Saturday, December 31, 2011

reminders as resolutions

Sure, there could be other themes for tomorrow... but January 1st is one of those obvious days wherein I must bow to the dominant. New Year's resolutions are much hyped, but in reality, little made. I find many people resent the idea of resolutions and vow that their resolution this year is "not to make any more resolutions." Fine. I understand that sentiment. People tend to think of resolutions in terms of massive changes they would like (and therefore will need) to make. The idea of a life overhaul is overwhelming and the reality of falling short is discouraging.

Therefore, rather than write about resolutions, I'd like to suggest a variation on the theme for tomorrow. Reminders rather than resolutions. Little life lessons that are indeed obvious, but it is the obvious that so often goes unstated and is thereby taken for granted or... gulp... even forgotten. This is an exercise I am doing mostly for my own sake, because your list of reminders may differ dramatically from mine. Nonetheless, I hope there is something here for you that is helpful, heartening, or inspiring. Wow, if I could be one or all of those things to others in life, I think I would indeed be quite satisfied.

1. Eat well, be well

It is so easy to eat fast, frozen, canned, or somehow already-prepared foods. Even healthy ones. Try, though, as much as possible, to cook for yourself... and to begin with whole foods. An apple, some fennel, fresh fish... We all get busy and over-tired, but there really is nothing more nourishing than cooking a homemade, fresh meal. Nourishing to the body - I always feel 10 times better when I make something from healthy, whole ingredients. Plus, it never takes as long as I feel like it will. And nourishing to the soul - there is just something about working with food that is reassuring and reminds me that life is a lot simpler than we make it.... which leads me into my next reminder.

2. Simple, complex, simple

We over-complicate life. I think it is human nature to do so. We begin life understanding the simplest things, the simplest joys, the simplest goals, the simplest needs. But, as we move forth, we forget those things amidst the chaos that is life, love, relationships, school, friends, jobs, family, goals, pressure, expectations, etc, etc. The goal should be to climb over the hump of complication and try to find the other side - the side of simplicity that we define rather than the one we are born into. This is a hard, often Herculean, task. I kid not. And sometimes when you find that other side of simplicity, you later lose it again... and find the search must begin again. But, for me, it is a goal continually worth pursuing. Sometimes I think 9th grade English students are the best example of our tendency to over-complicate. Students at this age, especially in Honors classes, try to present every single idea they have about a topic or novel in a single thesis. The goal for a teacher is to help them weed through and find the kernel in their thoughts that is the most exciting, intriguing, or insightful. And then to open that single idea like a flower blossoming in spring... to nurture and develop that one notion until it becomes something profound on its own. Otherwise, all is a chaotic web of thoughts that only marginally relate to one another... and confusion reigns. Many very smart students try to hide this confusion beneath elevated language... which only makes all of it worse. The clarity of a profound truth is... well, profound. Simplicity, when reached, is equally profound. Think of the moments when you have clarity about what is truly important to you in life. Sometimes they only seem to come when a crisis forces you to reassess. My point here is... seek them out. Seek simplicity. Make it a journey. Reach beyond the complexity to what is most true. Easier said than done, I understand. But definitely a worthy reminder.

3. Banish bad energy

This is one that many people attempt... and some people are even really good at. Others of us are good at doing it in some areas of our lives, but not others. For me, I have the most trouble getting rid of what I call 'bad-energy relationships.' One of my constant simple truths (see above) is forgiveness. I believe deeply in forgiveness. And so I forgive those I love. But, often I have found (especially when I look back at certain relationships in retrospect) that I forgive actions, words, or treatment that I should not. Reason being, that treatment is demeaning, inappropriate, or just plain cruel to me. And so, I must search for the balance between forgiveness and self-respect. Nonetheless, the point here is that 'bad energy' -- whatever that is for you, be it a draining hated job, an unhealthy relationship, abusive self-talk -- is like having a wound that is hemorrhaging badly. You are bled dry of energy, enthusiasm, optimism, hope itself. You become more of an automaton and indeed, your life becomes one in which all works to enable that bad energy to stay. Bad energy takes a lot of work... and energy! Once you let go of it (and/or its causes), you are free from its slavish ways. You are free to be with positive people, to fill your life with healthy things, to move towards goals you want to achieve... and thereby, you are able to become an inspiration and a motivation to others. Bad energy does not just drain you. It drains your capabilities and possibilities as a human being. It drains all of us, because we do not get to benefit from you. Identify the bad energy in your life... and release it. This can be painful, I won't lie. Just remember all of the possibility that lies in store for you on the other side.

