Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Giving Gifts: Presence for my Children

Not all gifts come from the store.

Like many other people in this difficult economy, I don't have much money to spend this Christmas.  If I could, I would get my children whatever they have on their lists and be happy to do so.  They are amazingly good kids--obedient, hard-working, genial, sweet and kind.  Unfortunately, that remains an impossibility this year.  So, I do what I can to make the holiday special for them, to make it memorable each year in some small way.  I focus on the traditions and stories and family time that comprise most of the month of December and avoid the consumer trap of teaching my children to associate Christmas solely with the fulfillment of material desires.

And, in all seriousness, if I could give my kiddos any gift that I wanted, I would fill their stockings up with things they will use their entire lives.  I'd give them things that would make them healthy, happy, and strong I'd give them gifts that would make each of them a presence to be reckoned with.

I would present them with resiliency-the ability to bounce back from whatever problems they might encounter, not only keeping themselves intact, but also learning and growing from difficulty.  I would bless them with courage.  I would want them to do what they know is right, even in the face of fear as well as have the fortitude to attempt great things without the fear of failure holding them back. I'd wrap up compassion and respect for life so that they would feel and practice empathy for people and all living things.  Only people who appreciate humanity and animal life experience a sense of connectedness that anchors them solidly to this world and the next.  

They would find under the tree curiosity.  Life-long curiosity grants a person continual growth emotionally and mentally.  It makes them an active participant in their own lives as well as gives them something to dream about.  I'd make sure they opened a box filled with the knowledge of the value and worth.  I want them to be able to prioritize the aspects of their lives so they may truly enjoy their lives and recognize and cherish the important things and people within them. I would also give them ambition and motivation so that they could craft expectations for themselves and have the wherewithal to fulfill them.  A good work ethic will get a person through some of the most difficult times in one's life as well as help them to craft a good, comfortable life.

Lastly, I'd make sure they received a big box of love.  I want my children to know that they are well-loved by others, not because of what they do but because of who they are.  I want them to be able to love others well.  I want them to not be afraid to be open and loving to the people in their lives.  I want them to love themselves too and have a fundamental, healthy self-esteem--to be absolutely okay in their own company, to know they don't need anyone to fill them, only complement what is already there.

I'm sure my babies will be excited to open their presents on Christmas day.  I know they will be grateful for the toys, art supplies and clothes.  They will smile and be happy and it will bring me joy to see their excitement.  I also know that while they might not recognize or be enthused about the other gifts I try to give them every day, one day they will see and appreciate them too.  Perhaps when they are adults and Christmas has lost some of it's shine due to the stresses of responsibility and parenthood, they will understand the presents that mean the most are the ones you can't get at a store and last a lifetime.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Dog and Pony Show: Thankfulness Isn't Just for Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving, people express their gratitude for a multitude of things that have happened to them over the course of the past year.  They say they are thankful for family, friends, blessings, and making it through difficult times.  It's a day to remember the past and a day to create memories for future perusal.  It is hyped as a twenty-four hour period of enjoying family you'd otherwise not visit and expressing gratitude for things and people you may or may not appreciate generally.  Much like Valentine's Day has become the day to express love, it is the official day of thankfulness and thus wholly artificial.

Gratitude isn't something that should be pigeon-holed into one day.  It's not a mindset that needs to be trotted out once a year, polished up and put on display for the entire world to see how in-tune you are with acknowledging your blessings. It shouldn't be used as a prop to have others see your life as something amazing, nor as a prompt for you to recognize that your life consists of some really good things. Gratitude should be a state of mind that exists every day.  The thing about being thankful is that the more gratitude you express in your daily living, the higher quality of life you have.  Perhaps not materially, because gratitude has never put money in my pocket, and I don't believe in the whole "power of positive thinking" bullshit, but in an spiritual and emotional way it will cause you to enjoy your life more.  It will make you present and as close to living fearlessly as you can possible come.

Express frequent gratitude for the little things in your life--the small moments where things go right, where the coffee is hot, the cat purrs loudly, you get the close parking spot, your child randomly gives you a hug and says "I love you."  Express gratitude for the lessons you learn from the negative things that happen as well. Every hurt, every mistake or misstep is an opportunity to learn something new about yourself or the world. When you express daily thankfulness, you stay much more present in the moment, you increase your ability to weather mishap, mistreatment or misfortune, and you appreciate life--your life.  Gratitude makes you resilient, it makes you cognizant and aware, and it makes you an active participant in your own life.

Too many people spend their lives waiting for the celebrating, holding back any expenditure of emotion for the one big thing that will make them happy. They go to work thinking that they'll be happy when it's done. They come home, thinking they'll be happy when they get to go somewhere fun.  They hang out with friends, thinking they'll be happy when they do something else. Always waiting for something better, they lose clarity and become fuzzy like a photocopy of a photocopy, two degrees removed from their own lives and unsatisfied or anxious about everything.  A lack of gratitude breeds emotional and spiritual discontent and creates an ever-present hole that will never be filled.  Nothing will ever be enough unless thankfulness becomes a daily habit, not just the dog-and-pony show of late November.  Be grateful for the blessings and lessons of your life. Do it now.  Do it always.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Random Acts of Cruelty

Last night I talked with an online friend that I hadn't spoken to for a few months.  He and his wife were expecting a baby in late October, so as I settled into conversation with him my first thoughts turned to his upcoming bundle of joy.  This would be their first child, after a long period of trying to conceive and I had been thrilled for them when he shared the pregnancy news with me.  Being a parent is an amazing, transformative experience and I was elated that my friend would have the opportunity to see what it's like first hand.

After the initial hellos, I asked the question, "Baby yet?"  That's when he told me something that hasn't really left my mind since the words blinked on the screen  in black and white.  At thirty-five weeks of an uneventful, healthy pregnancy, his baby died in utero. I was shocked, saddened, and felt so badly for him and his wife.  I couldn't help but cry for them, for their tremendous loss.  I can't even begin to imagine how something like that would feel, a shredding of the heart.

And then I thought about how incredibly unfair life can be.  How ugly.  How hurtful.  I had no platitudes of comfort to give my friend.  Everything I thought to say sounded false to my ears, shallow and tepid.  Nothing I could say or do would make the situation any less horrible than it was and I felt helpless.  As much as I like to believe that I am an optimist, a person who thinks that the world is mostly good, that things eventually work out, and that a reason exists behind every event, situations like this blow all that away.  My carefully constructed beliefs collapse like a house of cards.  I'm left staring into the abyss--a moment's clarity that the world is a random, cruel, unjust place in which to live.  There is no rhyme or reason.  Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people and the planet keeps right on spinning not paying attention to any of it.

Something such as this seems inexplicable to me.  It is not karma being fulfilled, it is not punishment for some sin, it is not some lesson to be learned.  Those are all things we tell ourselves to gain control over that which is totally out of our control.  It is a denial of the true randomness of life.  It is a rejection of the knowledge that we never know what will happen or why it happens.  I admire the people who can live their lives acknowledging those things.  It takes real courage and strength to face life without any palliatives of religion or faith that things occur for a determined reason.  I know I am not that strong--I don't think I ever will be.

Rather than being devoid of belief, when my belief is shaken like today,  I think I'd just rather live with not knowing.  That might just be the best I can do for now.

