Teach Me Somethin, Tolle! Today: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

“The primary cause of your unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.

Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is at it is. There is the situation or the fact, and here are my thoughts about it. Instead of making up stories, stay with the facts. For example, “I am ruined” is a story. It limits you and presents you from taking effective action. “I have fifty cents left in my bank account” is a fact. Facing facts is always empowering. Be aware that what you think, to a large extent, creates the emotions that you feel. See the link between your thinking and your emotions. Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” (pg 5)

This is a small passage but it’s pretty rife with depth and possibility that I feel I could discuss it for hours over coffee and a crumpet, whatever a crumpet is. But it’s an interesting premise. Given that this is a blog mostly about life through the lens of being sick, I have to relate these things to my own experience. Sometimes I think, this is such an eye-roll. A bore. I want to tell others stories and look at these things through their lens, but I not only don’t have that access, I don’t have that right. I only know truly what it’s like to be in this world as me, Mary, and so I use what I read and try to apply it to my own life experience. Surprisingly, it helps. It’s funny how reading passages like this, you can think of other people and be spot on by saying “Yep, Dianna totally does that.” But the more conscious approach is to look at it and become aware of the ways in which you’ve “missed the boat” this same way at times, or catch yourself doing exactly what he’s (Tolle) talking about.

The part about making up stories is perfect, because it is surprising how often and how quickly our minds resort to this tactic, I guess as a mechanism of just not looking in or at ourselves in any meaningful way, (because that is both difficult and sometimes painful) but always pointing the finger outwards. It evades personal accountability. But telling stories has long been something we all do, and I can think of so many times I’ve done it, then facepalmed myself in the forehead later thinking, What was I thinking? I literally just made up some scenario in my head, and believed it, and was absolutely completely wrong. Someone doesn’t call back in a timely manner. You don’t like their response to something. Your jeans are missing and you’re convinced maybe they accidentally took them and GOD DIANA WOULD SO DO SOMETHING LIKE ACCIDENTALLY TAKE MY JEA…..oh here they are… in my closet…”

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It’s crazy how fast down the rabbit hole we go, convinced that Diana didn’t call us because she just doesn’t care about our friendship anymore, and you know what, maybe she NEVER did?! Maybe I should send her a mean text! “Oh, her grandma is in the hospital and she’s been away from her phone…”Oh, oh Diana, I’m so sorry to hear that. What can I do?” How stupid our egos can be! And what good story-tellers! They are always looking to be wronged, which is why they can start a fight about anything, literally anything. Frozen Yogurt? OH I’LL TELL YOU ABOUT FROZEN YOGURT! Um OK Diana, calm down. DON’T TELL ME TO CALM DOWN!!! *turns into the hulk, flies away*

It doesn’t mean we aren’t sometimes wronged. Or we don’t sometimes deserve to feel hurt. All of that will happen. It’s more about response to painful stimuli that human behavior just seems to get wrong. We are clearly, still learning.

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Hey, this water is pink!
OK, so we’re really good at blaming. And great at creating scenarios in our head that aren’t actually true except in our own self-made ego reality. (Which isn’t actual reality) And we’re really bad at self-reflection. I say “we” because I’ve seen this actually happen in action. To me, to others. It’s crazy! Never seen it? Open your eyes and wait for the Holidays to come around or wait in line at Walgreens or get stuck in traffic, you’ll find plenty of it. Passive aggressiveness. Blaming. Gossip. Anger. Insensitivity. All the yucky stuff that makes things which are supposed to be fun, not so fun. And we’re all guilty. It’s easy to want to point a finger at one person, but if you’re offended or participate, even in tiny ways, you’re part of the dance too, my friend. And I have done plenty of dancing.

The other part of this passage that I think is so important is the difference between facts and stories. Saying “I’m totally screwed” is a story, like he said. But so often we get ourselves so upset, so anxious, so depressed about things that are going to unfold one way or another, and in that present moment, you’ll address them. But if you’re too far away from this present moment, always stressing about the future, you will never enjoy life in its natural form–which is always happening in the now. It doesn’t mean you just mosey around until “the future arrives.” If you’re truly present in the moment we call Now, you’ll be ready for whatever happens, which you have absolutely no way of knowing how it will unfold. He also says this:

“To be in alignment with what is means to be in a relationship of inner nonresistance with what happens. It means not to label it mentally good or bad, but to let it be. Does this mean you can no longer take action to bring about change in you life? On the contrary. When the basis for your actions is inner alignment with the present moment, your actions become empowered by the intelligence of life itself.”

Duuuude, deep stuff. It’s easy to be sick and tell myself stories like “This isn’t fair.” “I can’t catch a break.” “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” But all according to what? According to my version of what I thought my life should look like–none of it based in the reality that my life is. When I am in true stillness, and I’ll reiterate this time and time again– if there is something crucial missing from my generation, and the baby boomers will tell you we don’t know what hard work is and we’re ultra sensitive and have all kinds of nice things to say–what my generation is truly missing is stillness.

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It is very hard to self-reflect in a noisy, demanding office, a loud home, when you’re constantly with people, when you refuse to be alone, or as soon as you have solitude or quiet, you turn to your mobile device as some kind of virtual company. So few look at time alone as an advantage to reflect. Or do whatever you want. Pray. Meditate. Read. Just try to be still. Try not to get on social media and see if you can be comfortable, alone with only you. People think “being busy” means being important, but it really doesn’t. Try doing nothing. See how long you can do it without outside stimulation. Then tell me you wish you were sick and didn’t have to go to work. Hah. I always loved that line.

I don’t think you have to be absolutely quiet or alone in order to obtain what Tolle is talking about. If you are awake in these crucial moments–at work, with your kids, at the dinner table, then you’re effectively reaching consciousness. Take time to acknowledge what you have and the good in your life. It’s all there; it’s up to us to open our eyes and see it.

Health, Happiness, Reflection :) (:

*Awesome, awesome artwork by Sonia Pulido

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Teacher Tolle Tuesday

johnholcomb-1I’ve been meaning to create a segment for a very long time where I take passages from Eckhart Tolle’s books and put them here for the world, all thirteen readers of you, to see. ;)

There are certain passages from all of his books that I have underlined, highlighted, circled, starred, tabbed…you get it. And they all come from separate times I’ve read the book. The passage I’m about to transcribe here comes from a book of his called Oneness With All Life. I fear even writing that because it’s an easy way to turn someone off to it–there’s so much “new agey” crap about solving the mystery of life and “finding happiness” that the more details I give I’m afraid the more you’ll be resistant to reading it. I can understand that, there’s a lot of people claiming to have LISTS and PROGRAMS and FIVE EASY STEPS promising you happiness that it’s almost depressing. Happiness is not some trophy you come upon and clench when you’ve truly done it. Don’t we know that by now? How can we not be blindingly aware that no, money doesn’t buy you happiness. Duh. Look at your rich friends or family…do they seem insanely happy? No. Of course they don’t. They’re just often unhappy living with SUPER awesome amenities. But they do get to fly first class and I always tell myself if I’m ever rich, THAT’S where my extravagant purchases will go to…traveling first class. I’ll remember with a shudder the horrors of the main cabin. See? Already spoiled. Complaining about the incredible GIFT OF FLIGHT.

