Category Archives: Religion

A Little Bit of Reading, Writing, and Some Art

For a week (or more) now, spending time each day working on art, writing, or reading, so I guess that’s really what I added to my mix for the month of June, instead of yoga or weightlifting. Since, I’m quitting social media in July, I figure I’ll have plenty of time to add in more of these creative joys in my life, and I should easily be able to fit in weightlifting twice a week. I’d still like to do yoga, too. 

Does anyone reading this know anything about an evening or bedtime yoga practice that might help me wind down after work, so I can fall asleep at a reasonable time? Is anyone reading this? Hello? I mostly read about people doing morning yoga, but I suppose a quick google search would take me to some evening practices.

Reading.

I’ve been very slowly working my way through the A Wrinkle in Time Trilogy by Madeleine L’Engle. Since I just had to use the interwebs to figure out how to spell her name, I learned that it’s really a quintet! Why didn’t anyone tell me?! I’ve been working my way through that when I am not compulsively switching between FB, Twitter, and IG before I try to go to bed. Funny thing: the nights when I read I fall asleep faster and sleep better. I enjoy the books, but they sometimes remind me of a podcast I’m listening to called Tanis. If you like fiction, Tanis and Rabbits are both good podcasts to invest in. They are mind-bendy and weird. The way the books remind me of the podcasts is there is some repetition, and it’s difficult to figure out just which clues you might need to retain for later and which minutiae you can just flush once you’ve read or heard it. All are enjoyable, just more work than I thought they’d be. Ha.

I’m also reading the book I mentioned the last time I wrote. I’m enjoying pulling quotes and savory points to think on from The Book of Joy. One example is this bit of wisdom from Tutu: “[I]f you are setting out to be joyful you are not going to end up being joyful. You’re going to find yourself turned in on yourself. It’s like a flower. You open, you blossom, really because of other people. And I think some suffering, maybe even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion” (43). I, by no means, have experienced “intense suffering” in the same way as others, but the Dalai Lama offers an interesting perspective on that in the book as well. He basically says that we need to stop comparing our suffering and move toward recognizing that our suffering is part of a sea of global suffering, in which we can feel compassion for those around us through our mutual suffering, though our suffering is different from each other.

Writing.

I’ve written here twice now in less than a week, and previously I hadn’t written here for several months. I’m just happy that I can exercise my brain and my hands and make coherent thoughts. I find that I’m working toward writing more spiritually, because I am trying to move my life toward filtering things more spiritually on a daily basis. I hope my writing reflects what I am trying to do with every day practice. I hope it’s more mindful, more kind, and more centered.

A friend of mine asked me about how Frantz Fanon would feel about a status I posted on FB the other day. I had to admit that I haven’t read any theory for so long, I couldn’t remember what Fanon even says. So, here I am, working in retail, not really thinking about literary theory, being challenged by my friend to say something smart. I confessed to her that I hadn’t thought that way in about three years, and that I’d have to have her send me a PDF of an article or a book title, so I can check out a book, to reread before I can even try to answer her question. That’s pretty sad for me, since thinking theoretically is my jam and usually comes fairly easily for me. Writing theoretically has never been easy for me, but thinking that way is my lifeblood. I’m happy to say, that I am working on reading toward, and writing toward a response to her question.

We’ll see how this works out.

Art.

Which is really digital drawing at this point. And some photo work.

I’ve gone back to the basics. Like, you know, middle school art class, where you had to do contour line drawings of your hands, simple objects, and your face in a mirror. Where you had to draw 19,000 white 3D geometric shapes and shade them based on where the light was positioned and where their shadows ended up sulking across the desk. Where you combined colors in layers use to see what they would do.

Only I am doing it all digitally. And it’s a very steep learning curve. My hands looks like collections of lines, instead of hands, my colors have all turned brown, and my shapes look very 2D with a white side and a grey side and a black blob of a shadow sticking out like a blowing scarf from the base. 

