Tag Archives: perspectives

The Thoughtful Bouquet

Standard

One of the tenets of mindfulness and meditation, non-attachment is often seen as a route to freedom. So much suffering, it’s thought, is created by mere thoughts that we perceive as true. These thoughts — comprised of electrical impulses jumping synapses in the brain, associations formed as neuropathways fuse, beliefs passed down as truths, or even our self perception — often entrap us; sometimes enslave us.

Missing the Boat on Stream of Consciousness

There are many ways of looking at our ability to attach to thoughts. During one of my first forays into therapy, I was invited to see thoughts “drift by,” in particular, as if they were “floating past me on a stream.” In short, this pastoral scene stressed me out. My thoughts were floating right past me? Even in my mind’s eye, I wanted to grab after them. Even in my mind’s eye, I kept trying to devise some kind of fishing pole, dam, net, anything — to prevent the slipping by of such important things.

The Pros and Cons of Overthinking

Not everything we pass -- nor that passes us -- is worth keeping.

The infinite task of sorting through thoughts.

Over the course of my life, I’ve grown up doing a lot of thinking about thoughts. I analyze, categorize, reflect, reinforce and question my thoughts. I have a strong memory, particularly for external and internal exchanges, and I can recall my thought processes easily. In this way, thought analysis brings insight, connection, remembrance, and context. But the downside of all this thinking about thinking is that it leaves little room for two important things — the simplicity of experience and the ability to change cognitive patterns.

Because thoughts come so rapidly, so fluidly, we cannot possibly meditate on each one while directing our attention to our experience. Occasionally, in my dating life, I’ve even found myself thinking out loud — sometimes, to the exasperation of my partner, amid a passionate kiss. When you’re running commentary on your sexual adventures, you’re not playing them passionately in those moments. When you’re attaching yourself to every thought, you’re not immersing yourself in the feelings in your fingers, the sensations on your lips.

The other obstacle created by thoughts becoming too important is that we become so very pulled by them, we simply can’t direct them. Our fears seem like forecasts; our mental routes the only way. When our thoughts become less important, we can better master them. We can choose which ones benefit us, which ones we want to invite to stay.

Making Beautiful Arrangements

When someone’s imagery doesn’t work for me, I often try to find my own. While I couldn’t bear picturing my thoughts as leaves floating down a river, I could picture them as a wind-blown swirl of leaves moving around me (with the reassurance that they would simply fall and scatter, and I could sort through them later). For a while, this metaphor worked for me.

We're drawn to certain flowers, even amid a plant filled with similar ones.

There’s an abundance of things to think, things to believe.

The other day, though, as I walked through my neighborhood, with its intense, meticulous gardens, I saw things in a new light. What if our thoughts don’t need judgment — what if we’re in a field of wildflowers, strange grasses, weeds. What if it’s merely a question of what you want in your bouquet? It’s attachment you can choose. Maybe you love roses; or maybe you’d prefer a daffodil. There’s an abundance of thoughts out there to be had, some nurtured within ourselves, some grown by others. And you only have to hold the ones you want to — the ones you’d like at your table, coloring your home, interlaced into your hair. The rest you can always revisit, or you can simply pass by.

Mid-Week Minimix: Hopeful Songs for Passing Pain

Standard

Sometimes the present moment feels like to much to bear. More often, though, it’s the thought of interminably “bearing” the negative emotions that really gets to us. From needle-phobia to exhausted grief to grimacing when bills come, our real fear is that the suffering will endure.

And sure, in the moment it can feel that way. My brother always reminds me that even the most serious situations are marathons, not sprints. The elusive finish line eventually appears, but when you’re tired and sore, all you see is a further stretch of road with no end in sight.

Five Audio Reminders: Everything Gets Better

If you’re simply treading water this week — or perhaps even just eyeing the proverbial pool in dread — here are a few songs that may help lift your sights and your spirits.

  • The Five Stairsteps – Ooh, Child
    With an orchestral feel and choral backing vocals, this soulful number is packed with ’70s sunshine. Lyrics remind you that first, we’re all in this together, paving way for its simple refraining message: “Things are gonna get easier.”

     
  • Paul Simon – Gone At Last
    There’s something about gospel music that just lifts you up — even if the gospel’s a secular one. Here, Paul Simon teams with Phoebe Snow to testify of trouble and bad luck bettered by a Good-Samaritan approach. Playing off a scriptural quote, Simon reminds his “so downcast” soul his losing streak may be “gone at last.”

