Mini-Post: Bringing Life to the Dead Zones of Routine

I’m experimenting with a mini post. Life is all about trying new things, right?

Today Enjoy Life For Once’s Facebook status was:

Pick a routine today, especially a dull one. Doing the dishes, tidying the living room, packing your bag. Devote ten seconds of the time to just paying attention. Feeling the water on your hands, feeling your legs. Notice the colors, the sounds around you. Bringing fresh attention to the dead zones of your day is a great way to start making friends with the present moment, which is where your power to change is.

Do you ever try this technique? What kind of results do you see?

How many times during the day do you think that you are unaware of things where you could be more present?

 

For me, I noticed that when I spent time paying attention while doing the dishes, the routine became more enjoyable. I felt more collected afterwards, and even felt moved to clean up the living room a bit, noticing the weight of each pillow in an enjoyable way.

It was nice.

I would like to try doing that more often, since “doing the dishes” is one of those things I always assume will be horrible.

Are there routines that you despise, that you do begrudgingly, that could perhaps get some fresh life into them if they were less bothersome?

 

Corporations, Consistency, & Expectations: Lessons From Home-Made Stuffing

The dog doesn’t quite care where the stuffing comes from.

Thanksgiving happened, and for the first time in my life I ate home made stuffing. Usually my grandma makes it with the perfectly square packaged croutons, and she adds butter and things, but this time it was just me and my partner in Austin with no grandma. So he made it without any packages, and it was delicious.

But I have to admit, I was worried when we made the choice as a couple to make home made stuffing and not follow Grandma’s recipe.

It didn’t bother me that we had chicken instead of turkey, or that we didn’t have cranberry sauce or banana cream pie. None of these changes mattered. It was the stuffing.

And that got me to thinking about corporations and how they get so integrated into our family routines and our holidays because of the consistency they provide. It also got me thinking about expectations and how they can literally eat us alive. Let me explain.

We Are Suckers for Consistency

Think about how much we love consistency. There is a whiny outrage every time Facebook changes a single thing in its layout. The lack of Twinkies is upsetting people who haven’t had one in years. At least they were always there.

But what is so desirable about consistency? Why do we love it so much?

The Underlying Fear

My theory is that it has to do with grasping for something that is controllable, since our very foundation as humans is not. During puberty, we are overtaken by hormones that change everything we thought we knew about our existence. As we age, laugh lines start to stay and we blink twice before realizing that it’s not just dehydration this time; it’s for real.

We look around us and more people start to get sick. Our friends lose people, we lose people, the circle of friends and family that we had growing up is no longer indestructible. It gets torn apart by diseases of body and mind, and there’s nothing we can do to help most of it.

But at least Wonder Bread will always taste the same. At least Grandma’s stuffing can be made with things from the store that will always be there. At least we can walk by the Twinkies in the grocery store and think to ourselves “I’m better than that.”

In a world where things are so often not in our control, it’s nice to have some things to trust. Corporations, on some level with their consistency and refined products, provide substance to this illusion. They let us have an expectation that can be safely met.

Living in the Moment & Expectation

We’ve discussed this in other posts, but I can never come back to it enough because it’s always true. Maybe if we look at it through a thousand lenses it will be impossible for it to continue its expert shape-shifting:

The more expectations we have, and the more we are attached to them, the less we are living in the moment. This gets in our way of living a life that feels fulfilling.

For example, if I’ve been keeping up with my sitting practice and I make a plan and it falls through, I’m more likely to notice the air on my face, the breath in my body and to think of what to do in that moment when I find out the plan isn’t happening. I’m not as likely to be upset and thrown off and in a state of shock.

But if I’m attached to my expectations, then I can get quite upset about the plan falling through. That bad mood can easily take over, and a lot of time can pass before I remember to feel things genuinely again instead of deciding that each thing is going to suck because my mood is such.

This all comes back also to Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, which has still been affecting my mental processes and willingness to see things in new ways.

What I’m thinking now is that by noticing expectations and how often they come into play with the little things, like stuffing, the easier it will be to notice it when it comes to big things, like my life.

Can Life Be Like A Farmer’s Market?

Going to a farmer’s market is different than going to the grocery store. You are naturally prevented from having strict culinary routines if you are shopping primarily at local farms because you can’t know too far in advance what will be available. The smallest drought could affect the taste of the strawberries, for example, or the types of greens that make it. You have to work with what is there, and be creative.

Think about your life, and how it’s turned out or how it is turning out each day. Is it what you expected? Is it different than you thought?

