Vices, Intentions, Numbness and Joy

There are things we all do to tune out. You know your vices. You know what they are made of, where to get them, how to use them, where to keep them when you aren’t using them, and who else in your family or friends also has a relationship with them.

The funny thing about vices is that some people will tell you that you are numbing yourself out, and some will say that you are making yourself more creative or awake. Usually those are the ones who share in those vices with you, but not always.

The thing is, your experience probably tells you that both sides can be true at different points. Sometimes having a drink makes you incredibly alive and alert; other times it seems that with each passing sip, you are spiraling down into some thick hole that there is no way out of, except drinking, but it’s only pushing you down further. Why is there this discrepancy?

My momentary theory is that most of the difference between when a substance is numbing you and when it is enlivening you is all within your intention at the time of using it.

If I hold a shot glass of whiskey in my hand calmly, pour it into some hot water with honey and lemon juice, and take a small sip, this is one thing. If I take the whole bottle, drink a huge slug while feeling pissed off, and then chase it with lukewarm water with honey and lemon, this is another. The same is true for the way I might watch television, talk to a friend, or eat a bowl of soup. These things sometimes make one feel better after a little while, and sometimes they just make things worse.

I know that personally, substances do different things based on the intention I am holding. If I am truly open to letting a sip of whiskey make me more creative because I am in a good enough mood to purely welcome that creativity, then that is far more likely to happen than it making me increasingly upset. However, if I am incredibly upset and expect a substance to make me creative, this is not a very likely to occur.

The next thing to think about here is that numbness has a lot of qualities to it. When you are feeling pain, it may be natural for you to reach for that vice to get some numbing action. However, as you run from this pain, you are also running from true joy. There is no way you can numb one part of life in general, and not the other, right? You may feel the lack of pain; but this is not the same as joy. It is not the same as letting life in.

Why do we reach for these numbing things, and when? Do we reach for them only at night, when the day is over? Or do we reach for them all day, as soon as we wake up? Once you have layers upon layers of vices that you have not lived a week without in some years, then you may not realize how long this state of numbness has been going on.

When was the last time you felt real joy?

I propose that by changing your intentions, or at least, being aware of them while using your vices, you can gain some control over how they are going to make you feel. This is not because of magic; it is because you are personally touching in with how you feel before you expect some substance to magically change you. You are also using your intentions, which we all know can go a long way in changing the world around us. Most importantly, you are acknowledging when you are truly open to life; open to the vulnerable state that is welcoming creativity, welcoming love and joy, into your experience.Any object or substance can be a tool for transformation; but none of them can give you a willingness to transform that you do not already have.

If you do not have that vulnerability, I would argue that no substance in the world would help you feel anything other than numb to pain as well as the joy.


Communicating About Communication: The Value of Learning When to Ask a Question

The bulk of your social interactions consist of communicating with others. You do it through personal interactions, phone calls, emails and social media updates. Sometimes you are communicating directly to someone else and can see their face, other times you cannot. Lots of the time, you are not even aware of the subtle things that people are picking up from you. They might be making an assumption based on your body language, or on your use of punctuation in your status update.  Many people forget how important the art of communication actually is, and lots of us have just plain forgotten some of the basics. Furthermore, there is a higher emphasis placed on it in some progressive communities that is not shared with more traditional communities. This can create problems.

There are some things that I have been noticing lately about the art of communication and how infrequently people are actually taking advantage of their wonderful ability to ask questions and seek the truth. Most importantly, it is becoming clear that many of us are just not sure when to admit to ourselves that we do not know what someone else is thinking, before we take an action based on an assumption that we made about their reality.

One of the most painfully obvious examples is the over-use of texting and the assumptions that it can create, which only end up creating further assumptions that then get layered on top of the old ones to make little assumption babies that breed nothing but chaos.

We have all made this mistake. We send someone a long and what we believe to be heartfelt text. We get a curt reply, and we assume that the person is angry, disinterested, judgmental, or anything else. We then base our next action on that assumption. The person could have been stuck in traffic that just started to move as they began to answer, the person could have just gotten horrible news from someone and done all they could to text us at all, or the person may actually be disinterested. The point is that we do not know, and we have to ask. Asking directly is the only way to find out. The only way.

Another completely horrifying thing is that someone might not text us back at all. This is just utter chaos and confusion for all involved. They must be avoiding us, they must be sleeping with someone else, they must be telling us indirectly that we are the scum of the earth and they never want to see us again. Or, our text didn’t go through. But it makes far more sense to assume the worst and get a little resentful at them for not answering our infallible text message.

