Sunday morning run ramblings: who said anything about asking for it?

I’ve been taking a little blog hiatus since my work (which is usually pretty low maintenance as it’s only one weekend a month) recently became a lot more time-consuming.  I was feeling guilty about working too much AND not spending enough time with my daughter AND about not cleaning the house AND about not blogging; then I decided that although it is almost impossible for me to NOT feel guilty about stuff I could at least convince myself to drop one thing from my “to feel guilty about” list.  So, I triaged my priorities, and decided I could manage to not feel guilty about the blog for a couple of weeks.

I did a pretty good job of not feeling guilty, too, until a few days ago when I had a brilliant idea for a blog and lost it.  I was in my car driving home from work, and I had an epiphany.  I thought, I MUST write about this when I get a chance.  Really, it was an amazing revelation.  It was new and clear and interesting and filled with potential for development.  I wish I could tell you what it was…..

The next day, I had another good thought while I was checking my work mail and I thought, surely I won’t forget this, because it’s really simple and obvious and un-intimidating to write about.  And I can’t tell you what that thought was either.

So now, having lost two amazing opportunities to change the world through my life-altering revelations, I feel obliged to write something.

It was a beautiful morning for running; I am like a vampire and hate the sun, so I was happy to see the part of the sky covered in clouds when I got up.  By the time I left the house to drive to the greenway more were rolling in, and there was thunder and lightning in the distance.  I was vaguely worried about getting caught in a legit thunderstorm, but more worried about not getting my morning run in since I missed last week’s because of work.

I stayed dry but cool up to the last mile, during which there was just enough rain to refresh me and get me moving a little more quickly but not enough to get drenched.  It was perfect.  I even made a point of doing an extra sun salutation (ironic, right?) during my stretch, nice and slow, to soak up some more rain before leaving.

What did I think about during this run?  Well, I didn’t have any groundbreaking, earth-shattering revelations today.  But I wasn’t drawing a blank either.  Interestingly, without really meaning to, I kind of circled around to the topic I was thinking of in the last post, which was women running alone with headphones.  Except this time I tied it to a new thread, one that’s been in a holding pattern in my brain for a few days, ever since I read a news item about actress Mayim Bialik and the stink her op-ed on Harvey Weinstein has caused.  If you haven’t read it, you can read it here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/opinion/mayim-bialik-feminist-harvey-weinstein.html

Basically, she says that she grew up being awkward and geeky, not the traditional definition of beauty by Hollywood standards, which she indicates is probably why she did not experience the sexual predation that is all too common in the entertainment industry which is largely dominated by powerful male figures.   She goes on to say something about how she likes to dress modestly and not be flirty.  She also says women should be able to act/wear/do whatever they want without fear of unwanted sexual attention, but she insinuates that this world is not perfect and certain behavior may be more likely to instigate trouble.

And now she is being attacked vehemently by feminists who accuse her of talking smack about pretty girls and telling women that they bring unwanted sexual attention on themselves.

To which my response is “Whoa, there….. knee-jerk much?”

Why is that my response?  Well, personal experience, I guess.  As a recovering alcoholic who also worked for years in a male-dominated environment, I know all about unwanted sexual advances.  There’s unwanted advances that are thrust upon you when you’re too wasted to protest, there’s the ones that you can’t remember how you responded to in a blackout but know for sure you don’t want when you come to, and then there’s the ones that happen when you are sober as a judge but don’t want to say anything about because you are afraid you might get yourself or someone else in real trouble.

I have been privy to all of these types of advances and more.  Do I think these were my fault?  Absolutely not.  Do I think I could have avoided most of them?  Abso-frigging-lutely.

But I was young, eager to please, eager to have a good time, eager to prove things to everyone, and I did not understand nor respect my own worth nearly as much as I should have.  I got black-out drunk regularly.  I went out alone.  I flirted with everyone.  I accepted whatever happened afterwards as a normal part of life, or at least a normal part of the life I had chosen.

Looking back, I am sad for the young woman I was.  I wish she had stuck up for herself more, drank less, been more angry about injustices.   But I don’t really dwell on it either.  I’m different now.

I don’t drink anymore, I don’t flirt with people at work, and I don’t go out alone (unless I’m running on Sunday morning).  And I haven’t gotten any unwanted sexual advances recently either.

So what am I saying?

I am saying that no one should ever be sexually harassed or assaulted.  Ever.

I am also saying that sexual harassment and assaults do happen, with alarming frequency.

And I am also saying that there are risk factors that make you more vulnerable to these kinds of abuses.

Getting black-out drunk is not an invitation for a sexual assault, but it could very well be taken as one by an ill-intentioned individual.

Flirting with someone in the workplace is not an invitation for groping.  But aside from it being unprofessional, it can also be misread by or send confusing messages to the person being flirted with or other people observing the behavior.

I’m not suggesting that people who are assaulted “bring it on themselves”.  I am saying, though, that although you can never completely eliminate any chance of sexual harassment/assault, there are things that you can do to weigh the odds more in your favor.  Why is this so polemic?  It’s the truth, isn’t it?

I get that women are pissed that this an issue at all, but being pissed about something doesn’t make it go away.

I’m pissed that women get assaulted while running alone with headphones in.

I’m also unwilling to stop doing something that puts me more at risk of an assault, which is to run alone with headphones in.  I am aware that I am accepting this increased risk, and I try to mitigate it by carrying mace (yes, I have some now; my husband bought it for me for my birthday, and I sincerely hope I never inadvertently blind myself with it), running on high-traffic trails, and only running alone during daylight hours.

If I ever get assaulted while I am out running alone, I will be very pissed.  Will I say, “Well, I totally deserved that”.  Um, NO!!!!  But would I re-assess?  Probably.  I would say to myself “I didn’t think it would happen to me, but it did” or “I thought the risk was still pretty low, but I guess it wasn’t low enough”.  I would probably stop running alone.  Maybe I would even speak out, try to encourage women not to run alone with headphones in.  Maybe I would save another woman from the same fate.  I’d say, “Hey, it’s not worth the risk, I gambled and failed, you can learn from me.”

And if I chose to stop running alone with headphones in, I’m sure most would agree that was a wise choice for my safety.   Do you think anyone would say, “I’m offended because you are saying women who run alone with headphones are asking for it!”?

What would you think if I said, “I am running alone with headphones because I do NOT accept sexual assault on women running alone with headphones and I should be able to do whatever I want!”?  You’d think I had a screw loose, right?

I think this is what Mayim Bialik was trying to say.  She was not condoning sexual assault.  She was not slamming pretty people.  She wasn’t saying that being attractive is “asking for it”.  She was talking about risk factors, probabilities, the realities of the industry that she works in.

We should not accept the norm of misogyny and sexual predation in the entertainment industry, nor in any other industry, nor in society in general.  But just going around saying “women should be able to do whatever they want” is not helpful; in fact, I think it could even be harmful.

Because really, no one should be able “to do whatever they want”.  That is the burden of living in a society.  We all have responsibilities to one another; we should be free to pursue our own version of happiness to the extent that we are not harming others, but we should also be cognizant of how our own actions affect others AND how they affect our own lives.

What many people seem to be asking for is to live consequence-free, and that’s just never going to happen; consequences will always be there, and saying they shouldn’t be there does not make them any less real.  If anything, it makes people less resilient to them.

So what should we be doing?  Empowering women to speak up when these offenses occur, holding the ones responsible accountable for their actions, and (here’s the part people aren’t going to like) STOP OBJECTIFYING PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY WOMEN.  Stop making everything about beauty and sexuality and power.

