The Chest of a Thousand Drawers

The chest of a thousand drawers lived for years in a shadowy alcove between my grandparents’ kitchen and their downstairs hall. Actually, it didn’t have a thousand drawers, but since I never actually counted the number of drawers, and since the contents always seemed so mysterious to me, it may as well have been a thousand.

The chest was not very tall. It came up to my shoulders as an 11-year-old, was made of some kind of grayish metal with silver handles and little silver-edged boxes and on the front of each drawer that was clearly designed to hold some sort of label to describe the contents of the drawer. None of the squares had any labels. It was wedged under a shelf that had originally been designed to hold one of those old telephones with the mouthpiece on a stand and the earpiece you would hold up to your ear, but which now held a jumble of photo albums and old phone books.

I could and sometimes did spend hours rummaging through those many drawers and their intriguing, though sometimes unidentifiable contents, which seemed almost fluid in that I rarely found the same thing in the same drawer twice. And sometimes it seemed as if the entire contents of the chest had been replaced overnight.

In those drawers, over the years I found an ever-changing assortment of everyday items including (but not limited to); nails, screws, safety pins, bits of sandpaper, magnets, scraps of paper, some with writing on them, some blank and no two pieces the same, stubs of pencils, leaky batteries, hairpins, naked crayon pieces, knotted shoelaces, unopened packets of alcohol swabs, foam curlers, rusty screwdrivers of various sizes, paint brushes, yellowed index cards, the pieces of what must once have been a transistor radio, tassels from the living room draperies, an unopened packet of toothpicks still in its cellophane wrapping, random partially burned birthday candles, long expired coupons, a good number of buttons booth lose and still attached to papers, half used packets of garden seeds, stickers and petrified Christmas hard candies still wrapped in plastic.

Then there were the more unusual items that would seem to randomly turn up.

There was a tiny metal cylinder that moo’d like a cow when it was turned over. This had obviously belonged to some sort of toy and I felt a weird sort of guilt as I turned it over and over, wondering what toy was wandering around without its sound box, mute and unable to communicate with the world. This of all the items seemed always to be in the chest, though always in a different drawer.

Once I found a drawer full of random doll limbs and glass eyes that creeped me out so badly, I didn’t open the chest again for several weeks.

There was one day I discovered a stack of letters written on onion-thin paper and tied up with a faded green ribbon that was knotted so tight I never was able to get the knots open enough to free the letters, which I ended up putting back in the drawer unread.

Once I found a drawer full of leather scraps. The scraps were butter soft and hypnotic to the touch.  I kept finding them (though in different drawers) for almost two whole weeks, and then they were gone. I opened every drawer in the cabinet three times that day looking for those amazing leather scraps.  When I asked my grandfather about them, he claimed he’d never seen them. When I asked my grandmother, she just shrugged and said she wouldn’t be surprised at anything I found there.

When asked where the chest had come from, both of my grandparents gave the same sort of vague answers “oh we just picked it up somewhere” or “we’ve had that for years.” When I asked my mom about it, she shrugged and said that it had always been there when she was growing up. When I asked her if she remembered the contents changing, she said “well of course they change, people put things in and take things out. That’s what drawers are for.” When I tried to expound on what I meant, that the contents didn’t just change, like the normal contents of drawers, but sometimes seemed to change from day to day or from hour to hour, she got concerned and asked me if I was feeling okay. I never mentioned the drawers to her again.

My aunt found me rummaging one day and laughed when I told her about not being able to find the leather pieces. “That thing ate my paintbrushes once” she said, laughing. “I put them in the top drawer on the left-hand side, and when I went back the next day they were gone. Let me know if you find them, will you?”

“Did grandma take them maybe?”

“She claims she didn’t touch them. But someone did.”

“Maybe the chest did eat them!”

“Maybe it did at that.”

In spite of the possibility of its actually eating the things put into the drawers, I was never afraid of the chest. To my 11-year-old brain, the idea that it was somehow alive in some way seemed a better explanation than just the idea of regular people putting things in and taking things out, and though I was intrigued by it, I never put anything of my own in it, just in case.

I don’t know what happened to the chest of a thousand drawers. After my grandfather died and my grandmother, mom and I moved to a smaller house, I never saw it again. I have to assume that it had served its purpose in our family and had now ‘moved on’ to another home where some other 11-year-old is rummaging through its drawers, their curiosity sparking over items they have no name for and coming up with stories to tell themselves about the piles of old letters and odd bits of partially carved wood.

The Banner of Busyness

For once she allowed herself the luxury of doing absolutely nothing. And when she was done, she apologized to herself for the misunderstanding. It hadn’t been doing nothing after all, she had been resting her heart and feeding her soul”.

~JustSteph

Our society has a thing about being busy. We all complain about it, but simultaneously most of us take a weird, twisted sort of pride in it, as if, once we die, we will be able to wave the banner of busyness at the pearly gates and be guaranteed immediate entrance.

We all know the refrain; “I am so sorry, I’d really love to be able to help/go to/ see you with/at (fill in the blank) but I am really so busy, there is just no way to fit it in right now. Maybe next time?”

Most of us don’t take offense if someone uses the busy card. After all, we’ve all said it. We’ve all heard it. We all understand what it means. We know exactly what is going through someone’s head when they say it in a certain tone of voice. We might be a little hurt that they are too busy for us but really, we totally understand.

Yes, we all know what it feels like to be crazy busy; so busy that we hardly have time to brush our teeth, let alone floss. So busy that instead of sitting down for breakfast, we grab a muffin or bagel on our way out the door so as not to be late to work and then curse at the crumbs or coffee stains that get dribbled down our front. We spend out lunch break scarfing down something from a vending machine while making three different phone calls and checking our personal emails and bank deposits. We combine six errands on our way home from work, and, after eating a quick fix supper that we eat balanced on our knees while watching the evening news, we drop exhausted into bed at night with a whole list of things we wanted to do and never got to and feeling slightly guilty that we have to actually take time to sleep at all.

Weekends aren’t much better, especially for parents. Most times Saturday mornings are full of karate, dance or music lessons, afternoons are for soccer or football practices or games, Saturday nights are spent ferrying kids to parties, picking them up or dropping them off at movies or friends houses or hosting said parties and get togethers. Even those without kids end up most Saturdays running all the errands that couldn’t be done during the week and cursing out any business that doesn’t have Saturday hours because how on earth are we supposed to contact them when their business hours are the same as our working hours? (I’m looking at you doctor’s offices!)

And then there are Sundays. For those so inclined, Sundays may include Sunday School and/or church, which precludes any sleeping in and may go so far as to include pot lucks or afternoon services, and there goes your day.

For those not so inclined, it may be the one day of the week we get to actually sleep in, unless of course you have kids, or cats, in which case you will be getting up at the same time of day as the rest of the week unless you want to be jumped on or poked awake with carefully calculated claws. Maybe, just maybe you will have time to actually get some housecleaning done, or run the car through the car wash, do some yard work, or maybe get a start on cleaning out that closet. Or maybe not. Maybe you will just spend Sunday afternoon in your pajamas, binge watching some show that takes you away from all the stresses and ridiculousness of the week. But sooner or later on Sunday, usually just after 3 p.m., you will get that sinking feeling that tells you that you only have a few precious hours left until it is time to get ready for the new week and start the whole routine over again.

Why do we do it?

Why do we insist on keeping ourselves so busy that we never seem to have time for anything that truly rests or refreshes us? When did we forget what it is like to simply take time for ourselves to rest and recharge our batteries? Why is self-care so rarely on our list of priorities?

It is easy enough to say that we are too busy to take time for ourselves. We can even justify it by saying that our obligations to our work, our families, our church or whatever other groups we are involved in, preclude us from spending any time on frivolous self-indulgences.

