Reverb10: Day 8 – The Happiness Gene

Meeting Tigger at the Dark ride The Many Adven...

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Prompt: Beautifully different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

As much as I hate to admit it, I am my mother’s daughter.  My mother and I had such a tortured relationship that when she finally died in 1995 at age 64, I felt nothing but relief and freedom.  I carried the burden of her like a bag of rocks around my neck my whole life, and when she died I gladly put her down.  At her funeral many of her co-workers made a point of telling me how much they loved my mother, how funny she was, how she would make their day.

I didn’t doubt it.  I could see how people would think she was hilarious.  She was.  She was totally outrageous and over-the-top and she’d say anything for a reaction.  My mother loved the limelight, and being the life of the party.  She actually thought it was her duty in life to be the show.  And people came to depend on her for that.  They invited her to parties precisely because they knew she’d do something outrageous and people would be talking about it for days and weeks, even years later.

My mother never heard the phrase, “fake it till you make it,” but that’s how she lived her life.  If those co-workers could have seen her when she wasn’t performing, they wouldn’t have thought she was so funny; they would have been sad and appalled to see how she lived her life “off stage.” My mother was insecure, scared, and petrified of being seen for who she really was: a petty schemer, a viscous manipulator, a liar and a fake. She embodied the “fake it” lifestyle but she never “made it” to where she wanted to go, and that was to… Happy.

When I read today’s prompt, it definitely made me squirm.  My first reaction was, “I don’t think this is my call to make. It’s for other people to decide how I’m different (and IF I am) and what about me lights them up.  I don’t know what I do, if anything, that “lights people up.”  The only thing I see in myself that I don’t often see in a lot of other people is a kind of ebullience.  Joy, if you will.  Happiness.

But it’s not always the case that I feel ebullient. But even if I’m not feeling particularly happy, there is something inside me, something of my mother’s legacy, that tells me that it’s my duty to shine, that I must try as much as possible to “happify” my surroundings.  If there were genetic testing for such a thing, I know I would definitely found to be carrying the “life of the party” gene. I feel it, and when it kicks in I am powerless to resist.

As personality types go, I am definitely a Tigger (as opposed to an Eyeore, or a Pooh.)  I have a pogo stick tail and I’m not afraid to bounce around on it. And like Tigger, I want everyone to share in my enthusiasm.  I want to kind of “sneeze” happiness all over the place, cough it right into the faces of everyone I meet. I want to infect people.

But there are scary moments, especially when I catch myself holding forth in front of a group, when I flash on images of my mother doing goofy-ass things at a parties, and I worry: Am I being an ass? Are people laughing at me, and not, as I hope, at the zaniness of the human condition?

I hope the gene that I inherited from my mother mutated somewhat from its original form and is now fueled by genuineness, rather than fear and insecurity and the need for attention.  It  definitely feels that way, regardless of how it looks.  It feels solid, this happiness.  It has roots that go deep down, and even when storms blow, it’s still standing in the morning, as if nothing happened. And then all that’s left for me to do is get on my pogo stick and get on with the day.

#Reverb10: Day 7-Looking for Utopia

Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

For anyone who knows me, and is familiar with Main Street Yoga, it will come as no surprise that that’s where I have discovered community here in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania.  Before MSY, it was a pretty barren social landscape for me around here.

But even though MSY has been, and continues to be, my oasis in the desert, I crave even more.  I want to feel community outside the yoga community.  Yoga is a big part of my life, yes, but it’s not the only part.  This prompt has made me think in utopian ways, and to imagine my ideal community, the kind of place that would nourish me in all of my aspects.

It would have to start with the neighborhood.  Ideally, I’d want to live in a place where I’d know all the neighbors and they’d know me, too.  I wouldn’t  have to hang out with them, or like them all, but I’d need to be on friendly, neighborly terms with them. Cup of sugar? Snowblow your driveway?  Sure!
When I think back on Levittown, where I grew up, I think it was a crime that we only knew one of our neighbors.  For my whole childhood I had no idea who lived across the street or in the house in the back.  My mother was the antithesis of  a “neighborly” kind of person.  So I’d definitely  want to fix that.I am a neighborly kind of person, so I definitely need to know the neighbors.
Next, I want to have friends.  Many friends.  Not just one or two or three.  So how many is “many?”  Fifty.  At least. Yes.  50 friends.  An inner circle of 25, and then a close, but outer circle of 25 more.  Then beyond these 50, lots of “acquaintances” –people like my mail person, and my favorite checker at the food store, and my wine person and people I see at yoga, the gym, and at writing group.