Then the person who didn’t answer, for whatever reason,  picks up on your resentment and make their own assumptions. They act accordingly. Thus, chaos and misunderstandings are born and nurtured and sent off to an Ivy league school for the preservation of their future.

This type of thing is hard to catch when you are doing it yourself, and very easy to see in someone else. The thing to remember is that you always should be aware of when you are making an assumption based on less-than-enough evidence. And you should learn to ask questions.

Now, here is the problem. Asking questions seems easy enough, it’s nothing like trying to leap from one high building to the next, watching the cars crawling like ants below. But then again, it is an awful lot like that. You are taking a chance, you are entering the unknown. You are leaping from something you know to something that you are not sure you can reach, because you are not even sure what it is.

All texting issues aside, there are countless others. There is no way to bring clarity to them all; but one key thing to keep in mind is that if you are using a big word that has lots of meanings, such as love or relationship, you cannot have a clear conversation without establishing the details.

Most people are not psychic. If you say that you want to have a relationship with someone, they might agree, not knowing what that even means for you. They think it means what they think it means, and you think it means what you think it means. If you say open relationship, these issues multiply by about a thousand.

Because everyone has different ideas. Everyone things these ideas are obvious. But so do the people they are with. And this, to say the least, can cause some problems. The same is true for committed relationships. No one knows your boundaries, no one knows your triggers. They know what they know, and they are hoping to God that it is the same thing that you mean.

The main point is that it is possible to acknowledge how scary asking questions can be, and to do it anyway. Maybe it is embarrassing to tell your partner that you don’t mind if they flirt with people in public, as long as they go home with you. Maybe it is embarrassing to tell your partner that even though you don’t mind if they are intimate with other people, you would prefer that they are focused on you when you are together, and that they would give you a heads up if they were planning on being with anyone else. Instead of dealing with this embarrassment, you might want to just say “Let’s be in an open relationship,”  or “Let’s be in a relationship,” but this is saying nothing about what you expect from it. You have to ask the questions. You have to state the details. Most importantly, you have to know when you are making assumptions.

The past is a tricky thing. It is gone, but it is also always present; at least, the most painful and pertinent parts. If terrifying and harmful things have happened to you, then the slightest reminder of those things in the present can sometimes call those feelings back in full-force. If you say something vague, and your partner things they understand that you mean, they may act on those assumptions and it can cause a major problem for you, who has just been triggered. Learning your triggers is up to you; communicating your triggers is up to you; it always has been and always will be.

The easy thing to forget is that big words mean a lot, and there are countless definitions. Look up the definition of loquacious and you will find one thing, look up the definition of love and you will find another. You cannot assume that your partner or your friends can understand you and your triggers if you do not explain the details. You cannot expect that yo know theirs unless you ask for them.

It is somewhat of a one-sided street. If you understand the importance of talking about communication, you may be one of a pair of lovers or friends who is in that particular loop. They may not ask what you mean by “I love you,” and the moment where it is first said is perhaps the wrong time to ask blatantly, “what do you mean by that?” However, if they get mad at you the next day for saying you love someone else over the phone, you may realize that you need to ask them what they meant by saying it to you. Did they mean that they expect you to no longer say it to others? This is something that some people include in “I love you” and that others do not.

The key is to know when you have made an assumption. They are like the latest flu that is all over the news. You can keep your eye out for flu symptoms to avoid catching it; keep your eye out for symptoms of assumptions. Most importantly, if something does happen, such as a misunderstanding about a text message or the use of a big word, make a point to communicate about communicating. Tell the person that you acknowledge there has been an assumption that has led to the misunderstanding, and learn to talk about how to prevent this in the future. If you establish the grounds of communication between you and those who are most likely to have misunderstandings based on assumptions, such as lovers and dramatic friends, then you are going to be changing your world for the better.

It is something you are doing for humanity that you may never get credit for. You are teaching people that it is safe to jump from the building of asking a question to the building of dealing with the answer. You might not get an award, but you are helping to heal the gaping wound in society that has built up around this issue. And you are, most importantly, learning about your own triggers and shortcuts to your past traumas that you can communicate to your partner or friends so that they are, at least, aware of them.

How to Use Your Routines to Break Your Own Mold

I know that it’s rather easy for me to spout off about how great it is to be creative each day and how a sitting practice can really help you slow down your mind, but it is not as easy to say that you’ll have no trouble finding the time to do these things.

Once you finish the dishes and the laundry and cleaning up the food that your dog knocked out of its bowl, do you really have time to sit and meditate for an hour? Who has time to take out the paints and go at it, especially given that they will need to get cleaned up after? Well, there is a solution to this problem.

You always have time. Not time to do anything new necessarily, but time to see it differently. Time to slow down.