The real problem is in our determination to insist to ourselves that any time spent on self-care is “self-indulgence.” Oh sure, we might find that we can justify a daily trip to the gym (have to be able to fit into those pants!) or a once-a-month trip to a hair salon (can’t be looking shaggy/have my roots showing at work!) But how long has it been since you truly did anything for yourself; anything that can in no way be justified as necessary, but which makes you feel absolutely amazing?

It is said that the Italians have a saying; “Il dolce far niente”, which can be translated as “the sweetness of doing nothing”. While there is some argument as to whether it is actually an Italian term or if it was devised by English speakers of the 1800’s in describing what they saw as Italians’ laid-back approach to life, the fact remains that the idea of “doing nothing” or, more accurately, taking time to unwind and recharge, has a distinct appeal, an appeal that is backed up by psychology.

“Taking care of yourself means compassionately accepting yourself for who you are instead of burning yourself out trying to be everything to everyone all the time. It’s living your life in a way that doesn’t leave you needing to check out or take a break just so you can have a bath, read a book, or sip tea.”

Psychology Today, April 23, 2021

The problem is, our society is so focused on busyness and accomplishment that if we purposefully slow down our pace (let alone taking time out altogether) we get hit with a wave of guilt over all of the things that we could have been doing; of all the time ‘wasted.’

But time spent on recharging your personal batteries is never time wasted. After all, you can’t get any mileage out of a car that has no fuel, and you feel no guilt over spending the time to pull into a gas station or hook up to a recharging station. Neither should you feel guilty over taking the time to refill your own inner battery. In fact, if it feels better, tell yourself that by taking time every day to recharge you are being proactive, because it is a known fact that if you refuse to take time to rest and regroup, eventually your body will break down and force you to rest. It will give you no choice.

So don’t wait to be forced into taking care of yourself. Find the time now to recharge. Do it today. Do whatever it takes to replenish your battery; Stop and smell the roses. Take a walk in the forest. Sit on the beach and watch the waves come in. Plant a garden. Go cloud watching. Splash in the mud puddles. Dance in the rain. Stare into the eyes of your cat. Whatever makes you happy; whatever makes your soul smile and fills you with awe and wonder, make time to do that. You will be happy that you did.

Organized Chaos

Writing is gloriously creative chaos. Except when it is not.

On the best of days an idea takes hold, inspiration ensues and the result is pages of unique and well-written text that flow effortlessly from your fingers. On those days it seems as if writing is the most natural thing in the world and there is nothing else in the world that you would rather be doing.

But then there are other days; days when you sit in front of the screen desperate for a glimmer of the inspiration that filled you to overflowing just yesterday, painfully eking out a few words or sentences and wondering what on earth could have possessed you into thinking that you are actually a writer.

On those days it is very easy to find a reason not to write; very easy to let yourself get distracted by phone calls, errands, housework, something, anything else. But if you are going to write for a living, indeed if you are going to make any real progress with your writing at all, even as a hobby, it is important that you not let the down days grow to become down weeks, months, or years. This means keeping yourself focused, and to be focused, you need to be organized even if you normally consider organization to be four letter word. Below you will find five tips for staying focused, organized in order to give your creative juices the opportunity to flow, even under the most distracting of circumstances.

FIVE TIPS TO STAY FOCUSED & ORGANIZED

#1. Schedule a Dedicated Writing Time

The first order of business in being a writer, is to write. Not just to write when the inspiration hits you, but to write each and every day, no matter how you are feeling, no matter whether you feel the creative juices flowing or not.

When you are “in the flow” of an idea, dedicated writing time is hardly an issue. In fact, when inspiration takes hold, it is sometimes more difficult to stop long enough to take care of necessary daily activities. On those days it is laughable to think that you would actually need a dedicated writing time. This particular tip is not for those days.

Setting aside a specific block of time dedicated to your writing is imperative to keep yourself on track, especially for writing projects. Block this time off on your calendar, turn off your phone, mute your notifications, and write. It is especially important to keep to this schedule even when you feel as if you would rather not touch a pen or keyboard.

#2. Carve Out a Dedicated Writing Space

Being a writer is often glamorized as being the ultimate “portable” job. All you need is a computer and a fully charged battery or available electrical outlet or, barring access to a computer, a legal pad and pen, right?

While the ease of portability is definitely a plus when it comes to writing (and who doesn’t like the idea of sitting in a coffee shop, typing away at your story while watching incoming patrons and sipping on a caramel late?), the reality is that when it comes down to brass tacks and you find your writing derailed by your cat sneezing (forget the steady flow of coffee shop patrons) it is best to have a place where you can go where you can block out the world around you and focus completely on what needs to be done.

It really is important that you have a space dedicated solely to your writing. While a separate room is ideal; a place where you can enter into your writing “routine” when you enter and close the door on outside distractions and concerns when you close the door, a whole room isn’t necessary. Even the smallest space can suffice if it is dedicated only to your writing. A desk tucked into the corner of your bedroom, or even a folding tray table and chair set up in the dining room. Sit with your back to the room and add a pair of noise cancellation headphones and even the folding tray table scenario can suffice as a dedicated work space

If you have a whole room to work with, decorate it with things that inspire you; pictures or art that stir your imagination, quotes from your favorite authors, a calendar dedicated just to your writing schedule. If you only have a corner, you can still tack up a photo or bulletin board to serve as the focus to your space.

One thing is important. No matter how small the space you allocate for your writing, that is all that it should be used for. Don’t use it for stacking unused books or let the kids use it as an art space. This space is yours. It belongs to your writer’s soul. This is where you will come when you are at a loss for words; when focus and creativity seem to have deserted you altogether.

#3. Know & Write Out Your Goals

It is not enough just to have scheduled dedicated writing time and have a dedicated writing space. In order to keep the focus on your writing, it is important that you know just what it is that you are wanting to do. Are you trying to finish a particular project? Are you wanting to learn and practice a particular writing technique? Are you wanting to generate ideas for new material? Are you just wanting to keep your writing skills sharp until inspiration hits you with a new idea?

There are many kinds of goals when it comes to writing. Most of these goals can be broken down into long-term, medium-term, short-term or ongoing goals.

Coming up with new ideas or keeping your writing skills sharp can be seen as ongoing goals. These are things that you are going to want to do daily, or weekly in order to hone yourself into the best writer you possibly can. Other projects, such as creating a weekly blog post or submitting one of your poems into a competition, for example, would be examples of short-term goals. Telling yourself that you are going to turn your adventures on last January’s Caribbean cruise into a short story that you want to get published in an online format would be a medium-term goal, while writing and publishing a novel would be a long-term goal.

Regardless of how long it will realistically take you to complete a goal, the first step is in writing down what it is that you are looking to accomplish. Then you can move on to tip #4.

#4. Break Your Goals Down Into Bite-Sized Pieces

If you sit down to a steak dinner it would be more than a little daunting to think that you would have to eat the steak without cutting it up into pieces. The same holds true for your writing goals.

For example, writing and publishing a novel can seem beyond daunting; impossible even if you thought that you would have to do it all in one sitting. But if you break it down into steps and then focus on each step until it is completed, chances are that you will end up with a completed manuscript without even realizing it.

Taking the time to break your goals down into bite sized pieces, then focusing on the first step, then the next step and so on can mean the difference between having piles of un-completed, unpublished work and making a successful career or financially lucrative hobby.

#5. Do Not Become Attached

No matter how useful they are, beware of becoming attached to scheduled writing times and step-by-step goals. This may seem as if it is in contradiction to the rest of what has been written here, but it is important to remember that the four tips listed above are designed to help you stay on track, to keep you organized in what it is that needs to be done and focused on the goals that you have for your writing during the down times; times when you are lacking in inspiration and motivation.

You and I both know, however, that when you once again find yourself caught up in the flow of creativity, and you will, there is no fighting it.

