Check out one of my latest posts on my philosophy blog!
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!
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?
You know how we get a person that does not hoard what they have, one that shares openly with others, one that cares about how others near him feel?
Abundance. A person raised without the fear of having what he has taken away (not forcing a child to share) does not hoard what he has. A person that is raised around openly sharing parents (when they ask you give) shares openly with others. A person that is raised being respected, one that isn’t told they’ll get something to cry about, one that isn’t shamed for being scared and forced to face it, one that is touched, held, caressed, and loved even when they are angry, sad, or frustrated, ends up caring how others feel.
The opposite holds true as well. Force a child to share his toy and he will hold tighter and hide what he has. Tell a child “No you can’t have a bite of my ice cream or a sip of my coffee.” “You sleep over there in your bed.” “This is my living room, go play in your playroom.”, will grow up to be a person that does the same to the people around him. Bully a child into submission to your will, to do what you want him to do, through violence or the threat of violence, and he will become a bully to those smaller than him too.
Ask and accept a no.
Give what you can.
Be kind and accepting.
Fill their cup and they’ll have plenty for others when they are ready.
Aubrey Marcus is in my brain the last few weeks. His interview with Tim Ferriss was amazing, so much so, that I went out and ordered his book the next week. I finally got to reading it and I’m captivated once again. I love reading his words. It’s like he’s in my head!
I highly recommend “Own The Day.” It’s a great manual style book that can change your life and your perspective on a lot of things. Many of the things he suggests are things I’ve already been doing. Some I’ve tried and gave up on, but I’m trying again because his explanation of why or how gave me a new reason to give it a chance.
From his blog, I started reading “Sex At Dawn: How we mate, Why we stray, And what it means for modern relationships” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. That’s a book to wrap your brain around! Buckle your seatbelt while you read that one. I’ll be writing more about it later.
And then, of course, I had to listen to his podcast while I do the dishes, ‘cause that’s my thing. And the first one that comes up is The Game of Life with Erick Godsey. It took me three mornings to hear it all and I was floored the whole time. Where have these guys been all my life?! Lucky for me, there was a .pdf to download that had all the “quests” and notes written out. It’s in my hot little hands now!
The very end of the podcast, he read a poem he wrote called “Why.” I had to sit down by the second stanza and by the end I was bawling. It just touched my soul.
The quest from the podcast episode that really hit me was “Quest 9 – Serve Your Medicine”
And from the .pdf, “Everyone is trying their best, and you can help their best be better, even if just a little, if you serve your medicine.”
He talked about defeating Self-Judgment and Self-Criticism with Forgiveness.
I imagined it like this. If you were climbing up a ladder, would you be helping more if you immediately reached back behind you and gave someone a hand or a hint to make climbing easier, or would it be better to leave them down there at the bottom, get all the way to the top of the ladder and then yell down instructions?
We don’t need to be at the top of our game to help those around us do better. We can help from right we are. I may not have this whole life thing figured out, but I do know I’m doing better than I was yesterday and what I’ve learned so far I can pass on right now.
So what’s holding me back? Am I so critical of myself that I don’t think what I have to say is important enough to be said? Much of the time I re-read what I wrote or even think about my notes and wonder what the point is. Anyone can write this stuff. There’s no revelation in it, nothing original. But then again, no one has seen this flower from my perspective, through my eyes, from my experience. Why not describe it again? Would a painter not paint a sunset because someone else already has? Would the painting not be as beautiful on my wall?
So, I think he’s got something there. This is resonating a lot. Now if I can just find a way to remember this feeling, to put it on a post-it reminder.
But there is something else. Distraction. I’m distracted way too easily by inane things. I scroll through Facebook looking for entertainment like I open the fridge a hundred times looking for the perfect snack that never appears. I need to find a way to remember an insight or idea I had earlier and then be able to focus and write about it later. There’s good stuff in this brain. I just need to find a consistent way to get it out.
I get a lot of ideas while I’m reading, but then lose them by the end of the book. I’m wondering if it would help me to make a few notes after my morning read and throw some sentences together to come back to when it’s my time to sit and write. The same goes for podcasts and even some social media posts that inspire me.
It’s like I’m in a room full of butterflies. I see one that fascinates me and I want to catch it to take a closer look. Two things can happen when I reach for it. The first is that I can crush it when I finally get a hold of it. That’s when I doubt my ability to think clearly and communicate, or when I decide that my words aren’t worth speaking.
