The Happiness Manifesto Blog

How I Beat the Living Hell Out of Suffering and Made It My Bitch

Archive for the tag “acceptance”

Inside Out

So, probably at least partially due to the sacral chakra sledgehammering, I have been taking a long, hard look at some self/body image issues.  Yes, I’ve had them.  Most of us probably have, to some extent.  But as “sledgehammering” implies, I haven’t been dealing with a sigh-in-the-mirror type of reaction – I’ve been calling it “there was a f**k-up in the soul-depositing factory on the day I was made.”  So… pretty hardcore discrepancies between what I feel like on the inside and what I look like on the outside.  And I knew these feelings were resurfacing and running me through the mud for a reason.  Cue the major insight music!

You see, despite these major discrepancies, I have not gone the route of body modification.  Of any kind.  There have been no surgeries.  I have no tattoos.  The only piercings I have are one in each earlobe.  I’ve never even dyed my hair… and except for hunting-and-pecking for split ends, it hasn’t been cut since I was nine years old.  The extent of my makeup inventory is a stick of eyeliner… that I don’t even wear most days.  I neither lie in a tanning bed nor paint myself a chemical shade of orange (I’m so pale I practically glow in the dark).  Basically… I am au naturel.  What you see is the way I was made.  It’s not what is on the inside, but it is the way I was made.

It is weird, despite the disparity between my “inside” and my “outside,” that I never tried to make the outside match more.  Certainly many, if not most folks do, to some extent or another.  But it has always seemed – and this was part of the insight tonight, why it bothered me so much when I thought about doing it – to me, at least, a violation of self.

Now let me clarify.  I take no issue with other people engaging in body modification.  I’ve seen plenty of piercings and ink that I thought looked great on the person who had them, and many folks who got a boost of happiness and/or self-confidence with their newly-dyed tresses.  If it makes you happy, go for it.  More power to you.  I am not at all saying that it bothers me to see *others* change their outside to better match their inside.  And certainly for the more serious changes – transitioning surgery for transgendered folks kind of serious – if that gives you peace with yourself for the first time in your life, by all means – be happy.  Please do.  But when I considered various changes that would better reflect my inside on my outside, on a personal basis, I always had this rather viseral reaction of revulsion.  Like, made-me-shudder-to-think-about-it disgust.  And I never knew why that was.  I have spent many nights in abject misery, wallowing in the it’s-not-fair bog of self-loathing, and yet I just couldn’t do it.  I just have always felt that somehow, the modification would bother me more than the original misalignment.

It finally came to me that that wretched feeling was a feeling of violation.  The violation of self.  I couldn’t modify my outside because I felt that would be violating it – violating me, somehow.  That seemed like a rather arbitrary assessment, in the that’s-not-very-rational sense, until the latter part of the insight came: because seeking inner peace by aligning my outside to my inside was going about it wrong.  Happiness, inner peace, and calm don’t come from external forces – at least not if you want them to stick.  You may get a shopping high when you buy some new gadget or gizmo, but that high doesn’t last forever.  You can’t force happiness by shoving it through your pores with acquired goods.  Would finally owning my own home (if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know I’m a little obsessed with that idea) make me happy?  Absolutely.  Would it solve all my problems in the world so that I had no more reasons to be sad?  Decidedly not.  A new house wouldn’t be a replacement for a new friend, or fulfilling my higher calling, or any number of not-stuff things that rank much higher on the happiness scale.  My body matching my mind (if that was even possible) might make me smile when I looked in the mirror or give me more confidence when dealing with others, but I would never be truly free of the limitations of the physical self if I aimed to modify it instead of my inner self.  It would be like chasing my own tail (no, I do not have a tail – but you dog people and cat people know what I’m talking about).  Why waste energy chasing after something that is already a part of me?

I am what I am.  My inside is what it is.  My soul and my mind will be what they are no matter what my body looks like.  Maybe people won’t relate to me the way I would like, because they are going on my outward appearance rather than my inward reality… but that happens anyway, and frankly, those aren’t the relationships we should be worrying about.  I don’t want shallow relationships with people who look only at my cover and not the inner chapters of self.  The person who takes the time to read those chapters is going to know me, whether my cover reflects that or not.  My inner self is incorruptible.  Fixating on the exterior is tilting at windmills.

The foreman at the soul-depositing factory is off the hook.