I’d want to be part of a food co-op, and to volunteer someplace, and maybe join a weekly meditation group.  I’d want to have “special interest” friends too, like kayaking buddies, or hiking friends, or foodies, or people who share my interest in crap TV.
And I’d want to know these people in real life–and yes, “friend” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter too, but more, I’d absolutely have to know them in real life and be able to have a coffee with them, or go to lunch, or have them over for pizza and beer.
So I always wonder: Why I don’t have that here?  Is it me?  Am I too particular?
I don’t think so.  But I do have some definite friend requirements. I think there has to be a shared zeitgeist between friends, a shared worldview.  I can’t be friends with people who whine and complain, for instance.  I have a hard time with cynics, too.  And hypochondriacs.  I can’t abide gossips or any kind of pettiness or mean-spiritedness, either.  Angry or violent people just plain scare me, and people with chips on their shoulders? Ick. No.
I also have trouble with ideologues, but I do love passionate people, even if I do not share their passions.  I love artists and creative people of all sort.  I love people who, when I leave their presence, make me feel happy, uplifted and inspired to do more with my own life.
That’s the kind of community I’m looking for.  I currently know maybe one or two people with some of these traits, but I’m looking for a whole bunch, a community, a critical mass, numbers.  Like at least 50.

I feel I would grow and thrive in a community of intelligent optimists (to borrow the tag line from Ode Magazine.)  Where are those people hiding around here?  I can’t seem to find them–or at least not enough of them to make a minion.

I don’t know how to remedy this in 2011, other than to stay open and keep looking and keep trying to magnetize to me what I need in my life.
In his great book, Who’s Your City, Richard Florida says that, “We seek out places to live that reinforce and reflect aspects of who we are and who we want to become.” Does where I live now reflect who I am? What I want to become?  It’s a question that deserves serious consideration.

#Reverb10-Day 6: Making Things Happen

Illustration depicting thought.

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December 6 – Make.

What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

I want to make things happen, that’s what I want to “make.”  I don’t want to make a quilt or a pie or do a craft project.  I don’t need any materials other than energy, volition, and drive.

What do I want to make happen?  It’s at this point that I reach the edge of the cliff.  I look down and there’s nothing but space.  Oh, there’s stuff down there all right.  A river, a valley, a house, some vehicles, but I don’t want to jump without a plan or a ‘chute.

But I want to change from being a dreamer to a doer.  The other day I was thinking about this.  It became really clear to me that only actions are real.  Thoughts are not real.  Intentions are not real.  Ideas are not real. Dreams are not real. The only real things are actions.  Actions are born out of intentions and ideas and dreams and thoughts, but until they manifest, they’re not real.

One of the things I want to change this year (and remember, this is the year of CHANGE) is that I want to real-ify my life.  It’s a bit scary to think about making something of it.

Remember that playground taunt:  “Yeah?  What are you going to make of it, huh?” Or: “You wanna make something of it??”  These are provocative, incendiary little bombs thrown in anger.  They are words that challenge you to put up or shut up; put your money where your mouth is, Buster.

That’s what I want to do. I want to put up. I want to take actions.  Big actions and little actions. Doing dishes, doing yoga, writing a book, lifting weights, writing a thank you note, volunteering, taking a trip.  Not thinking about writing a book.  Not dreaming of a trip, not intending to volunteer.  Actually doing it.  Taking action.

I know a man who lives his whole life in his head.  He might be called a visionary by some, but he doesn’t DO much.  He thinks a lot.  If you talk to him, you know this.  If you talk to him, you recognize that he has pondered many things very deeply, considered issues from many angles. He knows the pros, the cons, the ins, the outs, the traps, the escape routes.  He’s interesting to have a beer with, but at the end of the evening you recognize that although it’s been an amusing few hours, it’s over now and you are not changed, nor is the world. Nothing has happened.

But say this man writes a book. He puts a number of his ideas or theories out there for other people to read.  Now he has DONE  something.  He has turned his thoughts into an action, he has written a book, found a way to publish it and promote it and is willing to stand behind it.  Great.  Now, if I am interested, I can go and read the book, and maybe have my ideas changed. Then if those ideas birth action in me, I will have made something happen.

We have to make things happen.  I think this is the most important thing that human beings can do and must do.  If we don’t make things happen, how can we justify our existence?  What are we doing here?

