On Un-doing, and feeding the right wolf

 

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

-Rumi

 

I’ve been thinking lately of how so much in life comes from not doing rather than doing. We think we have to achieve, perform, or accumulate in order to be happy, content, and/or successful. Or that we have to accomplish x amount of tasks in order to “be a good person.” We’re always looking for that magical thing we can do to make everything be okay.

But the truth is, we’re already okay. Just as we are. In fact, it’s only when we allow all of those fake trappings of accomplishments and possessions to fall away that our true selves can really shine through. I picture a snake shedding its skin, or a statue’s exterior crumbling away to reveal a more beautiful and authentic core.

In the same way, I’m finding that only when I remember to slow down and take regular pauses during my busy, task-oriented days (I am a graduate student, after all), am I really able to remember what really matters to me and appreciate the beauty that is always here. I was reading an article on Mindful.org earlier today, that made the point that suffering is all around us. BUT, so is joy. And that everything we really need to be happy is right here with us in every moment. It’s just that our brains are biased toward negativity. As I’ve heard Dr. Rick Hanson put it, it’s like they’re teflon for good and velcro for bad. So in order to not be swept away by the negativity that inevitably creeps in, we have to make a conscious effort to notice the good things and hold them close.

I’m reminded of the Native American legend about the two wolves. If you’re not familiar with it, it goes like this:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

So my challenge lately has been to make sure I’m feeding the right wolf. As much as I hate to admit, I’ve been catching myself with some regularity at feeding the evil wolf. The news will come on, and there I go, fanning the flames of some perceived injustice. Or someone will say something that annoys me, and I’ll continue the story inside my head of how inconsiderate, thoughtless, and rude that person is. It’s a real challenge to stop sometimes! Getting angry or feeling superior are powerful emotions and can be addictive at times. But for the most part, they don’t do anyone any good. So when I notice myself feeding that evil wolf scraps, I pull my hand away, as hard as it may be, and try to turn my attention to more constructive things. We need more good wolves in this world of ours. We have more than enough evil ones already.

So if you must do something today, make it feeding the good wolf inside of you.

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Using my Anger for Good

I have a confession to make y’all. I have not been “loving what is.” This is true in a few areas of my life, but it’s probably most apparent when it comes to the current presidential situation in the United States. Ever since he-who-shall-not-be-named was elected, I find myself getting riled up almost every day, often multiple times a day. Every time I risk a look at the news, it seems, there’s something there for me to get upset about. I don’t generally consider myself a very angry person, but y’all, this guy makes me ANGRY. The thing is, though, this anger I’m harboring isn’t doing anybody any good. It’s definitely not helping me, and I’m pretty sure dude in the White House wouldn’t care. It’s also not helping our National Parks, the people in Puerto Rico, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, or any other number of groups/entities that have been in the administration’s line of fire so far.

So it stops here. I’m done fuming over every little thing this administration does that I consider an injustice. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop caring. Definitely not. And I can’t guarantee I won’t keep getting angry. But I’m going to try my best to use my anger constructively instead of just letting it eat away at me and fester. I refuse to give that power to anyone, least of all Donald Trump. Because like it or not, this guy is going to be in the White House for the next four years, and I don’t want those years to be consumed by anger and frustration. I want to focus on doing what I can to make a positive difference– in this country, in my community, and in individual people’s lives. I believe that love really does trump hate, and that if we can all focus on being proactive instead of reactive, on fighting for what we believe in instead of protesting what we don’t, perhaps we can stem the tide of division and animosity that seems to be washing over this country. If the government isn’t going to step up and set a good example, then it’s up to each of us.

Because despite the way the media portrays it, despite the way it may look in your Facebook or Twitter feeds, and despite how it looks in the comment sections of pretty much any online news site or social media platform, I genuinely believe we are more alike than we are different. I think we all just want to love and be loved, to feel safe and secure, to be respected. We may not always agree on the details or how to achieve these things, but we can at least find some common ground and try to work together with our commonalities as a starting point. As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Buddhist meditation master, once said, “Everybody loves something, even if it’s just tortillas.”

Seems like a good place to begin.