I remember in an airport once, I saw a book called the Happiness Project….which was all about following these set of rules, because as many do, this woman had found herself married, two kids, a job and loving husband, and yet not really happy. So she began the voyage. And developed some program to follow to be happy. And guess what? She seemed to find happiness! And maybe she really did. But reading it I couldn’t help but think that it just felt a little obvious and maybe a little gimmicky. I believed she was truly trying to find happiness, I just couldn’t buy that these were the ways to “get there.”  There aren’t rules to being happy, people love knowing what to do, it helps them feel in control, and that alone assists with “happiness”. Which is why when things come up unexpected, we just lose our minds because WE DIDN’T PLAN FOR THIS DEBORAH! There’s a lot of people who will promise you can be happy, and live an entirely great life, if you just tweak a few things. And sometimes they’re right. But that self-help section is bursting at the seams with many more who don’t seem to know, and we’re gobbling it up for a reason: because we all want to know. TELL ME!!! I’ll do anything to escape my misery!!! Wait what? No I won’t do that.

The truth is, according to the modern mystics,  in order to achieve our own inner level of peace, we have to look deeply at ourselves, not others. We have to change ourselves, we have to see ourselves, become conscious of our life and our way of seeing things, our patterns we’ve been taught–to react and stress and yell, when really none of that is necessary. If it rains when it’s supposed to be sunny, it’s going to happen whether you lose your mind and freak out or say, oh well, what should we do now? And if there’s one thing I’ve witnessed time and again, it’s that when someone is freaking out because things didn’t go “right”, and other people are not freaking out and casually just moving along because um, hi, we don’t control the sun, THAT. PISSES. THEM. OFF. Interesting, isn’t it. That’s the ego, clinging for life, and now not just angry that its raining but that OTHER people aren’t angry it’s raining. It’s ridiculous. But it’s the way it bees, and it doesn’t have to bees that way. I just know that we should be incredibly leery of promises that your life and your happiness can be changed and attained all in five easy steps! I’m no Einstein, (REALLY!) but I know when it comes to happiness, more importantly, when it comes to true inner peace and joy, there are no shortcuts. Life is really hard, and you can’t evade the pain. But you don’t have to create extra pain for yourself. The “extra arrow” as my friend Daniel always talked about. The story we tell ourselves about the facts. You’re going to experience pain, but you’ve got to do your work to figure it out, find the hidden seed of grace, and find how to grow bigger from it bot let it swallow it you whole.  But a lot of our pain is self-created, and I do it to myself all the time. Convince myself of some madness or offense, only to find out later I was TOTALLY wrong and an idiot for believing what I did. That’s how we can help ourselves. Ignore ourselves. Haha. Ignore our thoughts, pay attention to our inner self–two very different things.  There’s no “List of “10 things to follow and you’re all set!” So burn that book, if it exists, and I”m sure it does.

Tolle and a few other mystics are very upfront about truth and about how to go absorbing what they’re putting out there. But they are of such a different breed–they’re not writing about how to “get happy.” Which is what people want. 5 steps to get happy! They’re writing about how to be conscious. How to save yourself from causing undue harm or pain to yourself or others. And when you’re conscious in the world, you’re honest, with yourself and others–you’re honest when you’ve messed up, when you’re lucky, in pain, grateful, loved, sorry, and when you love. When you’re conscious and honest, you can’t lie to yourself about what the true source of pain is. You may not be able to know what it is, but you can definitely know what is isn’t.

SO, every morning, I read from Tolle’s repertoire of wisdom—books I have read over and over and over and I will continue to do so. Because all of them elicit further consciousness every time you read them. I feel similarly about Michael Singer, Marianne Williamson, and especially Gary Zukav’s Seat of the Soul. I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. But I have long days. I don’t leave the house a lot. I have to learn how to harness the normally spent mental and psychological energy that would go outward into the world, into tasks and work and conventional effort, at home, in silence a lot, in solitude a lot, with no plans, no control. The biggy. This is not easy and can be a great source of pain, more than the illness itself. So, on Tuesdays, we’re gonna take Tolle’s words that really stick, with a cup of tea. And I’ll just write them here. Maybe they’ll stick with you too. But please don’t give up on this post because I’m rambling. I’m gonna stop. Here’s Teacher Tuesday’s Lesson One, and it’s one of the more profound and lasting passages I’ve read. SO here it goes. Also I just jumped right in to the center of his stuff so we’ll have some preliminary terms to go over. We’ll do that next Tuesday. I’m still learning. See you then.

People believe themselves to be dependent on what happens for their happiness, that is to say, dependent on form. They don’t realize that what happens is the most unstable thing in the universe. It changes constantly. They look upon the present moment as either marred by something that has happened and shouldn’t or as deficient because of something that has not happened but should. And so they miss the deeper perfection that is inherent in life itself, a perfection that is always already here, that lies beyond what is happening or not happening, beyond form. 

Accept the present moment and find the perfection that is deeper than any form and untouched by time. 

The most important, the primordial relationship in your life is your relationship with the Now, or rather with whatever form the Now takes–what is or what happens. If your relationship with the Now is dysfunctional, that dysfunction will be reflected in every relationship and every situation you encounter. The ego could be defined simply this way: a dysfunctional relationship with the present moment. It is at this moment that you can decide what kind of relationship you want to have with the present moment. Friend or enemy?

The present moment is inseparable from life, so you are really deciding what kind of relationship you want to have with life. Once you have decided you want the present moment to be your friend, it is up to you to make the first move: Become friendly toward it, welcome it no matter in what disguise it comes and soon you will see results. Life becomes friendly toward you; people become helpful, circumstances cooperative. One decision changes your entire reality. But that one decision you have to make again and again and again–until it becomes natural to live in such a way. 

Health, Happiness, Tolle Teachin

**Awesome artwork by Sarah Elise Abramson

Exshoes Me?

Someone explain to me why these shoes exist.

Why are they 400 dollars.

Why are they award winning.

Why is 300 dollars considered on sale. But they’re on sale you guys! SALE! 
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I’ve got a lot more writing to do, and mindfulness to be mindful of and reading of things that warrant being read. But all I can think about is these loud pom pom shoes (their words not mine.) I keep picturing if a clown/magician hybrid was at a birthday party and said “Hey, wanna see what kind of footwear I can produce, merely by farting?” THESE would be the shoes. And they’re not even that bad. In fact, they’re kind of funny. And I appreciate a sense of humor in fashion. Not to mention, in the marketplace of women’s footwear, (namebrand anyway) $400 is almost nothing, which is insane in its own right.