One great thing about routines is that they are predictable. You can rely on them. We all have slightly different routines, but we know what they are. Maybe you take a shower every day, maybe you check the dumpster by the natural food store to see what treasures are there.  Maybe you do dishes, maybe you check your email. There are things you do, each day, predictably.

In some ways, these routines can make you feel less alive. They are repetitive, they are predictable, they are a time where you can tune out. On a familiar drive, you may not notice the curve of the big oak tree against the blue sky or the interesting feeling in your stomach as you take a sharp turn. You are going through the motions and thinking about what to make for dinner. You can let these routines give you more time to tune out, if you want. But then there are more routines to add in. Soon, most of your life becomes tuning out. And you can hold these routines up on a pedestal as you tell me that you don’t have time to meditate, don’t have time to paint; you are too busy with these things.

Or you can use them as built-in reminders to be present and creative. You can choose to be aware of how your body feels on those turns, to smell the difference in the air as the seasons change when you get the mail. To notice how different temperatures of water in the shower make you feel differently about the world. The point is that you are going to be doing these things anyway, they are like the string on your finger that reminds you to tell someone something.

Except the person you are talking to is yourself. And you are simply saying, “My routines are a reminder for me to be more present with myself.” They can be a reminder for whatever you want. I personally find that my routines are the time when I am most likely to obsess about negative things or indulge in my anxiety. This is a pattern that I acknowledge, and therefore, that I can let go of. I know that as soon as I am one-on-one with a sink full of dishes, my mind is going to start getting grouchy and anxious about the work I’m not doing. However, knowing this helps me to remember that doing dishes is my reminder to wake up. My reminder to smile, to feel centered and grateful for the world around me.

There is no getting rid of routines. You can escape paying the mortgage by living in your car, but then you have a gas tank to fill. You can watch the little numbers climb up at the gas pump under a new sky and still, you are in a routine. You can change your location all you want, but you are still going to have to do some things repetitively. If you can use these things to feel that energy of creativity, of presence, then you are going to have a different feeling when you are done.

Try to remember the last time you were really creative. Remember not what you did, exactly, but the feeling you had. The sensations in your body and the feeling in your mind. This is the feeling that you can have at any point, whether it is while you are painting a picture or while you are gently washing crumbs off a plate or folding a pile of clean shirts. The feeling is what matters, and if you are present while you perform these routine chores, you are going to see that there is quite a difference in the quality of your life.

Most importantly, cultivating that feeling while you do the things you have to do may help you to find the time to do the things that you really love. If you feel nourished and alive after folding clothes, maybe you will be more likely to take out a canvas and some paints and get creative with the colors. Each feeling leads to another one, so you may as well use any chance you can to feel the aliveness of creativity so that it can fill up  more crevices of your life.

3 Ways to Learn from Self-Loathing

I know this blog is supposed to be about enjoying life. Part of enjoying it is realizing a few things. First, that the human experience is really quite a common occurrence. Second, many parts of this experience are as sad and pathetic as they are hilarious. Third, that the secret is mainly to watch these things in order to not let them get the best of you.

Think about it. If every time it was windy, you became the wind, you could never stay in one place. You would blow away from the mailbox as you went to get the mail, you would blow out of your car if you opened the window, you would blow away from your friend as you sit sipping wine in the grass on a sunny day.

Bad moods, self-loathing, depression and anxiety are like this. They are like wind that can take you with it or blow right around you if you can remember their true nature.

Sometimes, even during the course of writing one blog post, self-loathing will come through me quite a few times. It feels like a gross cloud, telling me that nothing I write matters and that my whole life has pretty much obviously been a waste. Sometimes it says that I am not tied down enough because I don’t own a house, other times it says I’m far too tied down because I happen to live in one. There is no way to win, it says what it wants to, and it’s always in a rather foul mood.

But you know what? It also blows by. But never without a lesson.

The first thing that I try to do with self-loathing is listen to it. What is it saying? Is there any truth to it? Maybe I don’t really agree that I’m a failure because I don’t own a house. But maybe the kernel of truth in that is that I feel like I could be more attentive to the house I live in now. Maybe I could be a little bit more joyful and grateful as I do the dishes; thinking of the people I love who have used them instead of cursing the very existence of dishes in general. Sometimes there are bits of truth to the self-loathing, but it is like a child who cannot fully express itself. You have to take a moment to wonder where the inspiration came from for it to suddenly rear its irritated head.

The second thing I try to do is notice when it is not there. A headache or bout of cramps can easily dominate my experience with their presence, but that moment where they fade is something so precious if I can be aware of it. The self-loathing does the same thing. When it fades, what I’m left with is some spacious nice feelings, some joy; some enjoyment, if you will, of life.Noticing this fading quality of it can work wonders for my perspective the next time it rolls around.