     
  • Bob Dylan – I Shall Be Released
    Some hopes and prayers work as reassurances, too. In Pain? Discouraged? Wronged? The perfect reminder that all those things which temporarily enslave us will eventually give way. “Any day now,” Dylan reaffirms for us, we’ll “be released.”

     (★ Side Note: if you’re looking for some philosophical perspective on the transient nature of suffering, It’s Alright, Ma is a good choice for elevating your mind rather than your spirits.)
     
  • Gabe Dixon Band – All Will Be Well
    Feel like you’re the thing that’s beyond repair? “All Will Be Well” serves as encouragement that time and effort can negate even the most lengthy track-records of self-sabotage or broken promises. It’s a long track with few lyrics, but when you need to renew your faith in yourself, the song offers plenty of reinforcement for hope and change.

     
  • Bob Marley – Three Little Birds
    Take it from reggae king and expert on resilient hope Bob Marley: every little thing is gonna be all right. Still skeptical? Three out of three little birds agree: you shouldn’t worry about a thing. It’s all going to work out eventually.

     

Need to put some hope on repeat? No sweat. With Grooveshark’s free music service, you can listen to the whole Hopeful Songs playlist (no registration required) or save it for later streaming online.

Why Settle for One Truth?

Standard

We’re all in a search, ultimately, for truth. I had the mixed fortune of growing up in an atmosphere that ascribed to absolute truth. It wasn’t so much that those around me claimed to have all the answers; it was that they felt they could attain them. My mother was a heavily intuitive, sharp woman who negotiated truths between her mind and gut,  and my father a logical optimist who usually deducted, pinpointed and worked to attain the answers he needed. My church and education environments — which essentially were one and the same — believed in a spiritual realm with absolute answers attainable through high levels of sensitivity, holiness and seeking.

The Fullness of Opposing Truths

All my life, I have figured that these answers were not only out there, but that they would fit together in cosmic synthesis. At its best, this belief offers the reassurance and mental organization of a life that makes sense. At its worst, it becomes an obstacle unto itself, as the pursuit of answers that just won’t come breeds hopelessness, self-loathing and frustration.

Before one of my first dates with my boyfriend, I asked what he would like to do. His answer, a now-classic response of his, was, “everything and nothing.” This variety of contradiction seemed too ridiculous to even consider, but more were coming. His intellect and sheer sincerity in such statements made me pause at some point and consider what might be behind the violations of “either/or” that fueled my historic pursuit of “the answer,” or even an answer. When I stopped to consider the possibility that these statements may be valid, the world began to open up. Now, I realize he probably did mean his initial statement: he wanted to do everything in the world with me, and yet he wanted to do nothing with me. It’s the urge towards activity and rest, the excitement of a new partner in exploration, the absence of an agenda, the co-existence of opposites. He gave me the fullest answer anyone could have in the situation, and I’ve come to enjoy mentally entertaining such responses instead of meeting them with dismissive judgment.

Spanning both sides of the line.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) —Walt Whitman

Can We Hold Separate Truths?

Yesterday, I found myself using a term I’ve heard a lot, but never really employed myself. Another person was making judgments about my life, and asserting that I wasn’t being honest with myself. I suggested I might be the expert in my life and internal experience. In turn, they became more indignant, saying they could not hold their tongue when I express things that “aren’t true.” Suddenly I surprised myself by saying, “This is my truth.”

The notion of “my truth” is one I’ve never really explored. I’ve been trapped, though fairly faithless now, in the notion of “God’s truth,” “company figures,” or the “right way to do things.” I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time beating myself up for not following the pathways others have had work for them — the same ones they are sure will work for me if I only did it their way. I’ve even quashed my own impulses and desires in order to follow these prescriptions for happiness and success. After all, they have the lives they want, and mine, especially at times, has seemed woefully off-track.

My Way or the Highway

Don't scrub truth too roughly while showering.

One way or infinite ways?