Maybe you feel bad that you aren’t doing what you thought you’d be doing at this age.

Maybe you’re happier than you expected to be.

But if you are upset, if you are measuring what is against what was supposed to have been, maybe these thoughts can get some loving attention from a higher place in your mind. A place that can extract the expectations and look around with vulnerable curiosity.

I, for one, am going to make more of an effort to see where the expectations that I have are causing negative judgment to arise, and then I’m going to try to replace it with curiosity and a fresh assessment. I want to spot the habitual ways I approach routines; not just the stuffing, but the way I brush my teeth, the way I put away dishes. Maybe there is room for more present-ness instead of just the pass/fail feeling of expectations.

Without a plan or expectations, the world is vivid and touching because you haven’t already thwarted the feeling of that touch with an expectation for how it “should” be.

How about you?

Do you think that it is easy to live outside of routine and expectation sometimes, or do rely on certain things to keep you focused and grounded?

Do you think you live life like a farmer’s market, with curiosity and adaptability?

Are there routines that you think could use more curiosity and less expectation or automatic reactions?

 

 

 

The Process of Pathologizing Among New Healers: Let’s Get Clear.

Many of us are healers of various types. We want to heal with our words, our hands, our songs, our science. We want to heal and help, and this is so natural to us. Or so it seems.

Sometimes we are already wondering this..so when someone thinks they can tell us, we want to believe them.

Sometimes, we have a tendency to want to heal others because we ourselves have been wounded. If those wounds are still tender, then we may not be aware when something is triggering us to shut down, even as we try to help them.

Sometimes, I feel that someone can listen to me and pathologize my experience, especially those who are trying to help.

This is something that I must do as well, so I figured we could explore it here and perhaps find some tools for the future!

 

What Do You Mean, “Pathologize?”

Pathologizing according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is

To view or characterize as medically or psychologically abnormal.

 

If I say that I’m thinking about something a lot lately, and you ask me if I’m obsessed with it, that is sort of making me appear sick. It is taking something simple and giving it a loaded label.

The same is true if you tell me you are feeling down, and I ask you if you are depressed or worse yet, if I say something like “Wow it sounds like you’re depressed” or another statement that makes it implicitly easier for you to agree, consciously or unconsciously, than to argue with me. Really, there are better questions to ask than that and better ways of going about trying to help someone.

Why Is Pathologizing Dangerous?

Maybe it’s not dangerous. But I do think it gets in the way of a more pure and simple understanding that comes from compassion and empathy. It bypasses the process of curiosity and zips right into labels; and not just any labels. Charged labels, judgy labels, labels that you then have to talk yourself out of.
And the funny thing is, these labels can also make us feel like better healers. That’s right. If I decide that you’re depressed when you say you’re sad, and by the end of our conversation you sound happier, then I sort of cured your depression! in some messed up unconscious way. If I simply talked to you long enough for your natural mood to pass, then that’s less cool for me and my ego, but it might be the reality.

The Value of Curiosity

I realize that I am probably notorious for this process of pathologizing or else I wouldn’t notice it so sharply when other people do it. I must remember that having a curiosity for the reality of someone else is one of the best things that I can do. It teaches me to slow down and to have that same curiosity for myself, rather than to zip from “wow I’m sad in this moment” to “I must have a raging case of undiagnosed depression and I better make sure I don’t accidentally bring others down with me.”

The charged label is simply piling on layers that then become harder to get rid of, especially for those of us that are already hard on ourselves.

But Isn’t there More Anxiety And Depression?

Psychology Today has an interesting article on this topic. According to the article, depression and anxiety are becoming more commonplace because the normal human experience is being labeled as such more often, not because these states of mind are becoming more common. Furthermore, the author talks about how the labels are not meant to be taken as being solid things. They are meant to be used for the therapists to do their job more effectively, not to label people. The article is quite good, I recommend it!

With easy access to WebMd and other sources for self-diagnosis, it’s no wonder that more of us learn these terms and try to use them on ourselves, and on each other. It sounds better if we say “Sounds like you have an acute episode of a semi-psychosomatic illness brought on by environmental stressors” than if we say “I don’t know how to really relate with your experience at this moment, maybe you could call a therapist or just come over for some tea and we can hang out.” Or however it works with your relationship.