We are the creators of the society we live in.  We are the ones that have the power to foster an environment of equality and accountability and integrity and stewardship or one of inequality and dishonesty and bullying and marginalization.

If we want to blame someone for condoning a “rape culture”, maybe we should swing the mirror around on ourselves rather than attacking anyone who dares to speak about the issue with candor and frankness.  If we want to be real feminists, maybe we should start considering why the only faces we are interested in seeing are the pretty ones.

You don’t have to apologize to me for speaking your mind Mayim Bialik.  I’ve got your back.

 

 

Advertisements

Sunday morning run ramblings; To mace or not to mace, that is the question

There is a greenway in the city that I live in.  It runs from the southeastern part of town all the way up to the northeastern part.

There are pieces of it where it is obvious that it is in the middle of the city, where roads and structures, houses and cars can be seen everywhere.  There are other parts where you could imagine you were wandering through the woods in the countryside if you didn’t know better.  Many of these trails connect to greater parks too.

I am very happy to have something like this near to me (well, within a half hour’s drive anyways).  It is nice to have a place to bike, walk, or run without having to worry about having to run in a circle or getting lost.

When I first moved here, I wanted to go for a six mile run, so I used googlemaps to map out a route.  Once I got out there, though, I had to change course several times because roads did not connect and everything was closed off.

I don’t know if it’s just in this location, or if it’s a general trend everywhere, but it seems like everything is becoming more insulated.  Most neighborhoods are gated and only have one or two entrances, everything is a loop that doesn’t connect to anything, and even uninhabited land is all fenced up, claimed, and protected, lest someone get the crazy idea to walk over it to get somewhere faster.

But I digress.

Today I want to talk about something else.

A couple of weeks ago a woman was sexually assaulted on one of these greenway trails at the back of a park while she was running.  At nine o’clock in the morning.  Without headphones.

I have mentioned that I like to run, alone, with loud music, on weekend mornings when my husband is home to watch our daughter.

Now, I have been aware for a while that bad things can happen to women who choose to run alone with headphones.   I have also been aware that bad things have happened before on the greenway trails, although usually during less heavily trafficked times and more in certain parts of town than others.

Which is why this incident spooks me.  It was in broad daylight during a time when one would normally see plenty of bikes and pedestrians out and about, as well as the occasional police bike patrol.  And it happened in what most would consider one of the nicer parts of town.  Apparently, the woman had heard something behind her, but she though it was just an animal so she didn’t turn around.

When I was at my Stroller Strides classes, the women talked about it a lot.  They said “Don’t you go running out there on the weekends?” or “I’d be afraid to go out there alone.”  It was a little awkward.  I wanted to defend my right to run alone on the greenway, but I knew that they were right to be cautious.  So why would I insist on continuing to do something potentially dangerous?

I thought about the incident a lot in the days leading up to this morning run; I was adamant about going anyways.  I thought about carrying a knife, an idea I quickly dismissed since I don’t know how to defensively use a knife and it could easily be turned against me.  Mace might be nice, but I didn’t have any and frankly I’m kind of scared of mace too, since I sprayed myself in the face with it once when I was a kid.

Ultimately, I decided to go for fingers in the eyes and the nose and just scream like hell if anyone grabbed me.  Repeating this like a mantra, I reasoned with myself that it was most likely that nothing would happen to me at all.

Really, what I did was to make a risk decision.  I weighed the likelihood of something happening against the benefits I would gain from going and decided that I would rather go.  And no, nothing happened (or I’d be writing a very different post, I’m sure).

I can almost hear the people that would disagree with my choice in my head, nagging me about safety precautions and prevention.  Or maybe that’s just my own little voice of caution.

But here’s the thing….

We all draw a different line when it comes to acceptable risk; that’s why some people bungee jump and others don’t.

Just for reference, I have seen myself at both ends of the caution spectrum.

As a former raging alcoholic, I used to put myself in risky situations all the time (although I wouldn’t say there was a lot of conscious decision-making going on there).  I can’t even tell you how many times over I could have been arrested, raped, beaten up, mugged, or killed or could have inflicted harm upon someone else.  I really didn’t give it much thought, and for whatever reason, I escaped about 15 years of perpetual drunkenness and poor decision-making largely unscathed.  I’m convinced someone was looking out for me.

When I first got sober, I went the opposite direction.  Suddenly, I was sure something horrible was going to happen, like I had used up all my “get out of jail free” cards and the next mistake would surely be the last straw.  I would leave the house in the morning and imagine I had left the stove on and the house would catch on fire and my cats would die locked inside.  I’d imagine I’d left the door unlocked and a burglar would come in and destroy the place and kill my cats.  I’d imagine I’d look down at a text on my phone and go careening off the side of the road at 70 miles an hour— and I would be dead and my cats would die alone of starvation and dehydration.  (I didn’t have a child at the time, my cats WERE my babies).

After hours of therapy, many AA sessions, and a short round of anti-anxiety medication, I mellowed out a bit and learned how to calm the desperate voice of fear lurking in my head.

Now, I try to find a happy middle road between living without fear and having a healthy amount of it.  If I feel fear, I ask myself it is useful to my situation.  If it is, I take precautions.  If it is not, I tell it to go away.  I’m far from perfect at this, but it is how I try to live now.  Sometimes, though, there is something that I have a healthy fear of, but I choose to confront it anyways.  Reckless?  Maybe, but if I have something to gain from it, I have to take a good look at it and see whether the risk is worth the reward.  I have to figure out where my line is.

How free should we be to draw our own personal line?  That’s a tough questions to answer, but I think that being too cautious is just as bad as not being cautious enough.  I think there is a trend in our society today to try to protect everyone from themselves, and it kind of freaks me out.

Imagine, if you will, a hypothetical future, a sort of “Idiocracy” meets “Demolition Man” (remember the whole “salt is illegal” thing?) kind of world where people’s ability to think critically and make their own decisions has been degraded and the government makes everything that’s bad for them against the law.  I don’t think this is fantasy, I think this is a definite possible outcome of the way we live.

Why?  Because of liability.

When I was stationed in Spain in the military, I went to lots of town carnivals.  Many of them were heavily focused around drinking but they usually had a few rides for the kids.  I remember watching kids get on this one ride that was a big circle that would spin around and simultaneously tilt from side to side—think Gravitron but without a roof and slightly slower so people aren’t smooshed up against the sides for the duration of the ride.  And no, they were not in any way strapped in.

Kids of all ages got on this thing and proceeded to stumble and fall around while the ride was going—great fun for the kiddos, I imagine, but I couldn’t help but think to myself “This is an accident and a lawsuit just waiting to happen.  This would never fly in the USA.”  And it’s true.  The ride was pretty dangerous, and I’m sure kids have been injured on it.

Now, forget about the kids for a minute (I do think children should be protected, even from their parents’ dumb decisions), and just think about the principle of the thing.  Here in the States, we are very quick to assign blame and ensure that someone is bearing the burden of liability.  Often, this ends up not being the individual but the organization.  This is why we end up with warnings on things like “Do not drive vehicle with sunshade in place.”  Somebody drove with a sunshade in place and then blamed the company who made the sunshade for not telling them not to.

So we end up with warnings on everything.  But what happens when it is decided that individuals are not capable of making smart decisions, when people don’t heed warnings?  We force them to–think seatbelt and helmet laws.  And some people still resist even that.