Friday, October 4, 2013

All Shapes and Sizes: Meaningful Friendships

We learn so much from other people.  Every person that comes into your life provides an opportunity for growth.  Life lessons come in all shapes and sizes, and all different kinds of people. The trick to gleaning something meaningful from interaction with another person is being able to see that there is something to learn.  I am fortunate that as I have aged, I have become much more open to meeting new people and really talking with them.  When I was younger, I had all sorts of ideas about what made a decent person. Thankfully as I've gotten older, I realized that most of my criteria was based on bullshit.

 Even though my parents raised me to be open-minded, I placed a heavy emphasis on a person's upbringing, background, education levels, and even appearance.  If they didn't meet my automatic, judgmental standards of what I considered correct, I invariably engaged with them in my much cooler, disinterested version of myself. I cut off further interaction by being a supercilious bitch. If they met the criteria, I behaved with a warmth and openness that allowed for further knowledge of one another.

 While it's understandable that like attracts like, and most people "make friends" with those people who are similar to themselves, having such arbitrary and high standards for even basic interaction caused me to miss out, I am sure, on some seriously awesome people.  Somewhere along the line, as I gained more experience, learned from my mistakes and became much more comfortable in my own skin, I realized that all people, no matter how different from me, had value and interest.  Some of the nicest, deepest-thinking, and warmest people I've ever met have come from incredibly disparate backgrounds from my own.

I have friends that run the gamut from ultra-religious Muslims and Christians to former felons and recovering alcoholics and crack addicts. While I have nothing in common with the behaviors of the ultra-religious or the criminally inclined, I do have things in common with the people behind those identifying factors.  I now connect with the humanity of a person as opposed to all the signifiers I used for classification of another.  I've learned that being devout doesn't make a person all good, nor does committing a crime make a person all bad.  That's the fabulous thing about maturing, things cease to be purely black and white.  Life becomes a fantastical landscape made from a thousand shades of gray.

This morning, I had a lovely conversation with one of my more unusual friends.  He's North African, Muslim, a former drug addict, well-educated, world-traveled and one of my favorite people ever.  He's both seen and done things, not all of them good, that I can only ever imagine.  He was raised in a traditional household where his father had two wives, and he has more brothers and sisters than I do first and second cousins.  He is so very different from me, yet also very much alike.  In all areas that really matter, he and I have similar mindsets.   We hold ideas in common about people in general, how to live an authentic and generous life, and how to be in-tune with the world and humanity.  We have the best discussions regarding religion, moral obligations, self-improvement, and valuing the important aspects of one's life.  We also share a keen sense of humor and wit, with our conversations careening from esoteric to absolutely goofy.  I've learned so much not only about life in general, but about myself because I was open to friendship with him.  If I had gone by my youthful list of requirements regarding friendship when I first met him, I never would have been his friend.  I would have completely short-changed myself and I am exceptionally glad that I did not do that.

I look back at my younger self and smile. I was so very different than I am now.  If I could go back in time and give myself some advice, it would definitely be to lighten up, not take things or people or requirements too seriously.  I would tell myself to enjoy people for who they are, not what you assume they should be.  I would like to think, that even as uptight as I were then, that I would have listened to my older self.  I also like to imagine all of those people I shut out, that I could have befriended and what I might have learned from them. It's definitely something I am trying to instill in my children--seeing beyond the superficial factors and really looking deeply and thoughtfully at the people with whom they interact.  I can't get back the opportunities of friendship I missed when I was young, so I really hope they take advantages of those they have now.  Who knows what kind of amazing people they will meet?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Feeling Squirrely: Harvesting Good Moments

Storing up good moments is essential.

It's perfect Indian Summer weather.  Crisp mornings and full-on warm afternoons, marked by cool breezes and that one-of-a-kind golden light just make me happy.  This time of year possesses not only natural, weather-related qualities that I adore, but it is also associated with memories I hold very dear to my heart.  It is a time of family birthdays, an anticipation of the holiday season, and outings in the aforementioned perfect weather. It's a time of harvesting and gathering.  It's cozy, and I've always been a big fan of cozy.

Autumn makes me both appreciative of the moment as well as nostalgic.  I seem to alternate between out-right happy and mistily melancholy.  Overall, however, I thoroughly enjoy this time of year and all the memories the brisk October breezes stir up. If you were to ask a group of people, each one might have a different season they relate to more strongly than others.  They would wax eloquent about the wonderful winter or the splendor of spring.  I suppose it would be an insight into their personality or character and I am sure there are some online quizzes that will analyze everything about you based on season preference.

I am not sure what autumn says about me.  Perhaps it reveals that I am family oriented, maybe someone who has a wide romantic streak and loves to add a touch of rose-colored, golden glow to her life.  It could tell me that I am a nurturer, someone who gathers family and friends close to the hearth, preparing for the eventuality of winter's harshness.  I don't know.  Maybe it means nothing at all and no insight can be drawn from my love of all things fall. In any regard, the meaningfulness of something depends on the value or weight we give it.  It's all about connotation, personal relevance, and associated emotion--and those things are different for every person.

I'm just going to enjoy the turning of the leaves, the activities associated with autumn, and the family moments.  I am reminding myself not to over-think and to just enjoy. It's important to pay attention to one's life, especially the good moments and good feelings, because it is the memory of those things that sustain us during difficult times.  Much like a squirrel storing nuts for the dark, cold winter, I am harvesting memories for moments of winter that dot all of our lives on occasion.  So far, this fall has been a bumper crop of good things and feelings.  I am a very satisfied squirrel.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Adrenaline Rush: An Emotional Fire Drill

Fire drills are necessary whether we want them or not.

It's crazy how the human mind works sometimes.  This morning, my husband registered our daughter for the seventh grade.  She'd been agonizing all week long over which homeroom "team" she would be placed in, hoping against hope it would be her top choice with all her friends.  When the phone rang, I answered the call expecting to hear either my husband's or daughter's voice telling me about the schedule and homeroom assignment.  What I did not expect, however, was my husband screaming fairly incoherently into the phone. In an attempt to tease our daughter about her previous angst regarding registration, he pretended to be an excited pre-teen girl delivering good news.  I didn't hear that, however.  All I heard was my daughter's name and my normally reserved husband screaming which completely terrified me in a visceral, bone-deep way.

In the span of a few seconds, I was thrust back almost nine years ago to a phone call I received at work from my hysterical father telling me my mother had died very suddenly of a heart attack. On the heels of that memory, I started shaking and rapidly talking over my husband, asking what happened. Fortunately,  he quickly heard the panic in my voice and explained his badly received joke.  I calmed down just enough to talk with my daughter about her class schedule, her volleyball try-outs, and to yell at my husband to never, ever do that again.

After they hung up, I sat for a minute, trying to gather myself and realized that not only was I still shaking very badly, but also I was crying.  Intellectually I knew the "flight or fight" response had hijacked my body and it wouldn't stop until the adrenaline had run its course.  The knowledge of that didn't help my emotions, though. It took me about fifteen minutes to achieve a calm state, and the entire time I thought about how absolutely awful that moment nine years ago had been and how unfathomably horrific another phone call like that would be, especially if it concerned any one of my children.

When I said it's crazy how the human mind works sometimes, I meant that it's really an amazing thing.  For example in this kind of instance, the mind operates on so many levels at one time.  It triggers a biological response to handle crisis, it evokes precisely and clearly old memories as if they happened yesterday, it manages to deal rationally with information processing, and all the while floods a person with emotions running the gamut from abject fear to overwhelming relief.