But the problem with “if you only would” statements is that they boil down to black-and-white thinking that is logical error in itself. In Christian circles, it takes the form of “prosperity gospel.” If you donate, God will bless you. If you pray, he will heal you. If you would only do this, life would be all right. When it works, this line of thinking is incredibly empowering. You simply take a given action and you thrive, experiencing both the win of success and the elation that comes from knowing you’re right. But this logic holds until the simple equation doesn’t work; then we feel forced to choose between the doctrine and the actor. Most often, the doctrine wins. We believe we simply didn’t do things right or we simply didn’t try hard enough. Seek and ye shall find, essentially. Ask and it’s yours.

There are secular versions that employ similar viewpoints, from the Law of Attraction to The Secret. Romance self-help books employ this tactic as well, from The Rules to “He’s Not That Into You.” We read these rule-based, single-truth articles online, as well, generally headlined as “How to Do X” in an arbitrary number of easy steps. The messages are clear. If you think positively, good things happen. If you follow these tenets, you’ll end up in a happy marriage. If he didn’t call, he doesn’t want you. If you follow an eHow article, you’ll get your toilet unclogged. But there’s no room in these diatribes for other answers. There’s no room for the hurricane or the health condition you can’t control, the lifetime marriage that starts with a one-night stand, the boy who desperately wants you but battles his own demons in the meantime, or the alligator in the toilet that you just can’t plunge into submission.

This Is My Truth

Perfect flowers with no need for shears.

Resist the urge to prune your seeds.

I’ve come to realize that “my truth” is about more than simply agreeing to disagree. It’s about more than a “live and let live” philosophy. It’s about giving myself permission to deviate from the norm, to seek out contradiction, to embrace divergent thought, to hold as many possibilities as I need to. It’s about encouraging ideas to emerge, ideals to be examined, and opening up their containers rather than ramming them into a box.

Sure, I still want the answers. I imagine the ones I’ll come to will be arrived at by a mixture of techniques, including logic, questioning, gut-listening, positive thought, step-following, and creativity. I may have to reexamine the truths I come to along the way, both those that are mine and those that belong to others. A college professor of mine once advised to writers, “Don’t prune your seeds.”  The same could be said of judging our truths. My goal is to let mine grow, uninhibited, before I attempt to shape them. Perhaps I’ll be surprised by how little pruning they’ll need.

HyperHug: Getting It Out and Getting Perspective

Standard

Though it’s not necessarily my vocation anymore, my career began as a writer. During the moments when I have to write something creative, I sometimes experience high anxiety and the classic “writer’s block.” At other moments (mainly in my personal life), I realize I’ve simply lost perspective, confounded by complex and intertwined thoughts and feelings. Though I’ve never been much of a journaler, like many, I have found that writing through confounding emotions can be clarifying and fruitful.

HyperHug: 750 Words Website

750 Words allows you both venting space and a word-based analysis of your entries. Accounts are free and can be kept private, intended simply to get you writing. After each entry, you can click on a link with the word count at the bottom of the page, which takes you to a breakdown of your post — essentially, its introversion, outlook, emotional, perspective, and topic-based quotient. Lately, I’ve found this simple analysis helpful in showing me where I’m at when I’m otherwise unaware. Fast typists and natural stream-of-consciousness writers can finish an entry in 10 minutes; slower writers and thinkers may take a half-hour. Let your thoughts flow, unedited, and see how your perception of where you’re at contrasts with the machine-calculated view.

Anxiety Blowing Through Here

Standard

In the last several years, I have no idea how many anxiety episodes I’ve been through. Yesterday morning, it struck me that those two words were the key. When I suffered my first actual, acute panic attack, I started to learn how to manage panic. Certain tricks helped, but arguably the most helpful was to remember prior panic episodes. They rarely lasted more than 15 minutes. The moment — and the accompanying sensations and feelings — would pass.

Just a Few Questions, Ma’am

Nowadays, I rarely have a full-blown panic attack. Instead, I have periods where I feel the force of anxiety gripping me. The experience is generally longer in duration, less overt and more difficult to exit in some ways. Negativity builds on itself, and for me, it hits the hardest in the quiet hours at the tail end of an evening or the earliest moments after waking. It comes dressed deceptively as “facing reality,” with a barrage of interrogating questions: 

You do know you have that project due today? How are you going to finish? What about your other goals for the day? Remember that task you were supposed to do two days ago? Why haven’t you exercised yet this week? When are you going to take your health more seriously? What if you end up with a sudden condition as a result? How do you plan on affording surprises like that? Do you really think your career is working?

