Spirituality & Victim-Blaming: Exploring Our Desire for Control

This morning I listened to a talk on Radical Forgiveness. I was enjoying some of what the author was saying, but this part pissed me right off:

“When I first started to do this work, I was working with people who have cancer. It’s well known that people who tend to get that are people who have a hard time processing their feelings. They tend to repress them, and they have a hard time forgiving.”

Now, maybe I’m just oblivious to all those studies that have linked cancer to repressed feelings. Last I knew, anyone could get cancer and certain things put you at more risk. And repressed feelings happen for a whole lot of people, welcome to society. Why the need to take a good idea of radical forgiveness and make it somehow relate to a disease that many people fear? Many teachings by famous authors seem to take this route of turning otherwise mindful and loving practices into magic tricks that can help you avoid certain fates. I think it comes down to a built in desire for control, which we can become more aware of. When we are more aware of it, we can notice that moment when we start blaming victims out of our own fear and shift that into actual compassion.

Drawing Correlations is Natural

People seem to be natural experts at coming up with ways of understanding the world and drawing correlations between one thing and another to avoid suffering and danger. If awesome things happen the two times I wear a necklace in one month, it becomes a lucky necklace. If I have a bad day, maybe it’s because of the food I ate. I draw connections all the time for myself to search for control.

The way that some spiritual circles draw these correlations and connect them to huge topics like cancer, accidents, or other forms of suffering has irked me for some time because even though the intention is not to place blame, it shows up like a shadow whenever someone needs to prove that their particular magic trick is working. They can have their idea for how to avoid suffering, point to someone else in a less desirable position and say “See? What I’m doing is clearly working because I’m not over there right now.”

The quest for control leads us to blame no matter how you cut it. If you are manifesting your dreams and they are all coming true, and your friend is having a horrible year of lost jobs and broken relationships, then logic would have it that your friend should simply make a Dream Board or whatever and start manifesting like you are. Because if you are in control of your good life, your friend is in control of hers as well.

Lack of Correlation & Control = Scary

It’s rather scary to think that sometimes, shit happens and it’s unfair and there is absolutely no way of preventing it or finding a pattern. It’s much nicer to feel like there’s some control and a solid reason.  You are born into devastating poverty? It’s probably past life karma, or else you just haven’t read the freaking Law of Attraction enough times. You have cancer? Maybe you should try letting go of your trauma or avoiding GMOs. You have depression? Just start thinking positively, you’re attracting too much negativity, man.

Of course we all want to be healthy as long as possible. Of course it’s nice to think that if we have it good right now, there’s a reason for that and we can somehow prolong it. Of course it’s fun to feel like we can attract what we want. But in the end, the body breaks down, no matter how much you manifest health and well being. That’s a natural part of life, and it’s the one thing that we know for certain. We can have compassion and love for others much more effectively if we aren’t in a state of blaming them or holding them responsible for their suffering just so that we can feel in control of ours.

Day to Day, not Life or Death

It’s okay for an idea to be a great idea without it also being a way to escape certain types of suffering or death itself. Learning to forgive is awesome, but it doesn’t guarantee you a life without cancer. When you say those two things are correlated, you are making people responsible for the condition they are in. Being aware of your thoughts and intentions is cool, but it doesn’t mean that you can avoid relationship issues and accidents. Pretending those things are correlated is putting the responsibility of disasters onto the people who suffer through them. For your end of the correlation to work, ugly stuff has to happen on the other side.

Personally, when I implement an idea into the day to day, it’s a lot less stressful or fear-based than when it feels like life or death. If an idea is presented to me and instigates that desire to find causality and correlation in order to avoid certain types of disasters, I would like to be more aware of the blame that inherently arises as soon as I think I have that alluring kind of control. Because without that sense of control, I do have a lot more compassion and vulnerability towards life in general.

How about you, do you think that what that guy said is as infuriating as I do?

Do you feel like you control and are responsible for the things that happen to you? Do you feel the same about others?

Did you take some time to gaze at the sky today?

 

Can Mindfulness Melt the Snowball of Numbness?

A couple of days ago, I meditated for almost five minutes. I used to do 20 minutes every other day as a bare minimum. I realized that after sitting, my mind was so much more in perspective.