Getting into the habit of writing daily, even when uninspired, of having a dedicated writing time and of breaking down writing goals into logical and organized steps, can be addictive. You feel as if you are actually accomplishing something, and to suddenly abandon this clear-cut schedule with its step-by-step instructions can seem like a risk. However, you need to be flexible enough to know when to let go of the steps and the schedule and just ride that creative wave for as long as you can stay on the metaphorical board.

Writing, after all, is, at its best, gloriously creative chaos. Except when it isn’t.

Making Friends With the Fog

We woke up this morning deep in a fog bank. It was surreal. Tendrils of mist crept into the room when I opened the balcony door and quested into corners seeking out whatever it is that fog searches for. So we made cups of hot chocolate and coffee, donned sweatshirts and sat out on the balcony, making friends with the fog instead of shutting it out. Letting our eyes adapt to the swirling,, changing patterns and listening to the deafening dawn chorus of birds and the gentle, underlying shushing of the sea.

There are times when, as a nation, as a society, our vision is clouded. We see the billowing clouds of anger and the fogs of discontent rolling towards us and our first thought is to protect ourselves, to shut them out, to focus inward and ignore what is happening around us, to turn on the TV and binge watch something that takes your mind off things. We close the doors and flip on the electric lights and crank up the heat until it all goes away and we are comfortable once more.

But maybe, just maybe, the sooner we open the balcony door of our minds and allow ourselves to truly SEE what we have become, what is generating the storms, to invite the fog in so that we can come to understand what it searches for and what we can do to help it in it’s quest, the sooner the storms will pass and the fogs will dissipate and allow us all to bask in the healing rays of the sun.

-JustSteph, 6/6/20

Boomer Vs. Millenial; Generation X Weighs In.

Finding a scapegoat for what is wrong with our lives, for what is wrong with the world seems to be a part of the human condition. But lately things seem to be getting out of hand, especially when it comes to the tussel between the Baby Boom generation and their grandchildren, known as Millennials.

You see it everywhere. Boomer vs. Millennial. Boomers claiming Millenials are lazy and ruining the status quo. Millenials claiming Boomers are responsible for the mess the world is in and the difficulties they are facing.

While reading through the comments section of a news article I saw a meme that stated:

MAKE BOOMERS GREAT AGAIN; TRUMP 2020.

Now, the Baby Boom generation (1946-1964) have officially become senior citizens (the youngest are or will shortly be turning 55). Millenials (1981-1996) are now in their 20s most are finished with schooling and have entered the workforce.

As a GenX-er, you know, that bunch that fall between Boomers and Millenials? Thats okay, we are used to being looked over. We were born between 1965 -1980. Our Boomer parents couldnt even come up with an actual name for us they were so busy so we get assigned a letter. We are the children of Boomers and parents to Millenials and so we bear the brunt of this continual bickering.

Now Boomers, please, I am 51, at the front end of Generation X, So I get it. You Boomers dont want to lose your voice. You dont want to be considered obsolete. You dont want to go gentle into that goodnight. But think for a minute what this meme is being used to promote (remember the meme?).

It is saying that the boomer generation stands for racism, hatred, bigotry, sexism and ageism. It is saying that all of you boomers would rather elect someone who goes against everything ya’ll claimed to believe in when you protested Vietnam and mucked around in the mud at Woodstock. It is claiming that only your voices matter, and I know too many of you too well to believe that is true.

You used to believe that you could change the world and make it a better place for everyone. I know because you raised us (GEN X) to believe that everyone deserves a fair chance, that skin color and gender and nationality and economic status DONT MATTER.

We listened you see. We believed you. We grew up and in turn gave you grandchildren who EMBODY those principals and all you can do is complain about how they are ruining the world.

NEWS ALERT: you cant be blaming the millenials for how things are now because guess what YOU ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE BEEN RUNNING THE COUNTRY FOR THE LAST 20 YEARS. If they cant afford the lifestyle you had as young adults it does not necessarily mean they are lazy. It means that the society you created when you gave up protesting and bought bras and went back to work is unsustainable.

What happened to you? Instead of the parents and aunts and uncles that taught us to love everyone and treat everyone as equals, I’m seeing so many who instead are acting like their very fundamental beliefs are being challenged by those who actually embody those beliefs. BUT IT WAS YOU WHO TAUGHT US THESE BELIEFS.

I get it. The world is a mess. It has been a mess for a long time. You guys tried to fix it and I understand that most of you gave up on actually changing it and instead became part of it. Probably hoping to fix it from within, but that didnt work out so well did it? You became what you feared. But why do you insist on belittling your own grandchildren?

Where did your free spirits go? Imbue those spirits with the wisdom and rationality of experience and come back to us. Please come back, we need you. These kids are amazing, I am so proud of them, THEY ARE OUR FUTURE. Help us help THEM change the world. If we work together we could actually do it this time.

Come on guys…just imagine! -SSG

Consume This!

stuffWe live in a messed up world.  No, let me rephrase that, we live in a messed up society.  No, let me be even more specific.  We are messed up because we live in a consumer society which throws the natural balance so out of true that we actually think that this is the way things are supposed to be.

Do you know what a consumer society is?  It is a society that has been designed to (drumroll please) CONSUME.  Everything about the way that society works is tied to the purchasing of more stuff.

That’s right, our entire society is based on the concept of consumption.

Now don’t get me wrong, consumption is a necessary part of life.  I mean, everyone has to eat, so food needs to be grown or purchased.  Everyone needs shelter so houses are built and bought or apartments are rented out.  We have to keep warm.  We have to keep the lights on.  We have to keep the water running.  We have to keep ourselves clothed.  But these are necessities.

What I am talking about when I say a consumer society is a society where the purchase of unnecessary surplus stuff is the end game.  It is why buy a car we can’t afford to drive to a job we hate to be able to afford to buy stuff we don’t need in order to impress people who couldn’t care less about us.

We are bombarded daily with advertisements and marketing ploys that try to coerce us into buying yet more stuff.  We are encouraged to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous and are subtly (and not so subtly) exposed to the notion that the latest fashion, the newest upgrade, the coolest gadgets or the largest big screen TV will  somehow, magically, bring us happiness.

Thanks to our continual cultural immersion in the concept of “buying” happiness most people’s first instinct when they are feeling down is to go out and buy something.  For those who find themselves consistently unsatisfied in their work or in their relationships, this can translate into a serious problem with binge shopping taking the place of getting right down to the heart of the underlying issues.

I was once just as hooked into the idea of buying happiness as anyone else.  I was stuck in a loveless marriage and working a dead end job.  Shopping gave me a temporary boost that always drained away as soon as I got home and unpacked my bags.  And then, 18 months ago, I was given a gift; a chance to start over again; a chance to re-create my life from the ground up.

I found myself with a single car load of clothes books and personal items 600 miles from where I had lived for the previous 12 years, signing a lease for a totally unfurnished apartment.  My first night spent on an air mattress and eating standing up at the counter made me feel a bit like a college student in her first apartment.  But as I looked around at the gorgeously bare rooms I knew that, at the age of 46, I was being handed a once in a lifetime opportunity; the opportunity to create for myself exactly the kind of life that I had always wanted.

The first order of business, of course, was to furnish my apartment.  I needed everything, from  furniture and linens to kitchen items, lamps, rugs and everything in between.  And it was then that I made my first rule I wasn’t going to have anything in my apartment that I didn’t absolutely love.  In fact, I was in the middle of making a list of things I needed for my apartment when it dawned on me that I needed to be using this same rule of thumb for everything in my life whether it was things or people.

I began weighing everything – and everyone in my lift by one those two simple guidelines; did I absolutely love them?  And, did they make me smile?

You’d be surprised, or maybe not, to see just what a difference these guidelines made in my life. Instead  of just letting everyone in; instead of spreading myself too thin doing things for people who were only concerned with how much I could do for them, I had surrounded myself with those who truly cared, not just for what I could do for them, but for who I was, as a person.