4. Don't sweat the small stuff or, keep your eyes on the prize

There is someone in my life, someone very dear to me, who sweats all the small stuff. He sweats it so much that he is always overheating. An overheating human is very much like an overheating car. He/it sits on the side of the road, smoking and fuming... all engines and motion halted... hood is open, and he spends all his time trying to find the reason nothing is working. Overheating damages a car engine. Overheating damages a human engine. No one moves forward when everything causes them to stress so much they can't function. The problem is, we all sweat the small stuff... thus, we all need the reminder. Sometimes, all it takes is some deep breaths and a moment before acting or speaking. Is it really necessary to yell and scream at your partner when you get lost driving to a friend's Christmas party? A breath, a moment... and hopefully a recognition. I had such an instance the other day. I received a Christmas present from my boyfriend that he promised me I was going to love. Turns out, it was baby clothes and a baby food-maker. I thought the present was going to be something that had to do with us as a couple... well, us more directly. I really did like the present, but there was a slight tinge of disappointment that I didn't receive anything that said 'I love you' right to me. The next morning I was going for a walk when I realized something. From my perspective, the gift was about the baby and not me. However, when I took a moment and thought about it from his perspective, everything changed. He has struggled with the timing and finances of a child at this moment in time. So, to give me things about the baby was, for him, an expression that he is on board with me and the baby, that he is supportive and loving, that he is doing everything he can to be involved. When I thought about it that way, I was deeply touched. What a wonderful sentiment. Sometimes, not sweating the small stuff, thereby, means 'keeping your eyes on the prize' so to speak. What is the bigger point? What is the larger goal? What is the more important thing going on? Here's another example, perhaps a sillier one, but a very concrete one. I am knitting a baby blanket. I got very distracted last night. There were things going on in my personal life and they were bothering me. Suddenly, I looked down at the blanket and realized I had switched from knit stitch to purl stitch in the middle of a row. There were about 30 stitches of purl. I am really new to knitting and so I can go forward relatively well, but undoing and going backwards becomes quite a mess. I tried to undo the stitches the best I could. I knew I wasn't doing it quite right, but I figured it would probably look okay. After I got back to square one, I started up again with the knit stitch. I knitted a few more rows before I noticed that I hadn't fixed everything as I'd hoped. There is a loop of yarn on the rightside-up side of the blanket that goes over two rows. It's definitely pretty noticeable. I felt really frustrated so I called it quits for the night. I've tried to let go of perfectionism (bad energy!), but it still comes back to haunt me sometimes. More so when I am more stressed. And so that little mistake was driving me crazy. It actually kept me up for a while before I could finally fall asleep. I couldn't let it go... as a mistake. But then I started to think about it in a different way. Rather than a 'mistake,' I could choose to see it as a reminder... a reminder of that moment of a troubled mind... and also a reminder of my own imperfection, the imperfection of life, the messiness of life. Seeing it that way made me start to become rather fond of this little mistake. I am about to be a parent and I need to let go of the idea of 'perfect parenting.' I will make mistakes, and I must not sweat the small stuff. What is important, as with my blanket, is what is motivating me... and in this case, and in all my intentions with my child, it is love. This blanket is my love, imperfect, but full and enveloping... and warm. Yes, I could go back two rows and undo the mistake. I could create a veneer of perfection, but it would be just that... a thin layer of fabrication... and something that you can't even do in real life. The loop holds a story. The loop is me and all my imperfections. The loop is part of my blanket. Is it the loop that is important? Or the blanket? Keep your eyes on the prize.

