The Happiness Manifesto Blog

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

Archive for the tag “love”

Changing Our Culture

In the wake of the horrible school shooting on Friday, I saw a number of people posting messages on Facebook that concerned me quite a bit.  Now don’t run away – this is not about gun control.  This is not a political blog, this is a spiritual growth blog.  What I’m talking about is fear.  Fear of “the other.”  Fear of strangers.  Fear of the mentally ill.  Fear of horrifying incidents at every turn.  Basic, primordial fear.

Now, I am not a parent, and I cannot pretend to know what it is like to be one, and so perhaps parents of kids that age who were feeling overwhelmed with empathy and protective feelings get a bit of a pass on this one.  But even other non-parents, or parents whose children were long grown were posting such things as: “teachers should be armed” or “this is why I own a gun” or “EVERYONE should be armed” or “I am afraid to let kids go to school” or “I don’t like that the doors at my kids’/grandkids’/friends’ kids’ school aren’t locked all the time” or “everyone with kids should homeschool to keep their kids safe” …etc.  Now again, this is not about owning a gun, or not owning a gun.  This is about the mindset it takes to fear your fellow human beings so much that you carry a deadly weapon with you for no other purpose other than your belief that it is likely that you may have to shoot someone who wants to hurt you to defend yourself.

How terrified are we of each other?  I had a friend from outside the US tell me (before this shooting, mind you) that she was afraid to come visit the US because she thought she might be attacked/mugged/murdered/shot.  I have other friends who won’t go out after dark, or alone.  How many people have conceal and carry permits, or even cans of mace inside their purse?  I used to work the night shift at a hospital within walking distance of my apartment.  I don’t own a car, so that meant I was walking to work at midnight, alone, just a couple of blocks away from the “notorious” street in my city.  Now I wasn’t dumb about it – I would call the security guard to let him know I was on my way, and if he wasn’t busy, he’d meet me at the corner in front of the hospital.  I stayed aware of my surroundings.  I didn’t walk with my headphones on.  But other people were more scared for me than I was for myself.  I had one coworker buy me a can of mace when she found out I didn’t have one (I never carried it).  And some of these were folks who had never lived in crummy neighborhoods or been the victim of crime themselves (I have experienced both).  So why were they more nervous about my commute than I was?

I wasn’t always this way.  I freely admit it’s a rather recent phenomenon.  During and after said experiences of living in the crummy neighborhood and being a victim of crime, I was a nervous wreck.  My high-alert level was so obvious it was commented upon by others.  And that is exactly why I refuse to live that way now.  Because I know that that is no life!  I was miserable, and I didn’t trust people any further than I could throw them (and I’m not even 5’5″, so I probably couldn’t throw anyone very far).  I walled myself up in my fortress of solitude, because my firmest belief was that people suck.

Now, I’m not going to get into quoting crime statistics here, but for a fabulous treatise on how humans have become less violent as a species, despite what the news and tragedies like this Friday’s would have you believe, I highly recommend the book The Better Angels Of Our Nature by Steven Pinker.  My transformation did begin before I found that book, but it really reinforced what I was already telling myself: most people are good.  Most people are just going about their lives, just like you.  There are not nefarious types plotting rape and murder around every corner.  Odds are, nothing is going to happen.

I am not delusional; I am not Candide, declaring that we live in The Best Of All Possible Worlds.  But 99.999%* of people are basically good, normal people (*not a real statistical number – please don’t snipe.  I doubt there is a study attempting to measure how many people are “good, normal people”).  Sure, there are a handful of nutjobs with crippling paranoia and a gun stash, or who have raped or murdered someone.  I am not saying we pretend they don’t exist.  Don’t do your best impression of a slasher movie victim and walk into the dark, abandoned cabin alone yelling, “Hello?” while chainsaw noises reverberate in the basement.  But don’t cower in fear from the poor homeless guy on the street who you think is “creepy” because he talks to himself, or refuse to live your life and do things you want to do because of the overarching belief that all the killers come out at night (I promise you, I was harrassed, chased, followed, stalked, and even had someone try and grab me off the street and shove me into his car as a teenager – all during the DAYTIME, as I walked to and from school.  Pedophiles are not vampires.  Nor are any other type of criminals).  My point is, if you let a largely irrational fear stop you – then fear has won.

Remember after 9/11, when we were encouraged to keep going about our daily lives, because if we gave into fear then “the terrorists have won?”  Why let this terror win?  Is it any less pervasive?  Which do you think is more likely: that you’ll die in a terrorist attack like 9/11, or that you’ll be a victim of a random crime?  Which one do you change your daily behavior for?  Sure, people avoided planes for a while, but most folks fly now without fear.  Why do we still avoid the streets after dark?  Car accidents are a common occurrence too, but do you avoid driving because there’s a chance you might get into an accident?  Are you afraid of other drivers?