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Working On Forgiveness

We’ve all heard some variation of the idea that holding a grudge is hurting ourselves rather than the person we’re angry at, right?  We understand, logically, that getting ourselves worked up does not make the offender feel bad (especially since most of the time they’re unaware that we’re worked up, or why), and having an internal dialogue full of “GRRR!” and “RAWR!” not only does nothing to solve the problem, but doesn’t even make us feel better – usually it just serves to inflate our anger.  So those of us that are on this path and trying to better ourselves are usually working on forgiving those that have hurt us, and letting go of grudges.  Sounds like a great idea!

But there’s a key point: we’re working on it.  Now I don’t mean to say that if you haven’t achieved total forgiveness of everyone who has wronged you, you’re doing it wrong.  On the contrary.  I think we’re working too hard.  Let me explain.

If you’re working on something, you’re thinking about it, right?  Whether that thing is a project, dinner, or A Book, you have to be actively thinking about it in order to work on it.  So… in working on forgiveness, we’re… dwelling on the thing that hurt us.

And that is just about exactly what we don’t want to do.

Law of attraction time!  What you think about is what you attract, right?  So why the hell are we thinking so hard about things that have hurt us, in an effort to let those things go?  That’s not letting them go, that’s letting them take up residence in our minds.

But Wren!  I hear you say.  We need to process the hurt in order to let it go!

Yeah, yeah, okay.  At a certain point, you do.  As I’ve said, I do not advocate plastering on a fake smile and pretending that nothing is wrong when your insides are doing their finest impersonation of paper in a cross-cut shredder.  But eventually, you’ll have all the insights you’re going to have on the subject, and dwelling on it further is just rubbing salt in the wound.  Or lemon juice.  Or anti-bacterial gel.  Because holy hell does that stuff sting when you’ve got a cut on your hand, no?

Nor does this apply necessarily to hurts in order.  Sometimes the most recent hurts are the easiest to let go; sometimes the old ones are.  Sometimes you can say, yeah, that was a long time ago, and it can’t hurt me anymore.  Goodbye!  And sometimes those are the ones that thirty years later will whack you upside the head so hard cartoon birds will be singing in your ears from the sudden shock.  I’m not saying there are hard-and-fast rules, here.  But we shouldn’t be defining ourselves by our hurts; we shouldn’t be labeling ourselves a victim; we shouldn’t play over and over again past tragedies on repeat in our minds.  Nor, for that matter, should we wish to make ourselves martyrs.  I think God’s got enough of those, don’t you?  He is not asking you to suffer needlessly for some Greater Good.  What greater purpose could be served by you living a life of fear and anguish?

So… if you discover some old, heretofore unexplored specimen that reveals some insight into Why You Are The Way You Are, great.  Self-realization is a fabulous thing.  But then I don’t want you to make it Your Project to study the hell out of it like a scholar with the Dead Sea Scrolls – see what it had to teach you, appreciate it, and keep the lesson, not the hurt (and by “lesson,” I don’t mean keep the lesson that your mom calling you fat when you were ten means that you have to obsess over your weight now and for the rest of your life – I mean, keep the lesson that sometimes things we didn’t realize the origins of (obsession with weight) have a very discoverable source, and don’t define us.  We can let them go, because our mother’s judgement all those years ago was hers, not ours).  Let the hurt evaporate like morning dew under the bright sun.

And don’t, for the love of God, go around patting yourself on the back about What A Big Person You Are for no longer being angry at whoever the perpetrator of that past hurt was; that’s making yourself a martyr.  Don’t believe me?  You’re thinking of yourself as saintly for enduring cruelty at the hands of the unenlightened from your place of Spiritual Greatness – isn’t that, essentially, martyrdom?

OK, you say, I got it.  I’ll just let go all those times someone hurt me, and not think on it anymore.  I’m done!

But wait, there’s more!

I was thinking on this very subject the other day in response to a friend on some message boards online, and her comments made me have a realization of my own: there is no finish line to forgiveness.

Yup.  It’s unlikely that you’re going to forgive someone for something, and then cross them off your list, like a to-do for inner peace.  Maybe you forgive your mom for calling you fat when you were ten.  You let go the notions you carried all these years about weight.  You think you’re done forgiving Mom.  You cross her off your list.  But then – shock! – a year later, you remember some other comment of hers that altered your world, and you find her square in your “working on” area again.