In addition, after some reflection, the mind allows a person to realize he or she just experienced a serious reality check.  It drives home the point that bad things happen to good people all the time and random, tragic events occur on a regular basis.  No one remains immune from the vagaries of life. But it also gives us practice on how to deal with potentialities like this.  It's like an emotional and mental fire drill for crisis. Moments like these give a person the opportunity to face fears that usually remain hidden, or briefly thought about and then dismissed.  Even though addressing fear can be incredibly unpleasant, it is necessary.  If we didn't deal with fear occasionally we would be totally unprepared for when we come face to face with it.

As well as providing practice for possible future scenarios, instances like this readjust a person's perspective on life. It  forces a person to recognize who and what comprise the truly important things, and reinvigorates a person's appreciation of and participation in one's life.  Last but not least, it thankfully allows the fear to recede into the background so that we can go about our lives without being dominated by "what ifs".

I'm still having a hard time believing I reacted the way in which I did, and I am still feeling some of the after effects of the adrenaline rush and the unwanted thinking about painful memories.  Nonetheless, I'm going to shake it off.  I'm going to let my mind do what it does best--focusing on good, productive thoughts, staying in the moment, and appreciating the people who mean the most to me and valuing the time I have to spend with them.  It's going to be a good day even though it got off to a rocky, adrenaline fueled start.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Critical Mustard Test and Good People

My parents used some interesting turns of phrase on a regular basis.  They generally had a colloquialism to describe almost any situation, event, or person.  My mother's sayings reflected her Oklahoma/New Mexico upbringing and seemed familiar to me because I spent many years in that particular region.  My father always seem to have more "exotic" things to say as he hailed from Ohio.  Never having spent much time in Ohio,  I always thought of the place as being somehow more foreign than the southern and western part of the US where I spent my childhood. His sayings usually made me laugh because they were colorful and strange, but by the same token, they were incredibly apt in description and classification.

Two of the phrases that stand out to me that my father frequently used applied to people.  I still use them today when someone new enters my life and I evaluate whether or not to keep him or her.  One expresses whether or not a person is suitable for friendship, partnership or romance and the other grants a seal of approval. Daddy would always say after meeting and conversing with someone new that he enjoyed, "Well, he/she passed the critical mustard test."  That meant the person made a good first impression and definitely had qualities that were worth exploring.  Passing the critical mustard test usually meant that a person exhibited a neat and tidy appearance, had a robust sense of humor, good communication skills, and an overall sense of decency and respect.  

My dad had one of the most genial and social personalities I've ever encountered..  He could talk to anyone, could make a person feel comfortable and welcome, and amuse him or her consistently.  Even though most people felt as if Daddy constituted an immediate friend, not everyone passed the critical mustard test.  He reserved that saying for people with whom he really connected.  Passing the test with my father wasn't terribly difficult, but it wasn't always a sure thing either.  I can remember bringing friends home from school and some gave good vibes while others did not.  Daddy never hesitated in giving his opinion and I never hesitated in listening to it.  To me, he always seemed a fair and consistent judge of character because he gave everyone a chance.  He didn't have many preconceived notions or stereotypes regarding people and let them prove or discredit themselves before he decided whether or not he enjoyed their company.

Now when Daddy whipped out the saying, "He/she is good people," I knew that he really liked the person and appreciated the qualities and personality of him or her.  Being "good people" for my dad was a seal of approval and a welcome invitation to become close to the family.  I use this saying all the time because it is a simple and concise way to explain or describe someone's overall innate character.  It means regardless of some annoying behaviors, social faux pas, or idiosyncrasies, the person is decent and has a good heart.  It does not take into account socio-economic status, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or even political affiliation.  If a person is deemed "good people" then they are just straight-up good people and worthy of knowing.

I've met a lot of "good people" in my lifetime and I am fortunate to be able to say that.  I have friends from all over the world who come from very disparate backgrounds. They cover the spectrum of thought, behavior and personality from one end to the other. "Good people" come in all shapes and sizes and they aren't necessarily all sunshine and light. Some have difficult personalities, some exhibit awkward behavior, some are irritating and annoying, but they all share that one quality of having a good-hearted orientation to the world. They maintain an innate love or caring for their fellow human beings, they respect life, they hold a sense of responsibility and obligation to make this world a better place, they do not go out of their way to harm others, and they generally are well-intentioned in most of what they do. 

I feel lucky that my father passed onto me, not just these two colorful phrases, but also the meaning behind them.  He taught me to be not only open-minded and friendly, but also discerning.  He blessed me with the ideas behind the critical mustard test and the good people standard--give all people a chance and hold onto the ones that embody the meaning of being good-hearted.  My life has definitely been enriched with the good people I've had in it, and I am grateful.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dipping My Toes: My Ramadan Experience

I am a curious person by nature.  I like learning new stuff about pretty much everything.  I enjoy the feeling of neural expansion when a novel piece of information attaches itself to something I already know, and the sensation of fitting together concepts, ideas and knowledge to create a big picture of how the world and its inhabitants work.  Lately, for the past six months or so, I've been exploring religion.  Religion and spirituality have always interested me and I have some unique ideas regarding faith and organized religion that I wanted to clarify.  I decided in order to have a firm grasp on my own beliefs, I needed to understand as best as possible the world's major religions.  Along the way, I've learned quite a few things, about religion, myself, and people in general. Some of what I have learned has debunked certain preconceived notions I held while other things have upheld my beliefs and ideas.

I am the first one to admit that I am somewhat of a dabbler in this penchant for knowledge acquisition.  I am a taste tester of life, if you will.  I like dipping my toes into the water in a variety of areas, and only rarely do I commit to a full-on swim.  Whether or not this comprises a good trait, I honestly do not know.  Being a Jane-of-all-trades and a master of none has both benefits and disadvantages. This type of learning means  I know a little about a lot of subjects and I know a lot about very few.  I am in essence, a generalist and not a specialist of information. When I started my comparative religious study, I think I unconsciously assumed I would be dipping toes again.  This time, however, I somehow managed to fall into the water feet first and become fully submerged.

Being raised as a Christian, I decided to forgo that faith as a starting point.  I know quite a bit about Christianity in regard to the basic doctrine, theology, and history of the Christian church.  In addition, I felt fairly familiar with Judaism due to graduate studies and decided to save these two religions for last in my explorations.  This left Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.  I know the basics of all three religions from my experience as a world history teacher and starting with any of them would have been a good choice.  I went with Islam, however, because I've made some Muslim friends within the past year or two and decided to see what it was about their faith that they so appreciated. I also chose Islam because I am an ardent liberal and I thought that it would be good to understand a religion that I supported in the face of vehement denunciations by a lot of the right-wing, conservative acquaintances of mine.  I also secretly liked the idea of being better armed for Facebook fights about religious freedom.

I started by reading the Quran.  This then led me to seek out explanations of the surahs through articles as well as videos.  I asked my Muslim friends questions regarding why they do certain things they do and what they interpreted the meaning of certain verses to be.  The studying and conversation both enlightened and frustrated me. I must admit, reading the Quran allowed me to see how closely linked the religion is to both Christianity and Judaism.  Most people have no clue that the Quran references both the Bible and the Torah and recognizes Jesus as a prophet. Most non-Muslims don't realize that there is a focus on mercy and forgiveness in the Quran as well as an expressed tolerance for other religions. As far as religious texts go, it was easy to read, made good sense, and fit with my idea that there is only one god and no one else. I can honestly say I enjoyed reading it.

