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 😉

 

 

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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.

Eric Garner, Martin Luther King, and Starfish

In the wake of the acquittal of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the grand jury’s decision not to indict the policeman responsible for Eric Garner’s death in New York City, I feel compelled to write. First, though, I’m not here to wax poetically about racial justice or police brutality. That’s been done enough. Nor am I here to condemn or condone any of the actions following either decision. That’s been covered, too.

What I am here to do is to convey my deepest sadness at the loss of two lives, as well as the needless destruction that occurred afterward. But I don’t just weep for Brown and Garner and their respective families — I weep also for Darren Wilson, who was forced to resign without severance right as his wife is about to give birth. I weep for the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, whose town has been turned upside down in the blink of an eye. I weep for those policeman everywhere who are well-meaning, upstanding citizens, but who will now be looked on with suspicion and derision by a large segment of the population. I weep for those who don’t feel safe when policeman are around, but instead feel fear, and often rightfully so.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, in situations like this, no one comes out on top. We all lose. I’ll admit, even as a white female, I don’t feel comfortable in a society where a policeman can strangle a man and not be held accountable. That’s not the kind of world I want to live in.

So what can I do? What can little old me, living in a red state in the deep south, do in instances like this? Admittedly, for the last few days I’ve felt helpless. And detached. Many days the news leaves me wanting to bury my head in my hands and pretend none of this shit is happening.

But it is. That’s the truth. It happens EVERY DAY. All around the world. TRAGEDIES HAPPEN EVERY DAY.

But do you know what else? SO DO MIRACLES.

It sounds cliché, but it’s the honest truth. Case in point: Almost immediately after the looting and rioting occurred across St. Louis, scores of online fundraising sites popped up to help raise money for the innocent shop owners whose livelihoods were threatened. Donations poured in, and people were able to start rebuilding and resume work.

And I’m sure you’ve all seen this photo that’s been making the rounds, of a young boy and a police officer hugging in the midst of a protest.

#hugsheal

THAT’S how we respond. THAT’S what Martin Luther King meant when he famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

So in the wake of tragedy, what do we do? We love. We shine our light into the darkness and we offer one another a hand. And while at times our circumstances may seem overwhelming, I always remember the story of the boy walking along the beach, tossing washed up starfish back into the ocean one by one. Even though the beach is littered with starfish, he keeps working his way down the beach. When a man stops him and asks him why he bothers — that he can’t possibly make a difference when there is so much to be done — the boy reaches down, picks up another starfish and tosses it into the ocean, replying: “It made a difference to that one.”

So instead of getting on Facebook or social media and joining the shouting and arguing over “who’s right and who’s wrong” in instances like these, why not be a part of the solution? If we each throw back a starfish, we’ll have this beach cleared off in no time.

 

The Fire Within

The Fire Within

An angry storm blew in today

and knocked me to the ground.

I tried to find my bearings

but nothing could be found.

 

It howled and cursed and grumbled–

hurled hailstones at my feet.

My attempts to rise were futile, I

prepared to admit defeat

 

The road is slick with raindrops

The path is strewn with stones

I crash to earth with violence

No one around to hear my moans.

 

The waves they keep on crashing

The rain keeps pouring down

The current keeps on pulling

til I don’t know up from down.

 

Fields of hidden land mines

Rooms fashioned of trap doors

Each time I step through one of them

frustration seeping out my pores.

 

The clouds roll in with fury

as I cower in the night

Yearning to lay my head down

Ready to cede the fight.

 

But something burns inside my heart

a yearning deep and true

A will to live that won’t be silenced

and I know I’m not yet through

 

I rise amid the rubble

Stand up straight and tall

But no sooner had I risen

than down again I fall

 

The wind is howling louder now

There’s static in the air

I’m not sure I can stand my ground

Not sure that I care

 

Angry gusts lash at my bones

I’m frozen to the core

My heart just isn’t in it

I can’t take this anymore.

 

But something stirs inside my soul

A flame housed deep within

A passion lights its embers

And I get back up again.

 

Along the way I stumble,

plummet to the rocks below

My ego bruised and broken

This time I’ll not get up again, I know.

 

But as I lay there in the cold

something flickers through my veins

A warmth spreads up inside my chest

And I see the sparks of flame

 

So on I go into the night

not certain of the path

And sure enough before too long

I fall victim to the wrath

 

It’s a puzzle I don’t stay there

curled up on the ground

Secure in my insecurity

Safe from being sound

 

But if the past is any indication

I won’t be down for long

One more time I’ll strike the match

Light that fire strong

 

For just when I think my will is broken,

That there’s no strength left inside

That flame inside me flickers

And I get back up to fight

 

So as I head out on my journey

Uncertain of the end

I’m not afraid of what I’ll find there.

I have a fire deep within.