I do not then want you going through your mental catalog of Mom Comments, searching for any and all instances of How She Messed You Up, so you can thoroughly and completely forgive her, and be done with it.  You’re not going to find them all!  And then you’ve spent all that time (and perhaps therapy) rehashing every not-so-nice comment she ever made, essentially re-flogging yourself, in pursuit of some “finish line” that doesn’t exist.

We’re humans.  We’re messy.  We don’t stay within the lines.

I have a person (who shall remain nameless) that I’ve got a catalog of instances like the Mom Comments in my example above, who I’ve been “working on” forgiving.  I felt like I was “making progress,” and was going through the catalog, page by page, banishing those “lessons” from my psyche that no longer served me.  It’s great that I let those things go.  But was I serving myself by examining things that didn’t need to be examined?  Do you enjoy unnecessary, invasive medical examinations?  Didn’t think so.

It wasn’t until I gained the perspective of that person as just a human – a weak human, sure, but a human – instead of some large, looming monster lurking in my closet at night, waiting to pounce – that a much larger shift began to take place.  I turned on the proverbial light, and saw that this person was just a shadow, not a monster.

When you’ve got someone that has made such an impact on your life such that they are a huge, powerful creature in your head – it’s a bit of a different animal to forgive.  It’s unlikely you’re dealing with one issue, which you can forgive and forget.  You’re likely dealing with patterns and behaviors – theirs and yours.  But when you realize they’re just a messed up human, and can see all those individual instances of pain add up to a pattern of behavior because they’re messed up too, suddenly they don’t loom so large.  They shrink in your psyche.  They become… spirit.

Because we’re all spirits!  We’re all spirits having an in-body experience.  Sometimes we mess up in this grand experiment called life, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that a person’s spirit, their essence, is “evil”.  I don’t care what they’ve done.  They could be the most evil SOB ever to grace the planet – something made them that way.  Maybe it was ignorance, their own hurt, delusions, or some combination thereof.  I don’t think when they die, they’ll still be the same.  I don’t think, in spirit, racists will be racists, or there will be religious intolerance.  Because when we’re all spirit, there is no race – and I seriously doubt there is a Protestant/Catholic, Jewish/Palestinian line in the sand in the afterlife.  Do you?

When you look at the people that hurt you as just little spirits, same as you, they are no longer big scary monsters out to get you.  They are just humans who messed up.  Maybe you don’t think they are just awesome now, but what they did no longer looms so large.  Thinking of them does not produce the same anger or hurt that it once did.  You are no longer punishing yourself for once being hurt.

And that, my friend, is pretty darn good work.

The Best of All Possible Worlds

For those of you familiar with The Law of Attraction, you know what I’m talking about when I say sometimes it feels “forced.”  I feel a little Candide in me, repeating over and over again that I Live In The Best Of All Possible Worlds, until I truly believe it.  Kind of like when you’re in a foul mood, and if you force yourself to smile, even if you don’t feel it at first, the physical act triggers the emotional feelings that normally accompany a smile (science!).  Some days, when it’s feeling forced, I can get over myself and just keep at it, confident that it does indeed work (it does).  Other days, I’ve got my grump on and I feel like I’m allowed to be grumpy today, godd***it!

When I’m having one of those “Get off my lawn!” days, once I have reveled in my pissed-offedness like a rebellious teenager and can see the path I’m headed down, I try to step outside of myself and look.  First, examine the little things that are teeing me off.  If I was in a good mood, would that really piss me off or be laughed off?  If the latter is the answer, then I have to look for the real reason for the grump.  I try to think of the possible logical reasons why I’m grumpy.  Is my blood sugar low?  Am I sleep deprived?  After so many years of dealing with those issues, I darn well know they can tank a mood faster than you can blink.  Sometimes the solution is as simple as eating a balanced meal.

But sometimes, it’s more deep-seated than that – especially for those of us who very purposefully are examining ourselves, our presumptions, our sense of self, our beliefs, etc., on a mission, as it were, to grow and better ourselves and by extension, the world around us; releasing thought patterns and learned behaviors that no longer serve us (and shedding physical manifestations of that baggage, to boot).  Sometimes, we unearth an old wound that we weren’t even aware of before – not consciously, anyway – and much like any wound, it festers unnoticed until pain elicits us to examine it.