Peace

But this is what success looks like. Failing forward. Trying again. Making a group of lines that somewhat resemble a hand-shaped thing. Making a new shade of brown. Making a sphere that looks like maybe you might be able to pick up one side of it from the page. And practice. Practice. Practice.

Beauty. Peace. Grace. Love.

All of these things take time. All of them are important.

July 4: Independence Day, Veganism, Goal Fulfilling

I’m reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams, and the words are helping me see how very far I’ve come since November with physical, spiritual, and mental wellness, but I’m also learning how very far I have to go to be completely well. This year I am using July 4, 2017 to become independent from social media. I’ll be staying away from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram until January 1, 2018. I’ll still write here occasionally, but I want to really experience things in my own way, not filtered through the lenses of comparison, argumentation, and whatever else happens on social media that makes me feel yucky inside and draws energy from my experiences of joy. 

I’m not putting my head in a hole in the ground, because I’ll still follow the news and interact with friends through texts, emails, and phone calls, but I am buffering my experiences with jealousy, anger, and sadness for six months. My 25th high school reunion is on August 5, and I want to be in the best mental health possible, so I can have a blast with some people I haven’t seen in 25 years. Please be sure to direct message me if you want my contact information to text, call, or email.

I haven’t written here in a while, and it’s mostly because I spend a good portion of my day, when I am not at work, sitting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, watching the feeds go by with the same information I saw just a few minutes ago. I mean, I seriously sit on the couch, going from Facebook (refresh) to Instagram (refresh) to Twitter (refresh) and back again and again. Last night I spent about three hours working on some digital art; I’m trying to design bike jerseys for me and Bec for our 100-mile ride in July, and it was so fulfilling that I was reminded how joyful I feel when I am reading, or writing, or creating. 

I am not good at just “taking a break” or “logging out for a while,” so I will just remove the apps from my phone and change the passwords to something I won’t remember. I’ll write it down, so I can come back and visit in January. This is the thing I am adding for July to my wellness and mental health changes I am making this year. I’m also trying hard to invest more in those people who also invest in me, and that isn’t necessarily happening on social media. I feel as if I am investing shallowly in a lot of people, but not deep and meaningfully in a few people. 

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Because I haven’t written here in a while, well, I haven’t written at all in a while, I feel like I have so much to say, but I also feel like I’ll just ramble and babble and not make any sense. So what’s new?! 

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I became vegan (again) on May 4, because of a challenge at work, and I am in love with my lifestyle. What I love is that I am being very healthy about it. I’m eating nearly all fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans, and almost no “vegan food products.” 

I eat an occasional Boca burger, breadsticks, or French fries, but for the most part, on the day to day, I eat fresh veggies like carrots, snap peas, and tomatoes, fresh fruit like apples, oranges, and cherries, and some hummus and avocado. I am trying to limit the amount of GMOs I’m eating, and I’m also limiting my wheat and soy intake. What I consume is 90% organic. 

I also have smoothies for breakfast, which are pretty lovely, with spinach, soy milk, and Vega protein powder. I feel good, I look healthy, and I’m living as cruelty-free as possible, which helps my spiritual and mental health. This has been a long (repetitive), slow journey, but I am getting where I am supposed to be. 

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Since November 25, 2016, I’ve lost 40 pounds, and my immediate goal is 20 more, which is coming off slowly. More importantly to me, I’m able to walk 8 miles with no problems, I can bike 30 miles on a regular basis, and I can still swim like a fish. I haven’t had a drink since January 19, and I’ve made changes slowly and consistently, so they’re becoming part of my life, instead of a thing I’m doing.

For July, I am also adding in weightlifting, which I was supposed to have already added, but I get intimidated for some crazy reason. I start second guessing myself like I’ve never lifted weights, and I don’t belong in a gym. Dumb. My goal is: Mondays and Thursdays will be biking, Tuesdays and Fridays will be swimming and lifting, and Wednesdays will be trail running, Saturdays will be running then walking with Bec, and Sundays will be a leisurely walk with Bec. 