On the frustrating side of the study, I found it incredibly hard to have an objective conversation with my Muslim friends regarding this religion as they always kept one eye on converting me.  The conversations naturally bent towards all the wonderful aspects of Islam and didn't address the legitimate issues I had regarding certain verses,  with how outside-oriented the faith is in regard to ritual, and the hellfire-and-brimstone focus of the doctrine.  I couldn't seem to get an objective answer to many of these questions which then led me back to two of my original assumptions regarding religion in general.  One cannot hold on an objective discussion with a zealot and people have a profound way of screwing up what would otherwise be beautiful religions.

Nonetheless, I decided that while I was still studying Islam, I would take advantage of participating in Ramadan this year.  Ramadan consists of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is viewed as the holiest month of the year.  Muslims observe strict fasting from sunrise until sunset which includes no eating, drinking, sexual relations, smoking and swearing.  It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and during this month, the blessings received from fasting are multiplied. During Ramadan, people follow the prayers with diligence during the day and spend the nights in prayer and recitation of the Quran.  Throughout the month, Allah has closed the gates to Hell and thus no shaitan (devils) can whisper in a person's ear to cause them to go astray. It is a month in which to prove devotion and obeisance to God without any excuses.

I am about halfway through my first Ramadan.  It's been an interesting experience to date.  Initially as the first day of Ramadan grew close, I psyched myself up for the task ahead and alternated between an excitement of seeing what I could accomplish and a fear of failing in a very big way.  Once I got started, though, I realized that I could do this.  It wouldn't necessarily be easy, but it would be good for me in many ways. All religions acknowledge fasting as having positive benefits in spiritual growth, so it must be true.

So far, the experience of Ramadan has been a mixed bag of results.  I have had both positive and negative experiences. I have discovered in myself a willpower and dedication that I did not think existed.  I am proud that I have been able to fast all day long and remain mindful of my behavior and speech.  I've enjoyed praying throughout the day, having conversations with God on regular basis.  I feel as if I have improved in my thinking and behavior.  On a superficial note, I've also lost eight pounds.  On the flip side, I've had some negative experiences regarding Ramadan over the past two weeks as well.  To be fair, however, these instances have involved other people and not so much the dictates of what God wants and expects from me. Some of my Muslim friends, upon finding out I decided to fast, felt as if I were mocking their faith.  They immediately questioned my intention and sincerity.  Others became hyper-critical of my behavior, pointing out that I was not doing things with perfection.  More so than anything else, these experiences reinforced my belief that humans have the tendency to take a good thing and pick it apart until there is nothing beautiful left in it.  Their behaviors strengthened my thought that religion in general divides rather than unites.  It was one of the more unfortunate things I've discovered and I can honestly say their reactions disappointed me on a profound level because I had such hope they would be different.

All in all, I have had a good experience so far, but I have not had some grand epiphany regarding my ideas about God.  Certain aspects of my personal spiritual beliefs have not changed and I still find parts of Islam troubling for me.  I don't believe God hears a person better because he or she recites prayers just right.  I think intention and belief count more than just rote memorization and perfected outside behaviors.  I don't think a person has to stay away from everything that is pleasing in order to have a meaningful, impactful relationship with God.  I think God is a god of love and not fear.  I think God expects imperfection and values sincerity. Perhaps I have not found the right person yet to discuss these issues, but based on my personal explorations and experience this is how I currently feel, and until someone can convince me otherwise, I will more than likely continue feeling this way.

I will continue fasting and praying during the remainder of Ramadan.  I made a commitment at the beginning of it and I am going to see it through to the end. And, as odd as it sounds, I am enjoying it.  I am learning something new every day about Islam, the behaviors of its followers, and myself.  For a dabbler and life-long learner, it is a wonderful experience and one I don't regret embarking upon.  As a matter of fact, I like that I am not just dipping my toes, but really swimming this time.  It feels really good.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Proof is in the Pudding

One of my friend's mother passed away unexpectedly last week.  I felt badly for her because I know exactly what it is like to lose a parent suddenly.  Both of my parents died with little to no warning.  I remember how difficult it is, the initial period of grief and mourning, and while my heart went out to my friend, I can honestly say I felt relief that I'll never have to go through that particular situation again.  Losing my mother changed how I viewed the world. It brought home the idea in a visceral way that bad things happen to good people all the time and that the world is indeed very unfair in its dealing with its inhabitants.  The death of my father changed how I viewed myself, as it extinguished the role and expectations of being a daughter.  Profound changes can occur after the death of a parent, and I am left wondering how the death of my friend's mother will impact her life.

The other thing I thought about this past week concerns all the ways in which our parents still influence and direct our thoughts, actions, and behaviors even after they have departed this world.  I am fortunate in that I see and feel my parents every day in so many things that I do and think.  My parents influence is felt in big things like my ideas about morality, spirituality, and ethics to the little things like what meals I choose to make for dinner and how I prepare them.  They are with me every single day as long as I continue to remember and acknowledge their impact upon my life. I am hoping my friend feels the closeness of her mother in this way too.  It really does ease the grieving process when you think of them in that fashion.

I keep thinking of my children this week too. What kind of impact am I having upon them?  Am I giving them the security, the love, and the skills to be resilient, happy, productive people?  Am I showing them in both obvious and subtle ways how to live life well?  Am I mindful of how my behavior influences their behavior?  And above all else, am I a good mother? Am I doing things right?  I think all parents question themselves from time to time regarding how they are shaping their children, but it's moments like these that give rise to deeper introspection as well as to provide a catalyst for changes that need to be made in parental behaviors.

There are things that I need to do differently, I am sure about that.  There are things that I do pretty well too. Hopefully it all balances out at some point.  That's all we really can do anyway.  Try and change the things that aren't productive, strengthen the positive aspects, and hold onto the hope that we are enough for our children.  The proof, as the saying goes, is in the pudding.  And even if my pudding has a few lumps in it, as pudding is often wont to do, as long as it tastes good and satisfies, I will be happy.  I just want for my children what I had growing up--kind, responsible and loving parents who had a lasting, positive influence.  I'm working everyday to make that happen.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Your Lips to God's Ear

A wish, exhaled on a sigh
floating like a feather high,
caught on the clouds and lingered.

It held firm but not patiently so,
fluttering, twisting on invisible breeze,
trapped by desire that stirred the wish
and the thought that it won't come true.

I was reminded of
moths--homely dull brown,
wanting desperately to light on light
and finding themselves denied by heat
moving restlessly, endlessly in constant flight.

Only when wishes and moths fly without fear
do you finally find
your lips to God's ear.

I think the Universe listens to us when we make wishes or dream about things we would like to happen.  It hears everything--even the unconscious, unsaid things.  That is why a lot of desires remain unfulfilled.  We want so much for things to happen that we end up not only thinking about the fulfilment of desires but also the fear of not achieving them.  We send mixed signals and in the confusion, the Universe responds accordingly with indecision.

Have you ever noticed it is the singularly focused people, the ones usually free from worry that have things work out well for them?  Part of their success of course comes from their own actions, but another part of it comes from the sincere belief that they will be successful.  When they wish, or dream, or plan they send out clear requests unmuddled by fear or worry.  They know things will work out well and do not waste energy on negative what-if scenarios.  The Universe hears them clearly, as if they were whispering the wish right into it's ear. 