Why?

Well, some people just really feel like they should have the right to take risks if they want to.  I personally think it’s pretty dumb not to wear a seatbelt.  I think it’s pretty dumb not to wear a helmet on a motorcycle.   But….. I would choose not to wear a helmet on a bicycle if I could.  Sometimes I don’t when I know no one will see me.  Why?  Well, I grew up riding bikes in Germany where everyone rides bicycles all the time, not just for sport but for transportation, and you don’t see a lot of helmets.  It just seems excessive to me.

And that’s the thing.  I have my line.  You have yours.  Obviously, some standards need to be maintained so that we are not creating a burden to society through reckless behavior nor are we infringing on personal rights.  But regardless of what we think of each other’s assessment of acceptable risk, there has to be an allowable gray area where I can choose to take more or less risk than you do.  I think that this is an important thing to uphold.

Running alone with headphones is something I look forward to all week, and it does a spectacular job of recharging my battery, giving me greater patience, mindfulness, empathy, and serenity for days afterwards.

I want to run alone with headphones.  Period.  I can make small adjustments to reduce risk: make sure my running route is in the most heavily-trafficked area, make sure I wait until the sun has completely risen rather than trying to get out earlier, buy some mace (maybe).   But I am not willing to stop.

I don’t want to let a rare event frighten me away from something that gives me so much back.  For now, I accept the risk.  And for now, thankfully, that’s my decision to make.

 

Do you agree?  Disagree?  Where is your line?

Finding the Spirit; Here’s your sign

So, I’m a big believer that the universe talks to me.  Some people would say this is God.  When I first started praying in AA, I got all hung up on who I was praying to.  Was it a grandfatherly man with a white beard?  An earthy, motherly figure?

Then I considered that a higher power could probably look like anything it wanted to.  This really opened things up for me, because I can imagine seeing my higher power as anything I need to in any given moment, and it is still the same higher power.  The image changes, but not the essence.  Sometimes it looks like an older brother/sister, sometimes a mother/father, sometimes it’s an alternate version of me or an ideal version of me, sometimes it’s just the wind or the trees or the stars.

Whatever it is, if I plug into it, it talks back.  The trick is, I have to have my eyes open.  And I have to initiate contact somehow.

Praying, meditation, art, writing, these are all ways that I can “get in touch”.

And then I just have to watch and listen.  And, most importantly, follow my compass.  Pick up on leads when they appear.

This blog was a lead, a voice that was whispered into my ear on a dark, lonely night when I was asking how to keep from going insane.

____

My last post was about how I needed to get back in touch with my spirituality, how I had faltered and needed to take a step back towards the light.

I said that I needed to commit to something, but I felt that I needed to start small so that it doesn’t feel unmanageable and I risk being discouraged and throwing up my hands on the whole thing. I said I could commit to meditating five minutes a day.

That was Friday.

Now it’s Tuesday.

I had to work this weekend (I work one weekend a month), and my husband was sick with food poisoning.  And my daughter has been very fussy lately, teething and crying a lot and waking up a lot at night.  Needless to say, it was kind of a crazy weekend.

I did not meditate.

And Monday, I did the very thing I was trying not to do, which was throw up my hands on the whole thing.  I was thinking, “Whatever, I suck, I’ll come up with another plan.  Later.  Sometime.”

And I didn’t have a blog post for the weekend since I didn’t run nor did I meditate, and I thought, “Whatever, I suck, I’ll write about something later.  Sometime.”

And I was sitting here this morning reading other people’s blogs and feeling melancholy about the whole thing.

And I got an email.  From someone I know from AA.  She was my sponsor for a while and remains a friend, a relationship that has become one of my most treasured.

We are both busy and live on opposite sides of the city, so we only meet and catch up two or three times a year, but she is wonderful about unexpectedly dropping a text or email with a piece of wisdom or inspiration, usually uncannily when I need to hear it.

So this morning I received an email from her with a link to a guided meditation on a meditation app, saying “I haven’t listened to it yet.  I’ll wait for you to try it first.”

You try and tell me that’s not the universe talking to me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go meditate……

Finding the Spirit; A Holding Pattern

Me, I believe that there are many paths to truth and none have to be mutually exclusive.  I think that the idea that there are winners and losers in spirituality (i.e. heaven and hell) is a uniquely human idea—mankind has a hard time imagining a world in which everyone can be right and everyone can be happy.  If one person is right, someone else has to be wrong.  I say that’s baloney.  I have learned to respect religion for what I believe it is, which is a tool to get people closer to their idea of God (or whatever you choose to call it/him/her).  What gets YOU closer to your higher power may be toxic for ME, or vice versa, but that’s ok, because we can each choose the path that works for us individually.  I think that none of us can really be certain of anything in the spiritual realm except for what our inner compass is telling us, and if my inner compass is telling me something different than yours is telling you, it doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong, just that how I interpret the truth might be different than how you would.

I’m not really sure that I need to go out and commit to a religion to be effective in teaching my daughter what I want her to learn;  maybe I should take her church-hopping, or maybe I should just try to expose her to different ideas through books and media.  What I do know is that I feel like I am not in the best place to make a decision on a course of action.  I have not exposed myself to enough belief systems, I have not asked enough questions, and I have not kept up with my own practices and standards.  I’ve never even read the Bible, and that in and of itself seems like a pretty daunting task to undertake without a guide.

Truth be told, I’m fairly certain that if I am seeking spiritual truth in the right way, I will never run out of questions and may even become more unsteady on my spiritual path.  But I don’t want to tell my daughter that she has to explore and seek truth and follow her own heart if I haven’t done a thorough job of it myself.

“It is not WHAT you believe in that redeems your life, but THAT you believe.”

-Anon

 

So, here it is, four months after my original blog post on “finding the spirit”, and I am no closer to attaining spiritual enlightenment.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out where the problem is.   Am I overwhelmed by the topic?  Bored?  Frightened?  Maybe a little bit of all of the above?

I have some books on spirituality that I have not read yet.

I have an invitation to go to a church that I have not taken up yet.

I haven’t been going to my AA meetings.

Heck, I haven’t even been meditating and praying, which should be basic maintenance for me.  I mean, at least five minutes a day, it’s not that hard, is it?

What’s holding me back?

Nothing.  Nothing is holding me back.  I am holding me back.  And why on earth would I do that?

Maybe I’m experiencing a little bit of dissonance.  I talked a little bit in a previous post about how we, as human beings, have a tendency to only handle the thing that is demanding the most attention at the moment.  Actually, that’s probably a trait of most living things; the difference is, human beings have the capacity to recognize that there are other things that need our attention, so we can override this tendency and focus on something else.  If we couldn’t, we would never accomplish any long-term goals.

So how do we override the tendency towards short-sightedness?  Well, I think we have to be able to mentally set priorities and make decisions based on those priorities.

Easy-peasy, right?  Not so fast…..  There has to also be congruence between what we want to believe and what we ACTUALLY believe.

For instance, when people ask me why I work out, I tell them it is because I want to be healthy, but that is only partially accurate.  I mean, in my early twenties, I used to be able to smoke a pack of cigarettes and drink for six hours straight in one night and get up and run five miles the next morning.  “For my health”.  Yeah, right.

I no longer smoke and drink, and I am much healthier and happier because of it, but being healthier and happier was not the primary reason for quitting either.  The real reason I gave up drinking was because I got to the point where I couldn’t trust myself when I drank and the real reason I gave up smoking was because I had developed asthma and had a hard time breathing some days.