Outsourcing Worry

No one would deal well with being handed rapid-fire, big-picture questions like this upon waking. In my weaker moments, I’ve foisted this examination on those I love — and occasionally, it’s spilled over to disoriented love interests opening their eyes (or trying to finally close them). In those moments, I’ve simply been overwhelmed with the internal interrogation and have sought to “outsource” the question fielding by means of projection. Often, their responses are no better equipped than my own; it’s virtually impossible to field an infinite stream of negative possibilities, particularly when your brain is slowing down or warming up.

Two Thoughts to Ease Your Mind

Yesterday morning, I awoke to this proverbial chair-under-the-lightbulb-style internal investigation. Fortunately, earlier this week, I had several reminders and lessons in the benefits of staying positive. Despite my anxiety, I attempted to find a way to do so. I made myself a cup of tea. I looked over contract work that came in subpar, considered redoing it and instead took a few notes. I read some positive bloggers online. I turned up some music, and used my notes to request revisions. My morning began to turn around.

Two thoughts helped me make positive choices yesterday. First, I remembered that sometimes, no single action lightens the anxiety load. Sometimes, we have to pull out a few successive methods from our mental cache of coping mechanisms. Secondly, I had this single thought:

Anxiety is transient. Eventually, I will feel positive and calm again. These worries will find solutions. That which is frightening will seem less frightening when I find a new perspective. I can choose to suffer through this anxiety or simply disregard it, trusting these concerns will be there when I find myself in a less fearful viewpoint.

Worry Like the Wind

And, eventually, voila! It happened, perhaps somehow because I trusted that it would, or maybe just because anxiety is not a fully sustainable state. The day went well, work got done, and I even went for a mile run and played a little tennis. This morning, of course, the episode virtually repeated. I find myself with two deliveries, birthday present shopping to do, and a mid-afternoon appointment in a neighboring county. There will always be stress, and for those of us who battle anxiety, there will always be moments of stress-squared. But these will only be moments, or at absolute worst, days or hours. Eventually, the worry passes, the wheel of fortune eventually gives us a break, a stranger says a kind word, a rainbow appears in the sky, or we have our own mini moments of epiphany. Essentially, the wind eventually changes. And, until we learn to fully “shortcut” our anxieties and forgo them, we can always take comfort in the fact that their presence — though, at times, potent and omnipresent — is only temporary.

Writing Out Your Confession

Standard

Few aspects of poetry escaped me during my time in college, but I never felt that I “got” confessional poetry. This feeling largely came from a teacher (whose class I eventually dropped) who seemed to desire some confusing form of confession from us. My poems handled everything from abuse survival to emergent sexuality, but for some reason, they never quite qualified as “confessional” in her eyes. Every class, I felt like I was piecing the professor’s reactions together to figure out her definition of confession. I recall one particular classmate’s poem she fawned over, a several-line recount of falling off a bicycle, closing in the lines1:

“I know concrete is hard.
I know blood’s red, too.”

Confession and Shame

Despite the succinct scene the lines evoked, I found myself mystified. What about this qualified as confession? While there are many “confessional poets” whose work I find provocative, I’ve never fallen in love with poets classified this way. For a long time, I blamed this poetry class for turning me off an entire genre. At other times, I simply presumed myself lacking in the sophistication to “get it” (falling into the response of many art audiences attempting to explain their lack of appreciation for whatever’s hailed as genius in the moment). But today, I thought perhaps part of my aversion to confessional poetry is also s due to the inherent shame with which confessional poetry tends to speak: the brave airing of dirty laundry.  I guess there’s a part of me that just wants it to be laundry, interestingly enough, without any judgment.

Shame and Speaking Secrets

My own journey through confession is an interesting one. I suppose as we age, we see less value in dirty little secrets. We begin to recognize that many of the experiences that breed shame simply aren’t our fault, or aren’t worth worrying about, or are so universal they hardly deserve a closeted life of pained cover-up. Though I grew up religious, my protestant background only embraced confession privately to God, or “to one another,” largely with the goal of “accountability.” For the most part, though, there was no onus to confess. Despite the lack of public shaming, the pressure to be holy left a residue of inner shame, one that probably would not have erased with speaking one’s sins (if we consider the binding relationship with shame despite confession spoken of by innumerable former Catholics).

