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?

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What Can I Do?

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?

Fear

People in general can really get me down, especially on social media. I go back and forth between attempting to be myself online and keeping my presence to a minimum to avoid direct contact. I go from making broad plans and inviting my world to adjusting my thinking and being content at home with my husband.

The reason for the swing is fear. I’m afraid of judgement and rejection. I feel like I’ve discovered who I really am deep down inside, or maybe I’ve always known, but I’m not secure enough on my own to put my real self out there. I still rely on the approval of others to make me feel ok. It’s a new project for me to change that.

The real question is, “How?”

Social Skills

Something has changed the last few weeks. I’m not sure if it’s internal or external. Is it the change in the weather? Slightly cooler temps and dryer air make me want to be outside. Or is it me? Has my attitude shifted somehow? Am I happier? Probably hormones.

Whatever it is, I suddenly want to be around people and I don’t care what others think. I want to talk and listen to music, drink and flirt, hug good friends close, hear what my family has been up to. The cooler weather always makes me more sociable and patient, more accepting, but this time it’s different.

What’s the hang up? Social anxiety. It really sucks. Seriously. I saw a post from another blogger about the difference between introverts and people with social anxiety and it really resonated with me. I’ve never considered myself an extrovert. I’m married to a true introvert and related to a fair amount as well. They are at ease at home alone and quiet. They sit and watch out the window, read, and play music. The can be still and quiet for days. I watch them with jealousy and wonder why I can’t be content with apparently nothing to do but think.

I grew up watching my mother, aunt, and grand-mothers move in social circles with ease. I was always encouraged to be out-going and cheerful. They were so good at it and I felt like every time I opened my mouth I proved myself a fool. I’m not like what I see in them. I’m self-conscious and easily embarrassed. Once I wasn’t around them much, I began to withdraw more and more. I had my husband and children. It has been a safe place to socialize for many years. But that’s changing. My children are growing up and it will soon be just me and my quiet man.

I find myself evolving once again, craving interaction with other humans and I’m reaching out more often. It’s terrifying. People are unpredictable and I’m not always patient, or socially acceptable.

I’m changing in another way as well. I just don’t give a shit anymore, or at least not as much. I have a stable base, my husband, to go back to. I realized a while back that he enjoys watching me socialize. When we have a party at the house, I’m a different person than when we are all alone. I only recently realized that I come alive at that moment. The house is full of people and the kitchen is full of food. I love moving from one end of the house to another, talking loudly and hugging everyone. I love watching people talk and have a good time. And then, when everyone leaves, and the house is a huge mess, I sit on the couch in ecstasy, surrounded by the leftover love and joy. I can relax again, looking forward to the next time.

This year’s goal? Start inviting people over more often, starting right now. I need to embrace the change and love who I really am. Let’s do this!

Mile Markers

The past few days have been weird for me. I feel a little lost, a little worried about the future. Talking to my son this morning, who’s having the same feelings thousands of miles away, I told him it’s just a transition time. He has a set date for something to happen and beyond that is the unknown, like graduation. Strangely enough, it seems to be that time of year as well. The summer is slowly shifting into fall. That’s when I realized that my son and I are sitting in the same boat with lines on the other side.

Transitions come often in life and only end when we’re dead. I believe that’s the ultimate transition! We’re all gradually changing in small ways every day. Our lives transform from child to teen to young adult, suddenly we’re married, a parent, and then a grandparent. It’ll happen that fast if you don’t take the time and space to be aware of it.

It’s one thing to sit with your current life and think, yes, this is nice, or no, things need to change. But there are times in our lives when we’re hyper-award of the coming changes and that’s where we get stuck in anxiety and fear of the future. The first time I remember that happening to me was around my high school graduation. Up until that point, every day was planned for me. I had little choice but to go to school each day but soon that would all change. I’d be in control of my own life from then on. I’d have to choose whether to find work and an apartment of my own or remain with my parents, to choose college classes or work more hours at my job. It all was set to begin on that last day of high school.

