Tag Archives: Joy

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. 

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.

 

 

A Reason to Drive to Minnesota to Throat Punch Me: Fitness

If you needed a reason to come to MN to throat punch me, here it is, and I even give you permission, rather the encouragement, to do it. Please, please, please, if I ever say I am going to quit swimming, biking, or running, or if I say I am just going to take a short break from it, get in your car, drive to Newport, Minnesota, and kick my ass. I’ll even give you gas money. If come to throat punch me for some other reason, you’re on your own with the gas money.

That being said, I’ve started running again, very slowly and methodically, but running none the less. I’ve just finished the second week, the second day, of the Couch Potato to 5K program, and it was glorious. I’m hoping to only have to use the guided program for a couple more weeks before my body is just back in the groove of this thing I love. I’m doing most of my running on this trail, The River Bottoms Trail, parts of which are contained in Fort Snelling State Park. The section I am using right now is the part that starts in Mendota, and it’s flat as a pancake, beautiful along the river, and packed dirt so it’s very forgiving, not like concrete or asphalt. As I get better and faster again at running, I’ll explore some of the other parts of the trail, too, but they seem more technical and I don’t want to risk injuring my knee again, so I want to be good and strong before being too adventurous. The waiting is torture. My favorite part of running is careening down hills and skittering back up the other side. It’s a beautiful childlike feeling, but for now I’ll be a 40-year-old who’s afraid to get reinjured.

To begin preparing to train for the Muncie 70.3 next July, I have decided to run three times a week, bike twice a week, and swim twice a week. I’ve already covered my running plan, so I’ll talk about biking. I’m hoping to rope Bec into my biking program next spring, but we’ll see how that goes. We love going for long rides together, so hopefully it’ll mean spending some quality time together once a week for a long ride. Mostly for now, I’m going to ride a couple of short rides each week, then settle into winter. I hate riding in cold weather, so I’ll be spending some time in the garage on the trainer, which I hate almost as much. Maybe I need to get a cheap TV to put out there to make the time pass more quickly. Such is life in Minnesota as a biker in the winter, but there is always spring.

Finally, I just sent for my community lap swim card. Talk about a super-cool, super-weird deal: the schools in our district open their pools for lap swim for anyone in the community. It costs $65 A YEAR to join the community lap swim program. $65 A YEAR! The pools are open four nights a week, and the one closest to my house is open on Monday and Wednesday from 8PM to 9PM, which is perfect. I can get in a nice swim two nights a week, just before bed. I had registered for Big Shoulders this year, but since I haven’t been swimming, I’m going to forgo my participation and watch my friend Teresa do Ironman Wisconsin. I’ll try for Big Shoulders again next year when I’ve been in the pool more.

Here is what I hope my weeks to come will look like:

Day

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Activity Swim Run Swim Run Bike LongRun Bike
Time 8-9PM Whenever 8-9PM Whenever Whenever Whenever

Afternoon

Getting back into this type of training is much more difficult than just sticking with it could ever be, so please, please, please, heed my offer. If I ever, ever, ever, mention quitting or taking a break, make the drive and throat punch me. I won’t be surprised about it, and I’ll pay for your gas.

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On a totally unrelated note, people who have very long acrylic fingernails should not be allowed to type in public. Isn’t that so the late 1990s early 2000s anyway? The clicking reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells.” The clicking is maddening. In fact, I think my work is finished here. I’m going to go home and shower, then find a place to get my newest tattoo. Happy Birthday to me.

A New Sabbath Day

I want and need a Sabbath, one day each week that I can count on to be strictly my time to spend with God, family, writing, and art, so the one day I said I wouldn’t work at Caribou is Sunday. Fortunately, Caribou eases you in to a full schedule, so I had yesterday and tomorrow off as well. Today we tried out our new Sunday thing, plan, routine, whatever you want to call it. Since Bec and I have radically different ideas about what we like in church, we’ve decided to have the best of both worlds and just attend two services. First, we get up early and head to St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul, and then we head to Awaken Community in Lilydale. It’s a nice balance and nice way to start the Sabbath. And we get to see the children and grandchildren at Awaken, so that’s a pretty nice bonus. After church today, we came home, had lunch, and then napped. We’re exciting, I know.

We (Bec, Ann, and I) spent yesterday going to the Uptown and Powderhorn Art Fairs. We walked forever and looked at lots of amazing arts and crafts. I bought a card for my mom, a birthday gift for my brother, and an anniversary gift for the Combers. And if any of them read this, I just spoiled the surprise for them all. As we walked, I kept thinking about how God has honored my heart’s desire to have time off of work and to have a job I don’t bring home with me. I couldn’t get the image of myself, sitting in one of those booths and selling my own artwork, out of my mind. Even if it’s only a dream for now, since I have just begun sketching, it’s the freest I’ve felt in a long, long time.

For my first little venture back into the art world, I plan to create a set of prints based on this poem by Wallace Stevens. There have been several interpretations of this poem created by several artists in a few diverse cultures. Artist Joan Colbert hand pulled my favorite set of linoleum block prints that is currently in existence. You can see them here. However, I think there is still room for me to add my voice into the mix, because my style of block printing has a bit more texture in the white spaces, and I plan to print both black and white on brown paper, adding some pastel work into the final prints.

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I got to Minnesota about three weeks ago. Today is August 3, and I arrived on July 11. Just after I got here, or more specifically on my 40th birthday, I made some simple goals, things I’d like to improve upon in my life. Here they are (again): quit smoking and drink only on weekends or not at all; eat primal with one “cheat” day a week; no ice cream; get a job; capitalize on quiet time (read, write, art); and run/walk, bike, swim. Since setting these goals, I’ve accomplished several and am still working on others. I struggle with the ice cream thing. It gives me joy. I’m going to keep eating ice cream for a while. I’ve started adding a brief bit of meditation into my morning routine, and I hope to add it into my evening routine as well. Meditation helps me to quiet my busy mind in a way that nothing else does; I can release my anger and sadness and cultivate compassion and joy through the simple act of breathing.

I’ve created one new goal in all of this, which I mentioned before, but I am going to mention again, and probably keep mentioning. I want to finish the Muncie 70.3 for my second time next July. I want to do it again to prove to myself that I can and to get a better time than last and to just be healthy again. I’ve been running and biking, and I will start swimming later this month, so I know I can do it. I just need to stay focused and remember that I am doing all of this to take care of myself and be well.