Confession implies wrongdoing, waywardness, impulse, freakishness. In its strictest sense, the concept of confession seems to also implicate the confessor across a variety of contexts — murder confessions, treason confessions, confessions of sin, even the barely-sexy “Cosmo Confessions.” Confession evokes an image of a searing conscience at odds with great fear of retribution, with conscience narc-ing us out as it buckles under the unbearable weight of guilt. We convict ourselves with our own words. Most confessions of this sort will make someone angry, and most confessions of this sort will make us inherently feel bad, wrong, dirty, or awful. The benefit of confession is apparently that it “does the soul good,” essentially removing fear and providing a clean slate once we allow the past to resolve into consequence.

Witnessing and Testifying − Shamelessly

This is not how I think of confession. To me, the most powerful form of confession is closer to testimony. You are a witness not only to what you have done, but to what you have felt, to what you have overcome, to what you have endured. Something healing happens when we embrace this type of testifying, whether in a hushed whisper or with a loud, strong voice in front of a crowd. We validate our own experiences. We remove the shame of trauma, humanity, anger, poverty, sexuality, and poor judgment. We allow ourselves a soapbox in which to say, “Yeah, I did this. I am this. It happened. So, what’s your point?” In these moments, confession becomes a threat to the accuser, as we hijack the power of shame into the pride of survival.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we won’t have to duck a few stones hurled our way. It doesn’t mean that we’ll automatically feel better, either. Confession is sometimes the first step to forgiving yourself − or realizing you don’t need to be forgiven − but speaking experience isn’t equal to inner acceptance. Confession can open you up to further scrutiny (so often by those who have already convicted themselves at some point). Not everyone may even believe the things you testify to (equally often, because they find the reality a threat of some kind to their own belief systems or interpretation of personal experience). We spend so much energy figuring out our own stories, contexts and truths, we don’t particularly like them shaken by another voice when we reach them.

Pure Testimonials

But confession can also be a beautiful, powerful thing. Once, when coming to terms with a terrible occurrence, I wrote a simple statement on a piece of paper that merely expressed:

This happened. It’s painful, awful and incredibly sad, but it did.

 I looked at that piece of paper countless times over the next several days, each time denial crept in again. It was a testimony of the simplest kind. A short, historical entry etched on the back of an envelope. In that moment, I acknowledged reality and began to heal. Something about seeing these words in my own handwriting made a difference. This scrawled statement was also helpful in what it did not attempt to be − it didn’t attempt to explain misfortune, it didn’t assign fault, and it didn’t attempt to find a bigger truth, a brighter side, or a reason for it all. It didn’t even brainstorm next steps; it simply said what was.

Exercise: Simple, Shame-Free Statements

Releasing shame isn’t as simple as announcing our secrets at the microphone, but it can begin with an attempt to speak our truths to ourselves. See what happens if you simply state a fact and its feelings.

  1. Write down a statement you feel shame around.
  2. Cross out charged or judgmental words that slip into our vocabulary − “cheated,” “failed,” “ruined,” etc.
  3. Above your cross-outs, write neutral words instead.
  4. Act like a reporter. What happened? When? Where?
  5. Aside from shame, how does the event itself feel? Sad? Awful? Scary?
  6.  Rewrite your testimony in a single, nonjudgmental statement.
  • Attempt to find the passive voice, most useful for avoiding blame (“The marriage is over,” rather than “I failed at marriage”).
  • Try to keep the rewritten statement to 15 words or fewer.
  • Make sure the testimony you give includes no information about your character.

When you feel shame arise around this secret, pull out your testimony slip. Your secret is one step further from secrecy. It made its way from your memory onto paper. When you look at this simple sentence again, remember that the reality of what happened all you need to embrace. Try to avoid editorializing or condemning and just sit with this statement and see what emerges.2


Apologies to the uncredited author, as my brain found the lines more memorable than your name.
If you find the shame overwhelming after writing this testimonial sentence, it may help to seek out therapy. Outside perspective can sometimes help us release shame when we’re too close to an event to escape our inner judge.

Becoming More Positive by Offering Equal Time

Standard

Whether we realize it or not, we all talk to ourselves all day long. Some of us, like myself, actually verbalize this inner dialogue, while others simply have an internal stream of consciousness. We may even hardly realize how much limited thinking — and negativity — comes from our negative self talk. We become affected by the conversations we have, whether we realize it or not — even when those conversations take place silently or alone.