Is this from the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, who just love getting their chemicals on your neurotransmitters, or from people eating more additives in their food and having finicky immune systems? Who knows, but one thing remains clear:

We Can Stand Up For Ourselves

I know that personally, when someone gives me an insult, it can stick if it’s something that I already partially believe. For this reason, if someone labels me in a way that I’ve been labeled against my will in the past, then I may get a little triggered. I may feel the need to defend, or an impulse to believe them. Maybe I AM obsessed, maybe I AM in denial, or whatever.

I haven’t spoken to my therapist in years, and if I do, then I can hear whatever words of wisdom she has and take them in. She’s licensed, she knows me, and it’s her job. The people that may mean well but that throw out these loaded terms simply to try and understand something are most definitely not in the same position as she is to be, as they say, “going there.”

If you hear loaded terms from anyone who is trying to help you and is not a therapist, perhaps there is something that you can say back to them. Or someone you can talk to about the situation to see what they think, such as a real therapist. For now, I’m going to remind myself to use this question:

This is easy, simple, doable. Whatever someone says, whether they are my therapist or a stranger on the bus or a person I just met, I can ask them “Why use that word?” if they use a word that I find to be particularly charged.

I don’t know if that’s what you should do. I don’t want to pretend to have advice that I don’t have. I do know that if I get better at using some Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, then I might end up with more creative solutions to this issue.

I also know that trying to do this will help me at least to be aware of when the feeling of resistance or being triggered arises. If I can notice it, I can ask this question, and perhaps help the people I talk to become aware of when they are doing it, and help myself to do the same.

Do you have any experience with this, has someone ever used powerful words to describe your experience when you feel they are out of line?

Do you have friends that offer unsolicited therapy advice? Is it hard to turn it down or tell them to stop, or do you love when they do it?

Are you aware of the words that are most charged for you? (I’m not asking you to share them, though) Do you think that being aware of them can help you when people start using them unskillfully?

I hope you all have a great week!

 

Our Un-Psychic Audience: Reclaiming the Weight We Put On Magic’s Shoulders

So often we are saying this in different words.

Do you think about the way you communicate with the people that you expect to receive your art?

If we want to publicize ourselves, we need to think about what it is we are putting out there, especially if we want more attention than we are getting. We could also stand to have less of an expectation of psychic ability on the part of our audience. Let me explain.

There are times where we are expecting Magic to fill the gaps we leave. Once we see these places, we can start to fill them ourselves, leaving Magic to do bigger and better things. Maybe we can even admit that the less-than-desirable attention we are getting is actually related to the quality and energy of what we are offering.

Once we notice these things, we have more power to stop engaging in them unconsciously.

Indirect Communication & The Expectation of Magic

People can communicate indirectly. If you have been friends with or dated people who do it often, you know how frustrating it can be. “Don’t you hate when it’s chilly outside” can mean “Please turn the heat on, I’m cold.”  There are endless variations.

A friend who was studying linguistics told me that women are more likely to engage in indirect communication than men, and I don’t doubt it.

Within indirect communication, there is a kernel of an expectation of Magic. We expect that the proclamation of how we dislike cold is going to magically send our real meaning into the brain of the other person. It’s not always conscious, of course, but it is there. And it comes up in other ways.

Expectation of Magic With Writing

This pattern of expectation can affect our writing and other art.

With writing, if we assume that the background of a scene is laid out sufficiently when it is not, the reader can get confused. If we don’t think about a character’s underlying motives and personality, their drive is unclear and the story is not compelling.

This is why my first stories were crappy. I expected people to understand how interesting my ideas were because they appeared so in my head; like a child thinking you can’t see him because he is covering his own eyes.

Giving The Magic a Place to Stand: The Value of Effort

If you wanted to do NaNo, you could talk about it all you want from January to October. If November 1st rolls around and you still have to get yourself a computer, a desk, time off of work, typing lessons and a story idea, then you are not prepared.

If, on the other hand, you cleaned your desk, defragged your computer, stocked up on your favorite foods, had plenty of tea, took a few extra days off of work, saved money to cover that loss, and told your family and friends to expect less communication during the month of November, all by the middle of October, then your scene is set rather differently. You put in the work to give yourself the maximum amount of time to empathize with your characters and let the writing happen without extra hindrance.

I am willing to make an assumption that those who put in the effort before NaNo are more likely to write something that others would enjoy reading. And the same goes for other types of art and projects.

The Difference Between Frantic Advertising & Popularity

No matter how much we advertise ourselves to the world, we are not going to get real attention if our product sucks and if we aren’t really putting ourselves out there to the extent of our ability. That’s just how it goes, in my eyes.