The real reason I work out because I want to stay within the average to slightly above average range of what is generally acceptable to our society as far as attractiveness standards go.  Yes, I enjoy the health benefits and I have become kinder to myself as I’ve gotten older as far as making sure I am working out in a way that is healthy for me personally, but I don’t know if I’d have the wherewithall to get my butt out there to exercise on a regular basis if I didn’t have that first motive in the back of my mind.  It is the REAL, RELIABLE motivator.  Being able to say I am healthy is a side benefit, but I know that the health bit is what people like to hear, so yes, I tell people that I work out primarily for my health.

And I don’t think I am alone here… I think lots of people lie and give false primary motives for doing things, because no one wants to look shallow or careless or egotistical or whatever, or at least not overtly so.

So, you see, there’s what I show the world because it is what I am SUPPOSED to feel/believe and then there is the way things actually are in my head.  Everybody is this way to some extent, but some people are more congruent with their insides matching their outsides than others.

I would like to be more congruent, and it sounds very simple, but in reality it isn’t always.  I mean, sometimes people can have internal core beliefs that they don’t even realize they have.  For instance, a depressed person may tell themselves over and over again that life is hopeless, regardless of the face they are showing to the outside world, and they may not even be aware that they are saying this in their head.  This is why positive affirmations are so useful; it’s a way to talk back to yourself.  And if you say something often enough, it might just become true for you!

Anyways, I think that this is my dilemma with the spirituality seeking endeavor.  I feel like this should be important to me.  Okay, I don’t feel, I KNOW.  It’s important to me, and it’s important to me that I teach that to my daughter.  I know from several years in the rooms of AA that I am so much healthier/wiser/more serene when I am connected to a higher power, and I want my daughter to understand that no matter how she chooses to see God/Buddha/Allah/Gaia/whatever, it is important for her to have a relationship with that higher power.

Problem is, somewhere in my head, I’m thinking, “Yeah, yeah, but playdates/housecleaning/work/appointments/cooking/working out/blah blah blah” and there’s just no room in there for spirituality.  I am SAYING it’s important, but at the core, I’m not really BELIEVING it.

That was supposed to be the point of the blog…. To keep me on task.  But even with the blog, I still managed to sneak away from the main point with my run-ramblings diversion under the pretense of “loosening up the writing juices”, which has been great fun, but totally not on topic.  Or maybe I did need to “ramble” for a bit.

Whatever.  The point is that I acknowledge my avoidance of the original topic and I acknowledge the necessity to move forward.  At least a step, an inching forward.  And something small, something that I can’t justify worming out of.

Really, I need to be going regularly AA meetings, at least once a week, but I don’t think I’m in a place where I can make that promise and mean it right now.

So here’s a promise I can make AND keep.  I vow to meditate for five minutes every day.  I should be able to manage this pretty easily; I’ve been getting up early to work/write in the mornings sans baby daughter, so I am completely certain that I can spare five minutes of quiet to get things rolling.  Five minutes of acting “as if”, a sort of affirmation, to nudge me in the right direction.

I’m sure that this will help me figure out what step to take next.  Or, at the very least, it will give me something else to write about.  I’ll let you know.

Sunday morning run ramblings; Texas heat

Occasionally, there are days when inspiration fails.

Running solo is a special weekend treat for me, since most of my workouts these days are done with a jogging stroller.

However, my husband has some extra things going on with his work right now, which entails him being gone weekends and odd hours (which means his parenting services are unavailable during those times).

Thus, although I usually prefer to get up early and hit the trail before seven in the morning, today I ended up hitting the trail at around four in the afternoon.  This would be okay, except that I live in South Texas and it’s still around 90 degrees at the hottest part of the day.

Honestly, I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to running.  Heat greater than 80 degrees usually deters me from running outside.  So does cold less than 50 degrees.  Also, I just don’t run in winds greater than fifteen miles per hour.  Period.  Sometimes, I gauge the windiness by how far the trees are bending outside, and if I don’t like that, I don’t go.

Today, however, I thought, “But what will I write in my blog?  I feel thoughtless and uninspired.  I must run to get the creative juices flowing.”  I guess I should have considered that running in 90 degree heat might have just the opposite effect on me.   And it did.

So instead of blogging about all the wonderful thoughts I had on my run, I vow that later this week I will revisit the original focus of my blog, religion and meat (“wait, WHAT?” you ask?  You can read about it in my first post.)

And for now, here is a haiku:

Baking skin

My head pounds with each footfall

Thoughts crushed underfoot

Sunday morning run ramblings; thermostats, emails, and runaway trains

This morning I would like to talk about generational communication differences.  Well, actually let me zoom in a bit.  This morning I would like to talk about how my brain works and how that interferes with my communication.

No, let me zoom in more.  This morning I would like to talk about an argument I had with my husband last night regarding the thermostat in our house.  We can work outward from there.

Last night, my husband and I had an argument which began with what I thought was a pretty innocuous statement about how I thought we should turn the A/C down now that it’s cooler, at which my husband said “you’re impossible” and made little puffing sounds, not angrily but obviously flummoxed.  Confused, I asked what the problem was with what I had said, to which he said he had been wanting to turn the A/C down for months and that I had undermined any effort on his part to do so and turned down any suggestions to do so as well.  At that point I became a bit defensive and responded that I had no recollection of any of this.

Our discussion continued and heated until we reached a point where I think we both realized we had become reactive and not open to listening, so we mutually backed off.  Once things had cooled and I had reflected a bit, I began to really think about what I had said and done in the past few months.  I suddenly remembered that I had about a month ago changed the A/C schedule to come on more frequently at night after my daughter had seemed too hot while she was sleeping (I told my husband this but didn’t explain that she had been sweating when we woke up for night feedings).  Also, my father-in-law from Maine had been visiting for a month recently, and I had preemptively turned the thermostat down before he got here because I knew the summer heat would be uncomfortable for him (I don’t think I told my husband about this).  And I remembered several times when my husband had commented that it was cold in the house, to which I think I said “yeah, kind of”, or something to that effect (because in my mind, my daughter’s comfort is more important than ours right now since it affects how fussy she is and how well she sleeps).  It is likely that from his perspective, I just wanted it to be colder.

My husband often complains that I don’t say enough.  I don’t think he means that I don’t talk enough, because I talk plenty, but rather that I don’t say enough of what I think.  My brain is usually operating like a runaway train.  I realized long ago that to compensate, I often communicate by jumping to the conclusion without explaining how I got there, most noticeably when speaking to people.  Everybody does this to some extent, but my crazy-train-brain does it to the point that I often omit large swathes of thought processes in my language and often without me realizing I am doing it.  For this reason, I am often misunderstood when I talk to people because they are not getting complete information.  This has been something I have had to work on, particularly in professional environments, and I will probably be working on it for the rest of my life.

This is also why I like writing.  It is much easier to get everything down in writing, probably because I don’t have to do as much mental editing with writing as with speaking.  I just kind of word vomit onto the keyboard.  Also, writing actually slows me down a bit; just the act of writing forces me to take one step at a time, rather than just leaping straight to the point.

This morning, while escaping zombies on the city greenway, I was thinking about how unattractive my blog is compared to some other blogs I have perused on wordpress.  This blog is supposed to be for me, and indirectly for my daughter, so I was not initially concerned with making it readable.  I want it to be low-stress and easy to maintain, after all, my main objective in writing it is to help me to be a more thoughtful parent, wife, citizen, etc, and I don’t need pizzazz to accomplish that.  But the part of me that wants people to like me still wants it to be read.