These interactions happen so quickly, and so often, that we tend to overlook their effect. When I talk to one close friend, I almost always hang up the phone enlivened, inspired, and hopeful. Other conversations can leave me negative, cautious and judgmental. The effect can be subtle. In fact, the less aware we are of someone else’s negativity in the moment, the more susceptible we are to owning it as truth.

Balance comes when light and darkness share the podium.

Is Your Pessimism a Mic Hog?

Giving Your Inner Optimist the Mic

We all experience negative thoughts, fears and self-judgments. Unfortunately, we often have these conversations one-sidedly with ourselves. Unfortunately, we often give our inner pessimist the floor. It’s by nature judgmental, so it speaks with confidence and surety despite its narrowed field of vision. Allowing negative thoughts to come may be part of the human experience, but to reach objective, positive perspectives, we need to allow our inner optimists equal time. When we develop the ability to notice, empathize with, and respond positively to our own thoughts, we can strengthen our sense of inner optimism until it comes more naturally.

Taking It Slow and Structured

When interactions with my significant other feel circular and negative, the best thing we can do is slow down. Though it hardly comes naturally for me (as one who processes and speaks fairly quickly), the strongest conversational outcomes occur when we are slow to speak. Anyone who has ever had to take a phone-conflict to e-mail to find clarity and common ground understands this dynamic. Debates go well when both sides receive equal time (to promote balance), limited time (to promote focus), and structure (to avoid sidetracking). Sometimes, our internal critic simply needs to be heard and met with conscious response that involves all three components.

How to Develop Your Inner Optimist

This simple writing exercise has helped me many times find optimism and remove self-judgment. Not everyone likes to journal, but almost everyone can write a bulleted list. It can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour and can help broaden and energize your conversations with yourself.

  1. On a clean sheet of binder paper, make a list of your negative thoughts or beliefs.
    • Keep each one short (1-3 sentences).
    • Leave an amount of space equal to what you wrote underneath each thought.
    • Focus on what feels true in the moment, without a need to analyze or debate each point. Just let the thoughts come.
  2. Walk away.
  3. Do something nice for yourself.
    • (For those of you who have trouble justifying pampering yourself, view it as following directions in this exercise.)
  4. When you feel more positively, take out your paper again.
    • It doesn’t matter if it is hours or days later.
  5. “Counter” each thought with a more positive perspective:
    • Ask yourself if your statement is objectively true.
    • Try to remove limitations and overreactions, replacing them with ideas and tangible facts.
    • Avoid making any judgments or conclusions. Focus on adding the “positive” back into your perspective.
    • Make sure to answer each aspect of negative thoughts on your list.

Doing this regularly will help introduce this positive voice into your daily thought processes. Positivity takes practice, especially for those of us who may have heard negative perspectives about ourselves or others for much of our lives. Invite your positive self to the conversation, give it equal time, and notice how your thoughts change.

Becoming Shameless

Standard

Some of us experience more shame than others. Where guilt is personal, shame is public. Like guilt, it requires judgment, but it also requires a sense of status quo. It’s a way of enforcing social norms, so by nature it requires them to be established. We may feel guilt over a stack of dirty dishes, but we can feel ashamed when we consider outside reactions to our own housekeeping lapses. In many cases, we imagine these reactions. In some cases, critical people stand by as enforcers of shame. In many cases, it’s needless, harmful and damaging both to our truest actions and our self-image.

Is Shame Valuable for You Right Now?

For a long time, I’ve carried a belief in the value of shame. After all, if I have a shortcoming, or if I cannot measure up to the status quo, or fit into a box neatly designed for most, don’t I deserve to feel lesser-than, embarrassed, or flawed? We live in a society where we often classify shame as fair retribution (Donald Trump’s infamous “Board Room” firings during the Apprentice as a televised example). It’s not uncommon for sentencing hearings to be prefaced by justified and public shaming of the defendant. We carry a belief that shame keeps people in line. For some, avoidance of shame may serve as a motivator; for others, it may serve to lower motivation as it lowers self esteem. Shame also keeps us trapped in the same, rigid lines of thought that focus on terms like, “normal,” “everyone else,” and “if anyone knew.”

What If You Were A-OK?

