Get To The Roots

There was a big old half dead pine tree in our yard when we bought this house. It was about thirty feet tall and right across the driveway from the livingroom. It still had some green tips on its sad branches and it did provide a little shade to the house in the summer, so I decided to try to revive it. I dug a well around the base of the tree and filled it with water every day for more than a year. It did grow a few more green tips, but we took a three-week vacation and when we got back all the progress was gone. It was just not worth the cost of all that water to keep trying.

It stood there dead for a few more years. The woodpeckers loved it and I enjoyed watching them from the west window. Whole families of them were constantly chattering away, poking holes in it looking for bugs. I hung some bird houses that I had in it, but no one wants to take up residence in a dead tree with no cover. It started to look like any day it might fall on the house and cause us more problems. When we got a new travel trailer for our road trips, we found that the driveway was too narrow at that point to pull it all the way around. We’d need to widen the driveway and that old tree was in the way. It needed to go.

My husband started by cutting it down. He felled it pretty easily for an office man and proceeded to cut the old limbs off and stack them. The smaller branches were super brittle and easy to smash up and put in the trash. The thicker branches he cut into fireplace pieces along with some of the trunk. The man that is coming to grade the driveway offered to take a big piece of the trunk for a project he has in mind. He’s a woodcarver too. He put it in his truck before he left.

And now we’re left with the stump. Naïve as we were, we had asked if he could knock it over with the tractor and he emphatically said he couldn’t. He was sure it wouldn’t budge. We’d have to get it out some other way before he could finish the job.

My husband is an industrious man! He got out all the “shovels and rakes and implements of destruction” early Saturday morning and started to dig. He cut roots and shoveled all morning, took a break while our teenage sun took a crack at it, and went back to work on it on Sunday morning. He hooked up our VW bus to it and tried pushing and pulling to loosen it up. No dice. That stump is seriously stuck. It’s going to take a ton of work to get that thing out!

“How can a big dead tree, with all its multitude of dead and breaking limbs, have such a strong and hearty root?!” I told my friend as we stood looking at it this morning.

We all have big dead trees like that in our lives. A failed relationship, a dependence on a substance, bad habits and bad people are something everyone has at least a little of. When we lay them out on paper or in conversation with a close friend, we can see it’s not serving us, it’s actually hurting us, holding us back. We should cut them down and get rid of them.

We start by knocking it down. We ditch that relationship and move out, get another job, or leave town. We clean up the house and sell all our extra stuff in an effort to live more frugally. We go through drug rehab or get some professional help for our mental struggles. It feels great because we’re moving towards getting better, but then we hit a wall.

Suddenly, the project or recovery seems so damn complicated. There’s so much work to do! So, we stop. We got rid of it, that should be enough. And there we are with a dead stump right where the new driveway should be. It’s still a royal pain in the ass to pull the trailer around. We need to finish the job to be well. We have more work to do.

The power tools come out, the pick, the shovels, the sweat, and the aching back. We may have to resort to dynamite as a last resort. But it will be worth it.

Once the long labor is over, life will go more smoothly. The limbs of the big dead tree in your life may be easy to break off. The trunk of it may need a power tool to get down. But the root will still be there and it’s going to be a long painful process to get it out. It will be worth it though. Get to work!

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Those Stinkin’ Thinkers!

Philosophers have been generally despised throughout history. We don’t like those people that come in with their wild ideas, making us think about what we are doing and the reasons behind it. Just because one of those thinkers comes up with an interesting idea, doesn’t mean we have to adopt it, so why do we get so upset?

I think it just pisses us off to have to think about things that deeply. Think of it this way. You’re humming along, taking your kids to school, going to the grocery store, picking up the mail. Sometimes you may feel a little frustrated or disappointed with how things are going, but that’s just life, you think. If you just tweaked something a bit, if your kids would just straighten up and behave, if your spouse was a little more helpful, everything would run more smoothly, and you’d all be happy.

Along comes this philosopher guy and he questions what you are doing. She says, “Hey! What if you didn’t need to send your kids to school? What if you were actually harming them?” He writes a post that asks to reconsider getting married in the first place if all you are thinking is that you’ll have a controllable permanent partner if you do.

Suddenly, you’re thinking about your life. You’re thinking that maybe there is something to what he’s saying, maybe you should reconsider how you do things…but that’s so freaking hard! So you tell him to jump off a cliff and continue on your way.

If you’re a thinking person at all (which most people are), you now have some little inkling of another way of life tickling the back of your brain and it bugs you. It sets the balance off on your day, like an unbalanced set of tires on your car. It bugs you and now you have to give it some of your precious time. I mean, really, we are all limited on time and energy. Why can’t things just run along smoothly?