I think that I’m a person who has a lot of thoughts. Maybe not more than most people, but more than some. My mind knows how to race and when I start to take every single thought seriously and try to weigh them against each other, I feel almost like I’m drowning. It leads me to making parts of songs and parts of blog posts pretty frantically, without actually finishing or loving any of them. Maybe there is no room for the stillness and experience of love when the world is racing so fast.

The sitting practice helps me to remember in a very experiential way that each thought is simply a thought, and that I can let some of them go without any horrible ramifications. It also seems that the farther I get away from that practice, the less I engage with other mindfulness activities like Yoga or even just basic stretching. I start getting addicted to the madness and afraid of the silence and stillness that I pretty much forget is even there.

It makes me wonder about addictions in general. The more frantic my mind gets, the more I start turning to alcohol and coffee and cigarettes to find some sense of comfort and ground. Of course, all of these things provide the exact opposite in most cases. But that doesn’t stop the craving for them when my mind is in such a state.  Partly because the thought “I should go get beer” is harder to see in perspective when I haven’t been engaging in my sitting practice.

Another thing that happens, which is pretty embarrassing to type, is that my mind tells me that the chaos and substances will help me to be more creative. Of course, I start writing more often sometimes when I’m in that state, but it’s not usually writing that I end up being proud of or using for any real project. It seems to be a rationalization built out of an addiction to numbing behavior, and as long as I can call it that to its face every once in awhile, it’s rather easy to get out of.

I wonder how many other people experience the swing in the way that I do, where it seems like the farther away I get from health and groundedness, the more I begin to seek out that chaos instead of things that bring me back. It’s quite interesting.

I hope you are well and I hope that getting back into my practice will leave me with more semi-useful things to blog about rather than the zillions of half-finished posts that you never get to see :)

Do you have numbing behaviors that seem to snowball into each other?

Are you just always able to be healthy and happy and motivated to be good to yourself?

 

 

 

Becoming an Expert of Not Being an Expert

In the past many months, I almost forgot I was working on a book. It was still there, popping into my thoughts every so often; but not as something I was excited about. It came up as an example of how I never finish anything and stay as a constant beginner in anything I do. But last week, I decided to actually take another look at it.

It’s interesting to me that part of why I put off working on the book or even opening the file is because I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed that I never finished it, that I don’t seem to stick with anything for very long and always change my mind. Different things will set my creativity on fire at different times and I have a hard time once it gets down to really building skills. I’d rather dabble. Is there anything wrong with this?

Benefits and Downsides of Dabbling

Today I’m in a good mood, so I see it all through that lens. I am noticing that as I work on songs today and contemplate the book, the two types of writing feed into each other. It’s enjoyable to work on one and then the other, and go back and forth as I please. I feel like maybe both forms of writing are turning out better for it.

It is now officially impossible for me to say “Here’s this craft I’ve been working on diligently for fifteen years.”  I have played guitar, made jewelry, and written for at least that long. But none of those things became a regular practice that I truly devoted attention and energy to. I would forget about some of them for years at a time, except writing in my journal. Chances are that I’ll forget about one of them soon again, as other things spark up my interest.

Acknowledging Patterns

I realize that next week, I may feel very hard on myself for not having a well-practiced art form. I’ll tell myself that the reason everything I do is so mediocre is that I don’t put enough energy into it, and then I’ll probably zone out on Facebook and numb out that feeling.  Why is it so easy to enjoy the dabbling right now? One answer could be hormones. Another could be the focus of where I perceive value to be coming from.

If I’m thinking about how I should be making a living from my jewelry or writing, it’s easy to get mad at myself for not putting more devoted effort into those things over the years. “If you had worked at writing since high school, you’d be better at it now.” 

But if I’m thinking about having fun and living a life that I find enjoyable and fulfilling, then the dabbling seems fine because it has led to just that. Nobody else gets to determine whether I enjoy doing something, they just get to determine if I get their positive feedback or not.

Who Gets to Decide You’re Doing it Wrong?

Maybe part of the key is to remember where value lies. It is always up to us to live according to our values and to feel worthy, but when we start making comparisons or judging our value through the eyes of real or imaginary others, it feels like it is up to them.

“You aren’t making money with your art, therefore, it’s not valuable” can come up for me and other artists. That can be true of to you “value” means “making money by selling art”.  But if “value” means that you are engaged with the process of creating it or with the final result, that’s a whole different thing. Maybe your money has to come from elsewhere, or maybe you have to make certain things that are valuable to the world so that they will pay you for them if that’s what matters most to you.