 

 

Thoughts on Thinking

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

-William Shakespeare

I think a lot. I am a human, after all. And thinking is what has enabled our species to reach the great heights it has. No other species can think, analyze, and evaluate to the degree that humans can. But thinking is a double-edged sword. Especially when our thoughts aren’t always even true. Heck, sometimes, our thoughts aren’t even entirely in our control. I read something Byron Katie once said along the lines of “we don’t think, we’re thought,” which I think nails it. It’s like our brains control us much of the time rather than the other way around.  That’s one reason I like meditation so much, because I feel like it helps me to get a better handle on my thoughts and not be such a slave to them. Because dammit if those little buggers aren’t trouble makers.

If you think about it, (ironic, I know) thinking is what perpetuates a lot of our discomfort. When you’re stressed out, anxious, upset — it’s your thoughts that are causing that. You’re telling yourself some kind of story about what has happened, or what you think might happen, and it’s upsetting. But what if you stopped the waterfall of thoughts? Either cut them off outright or paused and questioned them. I was listening to a Tara Brach talk the other day in which she encouraged us to “not believe the thoughts; just feel the feelings” and it’s really stuck with me. I’ve tried it out a few times since and it’s been immensely helpful. It’s incredible the space that opens up when you let your thoughts go and just sit with what’s left. It turns out that what’s left isn’t nearly as bad as your thoughts might have you believe. In fact, there’s evidence that emotions don’t last any longer than 90 seconds. The only reason we remain angry or upset for longer than that is likely because we’re feeding our emotions with our thoughts. Just fanning the flames. So next time you find yourself spinning off into dangerous thinking territory, try to stop yourself. Some thoughts are like animals in a zoo. It’s not good to feed them 😉

 

 

It’s not Donald Trump that worries me

I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump a lot lately. With all the coverage he gets in the media, it’s been hard not to.

At the beginning of the presidential primaries, I didn’t really give him much thought. If anything, I thought his presence as a candidate might be a little amusing. As I began to learn more about him and hear some of the things he was saying, I became a little disturbed, but not worried. “People will see right through him,” I thought. “He won’t last long once people actually start to vote…”

After he won the first couple of states, my optimistic self thought it must just be some kind of a fluke. But the more delegates he wins, and the more incendiary his rhetoric becomes, the more bothered I am. Forget the fact that he has absolutely zero platform and has given basically no details about how he plans to actually accomplish any of the things he talks about. That I could deal with. That’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is how critical he’s been about entire swaths of the population, how he encourages people at his rallies to engage in violence, and how he childishly bullies anyone who dares say anything remotely critical of him. Not to mention his pumped up view of himself and his inability to take responsibility. This man, people, is not fit to be president. Not of the United States, and not of anything else. What he is, is a narcissist, a bully, and a racist. Even children watching the Republican debates recognize this. Why don’t his supporters?

And that, my friends, is what bothers me the most. Because the more I think about it, it’s actually not Donald Trump that concerns me. It’s all the people who support him. All the people who approve of what he says and who agree with his hate filled ideas and words. Donald Trump didn’t insert their hate into them; he’s just the flame that lit the fuel on fire.

Living in the little bubble that I do, I wasn’t aware of how much hate had been simmering beneath the surface of our great nation. Oh sure, I know prejudice exists and that people can be nasty. But I had no idea it was at the level I’ve seen demonstrated lately. I was watching footage of one of Trump’s rallies the other day, and some of the things I heard coming out of people’s mouths directed at his protesters were downright nasty. Maybe I’m naïve, but I thought we’d made more progress than that.

Apparently not. Apparently people are really angry, and we’ve just been sitting on a volcano ready to blow this whole time. What got us here? Was it the police shootings in the past couple of years or does it go back further? Was it the economic crises we’re still struggling to fully recover from? I really don’t know. I just know that what I’m seeing and hearing is really, really, really upsetting, and I’m afraid that it’s not going to just go away.