The second is that I get distracted by the others floating around and start chasing those as well. That’s when I remember the laundry in the dryer, the book I read yesterday, the disgusting display I saw on Facebook, or the thing my husband said. Exhausted and disgusted with my lack of ability, I give up and walk away.
So this is my quest, to share my medicine. I currently have the most amazing life. I’ve never felt better, both physically and emotionally. I have talented and intelligent kids that are starting to move mountains. I have an interesting and evolving relationship with the most wonderful man. I have some great friends and family and honestly, I’m working on that front a little better. That’s the only word I can use to describe it, “better.”
The bottom line is that our family has lived a different lifestyle, an odd way of doing a lot of things. Every day I learn more, more veils are lifted, more doors are opened. Can I help others out there see those doors, or at least that they are out there?
Community. I hear that word every day. I see it in print. I hear people talk about it online and on TV.
“Get involved in your community!”
“Everyone should have a community of people they rely on!”
“Know what’s going on in your community!”
“Community brings people together!”
Ugg…I’m tired of hearing it and tired of trying to make it work for me only because that’s what everyone says is important.
I want to be a part of community in some sense. I enjoy the company of friends from time to time. I like having people to invite over for a BBQ, but is that community or just friends?
What about the past? I’m looking at rural farmers and fur traders, people that lived pretty isolated and only came together in groups a couple times a year at most. Were they lacking in community?
I’ve always had a hard time finding my people. It’s me, not the people. I just don’t feel like I really fit in. The more I try to work in a group, the more frustrated I become. I end up not helping the group or myself. It all seems so futile. Then I started thinking…maybe not everyone works well in groups!
Maybe being alone more will help me focus and create. Maybe, for me, Monday’s here, Wednesday’s here, Saturday’s there, volunteer at this, help this cause, etc., is just too much for me and I lose myself in it.
I’ve never been physically alone for an extended amount of time. The longest in recent years has been a three-hour stint sitting in the car waiting for my son. I read a lot. What would happen if I were alone for a whole 24 hours? 48? I’d like to experiment with that idea in the near future.
What should I write about today? I made note after note on my long weekend of nothing. My husband and I spent two nights at a hotel away from home, not to visit anything, or go anywhere. We did it to be alone, away from housework and the “to-do” list. To be honest, we spent the weekend pretending we were having an affair. It was blissfully romantic. The quiet distraction made me think. I wrote down several ideas. Those ah-ha moments of clarity came often. I came back to them today and found myself empty handed once again. Like smoke from a campfire. It disappeared when I tried to touch it.
What’s bothering me? I don’t know who I am or why I’m here. Why do I continue to write out words that don’t make any sense? Fear again. Sometimes what I want to say, who I really am…I don’t think many people would like that person, so I hide it away behind writers block.
Or maybe I don’t really have anything to say. Or do I?
Driving down the freeway on the way home, I looked at the road. From my side of the vehicle it always looks like my husband is driving way too close to the left side of the lane. People must think he’s about to change lanes. I’m afraid passing trucks will clip off our mirrors. In our VW bus, the feeling is even more pronounced. I just don’t see how he can possibly not know how close to the other lane he is!
It hit me right then, not the road, an idea. It’s perspective. He’s on that side of the vehicle. He knows better than I do because he has a better vantage point. He isn’t close, it only looks like that from where I am. Why, as I look over and cringe when a vehicle passes us, do I not yell, “What the fuck?! Why do you drive like this?!” because I trust him. Experience has taught me that. He’s never hit another vehicle. So, when I see the nose of the vehicle dangerously close to the yellow line, I take a breath and remember that he has a different perspective and I trust him.
Relationships are like that. It’s two people, or more, heading down the same road. Sometimes we’re in different cars, caravan style. Sometimes we’re piled in a van or RV and we have to ask the driver to let us out and take a break at a rest stop. There are rules of the road that must be negotiated, sometimes renegotiated. But ultimately, we have to trust each other on the road.
When someone makes a mistake, we adjust ourselves and move on. Honking your horn, cursing, and waving your fist doesn’t help in the long run. It only makes us angrier, distracted, ready to make more mistakes of our own.
When we share a vehicle, like in a marriage, we have to communicate our needs. Stops along the way, costs of travel, breaks, the music on the radio, all need to be negotiated. The more people in the car, the harder those negotiations can be. The reward is great though. And just like in life, it’s not the destination but the travel time that is important. You’ll spend an hour at the destination. You spent days getting there. Which is more important.