When it came to things I also found that when you are dealing with things you absolutely love you find that there is a natural limit in the amount of things you can have in your life before you reach your saturation point.  And so, because I didn’t need more than I had, instead of just buying to make myself feel better, I had to find a new way of dealing with unhappiness in my life.  And you know what I found?  I found that experiences trump things every time.

Doing thing with, going on adventures with the people who mattered most made for a far more satisfying life than just accumulating more things because the “getting” of them felt so good.  Taking long walks, having long talks, playing games, making memories, that was what life was all about.

Who knows, maybe in some small way I am, by choosing not to engage in unfettered consumption, contributing to the downfall of our economy, perhaps even our society.  But I’ll take that risk.  The satisfaction I get from accumulating experiences and smiles and laughter and love far outweigh the temporary satisfaction to be had from stuffing myself and my home with non-necessities.

 

Isn’t it Just Ducky

duck“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

This, my friends, is called “the duck test” and it is one of the biggest pieces of crap advice in existence.

The duck test implies that anyone – you, me, that guy on the bench over there, that any of us can identify a heretofore unknown subject by observing that subject’s habitual characteristics; that by perceiving its form we can make an educated guess as to what it is; what it is for or (and this is the part that really ticks me off) its motives and thought process.

Now mind you, I won’t argue that a quacking, paddling, feather wrapped avian with a bill and webbed feet is probably a member of the Anatidae family, but I have just enough common sense to realize that it might be something else entirely, perhaps a species of bird I have never seen before, or even something totally non-duck, like a decoy, an animatronic creation or even a holographic image.  And I am certainly not going to assume that just because it registers with my brain as a “duck” that I know the first thing about WHY it is doing what it is doing, or what it plans on doing next.

It all comes down to the fact that when it comes to perception and understanding, most of us are lazy.  We would rather glance at the object, register it as a duck, then quickly tuck it into the pigeon hole in our brain labeled “ducks and duck-like behavior” and simply forget about it.  Not important.  We are now free to move along to more important things.  Like what we’re going to have for supper and the most recent celebrity drama.

While the duck test may be useful when it comes to sorting through not so important things, thus freeing up the brain for more important matters, it is far too often used by those of little understanding to explain why it is that an individual has chosen a particular course of action.

Instead of stopping to consider all of the possible reasons and giving the individual the benefit of the doubt, the duck test allows the one sitting in judgement of the person’s actions to make broad, sweeping assumptions based on that person’s past behavior or even assumptions of their past behaviors.  They use these assumptions to give their world definition; to make certain that everything inside of it is neat and tidy and precisely categorized.  The end result being that the person whose actions are being judged gets labeled a duck when really they are a wolf, or a dolphin, or even a lion.

Of course when the individual passing judgement is presented with the truth of the person or thing their preconceived ideas tend to get in the way and prevent them from seeing it (or them) as anything other than what they have convinced themselves it is.

Far far better to take the time initially to see a thing – an idea – a belief or even a person for exactly who and what they really are than to be rudely awakened latter on.  It will of course when you’ve convinced yourself that the lion penned up in your barnyard is really a duck it comes as a great shock when it suddenly shakes out its mane, lets out a roar and eats your ducks for lunch.

 

UPSIDE IN

There are days
And times.
There are words
And signs.
There are tears
And smiles
To make it worth
Your while.

There are hopes
And dreams
And nothing’s as
It seems.
What you lost
Is found
In perfect silence
Sound.

In the darkness
Light
In your blindness
Sight
In your joy
Is pain
In every loss
there’s gain.

In freedom you
Are bound
Subtracting you
Compound
What you don’t release
Won’t stay
And from the night
Comes day

So when you read this
Know
That what you reap
you sow
In chaos is
The plan
And in the child
Man
~ sshenry

The Curse of the Zombies

American-Gothic-zombies[1]Have you seen them?  Have you seen the soulless ones that go about their daily routines with focused footsteps and empty eyes?  For all that they walk and talk and eat and sleep and take their young to little league games, they are, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than functional zombies.  Reverse zombies actually, for instead of feasting on brains they crave the type of activities and entertainment that drain the brain from any sort of normal functionability.

Have you seen their single-minded determination to glorify war and the ease with which they dismiss violence, whether it is the killing people or animals, as just a natural part of life?  They are of course, egged on by the governments that maintain their economies by dreaming up more wars and then sending off young men and women to die in the name of capitalistic patriotism.

Have you listened to the mindless blithering of their news pundits?  Oh they make it sound important; they gloss their words with self-importance and urgency.  But when you sit down and take the time to decipher what it is they’re saying you discover that they really aren’t saying anything at all.

Have you felt the fear that they generate whenever they encounter anything that isn’t part of their normal world view?

Have you felt the anger that radiates off of them whenever someone or something doesn’t act the way that they have been taught that they should?

Now, have you ever wondered how it is that they got this way?

I can tell you what happened.

You see, once upon a time these were normal, everyday, ordinary people who loved and laughed and lived.  But one day they stopped listening to their hearts.  They got so wrapped up in building their villages and towns; in creating their societies where everyone had a place and a purpose, that they forgot what it was to truly be alive.

They got so focused on planning  how to make this world  that they had created run better and more efficiently, that they stopped enjoying the moment they were living in.  They became so obsessed with making sure that everyone and everything followed the regulations that they had enacted that they stopped thinking for themselves, becoming instead a mindless horde of zombies; zombies intent on creating the entire world into their image.

And so it is that the the soulless ones grew in numbers until it was simply an accepted part of life that you lived out your days according to the expectations of those who had raised you and the society in which you lived.  And it didn’t matter if you were dead inside, as long as you learned what you were expected to learn and worked at what you were told.

And every now and again you will find that one of the zombies stops shuffling to and fro as directed.  Instead they stop quite still and look around them with the kind of shock and awe you would expect if you found yourself waking up from a Matrix-like dream.

Of course most of those who find themselves being shocked by the true nature of their lives easily succumb to going back to the way things were.  A little fear; the mention that jobs are about to be cut; it doesn’t take much.  The fear of losing what they have is greater than the desire to break free.

And then there are those who, when the attempt is made to heard them back into the fold; back into compliance, simply throw back their heads and laugh.  They wouldn’t go back for the world.  The curse of the zombies is broken.  They have finally re-discovered their souls, and it is time to truly live free.

HALFWAY TO DEAD

“Most peoveilple die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”  -Benjamin Franklin

It was the damndest thing.  I was at the mall, eeling my way through a school of teenagers when I heard a snatch of conversation between two boys that stopped me dead in the water:

“Dude, she’s like 40 years old!  That’s like halfway to dead!”

Mind you, they were talking about a pop singer, but for some reason his words resonated in my brain like John Donne’s proverbial bell.

To be perfectly honest, at first I couldn’t believe what I’d heard and my initial reaction was simply to brush aside the comment.  After all, what did it matter that a fifteen year old punk thought that a singer over forty wasn’t worth listening to because she was “halfway to dead?”

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that this one random piece of overheard conservation is indicative of everything that is wrong with our culture; of the prevailing attitude regarding anyone or anything that doesn’t provide instant satisfaction and gratification; of the tendency to view anyone over the age of forty (or anything that hasn’t been written, produced, published, aired, designed or conceptualized in the last 24 months) to be irrelevant; of the “me first!” mentality that has turned our society into a self-centered, ego-centric parody of itself.

We live in a take-out world of fast food, quick fixes, one minute makeovers; a world where if you either learn to adapt to the rapidly changing social structure or you get left in the dust; a world where old age is seen as a curse, education is seen as a joke and the answer to all of life’s problems lies in drinking from the fountain of youth and being able to fit into our skinny jeans even after we’ve had two children. And it is this youth-obsessed, egocentric culture that has generated the idea of the mid-life crises as joke; as a desperate bid by those past their prime to hold on to the glory of youth and try one last time to make their mark on the world.