I’m meditating more regularly, but I still need to be more consistent, because I feel so much better when I calm my monkey mind by focusing on my breath. I’m trying to be more mindful of the ways in which my actions impact others, and I seem to have more cognition of that when my mind is calm from meditating, rather than when it is full of many thoughts that are walking laps inside my brain like big cats in a zoo cage. 

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My brother and I leave on June 30 for a trip to swim in all five Great Lakes. We’re hoping to complete our trek in about 12 hours and spend the night in Toronto. I’ll keep you posted.  I cannot tell you how good it felt to write this, even though it is super disjointed, not very pretty, and kind of like nacho vomit in word form. 

I’ve started this post a million times…

or so it seems. I usually know with a certain level of accuracy how to express what I am feeling, but this week I am at a loss for words. I’m unsure what to say, and I’m unsure what to think, and I’m unsure what to do.

I’ve heard people say that the election resonated with them in the same way that the Pulse shooting resonated with them, but that’s not quite it for me. I’ve heard people say that they feel like a homeless person, because their home has been taken from them by force, but I can’t say that because I’ve never been homeless.

There are countless other ways people have described their disappointment, including a customer who came in, in tears, because she fears for her autistic son’s well-being and the loss of Arctic animals because of climate change. I, too, am scared—no terrified—for my GLBT+, non-white, non-“Christian” friends and the earth. I’m pissed that we are in a war in Standing Rock, North Dakota with indigenous people who are trying to protect the tiny bit of land that they were given by our government. This article by Code Switch is an excellent article about what’s going on there.

I feel like I am inside some bad trip, where nothing makes sense, and someone is trying to help me down, but I can’t come down. I’m just stuck, here, in an alternate world where nothing makes sense and nothing adds up. People, who I previously considered friends, intelligent friends, say things that make no sense, things that don’t follow any kind of consistent ethic, and that don’t align with their previously stated morality.

I keep seeing these things posted on Facebook walls of people who voted for Donald Trump, and I can’t wrap my head around how people can reconcile this bit of Scripture with the running platform of our President Elect:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Everyone around me is angry or sad, and those who aren’t angry or sad are elated and willing to tell me so. Over and over again. People I don’t know post hateful things on my Facebook timeline.  I spent fifteen minutes yesterday with a customer who told me all about how the next four years are going to be the best of his life. When I said, okay, he said, your products are going to be made in the US again. I said, okay, and he just kept talking about how P.E. Trump is trying so hard to establish himself as a good president. I said, okay.

I’m tired. I’m taking a break.

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About four months ago, on my 42nd birthday, I set some goals. The older I get, the easier it is for me to just ignore my goals, to not care about meeting those goals, or to just be lackadaisical about accomplishing them.

On this coming Sunday, Advent begins, so I think I might try to accomplish my goal of going to church. I think I need it. I think you need for me to go. I say this because I have not been my best self for the majority of November. Maybe a baby Jewish refugee in a wooden cow trough, who was birthed to an unwed teenage mother and father, who was brought gifts by “foreigners,” who was worshipped by the working class, and who was later saved from infanticide at the hands of the ruling class will be just the miracle to bring me around.

Anyway, I set a couple of other goals, too: running, compassion, pay it forward, social media and creativity, and finances.

I am working on running, while also playing soccer and nursing my plantar fascia on my right foot. I won’t be running a full marathon again next summer, but I am going to run a 25K trail race at Afton; 15 miles is a more accomplishable goal for me this year.

Compassion, which includes going to church, seems to be going the best right now, since I am trying so hard to understand what makes people do what they do. I’m also trying to work at allowing myself to be in someone else’s shoes; I’m hoping that maybe I will somehow be able to better understand my fellow humans. I’ve also been a bit of a slacker when it comes to meditation, so I need to refocus on this aspect of my life as well. I can really tell when I practice mindfulness and when I don’t. I’m not so mindful right now. I’ve been vegetarian, but not vegan, which is something I will fix at the new year.

I still haven’t worked on paying it forward, and I’d love to find somewhere to volunteer every week, even though my schedule is a bit wacky, I could just RTO time each week for volunteering.