That’s why art is so important. Good books, and movies and music give birth to new actions.  If a book or a movie or a piece of music or an interchange with a person doesn’t spur you to take an action, it’s not that it was a waste of time necessarily, I’m not saying that.  Lots of things we read and experience entertain and absorb us and maybe even live dormant in us for a time, and then become awakened later.  We often find ourselves galvanized into action, and on reflecting back, point to that movie or book or that feeling evoked by a piece that MADE US DO IT.

Heh.  “Made us do it.”

Science can make us do it.  Art can make us do it. Great design, an inspiring talk or a conversation can make us do it. But until we actually do it, we’re asleep.  This year I will look for opportunities to make things happen.  Big things and small things and medium things.  Life was given to us, not to hoard and save, but to give away.   I want to make stuff to give away.

Reverb10:Day 5-Letting Go

The Wizard of Oz was filmed in 3-strip Technic...

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Prompt: Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

My first thought was that I’d write about my diet (sugar, dairy, alcohol), or my closets (clutter), but when I dug down a little deeper I realized that the most significant and potentially life-altering thing I let go this year was my hope that the Marcellus Shale drilling would stop, or at least be postponed until the gas companies knew how to fix a worst case scenario.

I thought surely there would be an outcry from hundreds of thousands of people (especially once they saw the movie Gasland) and this would cause the poobahs in Harrisburg to, at the very least, consider a moratorium.

But when I realized how much money was involved, and that the politicians were all in bed with the gas companies, I knew it was done.  Nothing was going to stop it.  Not even a disaster.

It’s a weird feeling when hope dies.  There’s definitely some shame.  It feels like giving up (because it is), and letting the bad guys win.  And it feels especially shameful when there is an army still fighting out there. I thought: “Well, if they haven’t given up.  Maybe I should soldier on, too.”

But fighting feels stupid when you know the outcome of the game is fixed. It’s like watching a baseball game where you know the umpires have been paid off, the bats have been juiced, and all players are going to swing at junk.  The Marcellus Shale has been bought and paid for a long, long time. At least here in Pennsylvania.

After shame, came the trifecta of anger, disgust and frustration.  “How can these people be so stupid!  Don’t they realize what’s going to happen to the water??  You can’t drink money, you know!  How can this be okay for you??”

Lots of people I used to think were smart are okay with this, and this was also baffling to me.  I cannot understand why, when it is so clear to me that this is not the way to go, why these people are not seeing it.  Is it greed, and the promise of becoming rich that is making them blind? I will excuse (maybe), people who are dirt poor and deeply in debt for being bedazzled by the prospect of not having to worry about money for the first time in their lives because clearly poverty has blinded them.  But what about college professors and other educated, well-read people who have lived their whole lives considering the consequences of their actions–what’s blinding them??

Could it be that I am the one who is blind?  Could it be that I’m the deluded one who is not seeing how this is going to be a great thing for the area, bringing in new jobs and Lowes and Sheetz and all the other things that people are pointing to as the signs of progress? What’s wrong with me that I can’t see this??  Oh, and energy independence–can’t forget that.  Energy Independence!  No more war with Iran and Iraq and the Middle East!  Why can’t I see this??

(there are a million reasons I can’t see this, but this is not the point of this post.)

The point of this post is about letting go of hope. I have resigned myself to the fact that the drilling is going to go forward.  But just because I have given up hope doesn’t mean I am okay with it.  I am extremely not okay with it. Every time I have to stop talking in yoga class because I am drowned out by the roar of a truck hauling drilling equipment outside, and every time I have to wait to cross Route 6 with my dog as 11, 15, or 18 trucks barrel by going 50 mph in a 35 zone, and every day as I sit here, writing in my room, having to listen to and smell the diesel exhaust from truck traffic where before there was almost no traffic and the windows could be open and I could hear birdsong, and every time I drive through the countryside and see a multi-acre drilling pad scarring up beautiful PA farmland, I feel a squeeze in my chest, and a clench in the pit of my stomach.

You remember that scene in the Wizard of Oz where the Wicked Witch of the West sends Dorothy and Company through the poppy field where they fall asleep in a drugged-induced coma and then Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, causes it to snow so the poppies die and the travelers wake up?

Before hope died I was asleep in the poppies: the romantic, dreamy, soft-focus movie hid a lot of things I didn’t want, or refused to see, or admit, or acknowledge.  When I let go of hope that the drilling might end or be suspended for awhile, suddenly the snow started falling and the movie snapped into sharp focus.  I can see more clearly now, and I have a pretty good vision of how all this is going to play out.

It’s probably time to dust off my pinafore, gather up Toto, link arms with Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion and get back on the Yellow Brick Road.