Everyone has seen the characterization of the aging middle-aged man combing his hair over his bald spot, buying a sports car, and trading in his wife for a younger, perkier model.  For women this same time frame is portrayed as the 40-something year old woman or “cougar” getting plastic surgery and headed out on the prowl for a younger, virile man, because don’t you know, it’s all about the sex and, in a youth-obsessed culture – it is understandable (if laughable) that older men and women would be so scared of getting old that they would do whatever it takes to make themselves desirable once again.

The Mid-Life Re-Evaluation

You see, what it really comes down to is the mis-use of the term “crisis” for what happens to so many people at the mid-point of their lives is not so much about fearing death – about trying to regain their youth or proving their virility by taking on younger lovers as it is about the realization that they are at the half-point of their lives and have not yet begun to live.

Most people in western society settle down in their mid-twenties.  They acquire a full-time job, a spouse, and, over the years, children, a mortgage, credit card bills, social standing in the community and even positions of responsibility and respect in their churches.  But while for all intents and purposes they appear to have a “good life” too many are just going through the motions.  Far too many people are dying inside.

For their whole lives they have been living for the weekends, for vacations, intent on getting the next promotion, the bigger house, getting the kids out of school and into the right colleges, for retirement, convinced that eventually they will reach a plateau of happiness where they can finally draw a deep breath and where their lives will finally have meaning, where they can finally relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The only problem is, it never arrives.  There is always another bill, another event, another concern, another upcoming event; a web of responsibilities and obligations that keep them tethered to the soul-less job and the loveless marriage.  And so, many people “break out” of the mold in an act of almost teenage rebellion.  Having been immersed in a consumer society where the acquisition of things is equated with elevated happiness, most of those who hit this crises point do something stereotypical, like quitting their job, taking a younger lover, buying a flashy car thinking that these things will somehow give their lives meaning.

energy2And then there are those who instinctively understand that there is more going on than meets the eye; that this isn’t about things.  This isn’t even about reclaiming their youth.  This is about stripping away all of the layers of veneer and varnish that society insists that they wear in order to be considered acceptable.  This is learning how to reconnect with the authentic self.  This is about moving past what religions and governments and even friends or family expect from them.  This is about remembering who and what they really are while there is still enough time to experience life; while there is still enough time to appreciate the wonder and mystery that surround them.  This is nature’s wake up call.  This isn’t about being “halfway to dead.”  This is a clarion call to those who hear it and who have the wisdom to understand that it is time to stop going through the motions and truly start to live.

Tectonically Divergent

divergentSuddenly thrown together; violently torn apart; slow and steady buildup of grown and strength or a steady movement away from each other; a study of planetary plate tectonics is like viewing the development and decline of personal relationships only on a global scale.

Most people are introduced to the concept of tectonic plates in grade school. I can remember learning about how the plates moved and how two plates meeting head on caused folds in the land that we know as mountain ranges and how the sudden shifting apart of two plates could cause rifts and canyons in the earth’s crust; how two plates moving in opposite directions can cause earthquakes or trigger volcanos.

It was a fascinating subject, and I remember spending hours on my own reading about how the plates interacted with each other; about which continents rode on which plates and in which direction they were (slowly) moving, and about the currents of the magma underneath the plates that is thought to contribute to the continental shifts. Of course I got sidetracked by geysers and earthquakes and volcanoes and Yellowstone National Park basically being one giant Caldara. But it was the discovery that plate motions vary from 10-40 mm per year (or about as fast as fingernails grow) at the Atlantic Ridge to 160 mm per year (about as fast as hair grows) at the Nazca Plate that really got me thinking about the similarities between planetary tectonics and the human subconscious and its influence on the development and decline of personal relationships.

While each human person on this planet belongs to one species (just as the tectonic plates travel over and around the one core of the planet) each individual (plate) stands alone and moves in its own direction, intent on its own growth and development.

But, just like the tectonic plates, individuals come in contact with and interact with each other on a regular basis. Some merely pass by each other smoothly and with absolutely no friction or move together in the same direction, taking comfort from knowing that they are not alone, while others meet each other head on, neither one giving an inch and causing the upheaval of everything and everyone around them. Some people come together and meld in spite of the fact that they are moving in opposite directions, and when they finally move far enough apart everything around them comes tumbling down or an eruption occurs that burns down everything they had worked to build together. And some people – some people travel together for a long time, but unbeknownst to either, they are moving in opposite directions and it isn’t until the rift or ridge between them is too big to be spanned or climbed do they have to acknowledge that their time together is over.

I suppose that I am lucky.   Unlike so many marriages that mimic a Convergent plate boundary (meeting head on and causing huge upheavals) or a Transform plate boundary (the kind that result in frictional shift with resultant earthquakes and destruction of everything the couple has built) my marriage is ending as a Divergent plate boundary – the kind where two plates keep drifting away from each other forming a rift or ridge between them.

After 25 years my husband and I have finally acknowledged that the rift between us is too deep and too wide to be spanned. For years we simply ignored it, felling trees to serve as foot bridges, building rope bridges when the trees were no longer large enough, constructing steel and cable monstrosities when the ropes finally unraveled and at long last sending mule trains across when even the longest bridge could no longer hold up.

Mind you it wasn’t easy for either of us to acknowledge that it was over. There have been lots of tears (on my side) and plenty of defensiveness as both of us try to justify how we got here and who is to blame for the huge canyon between us that we finally had to acknowledge as existing when even the mules bogged down in the mire, dug in their heels, and refused to move another inch.

They say that hindsight is 20/20. And now that we are here; now that it is over; it is clear that had we acknowledged the rift when it first occurred; the first cracks in seemingly stable land, we could have halted the divergence in its tracks, for there is one major difference between plate tectonics and human relationships, and that is choice.

While the plates move together and tear apart in seemingly random dances of creation and destruction, humans can choose to move together; to mend the rifts; to quench the volcanos; to anchor themselves to something far deeper and stronger than themselves; to anchor themselves to their choice to be united and to stand together and to grow and change in tandem; a choice that prevents the random and chaotic upheavals that unanchored relationships encounter.

We did not.

Perhaps we were anchored once. But slowly, day by day, year by year, the resolve to stand together dissolved and we were left to drift apart on separate unseen currents tethered to each other only by our love and concern for our two beautiful daughters and our desire to make sure that they grew up with the love and attention of both parents on a 24/7 basis; a tether that, with our youngest turning 18 and graduating from high school has finally snapped, leaving us each standing on opposite sides of a grand canyon of disbelief and holding the frayed end of what was once a strong and beautiful relationship.

The good thing about a divergent breakup is that there has been only a minimum of drama; no histrionics or flung accusations or eruptions of long vented anger and frustration, only the relatively calm acceptance of where we are now and of what comes next and the mutual agreement that our daughters will continue to be our priority and that even though we will no longer be living together, we agree to be there for them when they need us; putting aside our own differences in order to support them in whatever they decide to do and in any kind of life events that come their way.

So here we are, saying goodbye to a marriage that lasted a quarter of a century but somehow emerging with a level of mutual regard, of shared responsibility and goodwill for each other intact; something that defies the conventional concept of breakups and leaves us staring at each other with a sheepish smile and a half-hearted shrug. It may not be how things usually end, but this is where we are. Each of us staring into the canyon between us, seeing the layers of strata that have been revealed by the pulling apart of these two plates; the shared experiences and colorful memories and moments of a shared life and down; far down at the bottom of the canyon we can just glimpse the river of what once was; a river that continues to flow in spite of the towering canyon walls, and always will.