The social media and creativity goal is the one that I should’ve kept working on with diligence. More than any of the goals. I find that being on social media is really damaging to my psyche. People are mean. I should’ve been drawing or printmaking, instead of spending all those hours on Facebook, getting angrier.

Finally, my finances are slowly improving. I’m paying more on all of my credit cards each month, and I have a separate savings account, where I deposit all of my wages from Caribou, for vacation spending. We went to New York and I paid for all but the dog boarding with cash, but I quickly paid off the dog boarding upon our return.

So, while I’m not making major headway, I feel like I am making some. I’m also taking a break. Until after the holidays. Peace. Grace. Joy. Love. Hope.

Hope and Goals

Hope

I received a text from my wife earlier this week that simply said, “There is hope,” to which I responded, “Always.” There is always hope if nothing else, but hope is a funny, tricky thing.

St. Thomas Aquinas describes hope in this way: “a movement or stretching forth of the appetite towards an arduous good.” And I’ve read a lot about how hope is first and foremost predicated by our eternal desires, but I know people who don’t believe in any concept of eternity, who seem to have more hope than those who do have a sense of some eternal life.

My questions to myself this week, after that text, has been what do I believe that hope is? What do I feel when I feel hope? How does hope fit in with my four guiding principles: peace, grace, love, and joy?

What is hope? I’ve meditated on this for a bit of each day, as I rest, as I read, as I drive, as I work. For me, I think hope is a bit like St. Thomas describes it, but it’s more than just “stretching the appetite forward towards an arduous good.” Hope is visualizing that good and picturing yourself as a part of that good, as if it’s already happened.

For me, hope is a bit like competing in an endurance event. I visualize myself completing the course, putting myself through the imaginary rigors, and then finishing the test in an admirable way. I revel in the fictitious completion of the event, so I can then begin the event with hope that I will finish. I’ve already owned the success of it.

Hope is much the same. I have hope in a future event or a present moment, because I’ve already visualized the success of that event, not giving room for any other outcome. I hope good things into being by imagining them as such. My hope is not always related to my spiritual life, but also it is an integral part of my corporeal reality. My body and my mind need to feel hope to make it through each day. Many of my dark days have been comprised of a lack of hope, my inability to imagine an arduous good, to taste it, to see it, to imagine it into fruition.

What do I feel when I feel hope? Well, for me hope feels like standing in a field of yellow and purple wildflowers, near some pine trees, listening to the breeze come up over the hill, hearing birds sing and the bees buzz, and knowing that everything will work out for good.

The sun is warm on my skin, and hope burns my heart.

Hope feels like owning beauty and growth and goodness, even before they are completely mine. Hope is knowing and resting in the fact that whatever happens will be worked into some good, somewhere in the world.

How does hope fit in with peace, grace, love, and joy, as my four main guiding forces in my life? Hope is what ties them all together. Hope is what help me see peace where there isn’t any. Hope is what helps me gives grace and receive grace in difficult situations. Hope inspires love, and love is, ultimately, the arduous good that is hope’s appetite. Finally, hope breeds joy. How can I not be joyful or experience joy when hope is the visualization of an arduous good?

The tricky thing about hope is exactly what St. Thomas points toward in describing the desire of hope as an “arduous good.” There is nothing worth hoping for that is easy to attain, since hope, in and of itself, implies that the object of that hope is something difficult to attain. Are peace, grace, love, and joy easy ideals to attain? If they were, each day would not be struggle to live out those values. There wouldn’t be whole volumes of spiritual and religious texts written about how to have hope, how to think positively of the future, how to live a “happy” life, how to prosper, who to not lose faith, and how to live with an eye toward the future. Even religions that focus on the present, like Buddhism, have sacred texts that refer to hope as a positive tool for life.

Today in my life I feel hope. For a better future. For loving others. For changing this tragic world. For giving grace. For my vocation. For living life forward.

Goals

Veganism This is not going so well, and, at the risk of sounding like I am making excuses, it’s because I love to have dinner with my wife. It’s incredibly difficult to cook food that suits us both, and since she cooks most of the time now, I find it rude to ask her to cook special food for me. We’re strictly vegetarian in the meals that we share, though she does eat bacon for breakfast.