In a debate with a friend on Facebook, I asked: which would you rather do?  A) Live for 50 years, suspicious and afraid of your fellow humans, until one day you shoot and kill another person who tried to hurt you, but hey, you “won,” right?  Or B) Live for 5o years, loving and trusting your fellow humans, until one day you die in a random mall shooting.  You maybe were afraid for the last moments of your life, but prior to that, you didn’t fear other people.  I’d rather be B.  Because at least that person got to live a life free from the limiting fear that too often we allow to dictate our lives.

I am in no way trying to say it’s not a tragedy when people die in a senseless act of violence, especially innocent kids like on Friday.  What I am trying to say is: if we let these horror stories terrorize us, if we let them make us paranoid, if we let them dictate our behavior, if we let them limit us… then we’re victims long before anyone possibly murders us.  We’re living in fear of something that is highly unlikely to ever happen.  Obviously it does happen.  But you’re more likely to die of heart disease or cancer than a random act of violence.  Do you run screaming from trans fats and chemical food additives?  Do you have an anxiety attack if you forget the sunblock?  I’m guessing probably not.

So instead of focusing on “what if,” let’s focus on what we can do to make things better, in any way.  Support the victims of tragedies like this.  Support charities you care about.  Support your fellow humans.  Let’s make a world where we help each other.  Let’s make life worth living.  Peace.

Do A Little Dance

Sometimes, when dancing, you have to let go and just trust.  If you’ve got a partner, you have to trust that they won’t drop you or step on your toes.  If you’re alone, you have to let go of your inhibitions and stop wondering what others will think of you.

This applies to life, too.  Sometimes, you have to let go and just trust.  And sometimes, that can be scary as hell.

I find myself doing the throw-my-hands-up-in-the-air-in-unabashed-trust move, only to take a good look at what I’m doing and grab onto that safety bar in a gut-clenching, reflexive spasm, like letting go on a roller coaster.  There you are, feeling all secure in your seat, hands waving in the air, then you tip over the top of that hill and… hold on for dear life, even though you’re just as secure as you were on the way up.  I have to learn to keep my hands up there, and just scream my head off like all the other thrill-seekers.

First I was dancing, now I’m riding roller coasters.  Because that’s the kind of blog post this is going to be.

It’s never the metaphysical stuff I fear.  “The Shift”?  2012?  Unleashing the oddness that is the Real Wren upon the world (well, perhaps y’all should be afraid of that one)?  Unearthing old psychological scars?  Downloads?  Hippies (I live in Colorado, I had to make a South Park reference)?  Nope.  All good.  Bring it on.  I want to bend the metaphoric spoons with the best of them.  It’s the old Maslow’s hierarchy of needs thing: I look at my bank account, which I was completely unconcerned about this morning, and clench.  I start adding up bills in my head, minus planned income, and I start freaking out about where the remainder is going to come from.  This morning I was in happy, it-will-all-come-in-time land.  Then cold, hard numbers had me looking up at the sky, wondering where the hell that you-don’t-have-to-worry-about-this-anymore windfall is when I really need it.  Which of course (*cough*LawOfAttraction*cough*), is exactly what I shouldn’t be thinking.  Thinking I need, thinking I want, thinking I don’t have it already just attracts… needing, wanting, and not having.  It’s fear-based thinking.  I need to dance on over to the love side of the spectrum.

I’ve already been working on exercises to change the way I think about money.  How many of us have this problem: I’ve heard over and over how “dirty” money is.  I’m not speaking metaphorically, here: I mean it has germs on it.  Think about where it’s been.  So I got into the habit of, touching money = germy, so I should wash my hands after I touch it.

Think about what message I was sending the universe: money is dirty and gross, I don’t like touching it, and I must wash myself clean of its essence any time I have some in my hands.

That’s a solid F- in Law of Attraction abundance thinking.

So I’m trying to override the hand-washing need and the “ew, germs” thoughts; I keep two dollar coins in my pocket (dollar coins make me happy, I like them) to look at and think, “I like this money; I like holding it; I’m keeping it” when I come across them; I’m doing an exercise from The Power that has to do with how you store money in your pocket/wallet, and what you think of when you look at it.

OK, so I promote my grade to a C-.  I’m still looking at that bank account and going, “I must plan!  That bill is due, and that one is soon due, and that one is overdue!  I must know how I’m going to pay them!  I must have details!  And what about the rent?!”

I need to look at my bank account and think, “I have so much money in there!  I never have to worry about this again!  I should go car shopping and buy Einstein right now!”

And as much as I try to Stuart Smalley my way around that one, my inner “realist” is like, “Groceries, Wren.  Concentrate on what you can actually do.  Concentrate on what you need right now.  Groceries.  Rent.  Bills.”