The third thing to do is just notice the nature of the self-loathing. Watch it curiously, like you can do to your fear if you read my other article. Try to notice what kinds of qualities it has. Does it tend to focus on your appearance, your place in society, the things you own, the way you treat people? What is its personality? Does this personality have anything to do with your upbringing, the spoken values of your parents, the things you watch on television? Maybe you can see where it is getting its material, and then politely alert it to the value of citing its references.

Learn about your self-loathing. Be curious about it. It is a part of you that is unique, and yet completely human. Sometimes it has something to say, and sometimes it is just reminding you that it’s always there, like the wind. After you examine it for any potential lessons, just let it go. Do you miss the wind that grazed your cheek yesterday? Probably not. Just like I don’t miss the sour feeling that passed through me several times as I began this post.

What if the Occupy Movement Works? Being Prepared for Huge Transitions, Naturally

The occupy movement is huge; and I cannot help but feel slightly torn between jumping in and bringing all my herbal medicines to the protestors and staying here, keeping my writing job and helping chop up the wood for winter during this critical time before the snow falls.

However, some thoughts have been arising on how to help people prepare for situations like this in which they are in need of things that may not be supplied to them. People want jobs, health care and financial help. People need things and sometimes, we cannot get them. A great thanks to the protestors who are out there every day for speaking these things out and making potential changes happen.

The truth is that we needed help before the movement, and if it works, we are certainly going to need help after it. But it is going to be up to us. So, what are you going to do?

For the last ten years, my mindset has basically been that at any point, everything could fall apart. The system is as strong as a psychotic delusion but as fragile as the person who is suffering with that delusion and still only  made of flesh and bone. It is bound to fall apart; reality is bound to take over. And in that chaos, that confusion, that transition; people are going to need help.

In my mind, I decided that having my own solution to any problem would be the best way to go. I felt that if I could help people using nothing but the world around me, that I would be far better off than if I expected to get the healthcare I need from Western doctors or if I expected to someday have the money to see these doctors on my own. No matter how much I learned, there was no way to learn it all. I could not become a master of herbal medicine and also a master of building shelter and also a master of being a midwife and also the master of natural pet care and also a master of treating water…you get the idea. We each have our passions.

So I learned that plants are awesome and making herbal medicine can help a lot of people. That Yarrow can stop excessive bleeding. That dandelion can hep out a sick liver. That Red Clover can help stop tumors. That Burdock can help with a variety of skin problems. That Jewelweed can stop poison ivy. That sciatica often originates in the Piriformis crushing the Sciatic Nerve, and that it can be stopped early if you release that muscle.

The trouble with a lot of the alternative treatments I have learned about is that they have to be applied early. They require the healer and the client to be in a somewhat close relationship from the get go. They require you to act early, so that change can happen smoothly. Most of all, they require that the client do things each day that can help them, rather than waiting for a magic cure or an intensive surgery. This has been a great knowledge that has helped me to help others before they need to go to the hospital. Before they need the antibiotics.

If you are like me, and you cannot afford to go out there and stay with the protestors and use your presence and body and mind to create the change you want to see because you have someone sick at home who needs attention, or a job that you cannot afford to lose because you are expendable and you know it, then one thing you CAN do is learn how to help people during and after this situation. Learn how to heal people, in whatever way you feel most drawn to.

If you can do this, then you are going to be one of the useful people when change does happen. You will be the person who can make a splint out of a tree and some strong grass, you will be the person who can give someone Osha tincture if they are going into anaphylactic shock. You will be the one who has knowledge that can be used in real life, on the spot, to help during transitional times when the system is not supporting the people in it.

Sadly, the system is already not supporting the people in it. If you can be prepared to help without reliance on sterilized hospitals and caring doctors, then you are useful not only in the event of a major transition, but right now. Right now, you probably have friends who are unemployed or struggling with meager pay. Right now, you probably know someone who needs medical care that they are not getting. Right now, you probably know someone with a budding health condition that could become serious if left alone. If you have a passion to help people, then find the way to do so with the materials that you can find around you.

Maybe you want to be the one who can start fires with sticks to cook on without matches or flame, maybe you want to know how to naturally treat water so that it can become drinkable, maybe you want to learn about edible plants in your area in case of emergency.Maybe you want to learn how to build shelter with nothing but things found in the woods. Whatever your passion is, if it can become useful in some way in the event that things are falling apart or going through major transition, then my belief is that you should go for it and indulge in the luxury of being able to look things up online and in libraries until you learn the skills that you need to help out in the event that these things are no longer at your disposal.