That’s why most people don’t like philosophers. If you are saying anything important, life changing, or meaningful at all, it’s going to make most people irritable. That’s the nature of it.

For those who believe they are in control of things, it’s even more difficult to take into account what a philosopher might be saying. If what the philosopher says is true, or even if it isn’t, the person in control may be losing that control. That is really irksome to us. Think about it. There you are with all your ducks in a row, marching off to wherever ducks are supposed to go (regardless of how the ducks feel about it), and along comes some guy that scatters them. Now you’ve got tons more work to do and nothing is running smoothly like it should. Some one should stop that guy!

It’s not just the philosopher’s that get hated either. It’s those that consider their ideas and try to expound on them. Those that take new thinking and run with it, try to change their own lives to see if it works or maybe improve the lives of others. Those people…what a pain. There they are, living in ways you choose not to, being happy in their own way, making you think that maybe what you are doing may or may not be the best for you. Oh…the thinking, the consideration, the debate…it’s unbearable!

Unexpected Finds

I started reading Plato’s Republic this morning. I bought the Allan Bloom translation a while back and am finally getting to it. I only read the introductions and a couple pages of the book so far, but damn…it’s awesome. I’m glad I read the introductions because they gave me some really good insight as to why it was written and what we might get out of it by doing so.

Here are a couple quotes I’m already in love with:

From the introduction by Adam Kirsch

“In other words, Plato’s focus is not so much on the content of Socrates’s ideas as on the way those ideas affect and transform his listeners, enabling them to start actually thinking, instead of merely repeating platitudes.”

Philosophy doesn’t teach you what to think. It’s not a list of rules. It teaches to you how to think, to use your mind and navigate the world around you. When we say “My philosophy is…,” we don’t mean these are my rules for living. We should mean this is how I look at the world and decipher it’s meaning.

“…philosophy was fundamentally a subversive pursuit and had been recognized as such for most of history.”

Subversive! That’s why they killed Socrates. Philosophers aren’t supposed to tow the line of conventional thought. They blur up those lines and force us to re-think and define how we came to those lines. It should make you angry! We’d all love nothing more than to float through life on easy street, but that limits the future, not only ours but our children’s.

“The Enlightenment, taken literally, believed that the light could be brought into the cave and the shadows dispelled; men, in that view, could live in perfect light.” -Bloom

Socrates believed there was an elite that could understand things better and take care of the rest of humanity. Political rulers, priests, and professors. They had the books and the intelligence to take care of the masses. The rest needed to listen. If the man that came back from outside the cave came in saying, let me lead you out into the world so you can be free, they’d kill him. That may be true. But what I’d love is this idea from the Enlightenment. The cave is dark and shadowy, bring light in and every human will have to learn truth on their own and they will. Unfortunately, the older I get the more I start to think that just isn’t possible.

“His (a philosopher) situation is extremely dangerous, because he knows truths the rest of the world is determined not to hear.”

It’s like we’re all on a very fixed track to get to point B and we will not be dissuaded. The philosopher comes in with his wild ideas, maybe we can be kinder, maybe we can love each other, maybe we can not use force…what a monster. Everyone knows taxes must be paid to make roads for us to use. Everyone knows that women’s healthcare means being able to kill off unborn children. Everyone knows that if we don’t bomb the shit out of that country they’ll kill us all. Lord help the person that suggests maybe, just maybe, we can do otherwise.

Writing all of this I suddenly realize how poignant Dr. Seuss books are.

Do You Belong?

Talking with a friend over the weekend, I found a few things suddenly come into focus. I love the way that works. I listen, I read, I think, and then while I’m saying something over lasagna, it all comes into focus on one point…like magic. My poor friend must have thought I was insane when I stopped in mid-sentence, “Shit! That’s it!”

Belonging to a community can be unhealthy. I know, you’re thinking…she’s lost her mind! We all need to belong to a community! Of course, we do…but, it can be unhealthy. You know that. You’ve probably been there. Belonging to a community is a relationship and some relationships can be unhealthy. When we come into relationships wounded and bleeding, the community probably won’t fix that, unless it’s a community of doctors.

In my life, I’ve always been hunting for a community to belong to. My family, my school, my work, my church, my homeschool groups, they all ended up in the same way. I walked in, I embraced it, I started to feel the ideas there resonate with me and then, at some point, I began to feel lonely. I started grasping at straws, maybe if I became more directly involved? What if I took the reigns here? What if I confided in another member how I was feeling? I became needy to those around me, or controlling, and then I felt neglected and misunderstood. And then I blamed them and left.