I hesitate to, say, go to the Smart dealership and look around because I feel like I’ll be wasting the salesperson’s time if I don’t have the ability to sign on the dotted line today.  But that’s exactly what I need to do.  I need to go and sit in the car, and imagine owning it, and feel what it’s like in there.  I need to act, with confidence, like I’ve got all the funds in the world.  Because otherwise, I’m just sending the universe mixed messages.

So my assignment, if I choose to accept it, is to go and drool over Smartcars, and possibly annoy some innocent salesperson asking about getting it in that nifty brown color.  It’s not wasting their time or mine, if this prompts the universe to channel the funds to me, and then I go back and find that nice salesperson and buy the car a month from now.  That will be my dance of confidence.

So what dance do you need to do to move forward, and show the universe that you fully believe you’re doing it?  Leave a comment – let’s give ourselves homework assignments!

The Gratitude Games

How many of us are working to manifest a life of joy and fulfillment?  I know I am.  And though I can see so many successes that I’ve had, I know that it can get so much better!  So what’s been holding me back?

I recently finished listening to the audiobook of The Power (can you tell I love Rhonda Byrne?  Read her books if you haven’t.  I recommend them to people so often I feel like I should start a NPO to fund buying them in bulk and go door-to-door like a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon asking people if they’ve heard the good news).  The Power is the sequel to The Secret.  Anyway, in it, she’s talking about keeping a positive, loving attitude and she made a point that I hadn’t really thought of before: just feeling “OK” is not feeling “good”.  I can feel the difference between when I’m really, truly happy – when I’m focusing on things I love, things are going well, I’m in a good mood, I have energy – and when I’m just “OK”.  “OK” means I’m here; I don’t feel awful, but I don’t feel wonderful.  I’m awake, but not energetic.  Things aren’t falling apart, but puzzle pieces aren’t falling into place, either.  Things just “are”.

For me historically, “OK” was “good” – because the alternative was “horribly depressed”.  When you’re on the low end of the spectrum and a good day is one where you don’t feel miserable, you kind of lose perspective as to what “good” truly feels like.  So I have improved since I read The Secret for the first time and decided to take things into my own hands and change my life – I went from “horribly depressed, afraid, stressed, and exhausted” as my modus operandi to “calm and okay” as my norm.  That’s a great improvement.  But when you want to really make a joyful life, you’ve got to have a joyful attitude.

I’ve had moments where I really felt that joy – but so far, “OK” is still my baseline.  Now don’t get me wrong – that’s a much better baseline than the pit of despair.  But I want my life to be wunderbar, not just “OK”.

From here, it may seem like a daunting task to make that internal shift from “not bad” to “great!”  But from that pit of despair, it seemed like a daunting task to not be depressed on a regular basis, and I successfully changed that, didn’t I?

So, one of my methods to climb another rung on the attitude ladder has been to find different ways to be grateful.  I have come up with various games and practices to just think about things I love, am grateful for, and am manifesting in my life.  So for instance, one of the things I am manifesting for myself is a car.  I mentioned before that I’ve never owned one, and it would make my life so much easier to do so!  So every day, when I am thinking of things to be grateful for, I give gratitude for my car that is on its way to me.  I envision in my mind already owning it.  I picture spontaneously going to visit friends and it being a quick and easy trip.  I picture buying whatever I want at the store and not worrying about if I’ll be able to carry it, or if it will fit in my grandma cart if I’ve got that along.  I picture driving with a friend up in the mountains.  I imagine giving someone else a ride.

I love you, Smartcar! ❤

Yup, I’m enamored with Smartcars.  Specifically that one – I’ve already configured exactly what I want on their website.  I think when I get my Smartcar, I shall name him Einstein.  Because he’s smart.  And that’s how I roll. 😉

In coming up with these gratitude practices for myself, I had a stroke of inspiration: I should put together a book of Gratitude Games.  So that’s what I’m going to do!

I’ve been thinking of how it should look: a paper book should be easy to write in, so people can do some of the written exercises right then and there.  But perhaps a binder would be better, as they can re-arrange the order and do the ones that work for their path that day.  Ooh, an app!  How do I develop an app?  Maybe an interactive book on iPad – they have apps where you can build and publish for the iPad, on the iPad!  I need to manifest myself an iPad!  But then I still need to make an app for non-iPad users!  And a paper book for the technologically disinclined!  And an e-book for e-readers!

…this is how my brain works when it latches onto an idea.  Sometimes I need to tell it, “Slow down, Turbo!”  So I got out a pen and paper (low tech) and started making a list of gratitude game ideas.

I still don’t know how I’m going to form the book (app!  paper!  e-book!  interactive!), but that will come when it’s ready.  I have not given up on The Book, but I feel like the Gratitude Games is a stepping stone on the path toward its completion.  Perhaps I will be so grateful to get a book done, I will manifest… getting another book done!

In the meantime, I am compiling an ever-longer list of Games, and sending love to Einstein.

Because I love a man with brains.

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.

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