By thinking of the negative consequences of not achieving what we desire, we trap our own wishes in limbo.  They move constantly and restlessly, but never gain any momentum, and never find rest in completion.  Being successful requires a person to know what he or she wants, to act accordingly, and to truly believe that all things are possible. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Houses of Sand: Emotional Cowardice

Dishonest relationships have as much permanence as castles in the sand.

I've been thinking about interpersonal relationships lately, but more specifically how people within a relationship communicate with each other.  What makes a romance, a friendship, a marriage work?  What's the best way to interact so that the relationship is fulfilling and healthy and ongoing?  I have recently seen how a friendship can just end suddenly due to miscommunication and stubbornness.  I have witnessed how a marriage withers on the vine due to a lack of addressing issues immediately.  I've noticed other relationships falter due to unexpressed expectations and assumptions made without the foundation of fact.  Most people screw up a relationship because they don't talk about what they really feel or think with the other person.

I think fear is probably the greatest obstacle to maintaining a healthy, happy interaction with another person.  Fearful thoughts of, "What if I say something that offends him or her? What if what I want or need isn't what they are willing to give?  What if I show my true self and he or she doesn't like it?"  Therefore, a lot of people let things slip under the rug.  They let the possibility of losing a friend or lover subsume the need for free and open communication regarding issues within the relationship.  They hide hurt feelings, they don't ask for what they need, they attribute behaviors and actions to false motivations and intentions, just to keep a person in their lives. All the attempts like this at keeping a relationship constitutes emotional dishonesty, and it starts a cycle which will ultimately lead to the end of the friendship or romance.  A shaky foundation eventually causes a structure to crumble, and a relationship built on unexpressed thoughts is like a house built upon sand.  It is never stable and will eventually return to dust.

I can understand why someone would not want to lay him or herself bare before another person.  To put out into the universe all the things he or she is thinking and feeling.  It requires a vulnerability, a willingness to potentially be hurt by the reaction of the other person.  Speaking his or her truth and letting the chips fall where they may is a terrifying enterprise, especially to a person who desperately wants to be in love or have a friend.  No one likes to be hurt and it is human instinct to do everything possible to avoid pain. Therefore people hide what they think and feel to a certain degree.  At some point in life, all people have had moments of emotional cowardice, where they've fallen prey to fear and allowed misconceptions, miscommunication, and outright dishonesty linger in a relationship and slowly begin to poison it.

Being open and honest is the only way to give a relationship a chance to realize its potential.  It is the single thing a person can do to craft a fulfilling and authentic marriage, friendship, or romance.  It takes courage to be true to oneself and honest with others, but it is a quality definitely worth having.  A person may have fewer relationships or friendships, but those that he or she has will be lasting, deep, and meaningful.  It is a quality over quantity paradigm shift that dramatically enhances one's life.  It takes emotional maturity, an understanding of one's needs and wants, and a willingness to be both vulnerable and strong simultaneously.  Honesty and openness is a hard thing to achieve, but it can be done as long as people are mindful of how they want their relationships to be and aware of how their actions impact their relationships.

The other key ingredient in developing a true and fulfilling relationship is how one expresses his or her honest feelings and thoughts.  I have one friend who is under the impression that all relationships should be built upon improving one another through constant criticism. That is an inherently negative starting point.  It's good to be expressive and honest, but it is important to be tactful and supportive too.  Regardless if one's intentions are good,if the delivery is not good as well, the message is lost.  I told him last night that having good intentions without good delivery is much like having a brilliant idea but no means of explaining it to someone else.  It's as if they don't exist at all.  A person normally doesn't hear intentions, they hear what you say.  A person should always be open, honest and true in his or communication, but should also always be respectful of the other person's feelings while communicating.

In sum, it all boils down to the idea that either people will like someone for who he or she is, or they won't.  It's as simple as that.  If everyone could be secure enough in him or herself to value healthy, happy relationships over just a relationship, personal interactions would be much smoother.  Expressing myself is something I work on consistently.  Just like everyone else, I have a tendency to suppress certain things I want to say or I can be tactful to a fault.  It's about striking a balance of truth and respect and courage and I think it's entirely possible to create relationships with solid, long-lasting foundations.  The only sandcastles I care to build these days are ones on a beach.

Friday, April 19, 2013

P: My Favorite Letter of the Alphabet

Wonderful words start with the letter P.
The letter P seems to be my favorite letter of the alphabet these days. Peace, perspective, patience and productivity--these four things comprise my most recent goals for self-improvement.  Upon reflection, recent might not be the best word to use. I should probably say they have been consistent objectives throughout my life, but I've been really focusing on them lately with much more intensity. The older I get, the more important it has become for me to actively live a balanced life in which I have patience for all the ups and downs that continuously occur.  I also want to be more personally productive, making each moment count for something.  Time slips by faster every year and its imperative to not waste anymore of it.  At some point in every day, I wonder if what I am doing is meaningful or I am just spinning my wheels and killing time.  I think if I can marry these goals together and keep them in the forefront of my mind, I will be able to live a life of meaning and consequence.

I've always wanted to lead a peaceful life, one in which I am comfortable with my place in the world and one in which i work towards creating a peaceful atmosphere and environment surrounding all that I do.  I think being peaceful requires a sense of balance and perspective that takes quite a bit of work to attain.  It demands a person to be both detached and attached to the people and circumstances surrounding him or her.  A person should be detached enough to understand that in the grand scheme of things, most upsetting and negative situations we encounter daily do not much matter.  They mostly consist of petty concerns which can be fixed or ameliorated with relative ease.  Therefore it is unnecessary to get overly emotional or angry about things because it wastes time and energy that could be expended elsewhere.  By the same token, a person should be attached enough to the people and circumstances in his or her life to care deeply and work diligently at being present in the moment and consistently making an impact.  It's important to always keep life in a perspective that recognizes the larger context in which it resides while at the same time maintaining close and meaningful relationships with friends and family.

Patience goes hand-in-hand with peace.  It requires the ability to keep calm and view everything with an eye towards the big picture.  I always ask myself when I am about to get frustrated or upset, if this is an incident or remark, or moment that will matter when I place it into a larger context.  Oftentimes, whatever the issue is, doesn't require an explosive or intense response.  If I were to get angry over everything that goes wrong, I would spend a lot of time being negative, and negative energy is wasted time that could have been spent much more meaningfully somewhere else.

Out of all my goals, I struggle the most with productivity.  I mean, no one can accuse me of not getting things done.  Somedays I am a whirlwind of activity in which every single thing on my list gets accomplished.  I feel good knowing I completed x, y, and z, but my idea of productivity goes deeper and feels so much bigger than just finishing mundane activities.  I want to be able to say at the end of the day that what I did mattered.  I want the energy that I expend to mean something, to have left an impact.  Some days I cannot believe that I am forty years old and I am still trying to figure out what kind of impact I want to make on this world.  I always thought I would have my shit figured out by now, but in a lot of ways being a grown up hasn't been anything like I imagined it to be when I was a child.  Being thoroughly middle-aged and still not knowing what I want to be when I grow up shouldn't necessarily surprise me then.

Nevertheless, I think if I am able to remain peaceful and patient, viewing the world in proper perspective, the productivity will fall in line.  Peace will allow me to stay in the moment and patience will keep me from wasting time on negativity. Perspective will give me opportunities to focus on more important things. Besides, one never really knows what kind of impact one has on life in general.  What we might think of as petty concerns or random acts might have very large ripples when taken all together over a course of a lifetime.  I might be rippling right now and not even be aware of it.