I wouldn’t read my blog.  I mean, I’d read it if it was, maybe, wedged in the middle of a cool book on philosophy.  Chapter 19 or something.  But if I was web-surfing, there are a gazillion other blogs I would read before I would read this one.  There’s no pictures, big paragraphs, not enough humor.

I was thinking of a co-worker of mine where I used to work; he is younger than me, a millennial.  But he is also a runaway train thinker, like me.  He writes painfully long work emails, like me.  But unlike me, he includes a TLDR section at the bottom.  Too Long Didn’t Read.  A little section with all the critical information in it.

Some other people I worked with who wrote long emails would underline or highlight certain portions, as if to say, if you don’t read anything else, read the part that I am shouting at you.

This used to irk me.  If I took the time to write an email, ALL of it was important.  If you only read the critical items, you are missing out on the background, the supporting information, the WHY.

This is where I get all, like, “kids these days”.  I’m not even sure if it’s a generational thing, but it seems to be.  I mean, everyone, all human beings, tend to be more attracted to things that stand out, like pictures, humor, and bullet points.  But I feel like now, more than before, people are less willing to consider things that are not immediately attention-grabbing.

It seems like a lack of discipline.  I insist that there are things in life that are not supposed to be fun and you should embrace that or you are being immature.  My husband, who is different from me in many ways, says that is my German Catholic upbringing speaking, that I have a fatalistic take on life and believe that pain is inevitable.

Well, yes, I think that pain IS inevitable, but I don’t think that’s fatalistic.  And it’s not like I don’t think that fun is important—-I place a VERY high importance on fun.  But I believe in balance, and if you are running around having fun all the time you are probably missing out on something.

In the same way, I believe that if people are only willing to pay attention to things that are attention-grabbing, they will not get the whole picture.  I think that this is a bad thing.  Or, at least, not a good thing.  And I’m not just being curmudgeon-y, I really feel like there is a trend towards less depth in thought, less of a desire to know or understand the reasons behind things.  I’m not saying that we should all just sit around contemplating the mysteries of the universe all day, or even that we should always read really long work emails, but if we stop being willing to entertain something that is not flashy, or pay attention for just a little longer than we are comfortable with, we will lose our capacity for critical thought and innovation.

This is why I am seriously considering home-schooling or at least alternative-schooling my daughter.  I find the trend in education to focus only on meat and potatoes disturbing.  Meat and potatoes are, well…..meat and potatoes (for instance, STEM subjects), but they are not a balanced diet and will not create thoughtful, problem-solving adults.  I feel like we have relegated education to “just the stuff they HAVE to know”.  How is that education?  I argue that this is not education, but rather indoctrination.

Are all problems in the world the product of people who refuse to read long work emails?  No.  But I can’t even express my frustration when I try to teach someone something and all they want to learn is the answer.  Because when the problem comes up again, they are no more capable of solving it than they were before.

I actually had one or two teachers in college who very much taught to the test and would say things like “a + b = c, that’s all you really need to know” and when I asked why, they said “I’m not going to ask you that on the test.”  Amazing how education can become something that doesn’t really need to involve learning, just memorization.

Anyways, if you’ve read all this way, I’m probably preaching to the choir.  Thank you for reading.

Maybe I AM just curmudgeon-y and am jealous of all the young millennials running around enjoying themselves.  But in my defense, I’d like to say that I DID spend the majority of my 20s running around and “enjoying myself”, and I can honestly say things are a lot better for me now that I’ve chilled out and have become willing to do things that aren’t immediately gratifying more often.

Maybe I’m just resistant to a different perspective because I feel like it doesn’t embody the same values that I hold dear.

Or maybe the next time I’m thinking of adjusting the thermostat, I should write my intentions in an email with a TLDR section at the bottom.

Sunday morning run ramblings; into the arms of change

I am listening to the wind howling outside, sipping on a giant cup of coffee, and staring, bleary-eyed, at my computer.  Sunday mornings are usually run days, but today there is a tropical storm buffeting the coast of Texas; I am not on the coast, but close enough to the coast to get some of the outer wind and rain from the storm.  I can handle a bit of rain, but I just do not run in winds over 20 mph unless something is chasing me, so I do not feel too bad about sitting this morning run out.

This leaves me with the dilemma, though, of having to come up with blog-fodder without the stimulation that sweat and a pounding heart can bring forth.  I got up very early this morning so that I could take care of some work and decided it was also a prime time to write in my daughter’s journal.  I do not write in it nearly as often as I’d like, since my journaling sessions generally don’t go less than an hour and a half, but I try to get to it a few times a month.

I also try not to sit down with any set-in-stone ideas about what I am going to write.  I try to take a very “channeling the spirit” approach, beginning with a thought or an idea and just letting the rest take shape by itself.  It turns a bit preachy at times, but the point isn’t to be preachy, just to pass on personal knowledge, to try to provide insight that I had to get the hard way, or to give her some guideposts that might be specific to her personality, since she may take after me a bit (heaven help me!).

I started off telling her how fussy she has been lately…. This is not so that I can point to it when she is older for a good guilt trip…. It’s just been an overarching theme in our lives for the last week.  I theorize that she is ready to walk, has been for several weeks now, but is not for whatever reason.  Perhaps she hasn’t mastered the muscle skills yet, but I think it might just be a confidence issue.  I think that it is frustrating to her, this inherent understanding that something new should be happening but it isn’t yet.

I went on to write about how this has happened often in my life, how I have learned, the hard way, of course, that change is usually something that is going to happen whether or not you want it to, and it will overtake you whether you fight it tooth and nail or surrender to it gracefully.  I can count multiple times that I have gone the kicking and screaming route, draining myself of energy that could have been used in much better ways, determined for some unknown reason to resist with all my being.  I have two traits that I think have affected how I react to change.  One, I am not open to new experiences (that’s actually one of five basic personality traits on a personality test).  Two, I am very stubborn and don’t like to be told what to do.

Thus, I have been less than graceful in the past at accepting change.  Basically, I have often waited until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.  But I have learned, I hope, from these experiences….. I can tell when I am ready for change because I become anxious, irritable, restless… It’s as if I no longer fit into my own skin.  If I choose to fight change and prolong the process, I will remain in this anxious, irritable, restless state indefinitely, until I am forced to relent or the change just takes over completely without my cooperation.

But if I recognize this signpost early, I can start taking baby steps towards the change.  It is not always comfortable, but it gives me some modicum of control and allows me time to adjust as needed and embrace the change as it is coming.  It is a much more relaxing way of doing things.

As I was writing all this in my daughter’s journal, I started thinking about how this translates to the human race in general.  I have often lamented the way we seem to prefer to do things: take action only when something has become an emergency, avoid prevention, wait for someone else to take the lead, waste all our energy on fires so we are too burned out to handle long-term problems.

I have worked in organizations that run on this mentality.  It is nightmarish.

My being a product of the society I was raised in, it is counterintuitive for me to look forward and begin walking towards change before It is thrust upon me.  And as finite creatures, I can see the merit in waiting/fighting change.  There are only so many hours in the day, only so much energy we have to use, only so many things we can focus on at once.  Along that vein, it makes sense to wait to pay attention to something until it has become an acute problem.  But sometimes I wonder if things might actually be the other way around.  That the reason we don’t pay attention to something until it is an acute problem is because we choose to spread ourselves so thin that we can’t afford to pay attention to anything that is NOT an acute problem.