But these aren’t Louboutins or any of those other fancy hard-to-pronouce brands that warrant their price by brand alone and also merely sounding expensive. This is just the world we live in. Why can’t I get them out of my mind? That red color? They’re not that bad. Could I actually like these shoes? And then not like myself because I actually like these shoes? No. This is getting too existential and there are wars going on. This never happened.

BUT FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR CLOWN BUTT EXPLOSION SHOES? OK stopping. I’m now thinking it’s possible I might like the shoes. Also, I made this blog about shoes a long time ago with an oppressive amount of indoor time on my hands. I never released it into the wild because it’s not actually ready or done or whatever. But I guess now is as good a time as any. I’ll work on it. It’s called Is This A Shoe? Inspired by an ad for something that I think was supposed to be a shoe but I truly could not distinguish if this was something to wear on your foot or a childs toy from Ikea. (See second shoe from the bottom) Attributed also to the amount of inside time you have when you’re sick and in bed and have run out of cracks to stare at crawling along the ceiling. Click to see shoe blog. 

Oh yeah, and now some vastly more important matters before I go. Good God I should be ashamed of myself. This should be at the top. Anyway, pay attention:

Unrest the documentary is on Netflix, so you ain’t even gotta pay. Just watch it. You know you were just gonna watch The Office or Parks and Rec again, or feel sad that Stranger Things is over for a depressingly long time, so do yourself a favor and watch a really good, real life, movie. If you don’t have an account, email me, I’ll give you my password so you can watch.

SIGN/SHARE the petition. I abandoned it a while. It was a sickly and bad year, yada yada yada. Lots of excuses. But if I can advocate other’s work, why am I not advocating this one? It’s dumb, I’m dumb sometimes. So please, just know the petition is still UP AND RUNNING, and yesterday, we hit 44,000 signatures!! Still really, really incredible it’s acquired those kinds of numbers. All the more ways to DISRUPT and get the world to see. Power in numbers. Yada yada, you know all this. It would be really sweet to get to 50,000 by Spring, and then one million by summer, don’t ya think? Me too. I think we can do it. So let’s do it.

Until next time I come across something banal and obvious that I don’t understand…

Health, Happiness, Fight On

My Super Duper Serious Farewell Video to 2017

I worked super cereally hard on this video you guys! I’m seriously cereal! Sorry, link was broken before– youtube couldn’t handle the serious complexity of this super serious farewell video.

 

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Here’s a picture of a rain dropped sloth, because, why not?

Health, Happiness, and 2018 Bring. It. On. Like Donkey Kong. Yeah I said it.

***Artwork of sloth, plus so much other great art, by Sonia Kretschmar, and you can look and enjoy all of it! Here or soniak.com. Keep goin Sonia, your art makes me happy.

Looking Up

If you’ve ever looked at that iconic photograph of earth sent back from space by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972, chances are you may have felt very small. The things you do can seem insultingly unimportant, useless, or a total waste of energy—the effort, our pain, the whole point becoming lost in the incomprehensible hugeness of it all. In one snapshot is a glimpse of our existence within the context of an entire planet: billions of people.

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There we are, floating, in orbit, rotating at some figure I could never pretend to compute or understand. A sphere of blue and green, dusted with blurs of white clouds we learned the names of in fourth grade. Cumulonimbus. Stratus. But it expands even further. A planet, within a galaxy, within a solar system, within a boundless universe for which we can only account for a relatively small portion. Why am I worried about the U2 album that came pre-programmed on my iPhone? I didn’t ask for that album Bono, I didn’t ask! But you look at our planet like that, and sometimes it helps spot spilled milk when we’re unable to discern it ourselves.

Snapshots just like this are every where in all types of forms– landscapes like the ocean, trees hundreds of years old, music that hits us somewhere deep or a night sky full of stars. They stir inside us some sacred moment demanding our attention. Attention beyond the five senses. These are the stirrings of Consciousness, I think. Or becoming aware of it. That divine desert in our depths, dormant and shy, but reliable like a sleeping dog, waiting on us to wake up and snap our fingers, let him lead the way. Always that calm sits in the background of our thoughts—that sturdy part that never leaves. The gap between breaths, but we forget. Last week I sensed it watching the wind rustle the leaves of the bamboo in our yard for I don’t know how long. I don’t get out a lot.
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I know this is Consciousness I’m confronting, because a stillness envelops me, time melts like a clock in a Dahli painting, and the typical limits and boundaries fade. A noise that usually dominates the atmosphere diminishes to silence. I haven’t arrived or gotten anything, I’ve simply met the present moment and there the forms, my thoughts and the sounds seem to run out of ink. A space is required for Consciousness to awaken, but it’s usually drowned out by the incessant noise of our lives. Opinions and drama and auto-pilot tasks and Snapchat. Trump. Chatter. Twitter! 

We are bombarded by distraction, no doubt, and there will never be a shortage to keep us looking the other way. Because consciousness doesn’t operate according to the limits of space or time, we are glimpsing eternity in that instance. A non-quantity! It’s no wonder we can’t hold the reality of this perspective in the forefront of our minds for very long. It almost operates on a separate plain. Size without a producable sum total– time beyond a unit of measurement: this is not how we learned to understand the world. It’s like trying to remember what words looked like before we learned to read. Then going out in the world and being told not to interpret the thousands of messages we’re assaulted by. Even Monty knows this is basically impossible. It will take some time to unlearn the default.

So we can only live in that space for so long before it vanishes out from under us, like a dream that dissipates as we slowly awake. The sky then fades back to a ceiling, a black ceiling with white dots. The ocean returns to an aquatic location where we swim and fish and take family pictures at sunset. And why not? Sunset by the ocean is the perfect backdrop for photos.

d62e90913370966f6d5efa7a2e878b0b.jpgThis Consciousness is hard to reconcile with the world we live in though, because it veritably negates the way we’ve been taught to perceive the world for centuries. At the same time it also perfectly encapsulates  Tolle’s explanation of our life here, which he emphasizes is not according to time, but to being awake in the now–the closest thing to time that actually exists. The Eternal Moment, he calls it, which works out in every scenario where you try and deconstruct it. I’ve tried. Still, when you’re down here in the dirt, when you’re in pain, it seems far too simple a way for things to operate.

So when the window opens, we can expect it to be small, but we should hold on as long as we can. I know that’s where a much more permanent and truthful dimension in us lies, it just hardly gets time out of the box. So I try not to be afraid of the quiet, of being alone, of having nothing “to do”. In these uncommon, custom moments, forces larger than us might be at work, awakening something that the whole world, not just us, is in great need of.

Most nights, I walk home from my parents house with Monty. They lock the door behind me and sometimes my mom yells Watch for snakes! Marc flips the switch and the Christmas lights in our trees illuminate a path to my house, a whole 15 steps away. Monty bolts off feigning a hunt of a squirrel or raccoon or some other Southern vermin. Midway between our houses is a small wooden path over the ditch that connects their yard to my driveway. Every time I reach that bridge, I stop, almost reflexively. I look up. Every time.