Sometimes, that stubborn insistence of our right to be angry is the pain radiating from that wound we didn’t know was there.

It’s amazing how often I’ve discovered one of those old wounds, and upon examining it, gotten some message from the Universe relating to that very topic, seemingly out of the blue.  In my last post (linked above), I wrote about what I was feeling in the moment before I had had the “aha!” insight.  Shortly thereafter, while in tears to be perfectly honest, I got a message relating to that very thing that was so clear and blatant it couldn’t have been any more obvious if God had whacked me over the head with a baseball bat.  So there I was, having a low point, and I still got the positive response.  However, I was at the low point because I was “detoxing,” as it were.  For any of you who have done or have looked into doing a cleanse or otherwise detoxing, you’ve heard that as your body releases the old, stored toxins, sometimes it can cause what is known as a “health crisis” – that is, you feel sick from the icky things working their way through your system, but will be better off in the end as they will no longer be inside you to harm you in the future.  It’s kind of like that, which is why I figure the law of attraction didn’t attract negative things from my low mood.  I wasn’t letting the old pattern repeat itself – I was cleansing it from my system altogether.

Today I got another such message, from a friend’s Facebook post of all things, that wasn’t even directed at me, but it spoke to something I have been sparring with in my head for a while.  It was just such a perfectly relevant message, and put in just such a way that though I had “known” it before, it hadn’t truly “registered” – it pretty much floored me for a moment.  Sometimes you can “know” something, but not truly “comprehend” or “take it in.”  That was what this message was for me.  I can already feel the ripples making their way through my psyche, as the initial concept is accepted, and a domino effect of altering thought patterns occurs.

So though there are times when it may feel “forced,” keep at the positive thoughts.  When you hit a low, examine why, and be open to whatever reason may come.  If you’re spiritually detoxing, let the negativity be released.  You may have a health crisis of the spirit, but you will feel so much lighter and brighter in the end.

And don’t discount any source of insight as being “too trivial” – sometimes a Facebook post, a text message, or a tweet may be just the thing that gets the gears turning.

Subconscious Little Viruses

Today, the Universe saw fit to rip open an old wound for debridement, sans anesthetic.  As I sit here with my soul still throbbing from the procedure, I am unsure as to the prognosis.  There was an awful lot of damaged spirit.  Perhaps I should apply leeches.

There is some point when you keep getting smacked with the same message over and over again, you just want to grab God by the shoulders and scream, “I don’t understand!  Try telling me another way, already!”  It’s like when you’re playing Pictionary, and someone draws something that no one can guess what it’s supposed to be; rather than draw more, they just keep pointing at what they already drew, as if pointing at it again will suddenly make it a better drawing.  You want to yell at them to draw something else because obviously that’s not getting the message across, right?  You know you do.  Sometimes the Universe is a crappy Pictionary player.

So that’s the type of message I’ve been dealing with.  It’s either the most toxic, messed-up, I don’t want to live in this Universe kind of message, or I’m just not understanding what it’s trying to get across to me.  As I spent many years operating under the belief of the former and that got me nowhere, I’ve come to believe it’s got to be the latter.  But God just keeps pointing at that same drawing again and again.

Today, I stared down into that gaping wound and saw exactly what it had been doing to my insides.  But I still don’t understand the message.  I would really, really like the Universe to just draw something else.

I understand what subconscious thoughts and beliefs it gave birth to within me.  I understand how those subconscious little viruses ate away at my spirit.  But I still don’t understand what the message was supposed to be that got lost in translation.

Perhaps God is better at charades.

 

Your Body Is A Temple

Part of my spiritual upbringing included a whole lot of “Physical realm bad.  Spiritual realm good.  Must punish physical body in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment.  Physical body doesn’t count.” type messages (and yes, I imagine that being said like a stereotypical caveman grunt.  Though I suppose cavemen might have had wondrously complex languages, you get the point).  So for a very long time, even as I thought I was maturing and growing, I still treated my body like a trash heap, and thought of it that way, too.

You’ll recall my previously stating how I came precariously close to becoming a full-fledged hoarder until I moved into my current apartment, which caused me to look the problem square in the face and deal with it.  I still am, four and a half years later.  It is a long and sometimes difficult process, but so worthwhile.  I never fully realized until I started watching the show Hoarders what this said about how I thought about myself.  In more than one episode, it has been made abundantly clear that some of the people surrounded themselves with trash because they thought of themselves as trash.  They perceived themselves as not worthy.  They thought they were disposable.