Am I alone in this? I doubt it. I’ve heard over and over again from several different ends of the earth, “I want to feel connected.” “I just want to feel like I belong.” “I need a community of like-minded people, but I just can’t find it.”

It made me think, do we all feel this way? Do most of us walk around thinking we’re alone in this world, that everyone else is part of a group, and we are the only one outside of the circle? Several times in my life, I’ve talked to friends from my past (thanks to social media connecting everyone) and found that when I believed I was hanging on to them and their close circle of friends, they believed the exact opposite. They thought that those were my friends they were tagging along with, my church they came to visit, my family they pretended to be a part of. It’s weird how different our perceptions can be of the same events.

So…what makes a community unhealthy? You. You make it that way. We need to start with ourselves, make ourselves healthy and ready for the give and take of a relationship. The relationship will not make you healthy and that’s just what community is, a relationship.

How does one start to make themselves healthy? Look inward, that’s a good place. For me, it was meditation that started me on the path to self-discovery. Ten minutes of meditation a day, helped me begin to take control of my own mind. One “7-day free trial” of an app, led to 21 days, a month, and then a year. That ten minutes, let to twenty, led to thirty, where I’ve happily been starting my day for several years. I never would have believed it would have the impact it has, but seeing is believing and here I am.

Journaling is the second thing. Whether you keep a notebook around to write in, an app to take notes in throughout the day, or sit at your computer tapping out words on a screen, writing can be very helpful to understanding yourself better, even if you never read those words again. There’s just something about writing out words that helps one to organize the thoughts, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. You don’t need to even write whole sentences. You can draw pictures, make lists, or just scribble. Some of my journals have pages filled with hateful thoughts. It’s as if I wrote them down to let them go.

A long time ago, I was seeing a therapist and the one thing that actually did help to bring about big changes in my life was making note of my moods on a regular basis. She had me get out a notebook and just start making a happy face, a sad face, or an angry face at intervals throughout the day. Next to the face, I’d write a word or two about my activities at that moment. No judgement, no thinking, nothing, just make a note. Happy Face: reading, Sad Face: watching the kids, Angry Face: going to bed. At the end of the week I could flip through and see my mood changes. Was the week mostly happy? Mostly angry? Was I busy? Most of the time, I would feel like my bad mood had followed me all week long, but looking back at my notes, it just wasn’t so. The more I did it, the happier I found myself. Simple and effective. I loved it. Whenever I find myself stuck in a negative feedback loop, I go back to charting like that. And guess what? Wait for it…now there’s an app for it! The one I’ve been using lately is called Daylio. It’s free but if you pay $5, you can set as many reminders to “check in” throughout the day as you want. I like paying for apps like this. I feel like it encourages people to make them. Give it a try!

And finally, for me, there was spiritual guidance. That guidance did not come from a church when I started. Church is just another community, another relationship to navigate. My guidance came straight from God. I opened my bible and started reading, not to understand but just to listen. I started making notes in my bible, writing down questions, and spending time in prayer and meditation. And then I went to reading books about specific topics, bible studies, etc., all mostly Christian based. I’m not sure how these books came across my path. I usually found them through articles I was reading, discussions I had with friends, ads (yes, they come in handy from time to time), and searches for “best books on…”

Some of the books felt useless to me, some were handed to me with perfect timing. All I did was try to keep reading, writing, and praying. I tried to keep my mind and heart open. I still do and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Finding Jesus saved my life. I feel like he was there all along, waiting for me to reach out for him, and when I did, I felt at rest, saved. I found myself there.

I’m not the perfect Christian. I don’t pretend to understand it all. I do try to listen, and I follow my heart. I apply what I’ve learned in other aspects of my life to my relationship with God. When I feel hungry, I find heathy ways to eat. Usually I eat something good for me. Sometimes I don’t. I do what feels good, what seems right at the time. I learn from my mistakes and I forgive myself when I screw up. I don’t adhere to the dogma of one human church or another. I love my neighbor as I would myself and I love God with all my heart.

Over the years I’ve continued to try to find a community to fit into, one I would really feel a part of. I’m still searching, but now that I’ve really started to know myself and accept myself (with all my strangeness, mistakes, and frailties) as I would any other friend, I know I’ll soon be able to contribute to a community instead of use it. And that means the right one will fall into my lap just as I need it.

Do you know your true self? Have you accepted that person as good? Do you love her/him?

To Err Is Human

I reminded my son that he is human, and humans make mistakes. It seems obvious really, but I think we all forget that on a daily basis. We forget it about ourselves and the people around us.