5. Love should be supportive, not cutting

This one seems so obvious... as I said when I started. Some of these will seem incredibly obvious. Yet, as an observer of other people, I notice far too often that it is the cutting down that is most evident between partners. I see (and have witnessed in my own relationships) people criticizing their most loved ones... about the littlest things. "You don't fold the clothes the right way. You should try harder to be more graceful when you lose. You don't mean to say that; what you mean is... You don't understand me." Oh, that last one is one of the worst. Usually only said in moments of anger, whereas the others can come out at any time. The problem is that, like negative self-talk, negative partner-talk becomes habitual. I see couples in public situations, cutting each other down in front of their friends and relatives. The entire way in which they talk about each other becomes: he is not good at this, she did the dumbest thing the other day, etc, etc. Sometimes, it is submitted as if it is funny. "It is hilarious how clumsy so-and-so is. She has NO coordination. Yesterday she..." This may sound innocent. Trust me it is not. When the only way you learn to talk about another person is in negative terms, then the support that should be at the heart of a relationship crumbles. I have been in relationships where I was talked about this way. It hurts. It feels like the other person doesn't believe in you, doesn't respect you, thinks really nothing of you at all. It is belittling and demeaning. Those things don't belong between two people that love each other. I know that couples fight. This is not what I am talking about. I am talking about a way of acting towards, talking towards, and talking about each other that becomes a tendency that becomes a practice that becomes the relationship. And people act as much out of reaction as they do from other motivations. Thus, when one person cuts and belittles another all the time, the other begins to react in much the same way back towards the first person. There are ways to deal with things that bother you about a person. And if that person can't change those things, then let it go, or just go away. Cutting love comes from insecurity. If you don't like yourself, take the time to step away and deal with that before unloading a mountain of pain on someone else. And, as we all know, a person must love himself before he can give that love to anyone else.

6. Heart first, head second

Think first, we are told. Look before you leap. Yes, this is all good advice. And I certainly advise using logic and not letting instinct rule the day. However, much as in the situation of over-complicating things, there are times when we over-think something rather than listening to our heart. Listening to your heart can be scary. It can seem that what it is telling you to do is completely impossible. You don't have the money. You don't have the time. You don't have the ability or the smarts. But aren't these all just excuses? Sometimes we are just afraid. And succumbing to fear weakens you as a human being. Wayne Dyer gives an example in his blog of October 26, 2011: "A caller to my radio show, for example, couldn't decide whether to take a job in a new city. It was a good job, but it would require him to leave his life-long home. We all fear change and the risks it carries, but I have to say that everything significant I've ever experienced has involved change. Our soul wants to expand and grow. When we stay with the familiar, just because it is familiar, we are responding to a fear of failure that doesn't support our growth." Your heart says to go forward, despite the risks. We all know what is in our heart. It is just that we are sometimes afraid to listen or respond. This fear can hurt us; it can also hurt others. It is when a person is frozen in fear that he will cut down others (see reminder #5). Dyer uses another anecdote that I love. "Know in your heart that you have never failed at anything and you never will. What might be judged as errors or mistakes are the very stuff of growth. Think about Thomas Edison's response to a reporter who asked him how it felt to have failed twenty-five thousand times in his efforts to invent a battery. 'Failed,' replied Edison, 'I haven't failed. Today I know twenty-five thousand ways not to make a battery!'" When I remind myself to use my heart, I also mean use it generally. Act with heart in life. My younger brother is currently working in Africa for an organization called Grassroot Soccer. Their mission, stated on their website, is to use "the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV." My brother decided to work for this organization because of his heart. He was previously working in the finance industry. He wanted a change. If he had acted solely by his head, perhaps he would have gone to work for a bigger financial firm or the "best" hedge-fund or the company where he could advance most rapidly and make the largest income. Instead, he listened to his heart. His heart told him that he had always wanted to do something meaningful for the world... and so he took the chance. I communicate with him over emails, Skype, and Facebook, and honestly, I have never seen him happier. And his enthusiasm for what he is doing is incredibly inspiring. When I feel down or discouraged, all I have to do is think of him and I want to CHANGE THE WORLD!! I am not kidding. This is how one person does change the world... by inspiring others. By showing others the way. And that is done with the heart. The heart working in concert with the head, but the heart first. I think it is strange that we have this external debate about the antagonistic nature of science and religion, of whether it is possible to incorporate both logic and faith into our lives. Internally, don't we do this all the time? We have faith (heart) that something is right, that it is what we should be doing right now at this very moment, that it will work out, and then we use logic (head) to figure out how to make all the other pieces fit. When you act first with heart, the shapes of those pieces become very clear. Everything, in fact, becomes very clear. Because heart gives us the goals we really want to reach. And it is only with those goals that we can move forward in life, that we can move towards anything with meaning. When you know what it is that is most important, everything else just becomes something that must work in concert to get there.