That was me.  I thought I was unlovable.  Easily discarded.  Worthless.  Trash.

Having that revelation brought front and center planted the seed of thought that I needed to re-evaluate my relationship with self.

After reading the book The Secret, which was filled with a revolutionary concept for me at the time, I decided that instead of beating myself down with negative self-talk, I would beat the negativity down and squash it like a bug.  And so the process began.

At the beginning, I felt a little Stuart Smalley-like, as though I should have been staring in a mirror and telling myself, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you!”  In other words, I felt more cheesy than the entire state of Wisconsin.  But I stuck with it, and after a while it became less forced.  I began to actually believe I was good enough, and smart enough, etc.  I felt less corny and more like I was having a deep psychological breakthrough.

Now, I had tried counseling a couple of times in my life, and other than it occasionally being nice to have someone to vent to, didn’t feel like it was helping me much.  This utter willpower maneuver of mandated positivity did more to repair my psyche than any outside person telling me that my thoughts were unhealthy ever did.  And I began to believe that I deserved love; I deserved happiness; I deserved respect.  Don’t all people?

But just recently this awareness took a new turn.  Even though I had been accepting that I deserved to be happy for a while now, I still wasn’t looking at my physical form with a whole lot of self-love.

Several months ago, I finally caved to months of pressure from my doctor to try easing up on my strict vegetarianism.  After over nine years of strident near-vegan “purity,” I agreed to try “a little fish” and see how I felt.  The doc felt I wasn’t getting enough protein or omega-3s.  She wanted to see if the omega-3s would help my mood, and the protein help balance my blood sugar (I was so hypoglycemic, I was crashing on a near-daily basis.  Sometimes more than once a day).

Holy mother of nutrition, did I feel almost immediately better.

The sugar crashing all but stopped.  I can now count on my fingers the number of times I’ve sugar crashed in the months since, instead of it being a given that it would happen regularly.  I had more energy, too.  Oh, and… the perpetual always-coldness began to let up, at least somewhat.  I’m still “the cold one” in a group, but there are times where I actually feel warm now.  That was nearly unheard of.

I quickly dubbed myself a pescatarian (someone who eats fish, but no other meat), and figured that was that.  But I had opened up the floodgates.  My body started having cravings I had thought were long dead.  It wanted more.

I fought it.  I already felt guilty; I thought of myself as a “failed vegetarian” or “weak” for giving in to what my body obviously needed.  I wondered why others seemed to do so well on a veggie diet and I didn’t.  You know how people are supposed to lose weight when they go veg?  I actually gained weight.  About 30 pounds.  I did not understand how that happened.  It brought up even more body-hate in my mind, because I used to be a stick.  Suddenly I felt ginormous.  I fasted as much as I could without putting myself in a diabetic coma, and my weight didn’t budge.  I restricted what was “acceptable” fare more and more.  I ate low-fat this and diet that.  Still fat.

So I caved.  All or nothing, right?  If I had already failed as a vegetarian, then I had failed.  Might as well go out with a chicken pot pie in hand and enjoy myself.

And I felt even better.  This was counter to every nutrition book I had read for the past decade (all aimed at vegetarians, mind you).  What really caused me to make the pescatarian-omnivore leap was reading a Jillian Michaels book on diet and nutrition.  She had recommended twice the amount of protein that one of my cherished veggie books had done.  Twice.  That wasn’t exactly splitting hairs.  That was a completely different take on nutrition.  So I started searching for more information online.

In addition to a mountain of blogs and websites I still find myself getting lost in for hours, I found an interview with Lierre Keith, a former vegan for twenty years and author of the book The Vegetarian Myth.  It got me interested enough that I bought the audiobook (I have found that I love listening to a good non-fiction audiobook, in addition to reading them normally).  I’m still listening to it, but so far it is proving to be one of the most profound books I’ve ever read in my life (and as previously noted, I’m a bibliophile of epic proportions).  This isn’t some machismo rancher looking condescendingly down upon the wussy vegetarians and telling us how silly we are; this is someone who had many of the same motivations I did (save the animals!  save the earth!), and struggled with many of the same moral issues, who recognized her own willful blindness to the truth about everything, and slowly – and not without a fight – came around.  I can’t even begin to do it justice by attempting to summarize it here; but truly, if you really want to know about saving the animals, saving the earth, our health, the industrial food system, and how things really work, I can’t recommend this book enough.  So many of the things we think we know are wrong.