The world is moving pretty fast these days, and continues to move exponentially faster as the population grows and technology advances.  I think it is human nature to want to push our limits, to want to do more, be more, understand more.  And that’s all well and good.  What bothers me is when we get trapped running in circles.  When doing more becomes an ends instead of a means to an end.  When we become convinced that we must do more and have more just because.  Because we’re supposed to.

Watching the world around me, I feel a sense of collective anxiety, irritation, and restlessness.  Like we’ve kind of missed the point and we know that we have, but we don’t want to recognize it because that would mean that we would have to change.  That’s the problem with change, even if it is change for the better, it is often not welcome because it is uncomfortable, not to mention it suggests that there is something wrong or not as good with the way things already are.

I think this is why there is such a market for self-help and mindfulness and meditation and yoga these days.  Goodness knows I have entire days when I continually have to remind myself just to be present.  The fever pitch of life sometimes makes me feel like I am just throwing things into a void into a vain attempt to feel “okay”, and it never really works, or it never really sticks, anyway.  I feel a recurring urge to throw away my smartphone and destroy my clothes and junk my car and go and live in a commune, and I don’t think I am the only one.  There is a part of me that knows that somethings wrong and that change will become necessary one day.  But I am still waiting, waiting for the moment that change becomes easier, and who knows when that will be or how bad things will be by then.

This all sounds pretty apocalyptic, but please understand, I am not a doomsday prepper, just someone who’s always had a guilty conscience but didn’t really worry about it until I had a daughter.  She is the reason that I want to embrace change sooner rather than later.  She is the reason I blog.  Which isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing.  Maybe it is the first step towards surrendering… with grace.

Sunday morning run ramblings

I haven’t been writing much on this blog; I could list excuses, but really, I think I painted myself into a corner by making things more complicated than they have to be (a pretty common problem for me).  So I’m taking a break from my ever-so-well-thought-out-but-too-much-of-a-pain-to-execute format to start a new portion on my blog, which I choose to call Sunday morning run ramblings.

Most of my working out these days is done with a jogging stroller and a bunch of mommies, but some weekend mornings, usually Sundays, I leave my husband and daughter sleeping in bed and get out before the sunrise to go for a five mile run on one of the beautiful greenways In our city—solo.  While I’d like to say I do nothing but commune with nature on these runs, the truth is I very much miss my heart-pounding running playlist (after all, I mostly listen to children’s music these days), so I use these morning runs to catch up on my Zombies Run episodes and listen to techno and/or industrial music.   Despite the welcome chaos in my earbuds, though, during these runs my mind wanders aimlessly and serenely—the best conditions for deep thoughts and aha moments.

Which is why I think this is the best way to get the writing gears churning again—by writing without pretense and just laying honest thoughts on the page.  I’m hoping this will inspire some more focused writing in the future.  I may have to write before I shower next time, though, as I feel the water has already sapped the inspiration from my brain, which is quickly re-filling itself with to-do lists, appointment reminders, and planning agendas.  But I think I still have some of the thoughts from this morning to share….

What I’d like to talk about is zero-sum versus win-win situations as they pertain to solutions to racial inequality (or just all inequality in general).  I have been watching world events with an increasing sense of dread lately, as I’m sure have many others, and wondering what kind of world my daughter will be growing up in.  It’s not that I didn’t know that there was still bigotry in the world, or that there are still great injustices being done regularly to all minority groups.  It’s just that I always had the sense (maybe naively?) that we were at least heading in the right direction as far as these things were concerned.  After all, marginalization has been going on for as long as history, it’s not like equality is going to happen overnight, right?  I do realize that I am lucky enough to have been born in the United States to middle class parents with mostly Caucasian genetics.  I am largely protected from the consequences of prejudice and marginalization, and I didn’t even really understand that until I had already been navigating the world as a young adult for a while, which shows you just how protected I was.  I am a woman, which has on occasion afforded me the opportunity to see bias in action on the receiving end, although I wasn’t even really able to recognize that for what it was until much later in life.

What bothers me most, the way recent events have been unfolding, is seeing the fear that pervades equality issues, on both sides (sorry to sound like Trump…. I said FEAR, not VIOLENCE).  The majority, white men, are fearful of losing what they have.  Generally speaking, white men make more money, have more education and career opportunities, and generally maintain a bigger foothold in most fields than anyone else.  I think that any kind of supremacists are abhorrent, and to say that they all follow their ideology because of one thing would be an oversimplification, but I think it’s important to try to dig to the root of what they want and why they want it.  I think that the majority group is afraid of not being the majority anymore BECAUSE it means that they lose something.  They lose power.  They lose the ability to protect themselves and their families.  They lose economic stability.

Minorities are also afraid, inversely, of not gaining what they do not have.  I should put in a disclaimer that I strongly support affirmative action as a means to boost minority presence in schools and workplaces (we can’t just grant equality with a magic wand), but by the same token, I see why people might have a beef with it.  If a minority applicant is not as qualified as a non-minority applicant, is it really fair that the non-minority has to lose out based on their race/gender?   By this argument, we are working with affirmative action under the premise that in order for minorities to gain a seat at the school/workplace, they have to TAKE it from someone who is a non-minority.

This is all probably old hat to everyone, but the reason this bothers me so much is because so many people are working under the assumption that there has to be a winner and a loser.  Someone has to win, and in order for that to happen, someone has to lose.  Just look at what a divisive sentence that is.  It implies that we are not all playing on the same team.  The majority says, “Hey, they want to REMOVE us.  We can’t have that.”  And the minority says “That’s right, some of you are going to have to MOVE OVER to make room for us.”

I wish more people were saying, “How can we make room for everyone?”  I don’t think that it is impossible to make room for everyone, but it has become impossible for most people to think in those terms because our capitalist society has created an environment where the American dream has been twisted from “you can all have your own stuff” to “if you bust your ass you can get ahead of everybody else and if you don’t you’re not going to have squat”.

Okay, so the gap between the rich and poor getting bigger is nothing new to everyone either probably, but I don’t see why more people aren’t drawing a connection between income inequality to inequality in all other areas.

We’ve created a society where yes, you have the freedom to chase happiness, but you also have to be able to pay for it.  Being successful often costs money because we have stopped investing in our collective future under the guise of everyone pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps— We all love a good rags to riches story, and those stories do exist (we eat them up!), but the reality is if I am a marginalized member of society, I am more likely to be poor, and if I am poor, I am less likely to be able to afford school, and the less likely I am to be able to afford school, the more likely I am to have more children and those children are less likely to get a good education and more likely to get involved in crime and etc., etc.

No wonder everyone is so afraid.  When you have to be a winner or else you’re a loser, you become much more likely to push someone over and steal their lunch money to get what you need.

This is not new either.  I first started thinking about it when I read it in Richard Weiner’s “The Geography of Happiness” in his section on Iceland.  He said Icelanders are happier in general because unlike Americans, they believe it is better for everybody to suffer a little bit than for a few to suffer a lot.  Americans would much rather have winners and losers.  If somebody else is suffering, well, it’s not my problem, and they probably deserved it anyways.

You may think I am not patriotic, but that is not true.  I love that our country was founded on the ideals of equality and freedom.  Mind you, it was founded by white men who believed in equality and freedom for white men, but I think that the founding fathers would extend that to everybody else if they were alive today, to reflect the changing of the times, or I hope they would anyways.  That’s what I love this country for.  What I don’t love is the fact that we continue to think in these stunted, limited terms.