That day loomed ahead of me like a mile marker in time. It seemed to cause my life to slow down to a crawl. That day would never come! I was bored and exhausted with my current high school life. I wanted to start my something new now, to jump headlong into my future! And then suddenly that mile marker would rush forward and be just within reach. I would panic, and a flood of worries would wash over me. Would I make the right choices? Would I find work? Would I screw it all up irreversibly and ruin my life? Isn’t there some way to extend childhood, to have the security of parents and still have the freedom of being an adult? I’d spend every moment that I wasn’t at work or school in my bed, sleeping the stress off.

The transition came in time. I don’t know how it happened. It just did. Time has a funny way of marching on, nothing seems to be able to stop it. Some days I was on top of the world and some I felt like the world was rolling over me.

I tried college and work. I tried new relationships, friends and lovers. I got fired. I found a new job. I left college. I moved in with my grandparents. I found my own place. I considered big moves and changed my mind. I tried new careers. I got hungry. I got my heart broken. I broke people’s hearts.

And then…a new transition. I met my husband. And the whole thing started over again. Twenty years later, I’m looking at the mile marker ahead again. It’s like looking out the window of your car and seeing a billboard up ahead. It’s too far away to read it, the print is too small. You wait and watch for it to get closer and then just as the words come into focus it zooms past and it behind you. Damn. What’s that one up ahead?

Words

I’m having a hard time putting all these whirling thoughts into words this week. Ideas keep spinning around me and I feel they are linked together somehow in a bigger picture, yet I can’t seem to organize them into a coherent thought. I think I’ll just sit with them for now and watch them dance.

Joy. Awareness. Connection. Jesus. Love. Peace. Liberty. Acceptance. Thought. Study. Rest. Nationalism. Pride. Self-Respect. Confidence. Old friends. Music. Sex. Conversation.

Still sitting with them. Feeling distracted and unfocused.

It’s Over?

I don’t usually post in the evening, especially on the weekends, but while making dinner and listening to my husband and son play guitars together, I stopped. I listened. Just for a moment I let the music, music from people I love dearly wash over me. I longed for the members of the family missing; those that are gone from this world, those living outside our sight for the time being, and those I know would love to listen in amazement. I remembered a paragraph of my book that I really wanted to blog about. I made a note on my computer to write about it on Monday morning, but here it is again. Someone must need to hear it.

It seems that “awareness” is a buzz word these days and I’m completely on board. I love seeing t-shirts with “WOKE AF” on them. I want one. It’s something I think we all take for granted, being aware. We come to an end of a week, season, or year and think “Wow! What happened?” “It’s Christmas again? Already?” “Wasn’t your son just a baby last week? And now he’s running after girls?” We hear it every day. It’s hard in the constant spin in this world to keep track of what’s happening around us. It’s hard to even watch a movie or eat a meal without attempting to multitask, to get more done in that hour or two. I watch my sons worry about their future, trying to make a plan, and I tell them to stop and enjoy today. It’ll all change soon.

Can we slow down time by being aware of its passing? Probably not, but we can certainly try. We can draw out specific moments, maybe write them down to savor. I feel like I should have taken time to write more down. At least I took more pictures. I wish more of them had me in them. Most of my pictures, my children will be able to say “Mom took this one. That’s why she’s not in it.” It makes me appreciate selfies. They bring us all in the photo.

I finished “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” this morning. I wanted to slow down and savor each page, but I just couldn’t stop myself from rushing to the end. Part of me wanted to read a chapter a day and move on to something else, maybe I will with the next book. Maybe, instead of reading for an hour from one book, I’ll have several books and read one chapter from each. Same time spent, same number of books read, but I can make the story last longer.

Towards the end of the book, this paragraph struck me. I stopped and read it twice. I cried, and I put the book down to get another cup of coffee to think. I read it to my son when he woke up. I want to print it out and post in on my fridge to remind me.

“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me gay; let me be sad. Let me cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

Touching isn’t it? God, let me live every minute as if it is all I have, because it is. Let me taste my breakfast, let me feel the pain, let me revel in joy. Let me remember the dreams of my subconscious. Let me really live, not just trudge through to the end and on my deathbed think, “It’s over? Already?”