 

©Jennifer K. Horton

 

Candle_flame_(1)

Thoughts on Being “Productive”

When I was younger, I did things just for the heck of it. I did things because they were fun and brought me pleasure. I played outside, goofed off with friends and watched The Smurfs, My Little Pony and He-Man on television. I didn’t worry about whether these things were making me a better person or were “good” for me, I just did them because I wanted to. But somewhere along the way, I stopped. I stopped letting joy be my guide and instead started to use guilt and ‘shoulds’. My earliest memory of this is when my parents were going out of town for a lengthy trip, leaving me and my siblings at home with my grandparents. Knowing that I would have a hard time without her there, my mother left me a well-meaning note encouraging me to engage in “constructive” activities to help pass the time. Somehow, I translated that message to mean “always engage in constructive activities” and ever since, I’ve been incredibly focused on engaging in activities that society generally views as productive. Now, I often feel like if I read, it needs to be something that will educate and enlighten me. If I play a game, it should be one that has a side benefit of increasing my brain power. In short, I should spend all of my waking hours engaged in activities that will serve to improve me in some way. This obviously leaves little time for relaxation and fun, even though research shows those things are necessary for well being also.

Studies show watching He-Man improves brain power... ;)

Studies show watching He-Man improves brain power… 😉

Sadly, I don’t think this little hang up of mine is uncommon. I think society in general places an undue amount of importance on things like working, making money and being busy. This strict work ethic is so ingrained that even when our employers offer us time off, we refuse to take it: According to the U.S. Travel Association, 40 percent of Americans don’t take all of their vacation, leaving 430 million days of unused paid vacation a year. That’s a lot of time that people could have spent relaxing on the beach. Essentially, 40 percent of Americans are saying they’d rather sit at their desks than in a lounge chair. There’s something not quite right about that.

But what can we do about it? How to break free of a culture that equates productivity with working hard? How to move away from using how much a person earns and how hard they work to determine their worth? Aren’t we so much more than that? If being a good person relied only upon how hard a person worked, terrorists would be saints. Don’t they work hard? Hitler would have been idolized. He worked pretty darn hard too. But it doesn’t work that way. Who we are as people is so much more than what we do for a living and how hard we do it. Who we are lies in our hearts. It’s in how we treat people. And that includes how we treat ourselves.

I wouldn’t for a minute consider telling the young, carefree me to stop goofing off. And I don’t think her childhood would have been any better if it had been more structured and packed with enrichment activities like violin lessons, soccer practice and afterschool meetings with the math and science club. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things, but they wouldn’t have been fun for her. She enjoyed her childhood just the way it was, and she deserved to. As every child does.

As I sit here thinking about it today, I think we could all learn a lot from observing children like her. In fact, I think our standard definition of productive is way off. And while I’m tempted to try to cobble a new one together real quick to guide us in a better direction, I think it would likely be equally off. Why? Because productive can mean different things for different people. What’s productive for me might not be productive for you. We’re all individuals with different needs and different goals in life, and it is these unique goals and needs that should determine our actions. Not society.

So if you need a nap today, take one. If work emails are stressing you out, turn off your computer. If you want to lounge around and watch cartoons or read a silly romance novel, by all means, do it. And for goodness sake, make plans to use up some of those 430 million vacation days, because at the end of the day, are you really going to look back on your life and be grateful for all the days you were “productive”? Or are you going to look back and treasure all the days you spent living your life in a way that brought you joy?

Never Forget

Ask my friends and family if I’m forgetful and they’ll tell you no. I remember everyone’s birthdays, pay attention to what people say and never miss appointments. But when it comes to life’s lessons, I am oh so forgetful. Case in point: so far on this blog, I’ve written about my intention to start breaking my internal set of rules, my dedication to tossing out bad habits as band-aids to problems and my resolve to start living and stop letting fear hold me back. How many of these have I followed through on for more than a few days? ZERO.

Now, before you abandon me and think me a fraud, know that I mean well. I really do. When I wrote each of those posts, I was filled with hope and inspiration and resolve. I want to do each of those things SO badly it hurts. So what happens?

Well, life happens. I have work to do, commitments to fulfill and mental demons to fight. And before you know it, my lofty goals are nowhere to be found. I forget. Oh, how easily I forget.

Exhibit A: If you recall, just the other day I wrote about hope, and how now that I have a nutritionist and concrete goals to work on, the equation was complete and I believed that I would soon be on my way to great things. Ha. Ha ha ha. Yeah. So it didn’t quite happen that way. Just a few days after that post, I went to the beach with my family. Sounds lovely, right? It was. I had a great time and it was wonderful to spend time with my family. Except for one little thing — any time I am taken out of my safe little bubble of routine — my oh so limited comfort zone — I experience higher levels of anxiety than normal. Which for me, is A LOT OF ANXIETY. You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the outside, but on the inside I am on fire. So what did I do? I forgot. Forgot about my new goals, forgot that I’d tossed out my bad habits as band-aids and forgot about my commitment to breaking my stupid, stupid rules. Because when I’m in the moment — when that anxiety is swirling all around me 24/7, that’s what I do. I forget. I grasp for my rules and my bad habits like they’re life preservers and I do my best to weather the storm. So, yeah. While it was still a lovely trip and a much needed getaway, I didn’t make any positive steps forward in my recovery.

