Monday, November 28, 2016

Control: A Myth

Nature tries to teach us one of the most important lesson of life using just the weather...and we don't pay attention. One day last spring, it was 50 degrees and sunny. The next day, the wind gusted to 50 miles per hour and it snowed.

The snow was sticking. To trees. To grass. To our deck.

Our power flickered.

Dinner was almost derailed.

We are NOT in control.

Thank you, Jesus!

The responsibility would be crushing, don't you think? Yet we assume that responsibility all the time. We try to control others but, in the end, merely irritate them and look like fools for trying.

We expect the world--and everyone in it--to be the way we want the world--and everyone in it--to be and get angry when the world--and everyone in it--isn't what we expect.

Expectation is the mother of disappointment.

In his book Assholes: A Theory, philosopher Aaron James points out that we are much happier when we accept the reality of a situation and focus on controlling what we can control: our own actions and reactions. James' book focuses on dealing with assholes (whom, he argues, we can rarely change anyway, so why fight a fight you will lose?), but the basic idea generalizes out into many areas of life.

I suspect people with control issues just want to make the world more comfortable for themselves, but--and I speak from personal experience here--when we try to control the world, we end up miserable, bitter, angry failures. The world, like the weather, is just so uncooperative!

What, then, can we do? After five decades of life experience, I'm left with a few basic rules that seem to work on my path away from miserable, bitter, angry failure to something resembling happiness. Perhaps you've already figured these out (and faster than I did!), but here they are.

1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Or, put more colloquially, don't be an asshole.)
2. Put your energy into building up people, situations, and institutions you love rather than tearing down what you hate.
3. Most of the time, it's more important to be kind than to be right. But occasionally, it's more important to be right than kind. Wisdom is needed to discern the difference.
4. Compromise isn't weakness. It's a step forward.
5. At the end of the day, give it to God and go to sleep.

In the aftermath of an election that upset a lot of people (including me), these reminders come in handy. We aren't, individually, in control of much at all, but we can control our individual response to the situation.

Let's make it a good one.

What other life rules would you add to this list? Please share in the comments!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Radical Self Care: Suggestion Number One

I first encountered the phrase "radical self care" when reading one of  Anne Lamott's books.

Think about that phrase: radical self care. Radical self care isn't just getting a mani-pedi every two weeks. That's superficial care, affecting the surface of our lives. Sure, pretty toes and fingers might make us happy, but as anyone who's ruined a manicure within three minutes of leaving the salon can tell you, that brand of happiness is fleeting.

Radical self care goes deeper, promoting fundamental changes in our soul that grow us in some way and make us better people. We need radical self care, especially when stress and chaos and conflict rear their ugly heads. Often, we are harder on ourselves than we would ever be on others, letting our inner critic run amok in the tender places of our souls. Radical self care seeks to squash that inner critic...or at least turn it to constructive, rather than destructive, commentary.

Radical self care makes perfect sense. Safety briefings on airplanes include the warning to put your oxygen mask on in case of emergency before helping someone else. You're at your best when your mind is oxygenated, sharp, alert. Deprived of oxygen, you become confused, disoriented, stupid, and possibly dead. Put your own oxygen mask on, and you can help yourself and others. Neglect it, and you and those you might have helped will suffer.

When we feel battered and bruised and buffeted by the slings and arrows of fortune, we have to take care of ourselves.

I just love these! I want to put this in my house somewhere!:

Many of us, however, simply don't. Our own needs go unmet because we are too busy caring for others...and our souls suffocate. Sadly, too often, we don't even realize we're gasping for air. We're miserable and have no idea why.

Do you need to engage in some radical self care? Feeling lost and unsure where to start? Well, let's spend some time exploring various ways you can take care of yourself...radically. Today we will start with one of my favorite forms of radical self care: a hobby.

Researchers have found that people who enthusiastically participate at least one hobby are happier, smarter, and mentally and physically healthier, than people who don't. The best hobbies are those that incorporate making something...building Legos or model airplanes, cooking, sewing,  knitting, painting, and such, or hobbies that take you outdoors, like photography, birding, and hiking.

(Sadly, reading doesn't qualify as a hobby as researchers define the word, but reading is its own category of radical self care that we will discuss later in this series.)

Years ago, I took up paper crafting, starting with calligraphy, then moving on to making handmade books, and then to making greeting cards and scrapbooks. You might say (and George would agree with you) that I got a little carried away with paper crafting, but along with reading, it's absolutely the best form of self care for me with the deepest and most fundamental positive effects.

My Crafty Headquarters

The positive effects are, in fact, so varied and numerous that they would fill a book, but here are four big ones to get you thinking about your own preferred hobbies in a different way or to encourage you to consider finding a hobby for your own radical self care.