 

~SSHenry, July 2014

 

How to Heal a Broken Heart

broken heart“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell

My heart was broken long ago.  The details don’t matter.  What matters is that instead of admitting that my heart was broken; instead of admitting that I was in pain and dealing with the trauma right then and there, I made a series of decisions that threw my world into chaos and that impacted my life for a very long time.

Mind you, the decisions that I made (one in particular) in response to the heartbreak were a way of protecting my heart from further injury; of insulating it against the pain that I had incurred.  But what I didn’t realize is that by denying the pain; by choosing to delude myself into thinking that I was all right, I was ignoring an injury which, when left untreated, never healed.  In fact, it began to fester, poisoning everything else I did.

And so to escape the pain of infection I wrapped myself in layers upon layers of mundane is-ness; sinking into a depression so complete that I was not even aware that I was.  I only knew that there was something wrong; something that continued to eat at me and that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

As crazy as it may seem, six months ago, just as I was ready to give up altogether, it was the very one who inflicted the original injury that pulled me out of my despondency; enabling me to see exactly what I had allowed my life to become due to the choices that I had made and gave me the courage to acknowledge what I had done, accept where I am, and  to face the future without fear of what it might bring.

Knowing what might have been – what I have lost – what I will never have because of the choices that I have made – makes my heart ache as it has never ached before.  It is like peeling off the scab to clean out an infected wound; a throbbing ache that reaches right down to my soul.

Accepting that I will never have what might have been; accepting where I am and who I have become because of the path I chose to follow stings like alcohol poured into a cut; intensifying the pain to the point that it doesn’t feel as if I can take it for even one more second.  But it also kills the bacteria of despair and despondence and is the first step to healing.

Acceptance leads to an understanding of why I made those choices.  And understanding is like a soothing balm; a balm and a soft cotton bandage that covers the cleaned wound, protecting it from further damage.

But knowing and accepting and understanding is not enough.  I must also have wisdom; wisdom and courage to prevent any more trauma to my heart; not by burying it where it cannot be touched, but by leaving it exposed and choosing instead to make those decisions that will strengthen it.

I must have the wisdom to learn from my experiences and the courage to listen to my heart and, from now on, to make each decision based on what feels right to my heart – to my soul –not based on my fears; not as a reaction to pain that threatens to tear me apart, or in response to the pressures and influences of what those around me expect from me.  And once I have made the decision, the courage to move forward without fear, knowing that if I am acting from my heart – and for my heart – that I will be making the decision that is best for me and that will help me to become who and what I was meant to be.

~SSHenry~ March 2, 2014.

All Beginnings Are Hard

butterfly“All Beginnings are hard. . . . Especially a beginning that you make for yourself. That’s the hardest beginning of all.” ~Chiam Potok

 

It is not unusual at this time of the year to see dozens of posts touting an individual’s New Year’s Resolutions; posts about losing weight, finding love, getting their dream job.  The list is endless. And while I know plenty of people who scoff at the idea; people who say that making New Year’s Resolutions is pointless and meaningless, the concept behind it is really quite lovely; you are promising yourself a new beginning; choosing the turning of the New Year as a convenient marking point for tracking their progress.

The sad part of course is that most people renege on their promise to themselves fairly quickly.  In fact, the same people who will move heaven and earth to keep a promise to a spouse or a child; a parent, an employer or a friend will dismiss their promise to themselves with no more than a shrug and an amused chuckle.

Do we really have so little respect for ourselves that we can shrug away our chance to finally create the life we have always imagined?  Because when we fail to keep our promises to ourselves that is exactly what we are doing.  We are trading in those things we desire most in the whole world in exchange for convenience, or security or acceptance by those who don’t understand what achieving our goals would mean for our authentic selves.

I have no room to judge the person who gives in to those around them; who gives in to the demands of convention or of society and gives up their dream, for I am guilty of the same thing.  In fact, I am more guilty than most.  I gave up my dream.  I gave up my dreams willingly in the hopes that by doing so I could forget who I was; that I could bury my true self in normality and create a life for myself where I would not only not be hurt any more, but one where I would no longer hurt anyone else.

For a few precious years it seemed to work.  I was happy, or at the very least I was content.  But it didn’t last.

It was inevitable that one day I would wake up to the fact that burying my authentic self was the biggest mistake that I ever made.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret the life I lived; it gave me two beautiful daughters and hundreds of lovely memories that I will cherish forever.  What I do regret is that I gave up my true self for the illusion of security and belonging.

It has taken me a quarter of a century to come around to acknowledging my mistake and in taking steps to rectify it; to unearth the true me that has been buried for so very long.  Unfortunately she has been kept under wraps for so long that no one recognizes her.  Well, no one except those who knew me before I buried her alive.  Her resurrection has resulted in any number of problems as I try to explain to those around me that this is who I am.  That the person they thought I was all this time was nothing more than a façade; a mask worn to prevent those around me from see who and what I truly am; a choice I made because I was afraid of hurting or being hurt ever again.

Some have supported me in this excavation.  Others have fought it at every turn, trying their hardest to convince me that going back to the self they always knew is in everyone’s best interest; especially their own since that person was the one they were comfortable with.  But going back to the person I was pretending to be is something I will not do.  And if becoming myself means turning their world upside down, well then, so be it.  I have kept myself buried for far too long.  It is time.

And so it is that I make my own New Year’s Resolution.  This year I make a new beginning for myself – for my true self.  I will take the steps necessary to free myself from those people and situations that would keep me from being who and what I truly am.

Of course this means that there will be some tough decisions to be made over the next 12 months; some very difficult choices and overall upheaval for myself and those closest to me.  But like childbirth, once the process has begun, there really is no turning back.  I have made myself the promise of a new beginning, and it is a promise that I intend to keep.

One Hand

sunlight2

I was drowning in darkness.

Unable to move

Unable to breathe

So deep that nothing could penetrate.

And then, alone in the dark

I felt a hand slip into mine

And felt another heart beating in the dakness.

One hand.

One heart.

And a whisper in the dark;

A voice my soul recognized.

Two words

“Trust me.”

And for the first time in forever

I stopped struggling and let go

Trusting your arms to guide me;

To bring me to the surface once again

To the light and peace and hope

I thought I had lost forever.

No longer drowning in darkness

But swimming in sunlight

And now your heart a part of mine

For always.

 

~ SSHenry, December 1, 2013

Excuse Me, My Life is Waiting

walk“Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

 

Does purposefully surrounding yourself with people who will lift you higher; people who encourage you and strengthen you sound like a selfish thing to do?  Can you imagine the alternative?

No, most of us don’t have to imagine the alternative, because most of us live it.  I know I do.  Or, rather, up until now, I have.

When I was little it was family members who would discourage me from my dreams, telling me that I really didn’t have the talent or skill for this or that endeavor, or that what I was attempting was not something that a “good Christian girl” would do.  If I pursued my activities I would then have to put up with the disappointment of those same family members and see the hurt and pain in their eyes that I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  And so I would sigh and tuck away my dreams.

When I was older it was my teachers, friends or boyfriends that would discourage me from attempting what they saw as ill-conceived or inadvisable options.  And what did I do?  I would go ahead with them anyway, until of course someone looked at me again with that pain in their eyes, and then I would crumble. OK, ok.  I’ll fold.  Just stop looking at me like that.  I want you to LIKE me, to LOVE me, not to be disappointed by me. And then I got married and the whole process started over again. 

So why am I speaking in the past tense?  Because I have decided that I am finished with the negativity.  I have to be.

You see, the negativity of those who discourage, demean or belittle me and my desire to become the truest version of myself are not serving me.  And there – right there – is where I usually get a twinge of guilt.  The very term “not serving me” just reeks of self-centeredness, doesn’t it?

But there comes a point in your life where you realize that as much as you care about the people in your life; and as much as you want them to be happy, there is something that is more important, and that is that you be true to your real self no matter how others feel about it.