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Sometimes I’m holding a laundry basket full of clean laundry with my head pointed upward at the sky and mouth agape like an idiot. I often don’t even remember making the decision to stop or look up, I just find myself with my head directed that way. For whatever reason I think, I’ll remember this when I’m older. I see these constellations of stars and whatever shape the moon takes and if I’m lucky, rarely, a shooting star. I remember then too: the sky is not a ceiling. The sky is not a ceiling. Then I try to reconcile that truth without my mind exploding, and consider that what I’m looking at goes on. Then I try to humbly just appreciate the beauty of this magnanimous thing and think  think how I have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m looking at.

I just know I’m mesmerized by what I see and some part of me is drawn to look there, every night. I wonder a hundred things. A part of me thinks maybe it’s the soul making a nod toward its source. The same way we’re drawn to look out at the ocean or up at trees the height of sky scrapers.  Maybe it’s just a bunch of burning gas with no intrinsic meaning and this is a crap romanticists idea of the cosmos. But that notion feels too simple when held up to the backdrop of the universe’s complexity.  Just like staring out at the ocean. These stars, this water: all here before us. All to go on after we’re gone.

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I think when we capture these hiccups in time, it’s not meant meant to make us feel small or meaningless; That none of this matters.  But I do think it helps us remember that our time here is temporary. We don’t exist on earth forever, which the human being practically takes as an insult. How dare there comes a point when I die! So we don’t talk about it, fine. We don’t have to talk about it. But we have to deflect the thought that just because we live in a boundless world with a kazillion people that we’re somehow replaceable and we don’t play a very needed and unique part in the production. It takes a trust that’s very hard to reach for, let alone find. I don’t know what the answer is, but I can assume one is that we’re not meant to torture ourselves over not knowing it. Maybe living with the mystery while trusting our path is answer enough, for now.

I’ve been writing about this for a while because one, my brain has run the speed of sap. And two, I’ve been sick every day this week and stuck in a half conscious state in bed. The last 4 months haven’t been much better besides an occasional ‘OK’ day. I realize compared to some of my sick counterparts, thats nothing. But still, it’s hard. It’s like you’re tethered to the world, and you slowly start to drift outward, losing your connection to people, your passions, a reason that makes sense. The further away you float, the more convinced you become that cutting the chord would be no big deal. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and I don’t say that flippantly. I say it as a testament to the power of the mind and our thoughts. They can actually make us believe we don’t matter, which is a dangerously powerful indictment that can be incredibly hard to fight off. I’ve been there, and I’ve had people help dig me out of the hole. I’ve been lucky, and I know that.

During trying times like this when my body feels like it fails me repeatedly, I’ve lost my belief that there is worth in a life spent sick this way. But that stillness, that other plain that awakens under night skies or oceans that you can’t see the edge of, it is so much more powerful if we only give it space to grow. Even just recalling that I’ve felt it before can help me remember that these periods in the dark will be “burned up by the light of consciousness” (Tolle), as they have before. I am still learning. Part of that lesson is to accept the mystery of pain, to even yell at the sky about it if that’s what has to happen, but to keep going, nonetheless. Even if you don’t trust where you are, keep going. At least allow yourself the relief of eventually finding a place you do trust. Like Churchill said, If you’re going through hell, keep going.tumblr_n18wf3teth1r7wnmko1_r2_1280

Life is working in pieces, one day at a time, like always. It doesn’t have to make sense in order for us to be happy. I wish it would– I feel violently curious for answers sometimes, knowing good and well that no answer will bring back the things I’ve lost.  But here we are, who we are, with the hand we’ve been dealt. It matters now how we play our hand in the game. With carefulness, attention, and reverence that you’ve got a hand at the table at all. Be still, make space. And look up once in a while.

I’m talking to myself again. It doesn’t matter. I still I believe there are answers everywhere. We don’t have to know them to awaken the space where they might be easier to find.

Health, Happiness, Looking Up

 

Spanksgiving

Sometimes it’s not easy to recognize the things in life that deserve gratitude. When life is smooth sailing, everything can become so repetitive, so routine, that you almost operate on autopilot. You come to expect things will be a certain way and forget that nothing is actually promised or guaranteed. The bottom can fall out at any time. Most of us have experienced or seen that happen to someone, and it doesn’t always make sense why. It doesn’t have to I guess.

On the flip side, when you’re going through a particularly tough time, it’s unsurprisingly hard to find reasons to be appreciative. Most people have endured a “When it rains it pours” time in their life, and usually during the rain, it feels like some kind of cosmic punishment. It’s not exactly easy to take a few minutes of stillness and consider the things and people you’re grateful for when life is kicking your proverbial ass. And yet there are always things, always people, rare moments or a single act of kindness that if you think long enough, will start to emerge. If nothing pops up, keep thinking. It will come.

I wouldn’t count this year as one of my easier ones or best in health. There’s been a lot of learning and experiences that I wouldn’t write on my “List of Pleasantries” if I had a “List of Pleasantries.” There has been pain and heartache and a lot of feeling lost. But I know that even among all that, when I take even a minute, once a day, and write down the things I’m thankful for, I am less likely to get pulled in or lost in my ‘story’. I have to continually remind myself of the good things in my life and the people I am lucky enough to love and be loved by. Some days it’s easier to remember than others.

It’s not a denial of pain, which requires its own outlet. It’s just a deeper look beyond the surface of larger things at work. It’s seeing things and people in the spaces, the gaps, the small pocket of happiness you might have missed before. My more challenging experiences this year have actually illuminated the ways I’m fortunate and I have felt more gratitude now than at any other time of my life. It’s almost counterintuitive, I wouldn’t have expected that. But pain can do all kinds of things, it’s a shame it has to hurt so much. Jeesh.

Expressing gratitude has surprised me in how it shapes my outlook when I keep it in mind. I’m always trying to at least identify one thing to be thankful for. Even if its “I’m grateful this crappy day is over,” it’s still acknowledging something that encourages growth, momentum, that phrase I’m always repeating in my head: Keep going. Keep going. 

I don’t write this as though these things are easy. It doesn’t take much for me to slip down the rabbit hole of feeling bitter about where I am in my life, about being the age I am and still requiring help, at not getting the life back that I had before. I miss my friends. I miss wearing real clothes. And I become afraid at what my future will be.

Every year that goes by I become more scared that I’ll never be an actual adult. I’ll be in a permanent state of need. I’ll be 80 and my 120 year old mother will be feeding me cream of wheat and we’ll fight over which show to watch.  But I don’t like the idea of anger or bitterness being the last things I think of before I fall asleep or when I wake up. So I work hard to see past the outer experience and at what it might be allowing to happen underneath. Being bitter about needing help from your parents can just as easily be gratitude for having parents that are willing to help you. It’s all about perspective, and taking the time to see and acknowledge things on the other side, and there’s always another side.