Thus, the problem with resolutions. They are often so vague. They are often expressions of the head without a universal goal of the heart. They are often just little random pieces, one from here, another from there, that don't really add up to anything as a whole. All in all, I would rather take time today to remind myself of what my priorities are, of what is most important in my life, of what is in my heart... and then begin taking specific steps towards those goals.

Best of luck in your own journeys and wishing everyone a happy, healthy, inspiring new year! Be the author of your story, and make it a good one, because it WILL be heard by the rest of us.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

65 things to ask God if She exists

Another 65 lister!! It's been a while and this is long overdue. No real introduction necessary here. Title says it all.

1. What would you like to be called?
2. Are you omnipotent and all-knowing or, as Norman Mailer suggests in In God, a being in process and evolving along with humanity?
3. Why this planet?
4. Which religion, philosophy, or treatise depicts you the closest to who or what you really are?
5. Why is hate so easy and love so hard?
6. Do you listen to prayers?
7. If so, do you act on them?
8. Where did you come from?
9. Is morality really subjective or is that just a human mistake?
10. Is there a Heaven?
11. A Hell?
12. Why do so many religions do so much damage?
13. Does reincarnation exist?
14. Will I have to come back as a termite or an eel or a fruit fly?
15. What is the purpose of it all?
16. Does everything have a beginning?
17. What if I'm already dead?
18. How much of the Bible is true?
19. Can you be of any guidance to me?
20. Is hope an illusion?
21. Is there karma?
22. Does that have anything to do with you? Or is it something totally separate?
23. Why so many poisonous snakes?
24. Why is becoming pregnant so difficult for so many women?
25. Are we (humanity) moving in a direction... or just moving?
26. What does it mean that some people believe in you and others don't?
27. Do you care what we do here on earth?
28. If so, what would you most like to see happen?
29. Is technology, as Mailer suggests, an arm of the devil?
30. Is there a devil, or a corresponding, yet adversarial, evil force in the universe?
31. Does that evil just emanate from us?
32. Why are so many things just so sad?
33. Why do I feel confused so much of the time?
34. What is the secret to happiness?
35. Do you even know what human happiness is?
36. How much do you have your hands in everyday human life and events?
37. How do you feel about the fact that so many religions oppress women?
38. If the story about you, Satan, and Job is true.... why God... seriously why?
39. Does there have to be a battle between 'reason' and 'faith' or can we embrace both?
40. If you are merely an invention of us, then... well, then what?
41. Does trying matter or does only the end justify the means?
42. Why do so many people (including me) say they don't believe in you, but then when things are tough say things like, "God hates me"?
43. Are you emptiness or fullness?
44. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
45. Are we your only project?
46. Are we your worst project?
47. Why gravity? It's such a pain sometimes...
48. Why is religion, the tool with which we are meant to understand you and ourselves, one of our worst inventions?
49. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear, does it make a noise?
50. What is dark matter?
51. Is the purpose of life to ask questions?
52. If Fed Ex and UPS merged, would they call it Fed Up? (ok, that was just a lame joke... hehe)
53. Do you have a sense of humor?
54. Do you mind being asked the same things millions of times?
55. How much do you really know about or pay attention to each of us, individually, here on earth?
56. Why is it that when I try so hard sometimes, no one notices?
57. If one person can change the world, how come it is virtually impossible for one person to change a single other person?
58. How much is fate and how much free will?
59. What happened before the Big Bang? What was it like?
60. How many dimensions are there?
61. Is anything possible?
62. Is there Truth?
63. Is the deepest structure of the universe something that can be understood through mathematics or physics?
64. Are instincts so powerful for a good reason?
65. Where are you?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


I'm no astronomer. I don't really understand the expansion of the universe. In discovering the law of gravity, Newton uncovered the fact that all objects in the universe are attractive, each pulling at and towards each other. For the universe to be ever-expanding, then, seems quite a paradox.