There is enough for everybody, if we would just stop and think about how to share everything; but instead of learning how to be more efficient, how to share resources, how to include everyone rather than just the people that live in our gated communities, we waste all our energy trying to figure out how to win.

Just look at our government today; partisan politics, winners and losers.   It just totally freaks me out.  We may as well have two countries, because if everything that happens is going to completely satisfy one group and royally piss off another one, I don’t think we’re going to last very long as “United States”.

And yes, this is what I think about while I’m fight zombies for Abel Township and listening to dubstep.

Looking forward to the next run!

Finding the Spirit

Spirituality.  That’s what I want to begin with. Well, to be completely honest, I have cheated and have begun to focus on two topics concurrently, the first being spirituality, and the second being eating meat or animal by-products, but for the sake of staying on one topic at a time (for this post, at least), I will focus on spirituality.  I know I’m starting out with a highly personal issue, so I’d like to emphasize that my end goal is not to come up with the right answer, but to come up with the right answer FOR ME AND MY FAMILY.  Even if I accomplish that, it will be a living, dynamic solution that changes as I grow and change (I hope).

As I mentioned before, my first task for any given topic is to hash out what my current thoughts are and how I came to feel the way that I do.  So, as far as spirituality goes, when people ask me what I believe, I provide the vague classification of “spiritual but not religious”.  I know this probably sounds like a cop-out, but I prefer it over saying that I am agnostic, because I feel like saying I am agnostic implies a willingness to believe in a higher power but no current relationship with one.  I do have a relationship with a higher power; it is not consistent nor do I completely understand it or even try to define it.  It just is, and when I am tending to it, it provides me with nourishment and serenity, and when I am not tending to it, I generally feel like I am drifting afloat and alone in the world.

As with many people, my thoughts on spirituality come from a mish-mash of personal experiences, life lessons, and outside influences.  I did not grow up in a particularly religious household; my father was Lutheran (but not really practicing; he claimed he did not need a church to worship), and my mother was Catholic (and only intermittently practicing).  My earliest religious education consisted of saying my bedtime prayers (in German and English, since my mother was German) and not much else.  My dad was in the Army, and I think this may have had a hand in why my mother did not start dragging me to Catholic Mass until I was a bit older (maybe six or seven?)  We moved a few times early on, and I don’t really remember going to church much until we settled in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

I wish I could say I vividly recall my earliest church memories, but they all kind of blend together for me.  I vaguely remember participating in my first Communion after attending a Sunday school class for a while, but I recall what I was wearing better than the actual event.  I didn’t have a white dress, so my mother had paired a hastily purchased white shirt with pearl-colored beads all over the front with a white pleated skirt. Amazing the things we remember…

We did not attend Mass every Sunday and we did some church-hopping.  My favorite (and my mother’s favorite) church was in Bisbee, about 45 minutes away, where Father James, an affable Irish priest, gave uplifting and humorous sermons.  Once Father James left, we stopped going to Bisbee.  Around that time I was old enough for Confirmation, which was when my mother said I could choose whether I wanted to commit to being a Catholic or not.  I felt zero loyalty to Catholicism and was relieved to have a way out.  It was a no-brainer for me.

In school, I occasionally ran across some devoutly religious families, which mostly just fostered the beginnings of a deep-seated dislike for religion.  One of my earliest memories of feeling distanced from religion is from 4th grade, when my best friend’s Baptist parents insisted that unicorns were of the Devil but would not explain why.  I was really into unicorns at the time (I was 11….of course I was into unicorns!), and I was very disappointed to hear my beloved unicorns being bashed, not to mention defensive of the unicorn posters hanging in my bedroom.  My best friend was irritated by my attitude but seemed to be at a loss to explain her parents’ stance.  I pointed out that in the last book of the Narnia chronicles, which we were both huge fans of and which she claimed was really about God (God being the lion Aslan in the series), there was a unicorn and he was on the good side.  It was like arguing with a brick wall; all I got was the sense that I was bad and wrong and shouldn’t ask questions.

I had a few more experiences similar to this.  By the time I was 16, I wanted nothing to do with religion—more accurately, by then, I wanted nothing to do with anything that other people told me I should do or believe.  I had blossomed from a quiet, meek, nerdy kid into a full-blown hellion.  The story of the aimless rebellion of my late teen years goes well outside the scope of this blog; the important take-away from that time in my life is that this attitude towards religion would persist well through my early adulthood and still has an effect on how I look at religion and spirituality today.

I am an alcoholic.  The story of that is also outside of the scope of this blog (for now, anyways); the important take-away from my alcoholism is that I got sober through a twelve step program which necessitated that I develop some kind of relationship with a higher power.  In order to do that, I had to at least superficially evaluate what I didn’t like or accept about what I thought God was as well as whether there was a version of God that I could like and accept.  I had to sort of quarantine my negative spiritual experiences and look through my life to find inklings of positive ones.  This was actually surprisingly easy to do, since my vehement dislike of religion had kind of mellowed over the years (I was in my early thirties by then).

Exposure to many influences, people, and places had convinced me to reframe my feelings towards religion from hostility to a sort of wary tolerance.  I still did not want to label myself as belonging to a religion, but I became okay with playing audience to certain religious attitudes.  I had read several spiritual books that felt like truth to me.  Richard Bach’s One and Illusions were like personal Bibles to me (I actually compulsively, almost evangelically, would loan out the book One to people, complete with my highlights, but I would never get the copy back, so I would have to re-buy another copy and re-highlight that, only to “loan” it out again… I probably did that more than ten times).  Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior series resonated with me, as well as Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins.   Also, being in the military for many years, I fortunately met some devoutly religious but very down-to-earth, funny, and tolerant people who did not make me want to run screaming in the other direction when they talked about their beliefs.

By the time I had to formulate my own idea of God, I already had a pretty good list of characteristics that I thought it/he/she would possess.  And, interestingly enough, once I ditched the ideas of God that were repulsive to me and adopted the ones that were attractive, I actually wanted to have a relationship with it/him/her.  I use the term God loosely here; I used to be averse to even using the name “God” because of the traditional images it conjures.  However, I find that it’s much easier to say “God” than try to invent a label less loaded with preconceived notions when conversing about spirituality (although I did go through a period where I tried out all kinds of different names to pray to, i.e. Divine Creator, Divine Force, Master Intelligence, the Great Good, Mother Earth).  Anyhow, thus ended my refusal to pray or meditate and the beginnings of a real relationship with a higher power.  I could no longer deny that a higher power was at work in my life, because it totally worked.  Prayer and meditation WORKED.  Not in a way that I could scientifically quantify and show to you, but in a way that gave peace and direction to my life that wasn’t there before.

So, why is spirituality still an issue for me?  Well, first of all, as I said, I am not consistent in my relationship with a higher power.  I feel that it is vital to show my daughter that spirituality is an important part of life, but it’s hard to do that if I am not consistent with it.  Also, how do I teach spirituality to a child in terms that are as vague as the ones I have chosen to define it?  I don’t care if she ultimately decides to be Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Pagan, or even an atheist, as long as she has the exposure, the education, and the spiritual guidance to listen to her own moral compass and make an informed and heartfelt decision.