I think sometimes my mind tries to process my whole existence at once, which is mentally overwhelming. Duh.

It’s OK to acknowledge when things suck, and being sick all the time sucks, we can say it. But it’s really only when I jump into a future I can’t know, when I try to gain control over something that isn’t possible that I get into trouble. Sometimes I find myself stressing about things that may not even happen, or things 20 years down the line. What? I don’t even know what I’m doing in an hour! Here in the present moment, there is space for things like gratitude to exist. When you’re panicking, there’s hardly room to breathe, let alone be thankful that there are montages of people falling on youtube and it made you laugh till you cried.

If I my mind gets too carried away, goes too far down the rabbit hole, I give it a slap on the wrist, a mental spanking. And I tell myself to look. It’s not hard to see that I have the things that matter. If I can just stay present, take things one at a time, which oddly enough is sort of required when you’re sick, I can stay awake. I can still see the things I missed before and treasure simple times. There will be chaos and wreckage and things will fall apart, but it seems like the vital things are always somewhere in the quiet aftermath when you take time for stillness and look. The things that matter are there. I guess they never left in the first place.

My favorite author, Haruki Murikami wrote something pretty incredible that I play over in my mind a lot:
                                              Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

A pretty simple and beautiful way of considering life, yeah? I think so too. I’m working on not suffering on top of pain. And I have a small but incredible circle of people in my life who help me see what needs seeing or remember what I’ve forgotten in a moment of madness. I am grateful for so much, even when things are hard. It helps to remember.

Health, Happiness, Spank You

Me Write Now

So, it’s been… an interesting month. The viewing event of Unrest in California was really incredible. I have so much to write about all of it, but given that my brain has a time limit of functionality lately, I’ll just say quickly the most important part now: watch this movie. It’s a really, really well done documentary and surprised me in ways my mashed-potato brain can’t convey at the moment. But when my mind is more functional I’ll get further into it. But watch it–iTunes, Amazon, Google play. Find it, rent it, learn a lot– but also see some incredible stories. I strongly recommend it. It will not disappoint.

Here’s the trailer.

I think my brain is still in recovery mode. After the flight home, it wasn’t just a body crash but a brain crash.  For whatever reason, air travel has become increasingly overwhelming for me–mostly due to the noise. There is such a wide range of stimuli you’re constantly exposed to when you fly. Visibly, audibly, socially, physically. But for me it’s sound. I seem to have lost the “buffer” we were born with that smooths things out for us to hear, and the typical noises–converging gate announcements, people on their cell phones, the sound of the plane engine, the automatic flushing toilets, the sound of the captains “status update”–they all feel like an assault to my head. I know it these seems like small and petty things to bring up. And when I was well I never would’ve noticed or been bothered by things like that. But now they are actually painful. By the time I make it home…I’m wiped. I haven’t mentally really felt the same since we returned. I’ve been in an either hyper-sensitive mode of everything at once, or a hazy, sap-paced state where trying to complete a thought is as arduous as an old man trying to get out of a hammock.

The fact that I’m dealing with some major emotional whacks (a breakup, for one) has only made things go more haywire. In fact I think it was a lot of emotion mixed with regular cognitive overload that sort of took things over the edge. That and the insanely loud cacophony of those damn automatic toilets. It feels like my brain is going to shatter and shoot out of my ears when they flush. If I end up in hell, those flushing toilets will be the soundtrack. Just so we’re all clear.

When I think about my cranium I picture that delicate glass slipper being forced on the ugly step-sisters far-too-large foot. There just isn’t enough room in there for everything to find it’s place and get processed normally or in order.  It will suddenly enter an erratic state and my thoughts start flying from every direction dealing with any and every topic, related or not, and instigating every kind of emotion in a matter of seconds. It’s like a hail storm of mental calamities flying at high speeds up there, and I’m just trying not to be get hit. Orrr, it moves so slowly and stuttered I can hardly say my full name out loud without pausing to remember like, my middle name. Soo, cognitively…still in recovery. Please stand by.

Trying to avoid your own fast-paced thoughts and emotions, or extremely slow ones, isn’t really possible. Like Tolle says, you don’t evade them, you learn to watch them, and remember you’re the one observing them, but you aren’t the thoughts themselves. He’s right, but dang, it ain’t easy. Peasy. In fact it’s crazy hard. But, we try.

Yesterday, I realized I had spent 2 hours writing and rewriting the same paragraph. One! Who knows what that paragraph was even about, I had to quit when I realized I took a break and was looking for my phone charger in the refrigerator. I truly could not think straight–and that led to a whole cascade of things happening and a really fun couple of hours on the floor of my moms bedroom where she brought me back to reality. Thanks mom. I don’t know what that paragraph was about,  probably about feeling lost on top of feeling like butt. BUT, no matter the finished outcome, I can say with a good amount of certainty that it wasn’t good enough to warrant two hours of work. I was just stuck. It would be funny if after two hours the end product was like:

Me Mary. Me sick. Times hard. Heartache hurts. Time heals wounds. Time moves forward only. Time is taking a very long time. Hurry up time! God! My mom is hero. Head and face feel like human punching bag getting lots of use. Monty is therapy walking on four legs. Friends matter. Life tough but onward we march. Keep going. It gets better. Keep going. Keep going. Wait stop! OK keep going.

That’s basically it in a nutshell. Anybody want the 5,000 word version? Yeah, didn’t think so. Maybe I’ll talk in cave-woman all the time. It’s pretty efficient I must admit. I think I just have to rest my brain for now, but I didn’t want to feel totally defeated. Writing has always been an outlet, and I’m not letting the disease that shall not be named take it away. So I figured I’d write this post, not read back over it, and just let the world know: Yes, you are kicking my ass right now. But I’m still here. Still going. Bring it.

Health, Happiness, Me Try Hard

*Small note to the world, I was kidding when I said “bring it.” Please don’t bring anything else, we’re all full over here. OK? I was joking and I just wanted to make that clear to the universe. That was a joke. No more shit, K? For real. Cool. Peace.

 

 

Bananas

 

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Cheer Up Lil Banana

It’s crazy how paralyzing a depressed mood can be, isn’t it? Technically it’s just a crappy
state of mind—and here it is pinning you to the bed, with a few cement blocks thrown on top just for fun. You have to get mechanical. Some practical robotic part of you has to step in start calling shots and you have to let it, or you’ll spoil like a banana in your bed. Nobody likes a spoiled banana. I’m going to get out of bed and let out the dog. I’m going to make a cup of coffee and watch the cream creep around the cup. I’m going to feed the dog and give him water and when I pet him at the door I’ll say something possibly sarcastic out loud like “Monty, your owner might be insane.” Then he’ll wag his tail as though I just told him we’re going to Disney World and it’s made purely of tennis balls that throw themselves automatically. Or maybe he’ll think ‘Jesus, my owner really is insane.’ But already, it’s dissipating. Just seeing his tale wag, it stirs something happy in me and moving becomes a little easier. Get back in bed, put the heat pack on your feet, take the morning dose of those 25 pills and let the blood and serotonin pump and swirl and bring you back to life. 