This isn’t selfishness; at least it isn’t selfishness in the traditional definition of the word.  No, this is taking care of what you need in order to learn and grow and become, and let’s face it, without growth things tend to stagnate and grow stale. That includes everything from your personal life to your relationships with others, so no matter what, there really is no point in spending your energy trying to maintain the status quo.

Of course those negative individuals in your life who encourage you NOT to change would be glad of change IF (and only if) you were to change in the direction that they wish to see you go.  What scares them is that you are changing in ways that make them uncomfortable, which is why they fight against it so hard. But a moment of reflection should show you that change to make someone else happy is actually counterproductive.  Yes, the other person may rest easier knowing that you will not break out in ways that they cannot or will not allow themselves to understand.  But you will be just as unhappy having changed into something that you are NOT as you were unhappy to remain in a stagnant or stale situation.

Actually, you will be unhappier having changed in a direction that is at odds with your soul purpose; even unhappier than you would be simply staying put and resisting the urge to become who and what you really are.

No.  The truth of the matter is that you HAVE to follow your instincts and intuition if you are going to truly live your life and not simply treat it as some sort of spectator sport.

At the risk of sounding cliché, you have to follow your heart.  If it leads you in a direction that others find uncomfortable enough, they will move on or move out of your life to a place where they feel more comfortable and where the people and things live up to their expectations.

So when I talk about surrounding yourself with those who will lift you up (and not pull you down) I’m not talking about walking away from people or situations that do not serve you.  Instead, what I am saying is that you need to stop giving those people and situations that you find energy draining or negative to the point of depression, your attention.

Just stop.  They are not worth the effort of either fighting their negativity or the effort of changing yourself in order to please them.  They do not serve you.

So focus on what does serve you; on those things that bring you joy and that fill your life with the wonder and mystery that feeds your soul.  Focus on those things that encourage you to grow and become who and what you truly are, and watch your life as it changes for the better.

The Dark Demon of Despair

“Have you ever dealt with the dark demon of despair? Have you ever invited him to walk with you as you wend your way through life? Has he ever held your hand as you balanced on the razor’s edge of sanity and seduced you with his promises of oblivion?” ~ SSHenry

Sometimes the demon of despair doesn’t need an invitation.  Sometimes he just appears out of the clear blue and swoops you up before you have a chance to protest.  One minute you are on top of the world.  The next minute you’ve been dragged down into a morass of pain so deep that you are sure that you will never find a way out.

And sometimes; sometimes it seems that the only way to be rid of the pain is to stop living.

Yes, I know despair is not the usual topic for this time of the year.  Usually we focus on love and romance and the promise of spring, but here is the thing; there are people all around you who are grappling with this demon even as we speak.  Who knows, you may be one of them yourself.  And it is times of the year like this; holidays dedicated to love and family and having a positive outlook on life that can be the hardest for these people because it emphasizes everything that they do not (or that they no longer) have.

The reasons why any one of us may give in to this demon are as many and as varied as there are people in the world.  Perhaps you’ve lost someone close to you to death.  Perhaps you love has left you for someone else.  Perhaps you’ve received bad news regarding your job or your finances or your health.  Perhaps you have simply become jaded by life and no longer see the purpose of it all. Does it really matter?  If there is one thing about the demon, it is that he is an equal opportunity employer and absolutely no respecter of persons.

And while we may not be able to predict when this demon comes to call or just how hard he’ll impact us when he does, we do have a choice of whether or not we will give in to the despair that is his dark inheritance.

Yes.  There are going to be days when it seems that we cannot take a single more moment; moments that are so painful that the thought of bearing one more instant is physically painful.  But there is one way to ensure that the despair will not consume you entirely and that is to find your anchor of joy.

Your anchor of joy is what keeps you tethered to the knowledge that this clinging fog of doubt and depression is not the way it always was, nor the way it always will be.  And while it may seem impossible to remember the good times when the darkness threatens to swallow you whole, if you can find just one moment of joy in each day and hold that close to your heart, it can be enough to keep you alive.

It doesn’t have to be anything big.  Perhaps it is the contented purr of a cat, the vivid colors of a spectacular sunset, the overwhelming awesomeness of your favorite piece music or the simple beauty in a budding flower.  It may even be something more mundane like the deep robust scent of your coffee, the way the sun slants through your bedroom window or the feel of clean sheets against your skin.

Whatever it is that brings you that moment of joy, however brief, hold it close.  Hold it tight.  As you slog through the rest of your day; as the cold darkness of despair threatens to engulf you, focus on that moment.  Relieve it in your mind as many times as you need to and know that there is hope.

And one morning you will wake up to find that the one moment has become two, and then three and, before you know it they will have multiplied and you will have banished that cold dark demon from your life and will be living in the sunlight once again.

So don’t give up.  And if you know someone close to you that is wrestling with this particular demon, don’t give up on them.  Help them to find their anchor of joy.  You cannot find it for them, but you can help them to recognize it for what it is and encourage them to hold it close to their hearts and hold tight to the knowledge that there are brighter days to come.

All it Takes is Gratitude

 “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~Melody Beattie

It has been said that gratitude is the real bread of life; that without it life becomes bleak and bare and lacking in so many different ways.  And yet, how many times do we actually stop to express our gratitude for what we have been given?

I’m not talking about common courtesy; saying thank you when someone does something for you and things of that ilk.  No, I’m talking about real gratitude.  I’m talking about a heartfelt appreciation for everything that you have in your life, no matter how small or insignificant you may consider it to be.

Believe it or not, even the poorest of those who will read this are better off than half the world’s population.  For starters, you have the free time to be able to get onto a computer and surf the internet, not to mention that you have access to a computer. You probably have a roof over your head, clothes in your closet and food on your table as well.  You have access to health care (or at least to an emergency room) and have more likely than not received some sort of an education and are able to read and write.

And these are just the fundamental basics! So many people don’t have even this, but that doesn’t stop them from being grateful!  And so many of us have so much more than the basics and yet we are always looking for more.

But what about the intangible things?

What about those things that can’t be touted up on an accounting sheet or listed on a home inventory list?

What about friendship and love?  What about caring and commitment?  What about courage and integrity and creativity?  Do we ever stop long enough in our headlong rush to be grateful for those things that lend the fabric of our lives such rich texture?

In spite of everything that we have; in spite of everything that we have been given, it is so very easy to take what you have for granted – until it isn’t there anymore.  And then, once it’s gone; once it is gone and you can never get it back again, you feel like kicking yourself at every moment that you wasted; every opportunity that passed you by without your noticing.

Most times it is easy to be grateful.  Indeed, when you have everything that you need; when life is sweet and full of interesting people and experiences, gratitude seems to come as naturally as breathing.  We don’t even think about it.  It is simply there.

And yet, there are times when being grateful is the last thing on your mind; when the pain is so deep and the darkness and despair so dark and suffocating that it seems that there is no way that you can ever find your way out.  At these moments gratitude can seem as far away as the surface of the moon, and just about as helpful.

But what if I were to tell you that that is when you need it the most?

Because if you can’t remember the good things in your life, if you can’t bring to mind the bright moments of laughter and life and love that make everything worthwhile, those dark and depressing times can suck you down so far that you may never get out.

This is why it is so very important to practice daily gratitude.

I don’t care how you do it.  Buy a journal, start a blog, post it on Facebook, Tweet it to all of your friends, send out a text message – whatever!  But start today.  List all the things that you are grateful for.  Don’t just do this one time, do it every day.

In fact, make it a habit to find at LEAST five things to be grateful for every day.

On an awesome day you may take up pages listing all the things you are grateful for.  On bad days you may only be able to list a handful.  But believe it or not, this handful can make all of the difference.

You see, there may come a particularly bad day when those things that you have listed are the only things that keep you from giving up altogether; when one or two of the items on that list are all that keep you tethered to life. Those things will become your focus; your reason for living.