Brene Brown‘s work on Vulnerability comes to mind. Despite the excited freshness with which she presents herself, she did many years of research before her famed TED talk. She was not just throwing some ideas together and hoping for the best like some people do with their blog posts (ahem). She did studies, she read books, she went to therapy; and only after building all of that solid ground did she share the results and touch an audience.

Music is similar. Someone who does a live guitar solo after years of practice is going to impress the crowd even if they make mistakes much more than the person who does a solo after playing for a month or two. The past effort shows, it informs the skill of the present, and it touches us when they can show us the extent of this skill in a vulnerable and fresh way. If the second person were to sing words that they’d been thinking about and reflecting on for years with a sensitive awareness, then that may be more touching than the guitar part; it all depends on what they share and when and to whom.

It basically seems like people recognize hard work and skill when they see it; not when they are told to.

How Do We Use This Information?

Maybe we can do a more honest acknowledgment of what we are putting out there, what we put into it, and how much that shows. Then we can reduce the tendency to think others psychically know that we deserve love and attention, and actually start showing them what we do and what we offer so that they can make their own choice.

Trust the things that you know, the things that you have been studying formally and informally. Trust them and share them, but perhaps be aware of where an assumption of a psychic audience  is creeping in. If people aren’t responding, figure out why it is the case. How would you see you if you were objective and had no idea of what was in your head? What is getting held back and does it add into the whole picture?  Maybe you will notice where you may not be reaching them with the greatness that you feel you have to share.

Aside from my closest friends and my mom, nobody would like the things I began writing at first.  I wasn’t deserving of praise and attention from an objective audience, and now it is obvious. But at the time, I was confused as to why my first blog posts weren’t catching on like wildfire. But now I get it, at least partially. I hardly knew what the hell I was doing, and still don’t, but I’m closer. Even if all of my friends share my posts, the people that come back and read them are those that are touched by what they see because they found it on their own; rarely if ever is it the people who I messaged and personally asked to come by. And I know that I have more sharing to do, more vulnerability to meet, and more techniques to employ in terms of applying the knowledge I’ve worked for many years to understand.

Maybe we need to understand our non-responsive audience more effectively. They aren’t psychic, we aren’t sharing something of value to them, and when we do, they will be touched and will come back for more. If we are sharing honestly and vulnerably and nobody cares, then perhaps we need to re-evaluate what we are doing if their attention is something that we require (such as anyone who wants to write or make art for a living).

This is a new way of thinking for me and I’m trying it on to see what new actions it may lead to. The last time I explored a mindset (paying more attention to vulnerability, from Brene Brown’s TED talk) I ended up cutting off five years’ worth of dreadlocks because I realized that the comfort I was gaining from them was not necessarily something I wanted to keep indulging in.

I  realize that my old writing was full of assumptions and expectations, laying a whole lot on the shoulders of Magic, and I’m only now starting to find my voice and hold that weight myself, letting Magic do what it wants and letting the psychic abilities of my readers be used for better things than figuring out what I’m trying to say. I’m supposed to be a writer, so it’s kind of my freaking job. I may as well step up to it.

What About You?

Do you think that you are getting the attention you think you deserve for your art, writing, or other type of work? If not, do you know what you want to do better? Do you want support in that regard?

Do you think that this is crazy and I’m totally off track, and that things can get organically famous and popular without the person having spent time on the skill or figuring out how to best share it with the world? Do those of us that are beginners have any hope of reaching people? Have you ever done something as a beginner and had it have a great impact on others?

Do you use indirect communication, or do you know someone who does? Is it less annoying to you than to me?

I always love your guys’ thoughts; they have helped me learn about my writing more than anything in the past.  Thank you so very much for sharing them, publicly and privately.

 

Falling in Love With Vulnerability to Experience a Wholehearted Life

When you make banana bread, it ends up with those little magical black lines in it. They are always spread throughout and organized so precisely. They are how you know it’s real and that it shall be delicious. Maybe moments of challenge, sadness, heartbreak, and anger are like those little lines in an overall happy and healthy life. Maybe remembering this in the moment can help us to jump in bravely at some opportunities for vulnerability, rather than instinctively shying away from them without realizing it.

This post is about connecting Brene Brown’s work on Vulnerability with the Happiness Trap’s version of “happy.” I’ve been enthralled with both of these notions for the past few weeks and they are helping me to feel that lots of little routines are easier to spot and change, so I’d like to share some of these connections with you guys.