The bottom line is- I can safely say that I have fun dabbling, even if it doesn’t lead to me becoming an expert who blows other people’s minds with my skills.  Maybe I am my own type of expert.

I hope that I can remember this the next time my anger and frustration towards myself kicks in. As I look back at recent rough days, I realize that the self-critical feeling is always based on the eyes of others and not my own. Whether it’s about dabbling in general or about a specific story or song, when I feel like I suck it is always feeling like I suck in the eyes of others or the world. Not in my own eyes. When I feel the air on my skin and the breath in my lungs, I am never dissatisfied with that experience. When I pump out a song or story or post to try and get positive feedback without enjoying the process or actually feeling the creativity, it usually backfires because the whole action was based on other people telling me I’m worthy instead of feeling worthy and engaged in the moment.

How about you, do these things ever come up in this way for you and your writing?

Do you feel like you always look through your own eyes at your work, or through the eyes of others, or through a mixture of both?

Did you feel the wind on your face today and enjoy it for a few seconds?

 

 

 

The Box of a Retail Job

Recently I started a new job in the world of retail on a busy street in Austin. It’s at a store that sells handmade gifts from around the world, and I’m happy that I finally found one.

That being said, most of my readers will know that my story-driven and sometimes overly sensitive brain will easily have a heyday with this type of situation.

For one thing, this is the first time in several years that I’ve had a job that demanded I be at a certain place at certain times all throughout the week. Even my last job that payed great and put me in a leadership role only demanded me to be in a specific spot two days out of the week- the rest was just over the phone, which made getting a few hours off impossible to count on.

One of the things I am most struck by is how nice it is to have a job that I can actually leave at the job. When I come home, I get to spend my time however the heck I want to without having to give a second thought to what happened at work. It’s the first time in many many years that that is the case for me- usually my work comes home with me or is home-based.

But I must say that delving back into the world of retail has my head spinning with critiques and questions about the way we run things in this world.

Right now, when I think of heading to work, it feels like I am heading into a box. A box where they can tell me how long I have to stand and when I get to stop and eat. A box where they tell me what to do and how to do it, and where I have to smile and be a blank slate of joy and service for whoever chooses to walk through the doors to buy things they don’t need in a city where they are trying to pack as much joy and excitement and consumerism into as short of a time as possible. If I didn’t know better, I would assume that all tourists choose Saturday for these endeavors.

I want to make that box into more of a home. Not really a home, but a small room in a home. A room that has a certain purpose that does not have to affect the rest of it. Like a utility closet, or my dad’s wood room in the basement. He would go there to load up wood into the stove and heat the house. It is hard work to do that, but the house stays warm in winter and wood doesn’t have to be burned all over the place.

I can go to this job and put on a smile and make money while also getting to talk to people and find genuine joy inside of me because that is much easier than faking it. I can learn the systems and the cash register and the stories about all of the merchandise. But I have to remember and remind myself that the box of that job does not define me as a person and does not need to impact my opinion of myself even if I do a less than decent job some days.

This new situation also reminds me how little I am able to actually empathize with the people I encounter each day. All throughout the day we are interacting with people who are currently at work. Whether we have to call the telephone company or go to the gas station, we are talking to folks who are at their jobs doing what they do in that small room of their mental house. Sometimes as obvious as it is, I forget this. I forget there are things I can’t empathize with because I have never worked at a telephone company call center or at a gas station. I know what it means to go “to work” but the specific demands on each person in those roles is going to be unique. I don’t know how long they have been standing or sitting or how badly they want to go get a snack.

That’s all I’ve got for now, folks. There are stories and blog posts brewing in my brain but those will have to just wait. Right now, I just want to share my process about this box and how I want to choose to relate to it so that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming.

Do you like your job? Do you remember the last time you changed into a new type of job from the one you previously had and how that affected your mental state?

 

 

Thoughts on Femininity and Axe

Last week I was hit with an immense hatred of the new Axe “Women Just Keep Getting Hotter” commercial. I know that it’s supposed to be funny, but it led to a whole lot of not-funny thoughts in my head. I’m hoping that by writing about it here it can stop boiling my veins when I think about it.

Here is the commercial I’m talking about-

This video really rubs me the wrong way. I know that it’s targeted to men to sell them a product. But when someone makes a sweeping statement about humans or humans that fit into your particular group, you can’t help but take notice. I identify with being a woman. They are talking about me.

