, “That’s nice. But it’s not about me.” I can still admire people for their accomplishments. Why not? Influencers work really hard. But admiration doesn’t have to be envy.

Techniques

If you admit to a wee bit of envy here and there, read on. Here are some things that help me overcome envy (on my good days).

Know yourself. Love yourself. See my previous posts. If you become your own best friend, you won’t be beating yourself up comparing yourself to others. If you are comfortable in your own skin, envy can’t take hold. It isn’t easy. It’s something to work on all the time. There are so many built-in traps against self-acceptance. But when you catch yourself envying others, stop and be gentle on yourself and remind yourself it’s their life, not yours.

Empathy. Everyone out there is trying to put on a good show. If you recognize that and feel for their efforts, if you humanize them, it’s way easier to see that their path is not your path, and their path indeed may be just as difficult (or more difficult) than yours. Six pack abs, when you’re no longer 28, take a lot of work and probably mean you’ve given up something else. Same with most successful people: they have made sacrifices to get there, and you chose a different path. If you try to understand a bit of what is motivating others, you may become more aware of what is (or isn’t) motivating you.

Laugh. Laughter is more fun than envy. So don’t take life too seriously. I don’t mean being cruel to people and making jokes at their expense (see empathy above), but we have to acknowledge that people go to some pretty hilarious levels to impress others. Whether it be $10,000 Gucci purses, or 0% body fat, or outrageous bear-baiting statements for the lolz, or hanging out of moving trains to take selfies … you gotta shake your head at some of the antics people use to get noticed. You don’t need to go there. Just have a chuckle over it.

Get busy doing what YOU want to do. I’m now busy chasing my own dreams, so have way less time to envy. Start doing the things you want to do and the things you are proud of doing, and you won’t have the time to envy others. You may not even have the time to hang out on social media for hours feeding your own insecurities. It’s working for me!

You may be one of the fortunate ones who is comfortable in your skin and never envied others. But if you’re still reading this, I bet you’re in my recovery camp. Whichever camp you are in, it pays to beware Envy. It will sneak up on you at any time. It may no longer be considered a sin, but it does mess with your mind and take away from your dreams.

Know Yourself (2)

In today’s social media storm with all its outrage and proudly held opinions and manic disregard for facts, we all need to develop a really strong sense of who we are. If you don’t know yourself and where you stand, it’s really easy to drown in a murky sea of fear and anger and emotional overwhelm. It seems the world is designed that way right now.

If you don’t know yourself, you can’t know what your passions are, and what your dreams are. You will feel powerless to create the change you need to grow. Isn’t it time to carve out the time to be with yourself, to ask yourself the questions that matter, to figure out the dreams that speak to you?

Techniques

I won’t lie. It’s still really easy to lose myself, to float away in worry or dread as I stare too long at Facebook or check the news sites or look at my Visa bill. But I’ve developed a few techniques to keep myself better grounded and centered, and I’d like to share them.

Quiet your mind. Our brains are not meant to be processing all the time. We need to turn off our brain sometimes so it can “reboot”. So we are better able to process all the possibilities. So we are better able to dream. Good sleep is the essential component to keeping the brain healthy, but not the only one. I try all kinds of techniques to tune out the world so I can tune in to myself: yoga, meditation, biking, gym, walking, hanging in my garden, cooking, even cleaning.  Whatever works for you, as long as you’re letting your mind rejuvenate and refresh, away from worry and the daily grind and the bad news. And note well! Kicking back with your phone or iPad definitely does not count because you’re just keeping your mind overwhelmed with other people’s thoughts. You’re outsourcing your brain to them. Being online is not quiet time, it’s intense mind overload time!

Be easy on yourself. If you beat yourself up all the time, you are too preoccupied to dream. You are too preoccupied to even know how to dream. So just stop with the “shoulds” and “can’ts” and “I’m not good enoughs”. They are not helping you. It needs a whole separate blog or five to begin to tell you how I started to figure this one out. It was a personal journey. Of course RuPaul had it figured out already:  “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Let that sink in.

Weigh the advice of others. People are really good at giving advice, and can be a really good mirror to show you how you’re spinning your wheels or sabotaging yourself. A word of caution, though: you can easily give away decision-making to others. It is your responsibility to weigh all advice and decide if it makes sense for you and your situation and those around you, and act on it appropriately. Find a place of calm, place your hands over your gut if that helps, and ask, “Does this fit?” When your gut tells you that someone’s advice doesn’t seem right, accept their advice with grace and then just file it away. It may be relevant later, it just isn’t right now.

Have faith. I don’t mean religious faith here (although if your religion empowers you, that’s great!). I mean trying to go beyond the “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t” and daring to dream that anything is possible. No matter how bad the situation seems, you won’t fix it by saying “nothing can be done” or (one of my least favorite expressions) “it is what it is.” If it’s something you want to change, change it! If it’s something you want to create, create it! You have the power to make something brand new if you dare to dream, and if you want to put in the work to make that dream a reality.

Journal. This year I started journaling every day. It’s kind of magic. I write down some of the nonsense in my brain—the doubts and frustrations and fears and anger—and then, usually on the same page, I’ve figured out the answer. At least, the answer for today (which is all we need to keep moving forward). My journal has become such an important part of my work on myself. It’s a way to turn “I can’t” into “Let’s do this!” I realize journaling won’t come naturally to everyone (I’m a frustrated writer, so it’s brilliant for me). And for some people–artists and musicians, for example—there are other forms of creative expression tailor-made for them. I’d still recommend journaling for everyone though. Words are perfect tools humans use to explore most every part of the human condition, and have great power to change our thoughts. Use them to create your own magic!

Those are a few things I’ve used to get to know myself. If you feel you don’t have the time to do any of this, don’t beat yourself up about it (See “Be easy on yourself” above). Even if you take just 5 minutes a day to check out and tune into yourself, that’s a start. Dare to dream. We will change the world for the better with our dreams!