Now it's time for me to put my "P's" in action.  Here's looking forward to a day of peace, perspective, patience and productivity.  I hope you all have one as well. :)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Renovation: A Work in Progress

I've been struggling with depression for the past several months now.  I have good days and bad days and mediocre days, all clouded with an underlying feeling of discontent.  Like a house with termites, everything is great on the surface, but not so good on a structural level. Upon reflection, I've discovered several reasons why I have been feeling off, but like most people, I've had a difficult time addressing those reasons. I am pretty self-aware and to a certain extent I understand my strengths and weaknesses, but I've chosen to be stubborn and not work with my strengths to eradicate my weaknesses.  It's a good place to start from, knowing oneself, but if one doesn't act on what one knows, then what is the point in having any knowledge?

One of the key things I do know is I have fallen into the trap that I warn other people about all the time. A person should never fill him/herself with other people and things in order to feel better.  A sense of wholeness has to come from oneself.  I've been filling myself with "friends" who aren't really friends, experiences which don't benefit me in any tangible way, reading, eating, and other escapist activities.  None of those things help except momentarily.  They may alleviate the symptoms of depression, but the root causes are still there and the bad days always return.  Until and unless I decide to do something about the core issues triggering my depressive thoughts, nothing will change.  Much like renovating a home, only when I get to the achingly hard part of working on the foundation of myself will significant and positive change occur. All the redecoration and landscaping in the world won't fix a single thing.  The house looks beautiful and well-appointed while the internal structure continues to rot.

As far as bad days go, yesterday proved to be a doozy.  It seemed as if everything I've been running from, everything that affects my mood negatively coalesced to bury me in morbid thoughts and ugly feelings.  By the end of the day, I felt so suffocated by all the unhappiness that my chest actually hurt and my body ached. Anyone who tells you depression doesn't have physical symptoms obviously has never been depressed.  Our bodies manifest what our minds refuse to manage, and if depression continues unabated it will lead not only to emotional distress but physical distress as well.  I went to bed thinking that I didn't much care if I woke up in the morning.  I felt like I could sleep for days and my absence wouldn't much matter. No one would notice and I wouldn't care.  How dumb is that thought?  Of course people would notice, my children especially. But it doesn't matter how illogical some thoughts become, the emotion driving those thoughts aren't based in logic.  They spring from feelings.  That's the thing about depression, it skews a person's sense of reality to the point where nothing makes sense, but everything feels profoundly real.

Fortunately for me, I couldn't sleep.  I lay in bed thinking about things and eventually my thoughts turned to my children.  They are the best blessings in my life, and I want so much for them.  I want them to have good childhoods and good adulthoods.  I want them to be healthy, happy, strong and compassionate.  I want them to be independent, confident and fearless.  I want them to thrive in all things.  I had a moment of clarity then, in wishing all those things for my children.  I constitute a key component in the creation of healthy, happy lives for them, and if I am not okay with myself, it's going to be difficult to give them the best lives possible.
As I previously stated, I know myself.  I understand that I engage in behaviors that are completely unhealthy.  I am a self-saboteur with a streak of self-loathing which lets me get away with treating myself in ways I would never dream of treating someone else.  One thing I absolutely refuse to do, however, is willfully harm my children in any form, and if that means I have to make myself better to do that, then by God, I will.

I woke this morning thinking about foundations, understanding what I need to do to stabilize my internal home, my idea of self.  There will be some digging, some shoring up, some discarding, and some really hard work.  No more moving furniture, no more paint, no more external trappings.  The days of superficial sprucing-up are over.  I don't just want to have attractive curb appeal, I want to be a solid, good home from the inside-out.  I am not just blowing sunshine up my own skirt this time.  I mean to make this self-improvement last. Moving out of depression doesn't happen all at once.  I am aware that there will be days when I achieve significant renovation and days when the contractor chooses not to show up for work.  The point of the matter is that I vow to work on being better every day, to keep the proper perspective regarding myself and life in general, to be more forgiving of myself and others, and to never give up in trying to do what is right.  Just like a house under construction or repair, I am a work in progress and as long as I keep progressing, my home will eventually be done. So in the meantime, please pardon my dust.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Blown Away: Spring in New Mexico

Springtime in New Mexico

Today is the first day of spring.  Here in New Mexico this fine morning, high clouds dot the sky in long, drawn-out arcs and I am waiting for the wind to start blowing.  It blows almost every day in March and April, sometimes lasting throughout the entire spring. Most people associate flowers and budding trees with spring.  I, however, as a New Mexican for the past 25 years think of wind and dirt as the harbinger of warmer weather and the summer to come.  Nothing quite tops a New Mexico March dirt-storm in which visibility can go from strikingly clear to non-existent in mere minutes, where your home and every surface within it, including people and pets, become coated in a fine layer of dust, and when the constant buzzing and whirring of gusts blowing around your house never ceases.  One of the more annoying occurrences during a dirt-storm is when a little moisture arrives at the same time.  Instead of water sprinkling from the sky everything becomes covered in droplets of mud.  I am not sure about other states, but sometimes in New Mexico it actually rains dirt.

New Mexicans become used to the taste of dirt behind their teeth, immune to the grainy particles that line their ears or invade their eyes, and hair blown every direction under the sun.  They learn to work around the wind.  Some people keep up the good fight with dusting every day, securing things to keep them from blowing away, and going about their business with a determined mindset that this little breeze isn't going to affect them.  Others just give up until June, hang tight and hold on until the wind stops blowing.  Usually those people are the ones so highly medicated on antihistamines that they don't notice April and May have cruised right on by into summer.

Allergies and sinus problems constitute one of the more unfortunate side effects of the wind.  I have lived in many states, some of which are verdant, beautiful and full of flowers and trees in the spring.  However, none of them hold a candle to the aggressiveness of New Mexico spring-time allergies.  In my opinion, the wind and constant dirt in the air only exacerbate the allergies caused by pollen.  The first full spring I spent in New Mexico I lost my voice for six weeks due to allergy-induced laryngitis.  Some years I fare better than others, but a year hasn't existed yet that I haven't suffered at some point due to allergies and sinus issues caused in no small part by the wind.

Nonetheless, I would really want to live anywhere else.  In the early mornings and evenings when the wind has settled, New Mexico has this stillness, this austere beauty that does not exist anywhere else in the world. The freshness of the air, the amazing blueness of the sky in the day, and the brilliance of the stars at night, make this state a particularly beautiful place in which to live.  I can endure the wind, the dust, and the allergies for those reasons and so many more.  I love my home state.  I love each of the seasons and the way in which they arrive for their own peculiar characteristics.  In sum, New Mexico just blows me away.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Energy Expended and Other Poems

Energy Expended

It is worth the energy expended, cradling this wanting—
the need to have your mouth to mine,
our hands intertwined like bodies at rest
once the loving is done.

I won’t wake you, lending you to sleep—
at home in my itching bones a few moments more.
I imagine rousing you with trailing kisses
and warm hands sticky sweet with last night’s dream.

Watching your evened breath, it rises and whispers
remembered words, a poetry that slides into me,
making me wide and full as a river.
I drift like reflected moonlight, content upon your current.

And then, as a gentle swirl, an eddying tide
I brush against your shore, eroding the slumber
to draw you up and awake as your hand rests upon my hip
and pulls me to where I long to be.