Me, I believe that there are many paths to truth and none have to be mutually exclusive.  I think that the idea that there are winners and losers in spirituality (i.e. heaven and hell) is a uniquely human idea—mankind has a hard time imagining a world in which everyone can be right and everyone can be happy.  If one person is right, someone else has to be wrong.  I say that’s baloney.  I have learned to respect religion for what I believe it is, which is a tool to get people closer to their idea of God (or whatever you choose to call it/him/her).  What gets YOU closer to your higher power may be toxic for ME, or vice versa, but that’s ok, because we can each choose the path that works for us individually.  I think that none of us can really be certain of anything in the spiritual realm except for what our inner compass is telling us, and if my inner compass is telling me something different than yours is telling you, it doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong, just that how I interpret the truth might be different than how you would.

I’m not really sure that I need to go out and commit to a religion to be effective in teaching my daughter what I want her to learn;  maybe I should take her church-hopping, or maybe I should just try to expose her to different ideas through books and media.  What I do know is that I feel like I am not in the best place to make a decision on a course of action.  I have not exposed myself to enough belief systems, I have not asked enough questions, and I have not kept up with my own practices and standards.  I’ve never even read the Bible, and that in and of itself seems like a pretty daunting task to undertake without a guide.

Truth be told, I’m fairly certain that if I am seeking spiritual truth in the right way, I will never run out of questions and may even become more unsteady on my spiritual path.  But I don’t want to tell my daughter that she has to explore and seek truth and follow her own heart if I haven’t done a thorough job of it myself; no one wants to listen to a hypocrite!

I don’t have a game plan, but I do have books, religious friends, lots of churches/synagogues/temples in the city I live in, and a pretty darn good reason to get out there and start learning, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.   I have a few leads already, so we’ll see where they take me…I’ll let you know after I get there!

The Beginning

I don’t know where to start.  I guess I should start off by explaining why I want to start a blog.  My reasons are largely selfish.  I am a fairly new stay-at-home mom, and I need something adult to do in between peek-a-boos and itsy bitsy spiders.  Also, I have a daughter now.  There are many things I want to teach her, but mostly I feel a strong need to be a positive role model in her life.  I have not always been the most motivated person.  Sure, my prior workmates will all tell you I have a good work ethic and try to do a quality job when something needs to be done.   But I also never had a problem with playing video games all weekend.  I might feel a little guilty, sure, but not guilty enough to do something different.

Now, I feel a sudden urgency to do the things I have always wanted to but never got around to.  Not that I don’t want to have fun, oh no…. I want to make sure that little girl of mine knows how to enjoy life and live a life of balance.  But I also want her to know that it is important to pursue one’s ideals.  It is not enough to look at the world around you and be able to point at all of the things you don’t like about it; I truly believe that in order to engage in life, to experience life fully, and to be most at peace with yourself, you have to try to live life as you would want life to be.

If I am going to teach her the things I want her to learn, I am going to have to walk the walk before I talk the talk.  I am starting this blog to address the dissonance I often feel between my thoughts and my actions.  I like to think that I am a rational, forward-thinking individual and yet I often feel like a spectator in the world rather than a participant.   I form strong opinions about things but sometimes wonder how educated my opinions really are.  Also these strong opinions often do not match up with the way I live my life nor do I often take action to affect change in areas where I might be able to have an influence.

There are probably several reasons for this.  First, I am busy living my life; I have been and still am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend, a student, a career-woman, a recovering alcoholic, a poet, a music-lover, a pet-owner, a housekeeper, a runner….. I could go on and on but you probably get the point, and you probably empathize.  Many of us are trying to be a little bit of everything these days.  Some are a little bit of everything and still manage to be movers and shakers in the world.  Perhaps they are not as lazy as I am… who knows?  The point is that it is difficult to know where to throw in time and effort when you are already being pulled in so many directions at once.  I suspect (although I can’t be sure) that this is why many people feel strongly about certain things but never seem to DO anything about it.  We are all hoping some kind of full-time activist will swoop in and take care of that for us, because we certainly don’t have time.

That piece about it being difficult to know where to throw in support is another part of the problem.  There are SO many issues that I feel strongly about, want to learn more about, and want to do something about, that I often throw up my hands and think “where on earth would I start?”  Choosing my battles has never been my strong suit, and in this context it is paralyzing.  In psychology, there is a study-supported phenomenon in which having more choices is NOT a good thing.  For instance, having the option to choose among five flavors of ice cream generally makes people happier than only having one.  So more is better, right?  Wrong… there is a point of diminishing returns at which more options make people less happy.  Fifty flavors of ice cream can be completely paralyzing.  How on earth is someone supposed to choose from that many?  If a person does settle on one, it is likely that they will second guess themselves and feel buyer’s remorse, thinking how much better it might have been if they chose something else.

Lastly, there is a sense of impotence in the face of the problems of the world.  Everyone has a critical voice in their head; mine can be absolutely ruthless sometimes.  It is constantly telling me why I should not pursue anything worthwhile.  What could I possibly do to make anything better?  I am small and insignificant.  My efforts will be futile.  I have no original thoughts.  People will LAUGH at me.

I have now outlined all the reasons (excuses) why I don’t act more in a manner that is in line with my beliefs and morals.   I want to go beyond critical thinking and go into critical decision-making and critical acting.  My goal within this blog is to inform my beliefs and outline all the ways I CAN act more in a manner that is in line with these beliefs.  That is the purpose of this blog.  Remember the fifty flavors of ice cream?  My intention is to go down the line and consider each of the flavors, as it were.  The nice thing about this is that I will probably never run out of things to write about and if I need to stay on one topic longer than the others I can do that.

There is a sort of format I wish to follow:

  • First, I will introduce the topic that I am struggling with and state my current thoughts/beliefs on the matter and how I came to those conclusions. I will also explain what I do or (more likely) do not do to support these thoughts/beliefs.
  • After that, I will research the topic to answer my own questions regarding how I really feel about it and how to act based on my beliefs. For example, how easy would it be to be proactive about supporting that belief?  What are small things I could do in my day-to-day life to support that belief?  After weighing the options, is this a belief that I feel I can put my energy into or is the cost to high… or is it not worth enough to me?
    • Most importantly, is this a belief that I want to continue to have? I am not closed to the idea that in researching a specific topic I may find that I change my mind about it…. I am certainly not an expert in all things.  I think it is very sad that in our society we so often see changing one’s mind as a sign of weakness.  I get that we want our leaders to be solid, to be unwavering in their beliefs.  However, it is incredibly foolish to throw out new information just because it doesn’t match one’s current beliefs.  I hope I can avoid making that mistake.
  • Finally, I will present and commit t a plan of action (or a plan not to take action) to support my beliefs.

It sounds terribly boring when I lay it out that way.  My husband would probably say at this point that I am being a control freak about my blog. So be it.  I need to be a control freak in the planning stages to be ok with moving forward.  I can assure you, I am not such a control freak in many other areas of my life, as you will soon find out.  I am fully prepared to break format or go off on a tangent if I feel it is necessary to get closer to achieving my goal of belief/action congruence.

I have to throw in a warning here, I was a psychology (and criminology) major when I recently finished my Bachelor’s Degree, and was simultaneously impressed and depressed by what I learned about the inner workings of the human mind; for this reason, you will see a lot of references to psychology peppered throughout this blog.  I do not claim to be an expert on the subject matter, but I am certain some things that I internalized in that course of study will be highly relevant to the topics I plan to discuss.

Before I begin, I’d like to pre-emptively thank anyone who is considering accompanying me on my journey; you will keep me honest!  And so, here we go…..