It's True. So Now What?

Take it from a local graffiti artist with great penmanship.

We take circumstances that make us unhappy in the present and add a lasting, penetrating layer of unhappiness when we embrace shame. The dishes become an identity issue. Suffering abuse becomes a secret. Renting, dating, staying home with the kids or working part-time become potential embarrassments, indicators of failure and reservoirs of pressure and pain — proof we cannot keep up with the norm, proof we are subpar. What if dirty dishes couldn’t be a character flaw? What if renting simply meant dwelling? What if work choices or circumstances were simply descriptions of what we did with our time? What if you were already wonderful, regardless of what you do or do not do, or what you have or do not have?

Society doesn’t like this shameless viewpoint. American society, in particular, needs to protect the notions of SuperMom, “The Woman Who Has It All,” puritanical work ethics, and the belief in the American Dream. If you’re not keeping up with the Joneses, you’re not trying hard enough. What if we saw value everywhere, in every state? What would you accomplish if you weren’t scampering to avoid shame?

Release Yourself From Shame

Today, shame crept up on me twice already. Once, as I found myself behind at work. Next, as I heard a family member wave off my career frustration and suggest if I followed a prescribed route well enough, I would be happy. I’m choosing not to attach my identity to either one. The work needs to be done, errands need to be run, and I still need to figure out my next career steps, but I don’t need to feel awful about myself in the process. Unfortunately, it seems deliveries don’t move faster with inverse proportion to how badly I feel. Inner clarity becomes further muddled when I feel ashamed of its existence. The dishes do not care if we do them every moment or never. They remain washed or unwashed, whoever we are, whatever we’ve done.

This is hard for me at the moment. Here’s where the Hug Trip starts, I guess. I’m going to simply move to the next thing. Maybe I should feel some requisite repentance, but I’m simply moving forward. I’m reminding myself that worth is intrinsic, not earned. The thought is uncomfortable and I’m afraid to let go of it. But let’s see what happens when I do.

What We See Depends on What We’re On

Standard
Paid or Expired?

Our gestures can be misunderstood, even from feet away.

This picture represents my problem in more ways than one. First, I witnessed this gesture. I took this picture. And, for a long time, I thought this was a “WTF?” mannerism. Turns out I was wrong. After someone joked it looked like he was at a total loss as to how to operate a parking meter, he explained the pose. We were on the coast, with the beach, the arcade, no promises to keep. His hands were saying, “What more could you want? What could be better than this?”

Interpretation bias isn’t a new concept, and if you give me half a glass of water, I’ll immediately point out it’s half-filled. I think of myself as an optimist – except if it’s about myself in any way. Visuals depend not just on where you’re standing, but what you’re thinking and what’s coloring your brain.

So, what have I been on? Let’s see. Life was laced with some grief awhile ago, and I’m still in a haze. An anxiety disorder means I’m overadrenalined and sometimes tweaking. And I spent the better part of two decades frying my brain on religion. For all my half-glassed attempts at positivity, I’ve still found myself self-punishing, nervous, guilt-ridden in my head. What bothers me most about this picture? The possibilities in it. It never would have occurred to me it was a gesture of joy.

The second problem the photograph presents is the guy in it, beheaded by crop. Flawed but beautiful, he not only perceives the glass as half full, but maintains a thirst and expectation for the next pour. I’m simultaneously drawn to and unnerved by his immersion in experience and lack of judgment. Maybe he’s just been ingesting Buddhism, organic produce and Berkeley water for too long or maybe he’s onto something. At alternating times, it’s confounding, inspiring, frustrating and comforting — and not something that at all comes very naturally for me.

Though I constantly defend the confining beliefs from my past (ones I no longer ascribe to, don’t apply to others, but for some reason can’t quite let go of in my head), he posed a single question several weeks ago that made me pause:

All those people from that judgmental church, how did it work for them? Were they happy?
How is it working for you? How has it worked out for you for the last 20 years?

It hasn’t. And after way too much introspection, I’m ready to try trading condemnation and fear for a little more experience. I’m ready for a mental adventure and maybe a few physical ones, too. I want a life that’s not governed by judgment. I want to lay off some inner critics and hire a few cognitive cheerleaders. It’s time to get a party started up in here, so I’m taking a Hug Trip, operating in unilateral kindness, gratefulness and observation.