Volunteerism I got an email from 360 Communities about being a sexual assault advocate , and I really want to do it, but this time around conflicts with work. I’m waiting until the next round of training in October. I am volunteering in March to help pack lunches for small children, so that will have to suffice for now.

Prayer and Meditation I am enjoying an increased level of quiet time to contemplate spiritual things. I am trying to make the St. Francis prayer a morning ritual, thereby working to commit the prayer to memory. In its entirety, the prayer goes like this:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Exercise I ran the Winter Trail Quarter Marathon again this year, and my time was awful, but I finished. I then proceeded to get sick again, and I have only run once since then. Apple’s Wellness Challenge begins tomorrow, and I don’t want to let my team down, so I’ll be exercising daily for the month of February, starting with an hour-long swim tomorrow morning.

Alcohol and Caffeine This one really isn’t difficult. I’ve had a couple of beer and a couple of coffees, but, to be honest, I’m not really even tempted by either one right now.

Do good. Do no harm. Stay in love with God.

 

 

Prayer and Meditation

This may be the strangest thing I’ve said in a while, but this Lent was really good for me. While Lent is supposed to be a period of suffering and wandering, I’ve always viewed the liturgical season as a time of renewal and deep thought. Since I’d been in a period of serious self-evaluation for a few months prior to Ash Wednesday this year, I decided to add something to my life rather than to take something away. Quite frankly, I’d had enough suffering. I’d grown tired of contemplating my humanity, and I didn’t want to focus for one more minute on giving up some earthly pleasure.

I decided, since my church attendance had been pretty hit or miss for about 9 months, to add in going to the 8AM service at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. No matter what I decided, at the Ash Wednesday service as I was reminded that I’d come from dust and I’d return to dust, I would attend every Sunday morning, even if it meant getting up early on the only day I had to sleep in.

As usually happens when we obey the nudging of God, I was blessed in my obedience. I look back and recognize how the small act of going to church every Sunday helped me move from a place of hopelessness to a place of hope. Was the 40 days some sort of mystical balm for my aching heart? No. Has my transition from hopelessness to hopefulness been easy? No. But I can say that today, the Monday after the third Sunday of Easter, that I have a strong hope that my life has changed for the better.

One positive thing to come from the 40-day Lenten season was my recognition of how self-centered I had become. I had spent so much time wallowing in my own misery and just clinging to my own concerns, that I failed to realize how shallow and internally focused I’d become. I suppose you could say that I had fallen into survival mode where I was focused on my own getting by, so much so that I was unable to see how people around me were suffering. And there’s a lot of suffering in this world.

In light of that, I’ve decided to cut everything out of my life that seems like work to me, things that feel like they go against my ethic or against my conscience. I’m cutting out racing and getting back to the pleasure of exercise, trail running, swimming, and disc golfing with no particular goal or destination in mind. I’m decreasing the pain I bring into this world by being vegetarian. I’m consciously trying to relax and breathe through situations that might cause me stress or where I might say or do something that doesn’t bring peace to this place.

Most importantly, however, I am trying to focus my energy toward helping others in whatever ways I can, which could include just helping folks out, not talking about people (which I try to avoid anyway), being alongside people when they need me, and just loving folks no matter who they are. The biggest way I see to put other people first is to pray for people and when you pray for them, you’re really changing yourself through those prayers. This idea is wholly embraced by the writers of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

I typically believe that whenever I think of someone, those thoughts are similar to praying for them, but during Lent, I felt moved to have a more concerted prayer time wherein I conscientiously pray for the needs of my friends. I’ve decided to visit either St. Paul’s Cathedral or St. Mary’s Basilica on one of my days off each week, and I’ll simply put aside some time to pray for people by name, along with praying for whatever concerns I know are on their hearts or whatever they share with me to pray for. Is there a better way to spend time off than in prayer for family and friends surrounded by beautiful art and architecture?

I’ve learned that if I am more concerned for others, my concerns work themselves out on their own.