Unless we do something. It’s time for those of us who aren’t filled with hate to step up and use our voices in a constructive way. What that will look like will be unique to everyone, but if you’re reading this and you, too, are concerned about the direction this primary is taking our country, please speak up. Vote in your state’s primary. Write letters to the editor. Talk to your friends. Smile at a stranger. Help a neighbor. If you hear someone say something racist, call them on it. We have to fight the hatred that’s threatening to tear us down. Don’t feel like your voice is insignificant. It isn’t. I keep thinking of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

So get out there and spread the love people. It’s the only weapon we have left. Because getting rid of Donald Trump will not fix things. He’s already unleashed the dragon, and the dragon is us.

First Love

Here’s another poem I wrote along the lines of the one I wrote yesterday. It’s a little depressing, but then, eating disorders are depressing. No point in glossing over that or pretending my past didn’t happen. As depressing as parts of it have been, it’s also made me who I am, and for that I’m grateful. Which I guess is all to say, don’t feel sorry for me — Ed may have been my first love (now Ex-love), but he certainly won’t be my last.

First Love

My pen hovers aimlessly over the page

College ruled, like we used in

high school, a time for first loves and

first kisses.

The empty page stares back at me,

taunting.

“Don’t you have anything worth writing about?”

I hear

laughter, glasses clinking, joints passed around

at parties I missed.

More important things to do

I thought

Didn’t like those people anyway

with their Abercrombie jeans and Victoria Secret panties

ripped off in the heat of the moment

or at least that’s how it is on TV.

I wouldn’t know,

I missed that too.

Too much going on, Too much to take care of, Too much

Too much,

Too much.

Empty Life

I’m taking a poetry class right now, and I’m finding I don’t have many powerful events from my life to write about. Sadly, much of my life has been consumed by an eating disorder, which I guess is a powerful event all its own. Understandably, much of my poetry focuses on it, the feelings its brought up, and its effect on me and my life. Here is one of those poems.

The Dance

Music blares from the unseen speakers,

Some artist I don’t know

Screaming words I can’t understand.

I have a feeling I’ve been here before

In a dream, perhaps

naked

Like I feel now

eyes piercing my sallow skin

stares I read like Tarot cards.

The track stops. Conversations don’t.

The speakers slow

to realize there’s no need to shout.

Secrets no longer secret

Camouflage destroyed.

Someone starts it up again

but too late.

The damage is done.

They know

They all know.

Ed asks me to dance

and I gladly oblige.

Anorexics Don’t Exist.

Anorexics Don’t Exist.

Nor, for that matter, do bulimics, or alcoholics, or schizophrenics.

somuchmore

There is no such thing as “the mentally ill,” just people with mental illnesses.

In short, PEOPLE ARE NOT DEFINED BY THEIR CONDITIONS.

There are people with anorexia, yes. But anorexics? Never met one.

There’s an unfortunate tendency in society to label people. We like to categorize things. Our kitchens and closets and inboxes are all neatly organized by content, color and origin, and we try to do the same with people, as though they were folders we can just slap labels on before filing away in a box somewhere.

But here’s the thing: People are not folders, and we do not belong in boxes.

People are complicated, multi-dimensional, and undefinable. We’re always changing and we are so much more than any one label, or multiple labels, for that matter, could ever begin to describe.

But what’s the harm in labeling people? Can’t it help us to talk about things in a more organized way? Can’t it help us to put like things together in order to better study them? Yes, it can. But we can do that without turning people into just one of their many characteristics. One of the problems with labels is that they promote stereotypes. They encourage us to view all the people with that label as the same, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Take anorexia for example. I’ve met many, many people struggling with anorexia in my lifetime. So many I’d have trouble naming them all. But I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you that they were all unique. Some were overly concerned with their appearances, yes, but many more were not. Some were perfectionists, some were not. Some had a distorted body image, while others didn’t. Some were artists, others had dreams of becoming doctors. You get where I’m going with this, right?

It’s the same with everything else.

Another problem with labels is that they separate us. They put up walls between us where none should exist. So while there are black people and there are white people, there are not “blacks” and “whites.” See how using the terms that way automatically erects a barrier?

The point is this: Language has power. So let’s be more careful how we use it to describe ourselves and our fellow travelers. Let’s stop putting one another in boxes and assuming that we can know everything there is to know about a person simply because we know one thing about them. Let’s look past society’s name tags and get to know the real person behind them. Because I guarantee you that behind every label is a living, breathing human being with thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, and worries and fears very similar to your own.