Reverb10–Wonder

Sitting in the Marriott in Shelton, CT this morning getting ready to go to a Bar Mitzvah. There are no words to describe how much I hate these things.

I just opened my Reverb10 prompt and the question is: How did I cultivate a sense of wonder in my life this year? And you know what?  I don’t think I did.

I don’t really know what it means to cultivate a sense of wonder.   I didn’t have to “cultivate” wonder standing in Yosemite.  Wonder (and awe) just arose.  I am even wondering if wonder is something “cultivatable.”  Does it mean to deliberately try and put myself in mind-states or geographical locations that have the potential to elicit wonder?

Here it is from the dictionary: Wonder– the feeling aroused by something strange and surprising.

Okay. That helps.  So did I deliberately put myself in the position (or positions) to experience something strange and/or surprising this year?

Hmmm…  Not really.

The thing I imagine people writing about in this regard is maybe taking time to gaze at the stars, or contemplate the vastness of the ocean.  I did that.  I got up early and took myself down to the beach to watch the sun rise.  But I just did it on vacation, so does that count?

You know, it will have to, because other than that, I did not actively do anything that put me in a position to experience something strange or surprising.

Unless….  Unless what it’s asking is do I ever consciously approach my life not knowing what will happen. That is a hard thing  for me to do, and it might be something I need to work on this year.

For example, today.  I am going to this event KNOWING what is going to happen.  I have played the whole thing out from air kisses to Havnah Nigilah.  I know exactly how things are going to roll.  But what if I went into this thing not knowing?  Can I forget everything that has ever happened in the past and go into this as an amnesiac?   I would have to pretend I have never been to a Bar Mitzvah before, have never met these people before, have never sat at a round table with a bunch of strangers making mindless small talk before.

I don’t think I can do it, but what if I tried?  But do I even want to try?  Or do I want to just plug into auto-pilot mode and robot the whole thing out?  I don’t know…  I could try, I guess.  See what would happen.

To be in a state of wonder means to not know.  It’s to be like a baby.  It’s to be curious and open.  I think as I age, this becomes a Herculean feat.  But what if I could do it more often, cultivate wonder?  I wonder what would change?   I would have to forget a lot.  Can a person really forget?  Is it just ridiculous to think so?  And do I want to?

I am very attached to my experience(s).  I am very attached to my past–not all of it of course, but I would like to write a new story.  Maybe that’s the way I have to think of it.  Not that I have to forget, but that I want to write a new story, and in order to do that I have to scrap the old one.
What that would entail is to recognize when I am running the old story and just stop.  Consciously say to myself: That is the old story.  Now you have the opportunity of changing it up.  You don’t have to recoil at Joan’s air kisses; you don’t have to put on your fake smile.  You could just walk through the whole day looking for opportunities to write a new story.

****

It’s later now. I am home, and I am sad to report that I was unable to pull it off. I ran the same story and everyone played their part perfectly.  It was  predictable and …craptastic.

Small Is The New Big (reverb10 Day 3)

Vernal (left) and Nevada waterfalls in Yosemit...

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How come it is that whenever I feel most alive I also feel my mortality most vividly?  What is it about high mountain ranges that makes me feel so…so…

What I feel is small and large at the same time.  I feel small on the outside, but large on the inside.  I feel the smallness of my problems.  They feel petty and mewling and narcissistic and of utterly no consequence–as does my life.

I have the “looking at the ant moment” of feeling that all my plans, and aspirations, and the things I want to do, and everything I care so desperately and passionately about are  completely inconsequential.  I go through the existential “So what” moment, feeling that nothing matters, but not in a nihilistic way, but in a happy, clean, Zen way.  It’s more like “Oh!  Wow! Nothing matters! Great! I’m free! ” rather than, “Well, alrighty then. Nothing matters. Let’s have another drink.”

Big difference.

So I’m supposed to tell what it smelled like on the mountain and what it sounded like and what its texture was.  It smelled like granite and it was the texture of a complex Indian carpet and it sounded like the inside of a crystal vase.  And there was dizzy, incalculable space.

The Panorama trail in Yosemite in the Sierra Mountains has steep inclines and a narrow bridge that spans the Merced River which foams white in early summer.

We passed 2 donkeys tied to a tree who had carrried chain saws and gas cans up a steep way so that trail maintenance crews could cut down dead sequoia trees.