Anyway… let’s get this Amtrak train of thought back on its rail.  Honoring my body.

So, okay, I’ve been now exploring the world of traditional foods, homesteading (if ever there was a thing that I get passionately obsessed with, it’s homesteading), and the like, and learning about the nutritional needs of my body from a non-vegetarian perspective.  I feel like a new student in a completely foreign field of study, with so much to learn, and so little time.  But this metric ton of knowledge was all pointing to the same personal revelation: I had willfully been ignoring the very basic, very human, very physical needs of my body, relegating them to “weaknesses” and “unimportant” in the name of some “pure” ideal that was impossible to attain (yes, vegans, even you are not eating without death.  Just because there is no meat on your plate, doesn’t mean animals weren’t killed as pests on the farm, or by a harvesting machine, or for fertilizer, or when farmland was deforested or prairie turned into farmland, etc.  Read The Vegetarian Myth.  I promise, it’s not condescending.  It’s someone who wanted the same things you want).

So why were my very natural needs being given the short shrift?  Because I still felt my body was not “worth it”.  Not worth what?  Surviving?  Thriving?  Did I truly believe I was put on this Earth to suffer?

I took a look at how I was treating my body otherwise.  I either was punishing it with exercise, or none at all.  Eating junk, or not enough.  I didn’t respect the food I was using to nourish myself: the perpetual load of dirty dishes, my hadn’t-been-cleaned-in-ages refrigerator, the splatter-covered microwave and toaster oven.  The kitchen wasn’t the place to create sacred nourishment, it was the place to throw together something convenient and get the heck outta there.  No attention was paid – ironically, as I thought of myself as “food conscious” – to the act of nourishing my body, even as I obsessively counted calories or ounces of water.  Allergy season caused me to look at my bed – covered in pet hair, sheets rarely changed, the mattress producing a renegade spring that had stabbed my hand and drawn blood once already.  A litter box right next to it, which was placed there to try and prevent one of the kitties from peeing under it (it worked, but she has shifted territory again, so it’s rather moot at this point).  In addition to the spring escapee, all my bedsheets are old and threadbare, hand me downs, stained, torn, and otherwise just as problematic.  Even my bed frame is almost as old as I am, and a hand me down that used to be half of a bunkbed.  I’ve never in all my 33 years had a bed that wasn’t a bunkbed, or part of one, let alone something larger than a twin size.  I had to throw out the egg crate cushion I had on it to try and make things more comfortable because a kitty peed on it.  I had a dream where I was told this was like sleeping in my own filth.  And you know, it’s true.  There is a literal litter box right at the foot of my bed.  How was that respecting myself and the place where I was supposed to get rest?

Being that I’ve been living off of savings and grace since I lost the day job last year, now is not exactly the best financial time to go to a furniture store and buy a nice new full-size bed with a comfy mattress and new thick sheets.  I accept that I deserve these things now, but to buy them would lead to a case of… aaaaaand how am I going to pay the rent?  So.  I did the best I could with what I have.  Washed the blankets.  Changed the sheets.  Vacuumed the mattress, the box spring, all the nooks and crannies, the heat registers around the side of the bed.  The litter box is getting moved this weekend (it will take some furniture re-arranging to find it a new home).  I’ll shampoo the carpet then, too.

I also went a little cleaning-frenzy in the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the fridge, and the microwave.  Checked for expired beyond use foods and tossed them.  Cleaned the floor.  Now when I open the refrigerator door, it feels so white and clean… and pure.  Because I’m honoring what I put into my body.  I’m honoring where my body gets rest.  My body isn’t the means to an end, or a sub-par vessel that doesn’t count.  It isn’t “a bag of water” as one of my friends terms it.  It’s a temple.  One that I am the proud caretaker of.

Let It Be

For the past couple of months, I have been largely in what a friend of mine calls “cave time,” that is, time when you turn inward and live in your inner world rather than participating so much in the outer world, or as some might say, “the real world.”