Don’t women have enough to deal with without this crap?  How many more reasons do we need to starve ourselves and try to harness our beauty from the wrong direction?

We Will Literally Die To Be That Skinny

The first thing I didn’t like about this commercial was that “hotter” seemed to also indicate “skinnier,” which is nothing new. We get that all the time, unless a commercial is specifically selling something to “curvy” women. But this is not okay. It’s going to happen for years still I’m sure, but at least we can notice how messed up it is.

Eating disorders are more likely to result in death than any other mental illness, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. I remember hearing that when the U.S. media gets more prevalent in other areas of the world, the rate of eating disorders goes up. I’m not sure how true that was or if it’s still true.

I try to be on top of this in my own brain because honestly, the idea that “I’ll be happier if I’m skinnier” comes up in my head more than I’d care to admit. And usually it is rather magical thinking. “As soon as I’m skinnier, I’ll be really confident and a better singer and I’ll have a better stage presence and I’ll have less anxiety” and other such things. With commercials like this, which only broadcast blatantly what other media puts out there more subtly, it’s no secret where my brain gets that notion from.

Being Led the Wrong Way to Happy Town

From the dawn of media’s conception there was money to be made. The weight loss industry is huge, super huge. When I worked unsavory writing jobs, some of what I would be asked to do is write fake testimonials about weight loss products. I have a hard time believing that people would buy half the crap I was supposed to write about, but still, they do. And why?

Feeling happy. We all want to do it. How do we do it? We watch other people sometimes. We are born imitators. We learn language by observing, we learn habits and patterns from observing, we learn how one lives a life by observing. We mix our natural urges and personalities into what we think is going to make us feel good.

So when we see commercials where the skinny smooth and makeup-ed people are the happiest, we might want to starve ourselves and buy some things. And if we were being shown reality, then it would work!

Hunger hurts and I want him so bad, oh it kills. Cuz I know I’m a mess he don’t want to clean up. I’ve got to fold cuz these hands are too shaky to hold. Hunger hurts but starving works, when it costs too much to love. -Fiona Apple

Why Doesn’t It Work?

I don’t know about you, but I have definitely thought that obtaining some thing or being in some place would lead me to feel a certain way. Usually it’s the opposite. If I feel confident or motivated, then it seems that no matter what I’m wearing or doing, those feelings get put to good use when I stay in line with my values and do things that matter to me.

But if I feel desperate or insecure and am craving something to make it go away, the story unfolds differently. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing my cutest outfit or if I pulled out the old make up and put it on- I’m left with the same feeling if not worse. Feelings don’t change by getting stuff or looking a certain way; at least not for long.

Wise Words From a Super Model

This is a video by Cameron Russel. It’s a TED talk and I was rather impressed by it. In it, she talks about the experience of being a model and the way that the image is constructed. Upon seeing the Axe commercial, I must admit that I thought more about the images I was being fed than about the experience of the women filling them. Her words were quite uplifting and sobering.

If you ever are wondering “If I have thinner thighs and shinier hair, will I be happier?” You just need to meet a group of models. Because they have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes and they are the most physically insecure women probably on the planet.

- Cameron Russell

How to Enjoy Life

Obviously I don’t know the answer to this question..but at least in regard to silly commercials that highlight a specific idea of feminine beauty, I have an idea of where I can start. The most I can do right now is to just simply acknowledge that it’s a specific idea of feminine beauty. That it’s an idea that does not work for everyone and that is not even fully human, in the natural every-day way that most of us experience our humanness.

These pictures are not pictures of me, they are constructions. They are constructions by a group of professionals, by hair stylists and make up artists and photographers and stylists and all of their assistants and pre-production and post-production..and they build this. That’s not me.

- Cameron Russel

I must say that after making this post, I feel better about the whole thing. I feel more grounded and connected to the world, realizing that I’m not alone and that people are always waking up to and sharing the awareness of the massive amounts of garbage we see each day. Someday I feel that even our idea of gender will be truer to the human reality than to the boxes that work well for corporations. Thank you for reading!

Do you ever get thoughts in your head that seem to come from the media you engage in but may not agree with?

Do you spend any time telling the beautiful people around you that you think they are beautiful, even if they don’t think so?
Do you feel beautiful sometimes even if you are not going to be in an Axe commercial?