Despising Gravity

Like a comet called to dance,
you break into the pregnant earth, the solid rock-roundness of me.
Crashing into my details, furrowing a road where none existed,
you give me words, lend me sound
to say anything, to scream up a magic that rages
against isolation interrupted.

Wary, I wait on
the imagined damage already done,
for the wave goodbye with a cynical eye and easy wrist.
I refuse your prayers to wake and embrace this love.
My head holds only space for solitary kites
in flights of fancy, the stuff which dreams are made.

I despise the gravity, the weight which holds you firmly to my lonely fate.
I cannot love beautifully, nor love right.
I am perfect imperfection in matters of the heart and night.
I'd rather you be a falling star faded on the wind,
than let me extinguish your fire in the end.

Pandora's Box

You are Pandora’s Box--
a bell unrung.
I am the waiting,--
anticipation’s ring, the latch undone.

Then you say, “The stars are but stars,
nothing less and nothing more.”
And I respond so fervently, “Tell me
are you sure?”

“As a star, you sound like memory,
you feel like infinite song,
you taste of sunshine bliss—In this,
you are wrong.”

But Pandora refuses to teach me,
So I burn with stars, with words unsaid.
From your box my unwilling ears hear,
“Don’t wish on me, don’t wish on me….
Please throw stones instead.”


You fell in love with her tears, and then
as they evaporated to salty skin,
crystal streaks on rounded cheeks--
did your love dry thin?

If you had fallen in love with her laughter,
her inappropriate giggles, after
another oddly-timed sigh,
would your love be less a lie?

You should have fallen in love with her words,
and the way they fly the air, like birds
to swoop and nest so deep into you,
then you would know your love is true.

Chaotic Space
I am not the ghost you wish me to be,
the muffled silence behind a locked door.
Nor dust motes sun-sliding from air to floor.
I'm not your distraction, or distance longed for.
I am who I am--no less, no more.

I am not the memory you wish to see,
the expected, accepted easy fade.
Nor a song with volume muted, down played.
I am not your twilight making descent into shade.
I am who I am--brilliantly made.

I am not the perfection you want from me,
the mannered charms and flawless grace.
Nor sweet lips with apple-cheeked face.
I'm not your dream bound into place.
I am who I am--chaotic space.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

If You Aren't With Us, You're Against Us

God is love, not hate.

I get so tired of people telling me, "You are such a nice person, I'm so sorry you are going to Hell."  I hear it from both my Christian and my Muslim friends.  My Hindu friends are pretty chill as is the one Buddhist I know. Southern New Mexico has a scarcity of people of the Jewish faith, so I am uncertain as to what their opinion regarding my immortal soul might be. Nonetheless, I would venture to guess they expect to find me in Hades as well.  Monotheists definitely seem to have some exclusivity issues. They think that they've cornered the market on salvation.  They use their righteous certainty to deny the validity of anyone else's beliefs, basically shouting,  "If you aren't with us, you're against us."  I despise that exclusive attitude and it constitutes the primary reason I reject following or practicing any mainstream religion.

Don't get me wrong, I am what a person would call a believer.  I have a devout faith that God exists and I believe in only one god who judges right from wrong.  I am in essence an ethical monotheist, much like a Jew, Christian, or Muslim, but I classify myself as a spiritual deist.  I respect the right of every one to decide for him or herself the best path for understanding or gaining knowledge of God.  I don't adhere to any particular dogma or doctrine because I truly believe that all religions are basically a means to an end--discovering and developing a relationship with the Creator.

It frustrates me to see people use their faith as yet one more way in which to create and strengthen the us-them paradigms that chronically plague society as a whole.  People consistently highlight differences between one another from the smallest, superficial qualities to the large, encompassing ones, like religion.  Race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, appearance, sexual orientation, lifestyle choices all act as barriers to truly seeing others as we see ourselves, to recognizing the divinity that exists and connects all of humankind.  Out of all these classifications, however, I think religion is probably the most divisive social institution ever created by Man.  Throughout the ages, wars have been fought over faith.  God has been invoked to justify the killing of millions of people.  People have been segregated, separated, treated inhumanely, massacred, marginalized, displaced, and decimated all because people believe they have God on their side and anyone else is a servant of Satan.  Again, a classic, "If you aren't with us, you are against us."

I don't understand why people can't accept the idea that just because others believe differently regarding their relationship with God that they aren't wrong.  Different beliefs don't automatically mean bad beliefs.  It's not a black-white scenario....humanity is full of a thousand shades of gray.  We all have the same end-game in mind, securing a better afterlife.  How we choose to get there should be a personal journey that best meets our own, specific needs.  If people truly followed the examples of Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Buddha, or Vishnu, they would be respectful of the beliefs of those different from themselves as well as very aware of the connection between all human beings. They wouldn't disparage or hurt or condemn.  They would act out of love for their fellow man.  They would acknowledge that we are all God's children.  They would respect the differences and embrace the similarities.  I hold out hope that one day that people will not only realize this, but live their lives in such a way that there is no more us and them--only we.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hugging Hitler: Feeding Pro-Gun Insurrectionist Rhetoric

Using Hitler as a Pro-Gun Prop is Offensive

Until now, I've been rather quiet on the raging debate over gun control in the United States.  I am unashamedly in favor of stricter gun regulations, but other than a few comments on Facebook in response to egregiously violent or offensive pro-gun posts, I didn't feel it necessary to say anything.  After a "debate" last night with a pro-gun advocate, and I cannot remain silent.  He threw every talking point of the NRA and the conservative right at me, most of which I found extremely offensive.  So much so, that I have to say something.

So much of the reasoning used by gun enthusiasts disturbs on a profound level that I have had difficulty in narrowing this post to a particular topic.  I am saddened to see such vitriolic anger on the part of pro-gun supporters towards anyone who suggests a revision to gun laws.  They use violent rhetoric in bolstering their views while intimating threats towards gun control advocates.  They also dehumanize people by marginalizing all offenders to "trash" regardless of circumstances and blame victims of gun violence for either being in the wrong place at the wrong time or associating with lower elements of society. I am perplexed by their paranoid world view in which they sacrifice the good of the present to prepare for a highly unlikely future of tyranny and oppression.  I am frightened by their talk of armed insurrection against the government, their desire to flaunt the concept of federal supremacy by ignoring laws, and their utter lack of understanding of how democracy operates.  They do not know much history and what facts they do come across they take out of context to use as props for their talking points.  They openly embrace using more violence to counteract what they perceive as a violent society.  Most of their arguments make little or no logical sense to me.  Lately, however, the most offensive paranoid, conservative fantasies I have come across is the comparison of President Obama to Adolf Hitler and the modern U.S. to Germany's fascist regime during Hitler's reign in the 1930s and 1940s.

Circulating on social media, online conservative news outlets, and  right wing blogs have been equations of President Obama to one of the most heinous figures in history.  I find it incredibly offensive and completely illogical, but not surprising.  Four years ago as Barrack Obama prepared to be inaugurated as president, conservatives touted secessionist rhetoric and implied that possible armed insurrection could occur as Americans would feel it necessary to fight against a radicalized, abusive federal government.  Contributors to Fox News talked of America being in a "pre-revolutionary" state and being "one step closer to a civil war." All because the US voters elected a black Democrat for president.  Now with President Obama's second inauguration coming quickly, especially on the heels of the intense national debate on gun control issues, conservative apologists have dusted off this old nugget of propaganda and added Adolf Hitler to fire up their base to oppose gun regulation.