What, then, is it expanding into? Well, as it turns out... nothing. The universe is finite and not growing. It circles back upon itself and all journeys to its 'edge' are thereby inherent returns to one's starting point. The constant expansion that astronomers speak of is actually an increasing distance between the relative parts of the universe... still a paradox, though, if everything is supposed to be attractive.

For me, all things are echoes. I've always felt this way. What happens on any one level of life, somehow is echoing in all of the others. Thus, I too am expanding. Not physically, but certainly relatively. I expand away from my childhood. I expand away from old friends and old beliefs. I move partly because of inertia -- in other words, like the universe, I move because I've always been moving. I also move because of the impelling force of my own inner dark matter. And always, I move back to the beginning. Or try to.

To expand is to unfold, like an indigo blue bunting opening its wings before flight.

To expand is to open your horizons. To learn, yes, but even more than that to open your heart to learning... to be willing to question everything you know, including your very self.

To expand is to express more fully. To go from a thesis statement to an essay where more is explained and thoughts are developed.

Are these things we are always doing? Or just hope to be doing? Are we expanding? Can we not be?

With Christmas just passed, my mind has returned to beginnings... or earlier times. Times when Christmas held that certain magic for me, the magic that only a child can enjoy and spread. When and how it is lost, I have never understood. I tried to hold onto it for so long -- going through all of the same processes in dire desperation. Making the same gingerbread houses. Listening to CDs of Christmas songs. Decorating the tree with ornaments our family has acquired since before I was born -- glass ornaments with my name and my brothers' names etched upon them, needlepoint ornaments sewn by my mother, funny little skiing bears and pirouetting clay cookie girls... everything is there... all of the memories. But I have expanded away from the magic.

I don't do this anymore, but one of the other things I used to do, out of habit (inertia, hope, nostalgia) was to watch all of the Christmas specials that air each year on TV. My favorite was The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. After he steals all of the presents (and well, EVERYTHING) from Whoville, after he plants himself high up on his mountain to watch their sad, crying faces react to the discovery that they now have no presents, no Christmas, what the Grinch actually sees is that Christmas is something else to the Whos. Out they come, singing, making a circle, holding hands... and celebrating life itself it seems. And it is this realization for the Grinch, the realization that they need nothing else but each other, that causes the Grinch's heart to grow three sizes that day.

So it is with less, that his heart grows more. Less that is concrete that is. More that is intangible, spiritual one may say... or just true and deep comprehension of what was never before known. It is with understanding that his expansion occurs.

Expansion is not always a positive. Suburbs can over-expand. So can waistlines and McMansions and SUV sizes. Classroom size can expand so much that even the best teachers can't teach as well as they'd like, being unable to give appropriate attention to each student. Wars can expand. Drought can expand. Pain and grief can expand, for years and years, instead of contracting.

Love also can expand. I have nothing earth-shattering to say or suggest or question today. But I think that as the universe expands, and at an ever-accelerating rates, so should our hearts. As everything quickens and life seems to move ever faster and ever away, and all sometimes seems at increasing distances, so should we press our hearts to match the distance opened. In relationships, if love is not expanding, then there is no growth. But remember, expansion comes, in part, out of dark forces and matter. It is not easy and it might be painful. We must be compelled to MAKE our love expand; it will not do so by itself. Our bodies, like the universe, are finite, but our empathy is not. While our inclinations and our fantasies expand, maybe our hearts pull everything back, hold everything together. Expand to your outer edges and back into your core. Discover other realms and rediscover the magic.