First, paper crafting gives my soul a creative outlet. From that, I've learned to let go of perfectionism (well, mostly) and to embrace process and failure as good and necessary. For someone who had her panties in a perfectionist bunch for years and who bulldozed her way to each and every goal, this was a revelation. I've slowed down and enjoy the process in all its messiness and mistakes...and am working to generalize this lesson to other areas of my life.

Second, paper crafting allows me to focus intensely on something other than the news, bills, my son's special education plan, my aches and pains, the mess in my basement, and our POTUS elect. Essentially, I make my crafting time a form of meditation. Being able to intentionally focus on a positive and enriching activity boosts my mood every time. A concentrated break from the chaos to create, get inky fingers, make a mess of my own that's well within my control to clean up...these things are sometimes all the therapy I need to put all those other things in proper perspective.

Third, I learn new things all the time while paper crafting, which helps keep my brain and creative self excited. The thrill of trying a new technique, watching a new product video, and reading new ways to use old supplies all get my creative juices flowing and energize me to grow and improve my skills.

Fourth, it's a hobby that connects me to other people. The products of my paper crafting almost always go to other people, and by blogging my crafty explorations, I have connected to wonderful people all over the planet. I send cards to friends and family and strangers in New Zealand, and also donate them to my church's card shop. Some people save all the cards I send them, others toss them as soon as the occasion has passed. Either way, they received a bit of love from me. And that makes me feel good.

Creativity, meditation, learning, and connection...four healthy side-effects of engaging in a hobby.

Now it's your turn. Share your hobbies with us and tell us a bit about how they enrich your life and contribute to your radical self care. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Protest Sign I Would Gladly Carry

With all the Trump protesting going on, I think it's important to remember that there are other causes worthy of sign waving. (There is, however, no excuse for burning effigies, destroying property, or harming/threatening/bullying anyone. I thought we were better than that, people!)

Anyway, flitting through my Facebook feed today, I saw a link to an article about people protesting the lack of snow in Colorado this fall with clever signs saying "Powder to the People" and "More Snow, Less Hate," which reminded me about this particular protest that strikes at the heart of everything I hold dear about November.

Stop protesting about lgbt and start protesting about this because this is just wrong!!!:
The poster with the circle and slash over a Christmas tree...
the person holding it is my hero.

Let's honor Thanksgiving as it should be honored...with autumnal colors, apple fritters, the smell of burning leaves, warm sweaters, and pumpkin spice everything. Let's not shop on Thanksgiving but instead choose to spend time with our family and friends sharing food, fun, football, and parades.

The day after Thanksgiving, pull out the Christmas decorations and smear the world in red and green, tinsel and holly, peppermint and wassail.

That is the proper order of things.

Who's with me?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Reality Check

Tuesday, I felt like a cynical grown-up and wished I had this shirt.

Wednesday, I felt like Hamlet.

Thursday, I felt lots of things.

At book club in the morning, I felt the truth of this statement in a room full of smart, kind people who are right.

At an IEP/ETR* planning meeting at the junior high, I felt both completely ignorant and thrilled at how creative special education people can be while brainstorming how a special-needs student who wants to take French in high school might actually be able to do it at his own level and pace.

This evening, I'm feeling like binging on Pinterest because, well, this:

Three days. So much to process. And pictures of Samoyeds fighting lobsters.

Life can be a little weird sometimes.

Thought for the Day: Life can be absurd, and it's best to laugh and breathe and practice some self care when things get really weird. How have you practiced self care this week?

*Individual Education Program/Evaluation Team Report...special education stuff.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Inner Pollyanna Flower Child Blooms

Take a deep breath. In through your nose, down into your belly, and out through your mouth.




You are alive. You are breathing.

So am I.

You might be asking what we should do next, in a world offering up plenty of crazy at the moment.

So am I.

Years ago, on Sunday, July 20, 2008, to be precise, this blog went live with an essay about my existential crisis. This morning, I have a new existential crisis, one brought on by my continued breathing in a world where the loudest, brashest, greediest, rudest, scariest narcissist person wins.

Yes, I still have a penchant for melodrama, but I've also developed a habit of gratitude over the past eight years that kicked in almost as soon as my brain finished screaming, "Nooooooooooooo!"

That's when this thought popped into my head: there's always, always, always something to be thankful for.

I turn 50 in less than two weeks. That's something to be thankful for. It's also galvanizing me to write. Things have been dormant on my blogs for a while, and there's not much point in exploring whatever writerly angst or malaise kept me quiet for so long. What matters is that I've found fresh words and renewed focus.

I invite you to join me on my quest to put more good words out there--words of peace, love, compassion, kindness, cooperation, unity, inclusion. We need to pour forth good words until the ugly words are drowned by a tsunami of love.

My inner Pollyanna flower child is blooming. Care to bloom with me?

Thought for the day: We cannot transform the world to be kinder until we first transform ourselves to be kinder in the world. What one small thing can you do today to make yourself kinder?