By equating President Obama to Hitler, right wing radicals play to the delusional fear of gun lovers that they will eventually need to protect themselves from tyranny and dictatorship.  It is a blatant emotional appeal to American gun owners, tapping into the historical ethos of individual citizens as patriots and revolutionaries.  The last, best defense against a tyrannical government.  Using the Hitler comparison inspires already fearful, paranoid gun owners to marshal righteous indignation and prepare to fight against fascism by stockpiling assault weapons and creating huge caches of ammunition. In essence, this argument makes it okay for radical, conspiracy-loving people to contemplate armed insurrection and civil war.

By "Hitlerizing" President Obama, these people aren't discussing sedition and insurrection, but saving the world from one of the most nefarious, evil, and heinous creatures humanity has ever seen.  They turn President Obama and all the other duly elected representatives who support gun control into the enemy, and imply that a violent response to legislation they dislike is justified, even welcomed.  This type of fallacious argument not only muddies the waters surrounding gun control issues, but inflames gun lovers to the point where they cease to be reasonable.  It is at least an irresponsible and offensive argument to make and at most, a dangerous one. It is a tactic that vilifies and dehumanizes the opposition, shuts down any pragmatic conversation about the topic, and ultimately harms the American populace by giving violence an even greater foothold in this country.  Violence and violent rhetoric do not cure violence.  It never has and it never will.

While my conversation with the gun lover last night both irritated and frightened me, it had one good effect.  I realized that I need to speak up about this particular issue and advocate more vocally and logically for responsible and reasonable gun regulation in the United States.  I refuse to be silent in the face of vicious, callous, and false attacks on progressive legislators who want to address the rampant gun violence in the US in a meaningful, proactive manner.  I may  not persuade anyone to my way of thinking, but I am going to ensure that they at least hear me.  Being quiet, when subversive elements like this shout to the rooftops, is no longer an option for me.  I'll be as loud as the opposition, but much less fearful, delusional, and paranoid.  Of that I am certain.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Silver Linings and Shakers: Motivation

The other day I asked several people what motivated them to do the things they do not enjoy doing.  Most responded that they think about the negative consequences of not completing a task and that "fear of bad outcomes" pushes them to start and finish an unpleasant chore.  For example, "If I do not clean the kitchen, it will become infested with pests."  "If I do not finish this term paper, I will fail the class."  Other people mentioned that they think of worse things they could be doing.  In visualizing other distasteful activities, they ameliorate the unpleasantness of the current project.  They tell themselves, "I don't want to wash the dishes, but I could be cleaning horse stalls."  Still others stated that rewards motivate them to complete the jobs they don't want to work on.  They think about the reward of having more time for pleasurable activities or the positive benefits of getting a job completed.  Lastly, people are motivated to do things they don't want to because they know it is the right thing to do.  Some internal conscience tells them it is the only ethical and moral option and moves them to get the job done.

It's easy to do the things we enjoy.  We take pleasure from the act in an of itself and it is that pleasure principle that motivates us to start and finish something.  So whatever it takes to get the less-than-fun activities done actually constitutes a good thing, even if the motivators happen to be negative.  It would be a great thing if everything could stem from a positive point of origin, but we humans aren't necessarily built that way.  If we didn't have the idea that something worse would happen if we didn't do A, B, or C, then a lot of things wouldn't be accomplished.  It would be a lovely world in which all motivators were happy ones, but we don't live in that world, so all we can do is try to do our work with light hearts, regardless of how we motivate ourselves.  Doing something with a light heart really makes the job much easier to do.  Finding the silver-linings, upside, or benefit from every task we are assigned aids in doing it without resentment and doing it well.

It's the same as when I am cooking.  If I have to cook, even when I don't want to, I find that if I do it with resentment or high levels of negativity, the food doesn't taste as good.  The dish always goes wrong.  The recipe doesn't gel properly, something gets burnt, or it lacks flavor.  If I do it with a happy heart, then people taste the love and joy that go into what I prepare.  It's the same with any kind of job.  Happiness becomes a key ingredient in whatever you do or make.  The Shakers, a Utopian religious group founded during the early 1800s, believed this to be true.  They believed that everything they did constituted an act of devotion to God, and therefore they used that as a motivator to complete whatever task at hand to the best of their abilities.  They worked with a sense of joy in all they did and their joy can be seen in their architecture, furniture, and handicrafts.  Everything they made contained a beautiful, precise simplicity.

We should take a lesson from the Shakers.  We should act as if everything we do matters. The mindset that if everything we do is an act of devotion to either God, our families, or ourselves allows us to put more love, happiness, and joy into our work and unpleasant tasks become more pleasant while the chores we enjoy become even more fulfilling and vibrant.  The end product of whatever we do benefits from a light heart and a sense of positive dedication. Try to remember that when you have to wash dishes, mow the lawn, finish an assignment for school, or complete a project for work.  Guaranteed you will feel better in the middle of the task, and you will definitely appreciate the end results much more....both the project itself and your own feeling of satisfaction.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Listening More and Doing Less

Sometimes the best thing to do for a friend's problem is to do nothing at all.

Sometimes you just have to sit back and let things play out.  As much as you want to jump into the middle of a situation and yell "Stop!!!!" at the top of your lungs, you just can't do it.  This is especially true when you you see a friend struggling with some circumstance, event, or emotion and you know that no matter what you say or do, the friend has to handle it him or herself.  No amount of advice or intervention on your part will change anything.  Some things a person just has to do for him or herself and all we can be are spectators, wishing, hoping and rooting for the home team's success.

I think most thinking, feeling people have a bit of crusader in them.  They want to help their friends and families with difficulties and try to ameliorate whatever ails them.  I used to try and offer advice or actually put plans into effect to help friends work through whatever difficulties they were undergoing.  However,I learned my lesson many years ago.  I can only do what I can do, no more and no less, and oftentimes people really don't want help. Help comes with too many strings attached. And, in certain circumstances, no amount of help will change another person's trajectory.  It has to come from oneself--the desire and willingness to fix his or her own problems.  Generally outside solutions only work for a small period of time or not at all.

I've also learned that sometimes it is better to just sit back and listen, to provide an ear for someone's troubles, but not necessarily a mouth.  Generally people are smart enough to figure out a solution on their own. People really just need an opportunity to vent their frustrations and have a sounding board on which to bounce their own ideas about things.  Talking too much, offering unwanted advice, or espousing platitudes just doesn't work well for the troubled person.  Oftentimes it just feeds their drama and the issues become more acute.  Rather than focusing on improving a situation, the problem or the feelings surrounding a problem are intensified. Intervention in another person's difficulties should only happen if it is obvious that no other fix exists or if that person is incapable at all of helping him or herself at all.  Otherwise, just be supportive and positive.

Nonetheless, we all have that urge to take on another's problems and fix them as we see fit.  It's human nature.  Sometimes I wish it weren't but we can't help it.  The best we can do is to probably take a step back and just watch and be as supportive as possible without being intrusive.  This new approach seems to be working for me.  I'm happier because my levels of frustration have decreased.  I still care, but I don't invest myself in the solutions as fully as I did.  I listen more, support more, and talk a heck of a lot less.  Sometimes the best solution is just being there and letting the other person know you love and support him or her.