Every day we screw up. We hurt people. We make dumb choices. We cut people off on the highway, post something that hurts a friend, buy the wrong thing, open the wrong business, hire the wrong person, vote for the wrong law or candidate, make a judgement that turns out to be complete unfounded…every…single…day.

Why? We are all doing the best we can with the information and skills we have at the moment. 99.99% of the time we didn’t hurt someone just to hurt them. We didn’t choose to fall in love with the wrong person because we just love pain. We didn’t spend all our money on crack because it’s just so much fun. We did it because we are trying to fill a need for ourselves the best way we know how, and we can’t see the future as clearly as we’d like.

What if we were a little more forgiving of ourselves and then passed that on to those around us? What if we realized that we are all flawed humans, scrambling to survive…and so is everyone else?

That person who hurt you? Probably could do no better at that moment. They would if they could, but they can’t right now. That doesn’t mean you should continue to let them hurt you. There are consequences for actions. It’s how we learn to do better. But we don’t need to hold a grudge or destroy that person either.

“Do unto others as you would have done to you,” really can’t help if we treat ourselves horribly. Learning who we are and respecting that person is the first step to loving others.

Could Empathy Be The Answer?

Sometimes I have a hard time choosing which podcast to listen to while I do the dishes. I scroll through the list and nothing seems to catch my eye. There are a couple that I can just listen to at any time because the interviews, even though they are often with someone I have seemingly little in common with or interest in, are always interesting. They rarely leave me feeling like I wasted my time. Tim Ferriss is one of them.

Yesterday I listened to this one https://tim.blog/2018/08/07/the-tim-ferriss-show-transcripts-ann-miura-ko/

Here’s the part that really struck me,

Ann Miura-Ko: So, it’s funny. My husband said to me in the past – and this is a lesson that I continue to try to learn and relearn – is that life is not a debate. And you know what he’s saying – and it’s funny. He was a debater as well in college and in high school and we joke that I would still have beaten him in high school if we had actually gone head-to-head. But, I think it’s a really important point that life isn’t about winning the argument. And he’s also said to me in the past, “You know, it’s not about being right.” And I think that’s so true and it’s something that I’m always trying to really practice in life and I think the debater in me makes it really hard. The things that you’re pointing out or what’s important about it is that people have a tendency to have an inner dialogue where they’re right. And instead of really listening to the other person, they’re coming up with the next argument that proves that person wrong. And so, if you go back to what I really loved about debate what I felt like I got out of it, it was actually this ability to see both sides of an argument, to really delve into a topic and understand why the side that I actually naturally believed could actually be flipped on its head. And that was a really important skill to develop and I think that was so much more important to develop than the skill to argue for my side. Because, I think in the world today, what we don’t see enough of is empathy for people you might even disagree with. And we get stuck in our version of truth and what is right and we aren’t truth seekers any more as a result. We’re truth winners.

Tim Ferriss: That’s very true. Yeah. Very true.

Ann Miura-Ko: And that’s a piece that really makes me sad is that when people are like, “Oh, this debate skill is so great to have because now you can ram people with your ideas.” And I’ve never seen a situation where you shouted people down and convinced them you are right. And I’ve seen situations where by developing true empathy for the other side, you actually create bridges and you create commonality, and you create situations where you can actually work together. And I think that’s the piece that I would take away from my debate experience. I would say actually making the person cry in cross-examination probably is not the skill that I should be using in real life, although maybe sometimes I do.”

Lessons learned? Find empathy for the people you disagree with. Shouting people down doesn’t convince them you are right.

Why does that seem to be so difficult these days? Why is “bullying” people into submission seem to be the only social skill we are really good at?

It seems everyone’s answer for getting the world they want to live in is to vote for a law to be passed or a person to run things and then put anyone who disagrees with the majority’s choices in a cage until they obey.

There seems to be no interest in empathy. Some people will give it a try if their adversary is just slightly wrong and the effort doesn’t seem to be too much to take on. But on the big things, the contentious, life-altering things, those things we’re not supposed to talk about at parties, there are few people that want to know the real why’s behind their so-called “enemy’s” thinking.

Why is that? Why are we all so interested in winning a game instead of seeking truth? Why can’t listen and try to understand and communicate instead of fight and win?

There is just so much to learn out there, so many people to communicate and connect with. I feel like I’m limited only to people who think like I do. If I express an opinion or point of view different than you, you block me, yell at me, or shut me down. That only makes me resentful and more set in my opinions, without the opportunity to learn or change them, or at least to know and understand another point of view.

How can we change this? Ask questions? Answer them honestly? Assume positive intent?