And now here you are. I don’t know why I’m writing about rotting human fruit, there are so many other worthwhile things I could be writing about or I could be doing despite feeling like a bucket of a-holes. But I guess I can’t handle being on hold with Walgreens anymore, and I also find it interesting that physical movement actually does help fade those thoughts on repeat: the ones that usually aren’t very positive in nature. Movement or change of scene seems to change the channel in your brain somehow, and now the sun is coming in through the windows and you’re sipping coffee and your sentient self starts thinking You know, it’s probably all going to be fine and you’re kind of freaking out over nothing. Duh. Of course it will be OK. I mean, it’s going to hurt, but hurting never killed you before. Let yourself cry, feel the pain—you’re well aware now that it’s all part of the deal. But remember too the ammo you carry; the knowledge of painful times you’ve survived before, where everything was crashing down, things were in pieces, but life went on somehow. It reassembled. It kept going, just like you will today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. None of this is permanent. Just do what’s in front of you. Do the dishes while you have energy. Save the little frogs who can’t get out of the pool. Draw or play guitar or write a letter.  Done and done. It’s going to be OK. Don’t listen to Taylor Swift right now. Or maybe ever. Just kidding Tay Tay. But for real what’s with that new song?

Days like these, where just moving is hard, and it’s not (completely) because I’m sick but because I’m just sad, it makes me think of all the people who have this disease and literally can’t move. They are bedridden, and every morning is waking up to the reality that they can’t just walk it off or change the channel in their brain by changing up their environment or going for a hike. They can’t listen to music they find therapeutic because this disease lives in the brain too—It cuts off sensory pleasure. I have sound sensitivity, I have some days where I don’t get out of bed because I’m heavy and weak and dizzy yada yada, days where the light from the windows is painful and all I want to do is sleep, praying that the next day will be better. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. But having met the people I have, and learning about those who suffer with severe MECFS, literally living in dark bedrooms—meanwhile people, actual doctors, are still under the impression that gentle exercise will fix this, that cognitive behavioral therapy will most likely help it…It’s discouraging. It makes me mad for them, and I’m not even dealing with a fraction of the suffering that they are. I know that getting mad won’t do anything, except make me physically worse actually, so I just have to do what I can to help fix this thing. It can feel overwhelming when I try to gauge the whole deal and all of the things we have to correct and change, meanwhile I can hardly do my stupid dishes. But I remember: one thing at a time, one project, one idea, one moment. Don’t get ahead of yourself—you don’t even have the energy to do that. I can thank for the disease for that!

I never wrote about it, probably because I didn’t want to jinx it, and also because it’s an extremely vulnerable thing to me, but I fell in love this summer. Like every time I’ve fallen in love, it’s been out of nowhere, fast, consuming, and… a gift. Things are kind of up in the air right now, which is never, you know, the most fun place to be. But I guess if it’s over, there’s really nothing to lose in writing about it now. It’s just hard, either way. Even loving someone like hell, this disease makes every part of it harder. Every breakup I’ve had since getting sick has had a whole hell of a lot to do with the fact that I am often a human wasteland and it’s probably not very fun watching someone be sick all the time. Especially when there’s nothing you can do. You can’t fix it. I don’t know how to be sick and date someone. I don’t really know how to do any of this.

The thing is, I think people assume we’re expecting more than we are. There is something you can do. I think this is where so much of our approach and ideas around being sick go wrong. It’s true you can’t fix the disease. It’s true there will be some very tough days. I don’t expect a dude to swoop in and save me. I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way anyway. The thing to do is just to be there. To make your concern and encouragement known when things are crashing like an airplane. It’s just like people’s awkward reaction to the bereaved who nervously admit “Oh I wouldn’t even know what to say,”  when in comes to being around someone after they’ve suffered a loss. I’ve written it here before but I”ll write it over and over, There is nothing to say. You can’t fix many problems in the world, and it’s such a human flaw to think that if we can’t fix it we have no role to play. 

I get it, it’s really uncomfortable when somebody dies. Trust me, I would know. Nobody likes a crying woman or knows what to say to a crying man, but crying is just what you do, man. It’s the natural way to deal with things. But we get all fidgety about it, we want it to stop. Let the people cry! There, that’s my protest of the day.

Sometimes being sick, on really bad days, I cry. It’s not helpful in the least, and it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. I don’t even know what I’m saying at times. But when I’m crashing, my mind just feels like it’s melting. And often I’m alone, and the thought always likes to come in and play a starring role in my mind that “You’re gonna die here dude, all alone. Bummer.” Thank you brain, that is really helpful right now. Maybe you could tell me about the worlds water shortage and then also show me some pictures of my friends on vacation. It’s not a true thought in the least, I never seem to die. Hah. And a crash will not kill me. I’m just mentally and emotionally wobbly when my body starts going down sometimes, and there’s not a lot to do. Often if I just sit and breathe and hear something reassuring, like “It’s going to be OK. Take it easy. This will pass.” …The most basic lines ever, I’ll usually be back to my normal crazy self in no time. But it’s difficult to convey what you need sometimes. I can only imagine how hard it is from the outside and I can’t pretend that dating me and my whole….situation…is easy. But what can you do but give it a go. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The important thing always to remember, is it will be OK. And sometimes I just have to repeat that phrase to myself so I remember it and I get a hold of all the useless thoughts floating around up there, like “You’re gonna die man!!!!” No brain, I’m not gonna die. I’m gonna be OK.

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Stupid brain, I will listen to a banana instead!

In the meantime, things can become really hard. They can suck a whole lot. But then it stops sucking, and you keep your eyes open and you keep truckin and life will surprise you. I’ve learned over the long haul: nothing in the last 6 years has been a plan of mine or the result of careful design on my part. I just have to stay open to the possibility of good things, and truthfully, they always seem to find a way in.

If you’re having a rough…whatever, hang in there. It happens. But it doesn’t stay.

Health, Happiness, Bananas

Great Expectations…OK Zero Expectations

Something funny happens when you become chronically ill. Ready? You become totally shitty at fulfilling the roles that probably came easy and natural to you before The Grand Interruption. Parent, kid, sibling, husband, wife, friend–all of those roles are going to suffer, because you’re simply unable to do the things you could before. Your capabilities become limited, your time becomes precious and cornered, and your ability to meet your and other peoples expectations will fall short, again and again. I admit it fully, I’m in general an unreliable source of help, or maybe just unreliable period. And if you don’t think that stabs me straight in the ego, then try saying out loud “I’m a human wasteland” and see how it feels. Because that’s about how it feels.