I’ve had a lot of good insights into myself, my path, and life in general during this time, as well as a lot of “What on Earth have I done all day??” moments.  That was part of the lesson I learned during this time.

We often feel in our go-go-go, work-work-work, now-now-now society that “just being” is just a polite way of saying “lazy,” and of course, being “lazy” is “bad.”  We’ve got that masochistic work ethic drilled into us so much that the idea of “rest” is foreign and to be sneered at.  I’ve had this theme become rather ubiquitous in my life as of late.  Someone I follow on Google+ – or was it Facebook? – commented one day how it was brought to their attention when they had shared an update that they were taking a “lazy Sunday” and just resting and relaxing.  One of their friends had commented “Don’t make a habit out of it.”  Why not make a habit out of it?  They wondered.  Isn’t that the idea behind the weekend?  The sabbath?

Remember that notion?  One day a week where it was religiously mandated to relax and live in your inner world and commune with a higher power.  Why is that now “bad”?

I was browsing Kindle books a little while ago and found this gem I had never heard of before: “The Right To Be Lazy” by Paul Lafargue (Karl Marx’s son).  I’m not done with it yet, but in it he talks about how historically “work” was something to be scorned by free people, and how being free from work spawned a lot of great philosophies and discoveries, such as in ancient Greece.  Back then, the work was foisted onto slaves, but now we have machines that can do much of this work for us (and keep in mind, this book was written around the turn of the 20th century, so this holds even more true today than it did then).  So why didn’t automation become a way for people to work less and have more free time and still have enough to get by?  Why did our society develop the way it did, with “workaholics” and overtime galore, or even if you didn’t want to live that way, feeling pressured to perform thusly or risk losing your income?  Why did automation become a “threat” to our livelihood rather than a blessing?  Why didn’t EVERYONE benefit from these technologies, instead of just stockholders and CEOs?  And why do CEOs continue to work so much, despite being filthy rich?  If you won millions of dollars in the lottery, wouldn’t you quit your job and do what you wanted (say, travel around the world or volunteer or hobbies or whatever it is you like to do)?  These guys win the paycheck lottery every year but they keep working 80 hour weeks, instead of quitting after a while and living a comfortable life.  Instead of passing the torch for someone else to win the paycheck lottery, they feel driven to “keep busy”.  People, when talking about retirement, often say that they “wouldn’t know what to do with themselves.”  Why is that?

Have you ever read a Jane Austen novel?  Monied people didn’t work.  If you watch Downton Abbey, the family is rather scandalized when they discover that the next in line to inherit the Earldom is a LAWYER who WORKS (gasp!).  Back then, if you had the means, you didn’t work.  But many people who have what I would consider to be plenty to live on insist on working, even though they don’t need to.  It’s shameful if you don’t have a job, even if you don’t really need the money.

Why do we define ourselves by our livelihoods?  When people ask me “What do you do?” I have often said, “I write, though that’s not how I pay the bills, if that’s what you mean.”  Why do I feel the need to make that distinction?  Because I have never defined myself by my job.  The job was just a way for me to pay the rent.  What I WAS was an artist (painter, sculptor) and a writer.  I WASN’T a secretary, or a medical assistant, or a cashier.  That was what I did by necessity; writing, painting, sculpting, etc. is what I did for love.

So, just being.  One of the things I’ve discovered since losing my “regular job” back in June was the nature of the sleep issues I’ve had all my life.  I always chalked them up to being “a night owl,” but even when I worked nights I still wasn’t sleeping enough, or sleeping through five (yes, five) alarm clocks, or any variation of “not being able to maintain a decent sleep schedule” in between.  And yes, I read just about every article on sleep and tried just about every remedy besides drugs, and nothing helped.  What I’ve discovered is that apparently, my circadian rhythm is not set to 24 hours.  Once I finally let myself sleep when I was tired, instead of when I “should” sleep, and stay awake when I was awake, instead of trying to force myself to sleep, it became clear that I just don’t cycle every 24 hours.  For instance, for the past few days, the cycle has been: awake for 26 hours, sleep for 10 hours, awake for 26 hours, sleep for 12 hours.  That’s about three days but for me it was two.  No WONDER I was either an insomniac or comatose.  I’ve beat myself up over my sleep habits – or lack thereof – my whole life.  I’ve been deemed “lazy” and “irresponsible” because of it, even when the majority of the time, trying to squeeze myself into a “normal” schedule meant that I averaged about five hours of sleep a night (or less).  Accepting that I’m just not wired like most people, and not beating myself up over it or trying to force it into submission has been a boon to both my waking and sleeping hours (not to mention my mood).  I feel great, and for once in my life, rested.  One of the many reasons why I’ve been trying desperately to find my niche and earn a living writing/freelancing – I’d get to keep my sleep schedule the way it naturally is.