And believe it or not, if you can make it through the day; if you can focus on that handful of things that you DO have instead of those things that you do NOT have, eventually it will get better.  In time the good things will begin to multiply again until once more you find your life to be overflowing with life and love, friendship and good fortune and once more life will be worth living.

All it takes is gratitude.

Personal Note:  For me 2012 ended on a tragic note when I found that a close friend had killed themselves just after Christmas.  I cherished every moment that we spent together and even though I had given them all the support and advice that I could – it wasn’t enough.  In the end the pain and sadness that they felt overwhelmed them. They simply couldn’t find a reason to keep living.  This is why this message is so important to me.  Life is fragile and far, far too short; don’t let a moment of it go by unappreciated. 

And please – PLEASE – if one of the things you are grateful for today is someone else; a friend or family member, let them know!  Don’t assume that they already know.  Just tell them.  One day you will be glad that you did.

The Dyslexic Mayan

 

You know, the first thing that popped into my head when I saw today’s date on my calendar was that maybe the Mayan’s got it wrong.  You know, maybe whoever was creating that great count calendar had a case of dyslexia and wrote down 12/21/12 instead of 12/12/12. Hey, stranger things have happened!  Translation errors happen all the time.

Note:  Yes, for those who are sticklers for details, I know that the Mayans didn’t use our numbering system and that the date 12/21/12 is due to an interpretation of the Mayans numerical system.  That doesn’t change the fact that the idea of the date for the end of the world being mistaken due to transcription errors isn’t (at least to me) amusing.

Actually, I don’t believe that the world is going to end on the 21st of December.  Maybe it should end.  Maybe humanity is sick and twisted enough that it would serve us right if reality came crashing down around our ears next Friday.  Maybe we’ve done enough to rape and pillage this planet that it would be in Gaia’s best interest to shake herself free of us once and for all.  With the atrocities we’ve committed over the millennia it wouldn’t be at all surprising.

No, next Friday will dawn as every other day, and when the sun sets we’ll still be here; some of us still in front of our computer screens.  The only difference (or at least the only visible difference) will be that the Mayan Long Count Calendar will have reset itself.  Again.

Yes, that’s right.  Again.

You see, the Mayan Long Count Calendar has reset itself before.  In fact it resets itself every 5,125.36 years.  Each of these time periods is referred to as a “Great Cycle” but there is nothing that states that simply because we’re at the end of a Great Cycle that it is the end of the world as we know it.  It is simply the end of the calendar – and the end of another age of mankind (much like our Gregorian calendar turning over from 1999 to 2000 and marking a new millennium).

Yes, there are other claims regarding December 21st 2012.  There are claims that it marks a galactic alignment (it does – we align with the galactic center every December actually).  There are claims that there will be some sort of cosmic blackout due to a planetary alignment; that there will be a crustal displacement/shift thanks to this alignment that will cause devastating earthquakes and tsunamis.  There are claims that solar flares will fry the planet (or at least all of our technology) that we are about to be hit by a comet or meteor, or that we’re going to be visited by aliens from planet X (Nibiru).

Then of course there are those who say that December 21, 2012 isn’t about actually physical earth changes so much as it is about energetic shifts and spiritual alignments.  There are those who claim that it will mark the beginning of the tribulation, of the antichrist’s reign on earth (the fact that a katun – part of the Mayan calendar – is marked by 144,000 days – a number seen in Revelation seems to feed this particular series of rumors).

Did I miss anything?

Perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about what COULD happen and ask yourself this; why are you so anxious for the world to be ending?

Think about it.  When someone tells you that the world could end by (insert a cause) and they have “proof” and a rational explanation, don’t you get just a little bit excited thinking that maybe, just maybe, they could be right?  Doesn’t the idea of the mundane repetition of your daily existence being turned on its ear turn up your adrenaline a notch?

Of course it does.  That is why anything from a localized emergency (work or school cancelled due to a devastating snowstorm or a tree falling on the power lines) to a regional disaster (hurricane Sandy) to a national or global catastrophe all send us spiraling into a frenzy of excitement.  It gives us a chance to interrupt our regularly scheduled program.

So here’s an idea.  Why not create a life for yourself that you wouldn’t WANT to end?

Yes, I know.  You have to make a living.  You have to pay your bills and provide for your families.  But there is nothing that says that you have to do this by selling yourself short; by working at a job or living in such a way that the idea of society (or life for that matter) ending actually excites you.

Yes, there are ways to make a living that doesn’t entail working at a job you hate or living in a location that sucks your soul dry.  It may not line up with the kind of job you are supposed to have, or with you living in the kind of location (or having the number of things) that society says you are supposed to.  But if it is happiness that you are looking for; if peace and contentment are high on your list of needs, you can find a way.

Why not live the life you’ve always imagined; a life full of inspiration and love; a life full of joy and wonder and mystery?  Why not live a life so packed with beauty and peace that you laugh at the idea of wanting it to end; that when someone asks you why you aren’t anxious for the world to end or for a messiah to come that you say thanks anyway, but you are focused on each day that you have been given.  That you will take what the universe has to offer you as it is presented and not give a moment’s energy to worrying about what may or may not happen tomorrow.

For more information on the Mayan Long Count Calendar and how it works, please visit:  http://people.howstuffworks.com/mayan-calendar.htm

For the official NASA response to 2012 ‘end of the world’ claims, please see: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012.html

Joy to the World and Pass the Eggnog!

 

I don’t know about you, but this time of the year can be stressful for anyone who celebrates the season.  In fact, there are days when I feel that Ebenezer Scrooge had it right before the spirits ever got a hold of him, particularly the part where he tells the gentlemen collecting for the poor that “I wish to be left alone!”

Just think of all of the things that you are ‘expected’ to do.  There is the holiday decorating and the baking, the gift buying and wrapping and party planning.  Then there are the concerts and end of school performances and recitals and drama productions and work parties and neighborhood celebrations, church celebrations and the addressing of about a million greeting cards and all of this in the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

With so much to do and so little time to do it in (not to mention even less time to actually kick back and relax) is it any wonder why so many people get so stressed out?

Here is a question for you.  With all the expectations attached to the holiday season, is it possible to live authentically; to be exactly whom and what you are in spite of everything that you are expected to do?

The answer, of course, is yes.

No, this doesn’t mean that you have to become a Scrooge and lock yourself away behind walls of cynicism for the duration of the holiday season. What it does mean is that you take a good hard look at those responsibilities and activities that you have agreed to take part in and ask yourself whether or not they bring you joy.

If they DO bring you joy, then by all means keep them!  Yes, I know that baking four dozen cupcakes for your child’s end of school winter holiday party may not be a joyful experience in and of itself, but the look on their face when you walk into their classroom with the cupcakes may be worth every moment you spent in the kitchen.

On the other hand, if you find yourself dreading the very thought of attending one more Messiah sing along, then don’t go!  There is nothing that says that you have to say yes to every invitation issued during this time of the year.  There is nothing that says that you have to bake all of your sugar cookies from scratch.  There is nothing that says that you have to reciprocate every gift you receive with another of equal or greater value.

What it takes is weighing each agreement that you make; every invitation that you accept against how much joy it will bring into your life.

Does that sound selfish? Perhaps in a way it is.  After all, at this time of the year especially we are encouraged to think of others first; to put our own wants and needs aside in order to provide for the needs and wants of others.  But what never fails to astonish me is how anyone can expect that a person can keep giving and giving without every running out of energy.  It can’t be done.

In order to care for others we must first take care of ourselves, and one of the most effective ways to do this is to pay attention to our joy.  If everything that we do comes from our heart and brings us joy and happiness then each thing that we do for others – which we WANT to do for others – each thing we do for someone else that brings us joy will be magnified tenfold.

It won’t be how much we do, but the quiet intent; the joy inherent that will fill up our lives, and our hearts this holiday season and every day of the year to come.