But we have to be fair, to ourselves and others. We can’t hold ourselves to the same standards as before, especially when we don’t have the same working parts. And we have to remember that the adjustments we make are not adaptations that we alone have to get used to. All those people for whom we provided some kind of role, they’re going to be affected too. They’re going to get exhausted, be disappointed, feel the pain of you not being who you used to be, just as you, the sick person will. I don’t know what it’s like to be a friend or a family member of Mary Gelpi, but I know that I begin 90% of my texts, emails, and conversations with an apology–because I couldn’t make it, I’m responding so late, I won’t be able to attend (insert anything important) I’m sure they become as tired of hearing it as I become of saying it. It’s exhaustive, saying sorry all the time. It’s probably tiresome to be on the other end of it too. But you are sorry, you don’t want to be this crappy of a friend or sister or girlfriend–and while being sick is nobody’s fault, it is the reality and it’s going to be painful. Learning to redefine our roles must be a lifelong process, I’m not sure. I just know I’m still learning.

Maybe a part of being proactive in that transition is becoming more honest and realistic with myself about what I’m able to do. I don’t deny that I suffer from wishful thinking, and probably make commitments I shouldn’t. Letting people know that I can’t be counted on, which is still hard to say, would probably let fewer people down less often. They have to know what to expect, which is unfortunately very little, but it’s up to us to fill them in.  Sometimes you get so busy being sick, you forget to communicate. You forget that people don’t know, or remember. Or you give up on telling them because it can feel repetitive and pointless, but I don’t think that’s true in reality. If I’m not honest about what I can do, out of fear or pride or whatever it is, I will let people down because they won’t know where the line is

I’ve had to face the reality in the last few years that there is no such thing as “solid plans” for me, or relying on myself 100% to be able to follow through with them. Every plan basically has an invisible “tentatively” written behind it. Last month I rescheduled 3 doctors appointments because I was too sick to make it. I have no idea how I’ll feel one day to the next, and that takes constant adjustment. I remember my whole family coming to visit last summer, they were sitting around my living room trying to figure out who could babysit the kids while they went to the French Quarter for the day. I remember sitting in the room saying Guys, I’m right here, I’ll watch them. I was actually, momentarily, offended that they didn’t consider me. Then someone said Mary, you can’t even do your dishes right now. Oh yeah, whoops. I forgot my own unreliability! As Louis C. K. would put it, I’m a non-contributing zero. Hah, yes. That sounds right. I had to laugh that even I couldn’t remember that I just can’t be counted on right now, and as much as that can be a kick in the gut to admit, it’s sort of silly to take it personally. If you’re sick, you’re sick–just admit it and keep moving.

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“Sweetie, can you do the dishes?” “No dad, I’m a non-contributing zero.” “Oh, right. Well, we love you anyway!” “Thanks guys.” “OK now get out of the way so we can do the dishes.”

 

I said in the beginning that being sick makes us crappy at fulfilling our roles, and in the traditional sense that may be true. But it also remains that when you’re sick, you just can’t do what you can’t do. If you don’t have legs, you can’t walk. It’s toxic to compare yourself to an old life where all your faculties were in place, to a new one where half your parts aren’t working. But being sick forces you to redefine your role, and I think there are ways to use your new way of “being” in the world and still be functioning in your respective roles. It’s not as is being sick effects your ability to love. If anything it’s made me love deeper, made me more grateful, and made the friendships that have lasted grow in certain ways. Still, I fail a lot, and many times it’s because I’m a flawed human being, not a chronically sick person. So I try to be extra cautious of both. Like most things being sick teaches, awareness seems to be key.

I’m always asking the questions that I think everyone is asking; am I doing the right thing, am I good person, what am I meant to do with my life? My circumstances? We all have our different sets of assets and vices, and it’s a balancing act trying to find the middle part where your feet are solid on the ground. Becoming chronically sick picks up your lifeless body and throws it upside down and backwards so that when you land you hardly know which way “up” is. It’s a puzzle, a maze, finding your way, but not impossible. The guru’s are always asking “How are you going to use what’s been given to you?” I always looked at that question as asking how I’d use the gifts I was given–the positive things in my life. Now I realize the question is far deeper than that…I think more often they mean, What will you do with your pain? How will you use this Extreme Disturbance to do better? Well hell, I don’t know. I just know that all we can do is try. Many times that means living with the mystery and not the answer. Also not easy to do.

I think it’s possible to use the condition of being sick in positive ways and to also maintain your roles by newly defining them. It seems to require incredible creativity and ingenuity, and I’ve certainly suffered from a lack of those many times. But I know there are ways to transform your old ways into new ones that are equally rewarding but not costly or impossible. I wouldn’t have confronted these conundrums if I hadn’t become sick and lost control of all the things I used to think of as mine. It has at least opened me up to the possibility of higher consciousness, and compared to who I was, I know the Mary without control has a better grasp on reality, is more compassionate, a better listener, less proud and more forgiving. I hope that doesn’t sound like bragging, I just think it’s good to examine the gifts that our so-called shitty circumstances can uncover. I obviously have a long way to go, but I know being sick has opened up deeper channels for me, and transformed the way I see the world and being in it.  Maybe it’s selfish, but I learned forgiveness by having to forgive myself first–for being where I was, for the things I could not do, for always thinking I should be doing better or further along. I had to let the unrealistic expectations go, and forgive myself for not reaching them.

I remember in my first serious relationship, which wasn’t until college, he frequently complained that I never apologized. My response was always “But that’s because I’m not the one who did anything wrong.” Holy cow, I’m the worst! It took years of learning humility and grace that being and saying sorry is a virtuous thing. It means recognizing your wrongdoing and at least becoming temporarily conscious of things you can do better. When you have a fight with someone, sometimes it’s because one person flat-out messed up. But many times, it takes two to tango, and talking things out, forgiving, letting go…all of it is stuff that moves both people forward. I don’t say this pretending as though I’ve mastered the art–I only know it’s there, it’s a choice. And it’s a good thing to know. I don’t know what or who I’d be like, were I still in my structured world, independent, living my life. But I know I enjoy the view from where I am now much more. I almost don’t look at life as mine anymore–I’m not sure whose it is. I’m still the driver, but it’s definitely a borrowed car.

Anyway, I guess this is your healthy reminder to keep those expectations low! And be grateful for the people who love you despite your human-wastelandednesss. They obviously see that you’re still cool despite being sick. And when people ask you to do something you’re incapable of, remind them with a smile: “I’m a non-contributing zero!” Then find new ways to contribute. :)

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“Son, you’re a non-contributing zero, and that’s OK.”     “…Thanks Dad.”