A few miles in a vista opened up and I clutched  Edie’s arm and said, “It can’t get any better than this.”  We walked  farther and around another turn another vista opened up and I said, “Cancel what I said earlier.  It can’t get any better than THIS.”  And then still further I had to stop because the whole world opened up at my feet and I had to sit to comprehend it.  I said to Edie:  “Let’s stay here forever. And promise you’ll scatter my ashes here when I die.”

Because when I saw this place I thought of death, my individual death.  Because in the face of what I was seeing, my individual death seemed of absolutely no consequence whatsoever. The only thing that was of consequence was sky and rock and tree and river, and beyond that ether and vastness and on and on and on.

The puniness of my life became so evident, but it wasn’t a bad or a sad thing.  It was just a fact.  The puniness of most lives is a fact.

Which doesn’t take me off the hook to live well and consciously and meaningfully and to be kind and courageous and sweet and helpful.  Not at all. In fact, life is even more precious in the face of my puniness.  My inconsequential and puny life is all the more miraculous in the face of sky and rock and tree and river.

The way I look at the ant is the the same way the sky looks at me: I am a curious little thing down there.  Very busy and self-important and self-involved.  Working very hard at her little task.  Kind of admirable too, the way she carries her dead, and makes the collective hill a little higher, and drags that huge piece of crumb so very, very far.  Look at her go!  She works very hard, that little one.

The prompt for today was to pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. That was it. In the face of my mortality, I knelt and said a prayer of gratitude for my little life.

Accentuating The Postive. Eliminating The Negative

Social Media Landscape

Today’s Reverb10 prompt is: what do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing –and can you eliminate it.

Of course the answer is: All my internet addictions: facebook, twitter, email, blog reading.  Sometimes I tell myself that the blog reading in particular gets my juices going, gets my mind thinking in bloggy ways, and while that does happen sometimes, it happens far more often when I read books.  So I’d be better off spending the time reading rather than wasting time online.

Most of what I do online is avoidance behavior, but a lot of it is also voyeuristic.  I want to see what other people are doing with their time, with their lives. I want to know what their “obsessions du jour” are. Do I want to know these things in order to be inspired?  To feel companionship? To feel connected?   All of the above?  None?

If it is connection I crave, who am I connected to?  And how deep are those connections?  When I have to answer that question, the truth is revealed.

But if I were to be really and truly honest I’d have to say that  I spend time online because it is just plain fun.  It makes me happy.  It has always made me happy, from the first day I opened an email account back in ’93 or ’94, until this day.

I have always loved my computers, my babies, and  I have always loved the internet. I have always wanted to know more about the  innards of these magic machines, and I have always been frustrated with the limits of my knowledge about them. I have even dreamed of going to study web design.  I purely and simply just dig it the whole scene.  It has provided me with hours and hours of happy.

But it is, without question, a time suck.   I’ve tried limiting myself to a daily portion of online “calories” of its yumminess but as with food, computer diets never work.

I’ve also tried “media fasting” where I unplug for a weekend, or just a day, and that definitely feels good.  Once I’m off, I don’t really miss it all that much. (For a while.)

So for me it’s a matter of limiting it rather than eliminating it.  I don’t want to eliminate it because if it were not for social media and blog reading I would never have found 750 words, where the idea for this post was born, or the reverb10 challenge that’s keeping me disciplined, and many other sites and people who have really enriched my life.

And if  I weren’t so in love and entranced with computers, I know I wouldn’t have a a website, or a blog, or the ability to make a podcast. I like that I can operate fairly competently in this whizzy world.  I like having these skillzzzz.

But the thing is, if I am, in my heart of hearts, a writer.  If I am, in the deepy-downy recesses of my soul, a person who loves words and yoga and the connection between the two, then there needs to be more time spent writing on 750 words, and blogging on this blog, and writing in my paper journal, and less time cruising around aimlessly, wasting gas online. I need to discipline myself to leave the internet and go into the yoga room and play on the mat and make discoveries there, so when I come back I have something to say.

The content for blogs and tweets and facebook status updates–at least content that’s interesting and sometimes even helpful for others, can most reliably be found for me when I go and DO things, and MAKE THINGS HAPPEN, and create CHANGE.

Whenever I think, “I have nothing to write about,” that should be the red flag to STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER and go live life:  read a book, have a conversation, do some yoga, workout, write.  I don’t want to eliminate social media, I just need to use it better.  I need to put a little fence around it with a sign that says: Playground Hours are from blank to blank.  I need to be doing more living so I’ll have a better chance to be able to share  something useful and valuable here.

So here’s a little Aretha to give it to you a bit more soulfully:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IP9h40z0sk&feature=related