It took me months to get to the place where I am now, of neither trying to force myself into the “normal” mold, nor feeling guilty about it.  I still struggle with it some days, especially during the winter months when the day is so short and THAT’S when my body decided it was bedtime.  But the difference it has made in how I feel usually means I can override that guilty feeling with, “Don’t mess this up!”  Or maybe “You’re allowed” or “You’re worth it.”  Because you know what?  We’re all worth getting a good night’s rest.  Or staying up when we’re not tired.  Either or.  It’s not a sin.

And that’s been the overriding lesson learned these past couple of months of “cave time.”  I’m allowed to turn inward when I feel the need.  I’m allowed to let my body dictate when it’s tired or awake.  I’m allowed to work like a busy bee or take a day off.  I’m even allowed to have a bad mood some days, and not feel guilty for it.  It’s called being human.  We’re not perfect, and we’re not all the same.  And I don’t have to internalize society’s dictates on what I “should” be or do.  I needn’t feel guilty because I don’t fit the “average” mold.  For years I beat myself up and hated that I didn’t fit that mold.  Today I’m finally glad I’m different.

Honoring your needs

Right now I am working on a chapter about honoring your needs.  These can be any needs – physical, emotional, spiritual.  And while on the one hand I have made great strides in honoring my needs in all three categories and no longer feeling guilty about it, I still had a block in place when it came to a certain need: money.

Without going into too much detail, lest this post turn into a “triumph over adversity!!” daytime movie, I grew up, shall we say, in a “scarcity” mindset.  And that mindset followed me well into adulthood.  I always felt like other people had things, other people had opportunities, other people had things go their way, and I thought that just didn’t happen for me.  Even as I learned (and am still learning, because I don’t think any of us can ever truly say we’re done learning such things) to accept various things that I have long struggled with as not bad; even as I learned to accept my body the way it was, etc., I still had some convoluted notions about wealth.  Either there was the old self-esteem issue of thinking I didn’t deserve wealth; or perhaps the spiritual guilt issue of not thinking I should want it at all; or the flat-out defeated notion that even if I deserved it and and wanted it, it was never gonna happen.  In short, I could think “that would be nice” or “I deserve a turn” all I wanted, but that was not going to open the path for wealth to come into my life.

My revelation, while working on this chapter and with my own internal struggles with not having a regular job and hence, a regular paycheck for some time now, was that I needed to change how I viewed money.  Money is not a bad thing.  It is not “evil” or a vice.  It is the means to an end.  I can squash the spiritual guilt with the knowledge that if I was awash in abundance, I could truly focus on “higher level” growth (see “The Manifesto” about my history with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).  The physical plane is not “worse” or “less than” – it is its own perfectly valid and here-for-a-reason experience.  It is not something to be suffered through on our way to a spiritual afterlife.  We are not supposed to suffer.  We are to overcome suffering.  We are here to learn things that we couldn’t learn without taking physical form.  Being in a physical body is not a punishment.  It’s OK to be taken care of here in physical form.  We don’t need to be poor and struggle to be holy.  We are holy, by default.  If you believe in creation, God created all that is, right?  That means all of us are “of God”.  Do you think God would create not holy things?  Knowing that we’re safe and secure and will continue to have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies does not make us not holy.  Now I’m not saying that materialism is holy – but things are tools that we use to achieve other things.  I’m using my computer right now to communicate.  You might use your car to run errands and go volunteer.  A computer or a car, or possessing them, is not “unholy”.  It’s simply having the tools to accomplish goals.

I’m writing this entry after having just had a wonderful meditation session, so I hope it’s not as rambly as I fear it might be.  Let me know what you think in the comments.  Have you struggled with accepting abundance in your life?  Have you overcome this struggle?  Share your stories!  It is my hope that this blog can become a forum for everyone to find happiness together as a community.

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