Health, Happiness, New Expectations

 

How to Write About Pain

For a few days now, I’ve been writing about the experience of chronic pain, in a descriptive way that might convey the experience to someone who’s never lived with it before, and also as a comparison against acute/short-term pain, beyond their obvious difference in duration. I think I finally came up with a good analogy to depict the experience of daily pain, the internal battle it becomes, the consuming and exhaustive nature it takes on. But I’m not going to write about that yet. Because also for the last few days, I’ve been questioning why I’ve taken the time to try and get this very unique experience across anyway. I’ve wondered whether it’s futile in the first place, but more I’ve been reflecting on whether the point in it is genuine; if I’m doing a service of any kind, or if my ego has found a formal way to complain. Like Tolle says, that is the ego’s favorite thing to do.

As an FYI, I’ll post about chronic pain next time, because I do actually think it’s important to explore for many reasons, especially if you’ve not been through it. And I’ll write more about why when I come there. But first I had to type out loud, because I question the morality of what I do–writing about my broken body and the battles that accompany it–or if there is any in it, all the time. I constantly ask whether I’m evolving, learning anything, or passing good things along, important things. Or if I’ve sunk to the lowest common denominator of the human experience, something literally everyone goes through in his life, and if it’s just too easy to make that a goal and have it blinded by ego.

I always worry about going too far into how “bad” things can feel. Sometimes, there is truly no point in bemoaning something you can’t control, and it doesn’t help anyone to go on and on about any matter of it. In fact it can easily make things worse, redirecting the mind to focus on negative aspects and intensifying the size of something that you are trying to keep small, in check. Not to mention, you’ll bore everyone to tears. No one likes a whiner, and I try to be cautious about keeping the line drawn, bold and underlined between the two pathways the narrative can take:

One describes an experience so that people on the outside might have a better idea of what his fellow humans are dealing with. It can help expand “common ground”, I think. If it’s done a very good job, it might help replace judgment with compassion, or prevent misunderstanding or a lack of empathy due to disbelief that it’s even real. It helps close the gap between the experiences of two people who have not lived in the others world.

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Guilty
The other path, takes pain and gives it too much of a stage. It exploits something that all humans go through in some capacity and disguises itself as some kind of cursed reward. It gains momentum by reliving the same woes with new words, and by getting others indulge in their own without reflection. It’s not adding anything new or valuable to the conversation. If it isn’t honest or asking for help, if it isn’t uplifting people, but just reinforcing old wounds, it’s fair to say it’s gone south. Ever notice how someone complaining can rub off on you and lead you to do the same, or simply leave you feeling depressed? I’ve experienced it in person, and I know writing and reading accounts can be just as powerful.

Similarly, a positive person, who still acknowledges reality but seems to see through their moment of pain, can leave you feeling hopeful and inspired. The difference is not that these people haven’t endured pain, but what they’ve done with it. How they chose to let it shape them.

I know I’ve crossed over into the negative side way more than I’d like to admit, and probably even fooled myself into thinking it was necessary. Talking about hardship will always draw people in, because we’re all being challenged in our own ways, carrying our unique burdens. But that’s why I scratch half these posts or become too afraid to write about things. It’s a necessary and good thing to talk about the realities we face, because so often it provides people reinforcement, encouragement, reminders they are not alone and the vital belief that they can endure their hardship, just as many before them have, and emerge on the other side. Reading other peoples stories has always inspired and comforted me. Sometimes I distrust myself and skip out on telling certain stories or of certain experiences, but I think maybe it takes practice in reading enough good stories, and knowing the difference between which one will do good, and which one is the ego getting his fill.

I pray constantly to be a source of optimism through honesty, not to exploit a reality that’s in comparison to some, very very lucky. I think you write about pain the same way you live with it, which is to keep in checked moderation and right sized, and attempt to keep eternity in view, somehow. I don’t know how to do this, but I know some good ways not to. So what can I do but try and hope that I’m on the right side of sharing a personal account. Usually if I become too whiny, my mother hits me. Kidding– but you have a big enough family and they don’t let you complain too long or past a certain point, so I’ve relied on them often to keep me in check. A good friend will do the same.

What I’ve learned so far is how easy it can be to start expecting things to go bad, because so many things go bad. But we do ourselves a disservice in becoming convinced the world has conspired against us and we’re doomed to draw the short end of the stick for the rest of our lives. The trouble with that kind of thinking, besides it having no intrinsic value, is that it assumes the rest of the world is riding the easy train to party-town, never confronting a hardship, enduring pain, or drawing their own crappy short sticks. No one has a monopoly on pain. It’s part of all our respective contracts here. So having the idea that your life is hard and everyone else is clueless and has it easy will only make your own pain worse by punctuating it with something that isn’t true, first. And second, that idea undermines the lives of others who do know pain good and well, but whose experience you are now denying, because you can’t see past your own. I cringe to consider how many times I’ve done this, being stuck in my own dark hole.

Pain can be blinding or clarifying, depending on how well it’s kept in check. It can be overwhelming in the moment but when held against the larger backdrop of our lives, it usually highlights what is good, it makes gratitude grow and can help you see with new eyes. If pain is held up only in its moment in the dark, and seen as punishment, bad luck, or some kind of payment you got stuck with and others are getting for free as though its some kind of tax, then you will pay continually, and your relief will be rare. Pain shouldn’t make us proud, it should show us humility. Acting well and grateful and good in the face of pain is what should make us proud.

Sometimes I think of my life from a birds eye view, looking at it plotted out on paper like a map, where I can trace with my finger through the course, beginning to end. When I get discouraged, I think that what I fear is living a life I can’t say that I’m proud of in the end, when I’m tracing my line and seeing how I behaved. I know what will make me proud is having loved fiercely, being steadfast, humble, trying, listening well, finding humor in every stupid day, and being grateful for the lucky life I was given, the family of love I was born into. In the meantime, it feels good to put your head down and work. Sometimes you endure the pain quietly, and know that you’ll be OK whether you tell someone about it or not. I think moderation plays a role, and a discernment in what is worth sharing and what will only exhaust us to speak about. In some way it comes down to self-awareness and restraint.

I’ll end with this passage I read in The Road to Character this morning, a book I’d highly recommend by David Brooks. The first quote is Brooks summarizing George Marshalls training at VMI, followed by a quote from Cicero, which Brooks used to explain the composed, revered manner of Marshall throughout his life.

“The whole object of VMI training was to teach Marshall how to exercise controlled power. The idea was that power exaggerates the dispositions–making a rude person ruder and controlling person more controlling. The higher you go in life, the fewer people there are to offer honest feedback or restrain your unpleasant traits. So it is best to learn those habits of self-restraint, including emotional self-restraint, at an early age…

That person then, whoever it may be, whose mind is quiet through consistency and self-control, who finds contentment in himself, who neither breaks down in adversity nor crumbles in fight, nor burns with any thirsty need nor dissolves into wild and futile excitement, that person in the wise one we are seeking, and that person is happy.” -Cicero

Health, Happiness, Restraint

P.S. This is dedicated to Varney Prejean, the eternal optimist in the face of pain and such a happy, loving, groovy person. If you’ve got an extra prayer, send one out for him. Hang tough Varn-dog, we’re rooting for you!