So here I am, back on terra firma (okay, so I’ve NEVER been on terra firma. Terra firm-er?) and my memory is slowly coming back. Which is nice, but do you know what would be nicer? If it never flew off in the first place. I’ve been trying to think of ways to keep my goals and intentions at the forefront of my mind no matter what’s going on around me but so far I’ve come up empty. The best idea I’ve had is to purchase a locket and stick a picture of my younger, smiling self inside to remind me of what it is I’m working for. Which kind of worked for a little while, until the picture fell out… Plus I’m not exactly one for jewelry and it kind of got on my nerves at times…

photo

You’d think you wouldn’t have to remind yourself to do things that are SO important to your quality of life and your health, but those are exactly the kinds of things I have difficulty remembering. Birthdays, things people say, things to do? Those I can remember. I feel like there’s an answer in there somewhere — some trick of the mind I could do to get myself to hold on to those dreams for more than a few days — but right now my mind is blank.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think on some level, everyone can probably relate to the inability to keep important things in their heads at all times. Life has a way of blowing through your brain and whisking away some of your most precious intentions. Take driving for instance. Or being stuck in the check out lane after a long day at work. Now, I imagine anyone who is reading this blog has the intention to be kind to others and generally help make the world a better place. But I guarantee you that at least some of the time, when you’re stuck in traffic or the check out lane, you lose it. You blow your horn, or you’re not especially the nicest to the guy bagging your groceries. You might yell at your kids to shut up, or lose your cool with your significant other. It’s not that you don’t want to be loving and kind to others, especially those closest to you, but every so often, life just makes you forget that that’s important to you.

I feel like saying it’s simply unavoidable, but I don’t think it is. I think it just takes training. A whole life time of training. Yesterday you may have lost your cool with someone you love, but today you can try again. And tomorrow you can try yet again. Sometimes, sure. You’ll forget. Just like I’ll surely forget later on today that I even wrote this. But hopefully tomorrow I’ll remember again. And then maybe the next day I’ll remember sooner. The fact that we forget isn’t a reason to give up. It’s simply a reason to try harder, and to be understanding when we see other people forgetting too.

Hope is a Thing With Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers  
That perches in the soul,  
And sings the tune without the words,  
And never stops at all,  
   
And sweetest in the gale is heard;          
And sore must be the storm  
That could abash the little bird  
That kept so many warm.  
   
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,  
And on the strangest sea;         
Yet, never, in extremity,  
It asked a crumb of me.

-- Emily Dickinson
Hope is a powerful thing. As Emily Dickinson tells it, hope lifts us up. It is sweet and everlasting; it keeps us warm in the harshest elements, and yet it asks nothing in return.

Sometimes, though,  storms fly through our lives and snatch hope away for a bit. Such has been the case with me in the last month or so. Although the medications I’ve started taking have helped diminish  my anxiety to some degree, I still haven’t been making much progress with the food related aspects of my issues, and that was discouraging.

Luckily, after meeting with a nutritionist yesterday, hope flew back and lit inside my soul. I feel lighter now and much more positive. While I’ve never lost that tiny flame deep inside that tells me I WILL recover from this illness one day, it had dimmed considerably as of late. But now it’s back, burning brightly with the belief that I am on the right track.

Looking back now, I realize that my lack of hope was strongly tied to my lack of goals. Whereas before I had nothing concrete to work toward, now I do. I had the desire to improve my eating habits, but I didn’t have a plan. Desire is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not enough. I also probably know as much as my nutritionist does about food and diet. I know exactly how many calories it takes to equal a pound, and although I haven’t counted calories in years, I could rattle off a list of nutritional information by memory (what a waste of brain space, right? :p). Yet all of this information does me no good if I don’t have a strategy to apply it. You’d think if you added knowledge and a sprinkling of desire, the magic would happen — but no, you have to have actionable goals.

Of course, I learned all this in treatment. There’s even an acronym for it: SMART. Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related. But as we’ve just learned, knowledge is not enough. I know all about goals, sure, but I wasn’t making any! Or I was, but “gain weight” isn’t exactly specific…  So yesterday, I met with a nutritionist who helped me set some “smart” goals, and I walked out with the unexpected side effect of hope!

I’m not a mathematician, but I’m pretty sure these were the missing ingredients in my equation. Desire and knowledge may not be enough to bring about recovery, but add a bit of hope and some goals, and voila!:  Magic. 🙂

 

hope and goals are the magic ingredients