The Happiness Trap

Let’s look at the components so that this makes sense. We’ll start with an excerpt from The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. They start by addressing the fact that we all tend to chase, strive for and crave “happiness”. They mention that the most common definition of it is “feeling a sense of pleasure, gladness, or gratification.” They talk about how feelings of that type of happiness never last, and in fact, “the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more likely we are to suffer from anxiety and depression.” Then they go on to talk about the other meaning, which is something I try to hold in my head a lot of the time:

“The other far less common meaning of happiness is ‘living a rich, full and meaningful life.’ When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeing feeling- it is a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings, it will also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness, fear, and anger. This is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotions.”

Brene Brown’s Work On Vulnerability, Shame, And Wholeheartedness

Now let’s look at Brene Brown’s work. She has several books out, and I’ve been watching her TED talk videos and others that she has on YouTube. There is a link to the first video HERE and you can then find the rest. You would probably enjoy her work if you like this blog.

Basically, she has found through doing work on shame that everyone has shame, but some have less. The people with less shame tend to have more vulnerability, and they tend to be living in ways that are that second meaning of “happy” and wholeheartedness. They have a feeling of being “enough” and being worthy.

The Connection

I see a connection between these two bodies of research. The more that we are willing to be uncomfortable, the more chances we have for happiness of the second variety- the deep, full, meaningful life type. That deep and meaningful life will not always be fun, but it will be rewarding and satisfying. We just have to be vulnerable..but what does that even mean? Are there various types of it, are there different styles? Can we learn it in a book,  and can we master it like a science?

Falling in Love with Vulnerability

I find that for me, it helps to learn a concept by falling in some sort of love with it. Looking at it from all angles, viewing it through a lens of poetry, thinking of it in my spare time, writing poems about it. So that’s what I’ve been doing in some ways with vulnerability- falling in love with it.

Vulnerability is not very comfortable. Sometimes a certain thing, like sharing our feelings publicly or telling someone we love them, is a vulnerable thing to do at first or in a certain context. After that, we get used to that one thing, or we will. But we haven’t mastered vulnerability. There will be something new after that until we cease to change and grow.

That is what I’ve been trying to work on this past week. Embracing my own many flavors of vulnerability and noticing the many areas that it arises for me.

I would like to find and read more of Brene Brown’s work. I’m curious to learn about the types of vulnerability and how they relate with each other. Also, how conditioning comes into play- if you are rewarded for being vulnerable, does it become easier? Can you reward yourself for it if this is the case? And do you get more familiar with the feeling in general or is it always going to be moving to a new place in your life if you overcome it in one area?

Like her, I tend to strive to find a method and a list. It’s harder for me to accept the mystery of the whole thing, an observant blogger Ktismatics artfully pointed out in a comment on last week’s post about priming. I like to pretend that I can gain fully conscious control of my world, but that will never happen; which provides me another chance to openly feel vulnerable and come through the other side with a greater willingness to do it again!

The Results of This Food for Thought

Since thinking about these things, I have noticed changing patterns in my life. I would be more aware of a choice arising in me based on avoiding certain feelings, and often times those feelings were about something bad happening. There were patterns of dog walks that I would take, patterns of places I’d do my work, patterns of plans I’d make for after work. But then I started changing.

I brought the dog to a new trail in the woods that I was previously afraid of. I made plans with people I was shy around, I reached out. I finally cleaned up the piles of mess because I looked at how much a book case actually costs instead of assuming it was too expensive. I noticed some moments when I would feel a sense of pressure based on fear or avoidance, and I would make efforts in such cases to try and step out into those feelings and through them to see what happens. Maybe I get rejected, maybe horrible things happen- or maybe they don’t, and another bar on the cage of routine is seen for the colored mist that it is and evaporated as soon as it comes into contact with my fearless hand. More will arise to take its place, and I will try to fall in love with the feeling of swiping my hand through them just to realize their illusion of solidity, over and over, until the day that I die.

So I invite you guys to watch those videos, learn from that amazing woman, and to read “The Happiness Trap” if such things intrigue you. I know that for me and some of my more stubborn anxieties and avoidant habits, these two bodies of knowledge have been very useful in a rather concrete way leading to action-based change.

How about you?

Have you been aware of Brene Brown’s work in the past? Were you strongly affected by it? Do you recommend her books?

Do you know the places in your life that are a bit caged in by routines, and what would those bars look like if you could see them holding you in place? Would they be made of purple sparkling bars or misty bars or hard steel? A mixture?

Do you feel like you notice when you are moving away from a choice in fear, or is it something that just happens outside of awareness?