Monday, February 25, 2008

The One Thing Everybody Wants

We all want to be happy.

I'd read this, but it didn't really sink in until Saturday evening. There's a woman, in a group I was playing a game with, who I really don't like much. I won't go into why - there are a number of reasons, some petty, some not. As I was lying in bed that night, falling asleep, I realized something:

She just wants to be happy. That's all she's trying to do.

Suddenly, I couldn't dislike her anymore. Her ways of pursuing happiness may not be effective for her - they certainly wouldn't be effective for me - but it doesn't change what they are. I'm not condoning meanness or cruelty, just recognizing that each of us is different. We each learn that different types of actions bring different types of rewards, and sometimes even if those beliefs no longer hold true, we cling to them. We're all just doing our best.

I challenge you to try thinking of someone you dislike, and re-framing their actions as their own pursuit of happiness. I'd love to hear what happens.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What You Want, You Already Have

I hit a pretty low spot this weekend, both personally (my relationship with myself and the universe) and in my relationship with the man I'm seeing ("boyfriend" sounds so sixth-grade). That darkness had me seeking out ways to retreat, to find wholeness again, and I came across the website of a local monastery. I'm not Christian, never mind Catholic, but feeling lost, this way of life appealed to me, and I woke up this morning and decided to spend some time before breakfast with a Buddhist book I've been meaning to read, and some time for contemplation and meditation.

I was not disappointed.

I feel better than I have in a long time, and realized a few important things that I'd forgotten.

What I wanted, I had. I just couldn't see it because I was looking so hard. In my relentless pursuit of more "together" time, to try to feel more connected, I prevented the very thing I was seeking from happening. He, too, had needed some personal space, but had been trying to give me what I wanted, and neglected himself. So neither of us had anything to give the other, but we kept on doggedly trying. My relationship with a lesser man would have ended this weekend. I'm glad this one didn't.

I need daily meditations. Even though I'm not religious, a spiritual discipline (taking time to reflect and learn from various philosophical and religious teachings) has always made me feel grounded and centered. It gives me a reason to be healthy, to work, to live. When I ignore this part of my life for too long, I start to feel lost in the universe. Now I feel found again.

So I think I'll adopt "morning prayers" (prayer, meditation, reading, etc) as part of my daily routine. I feel a peace and clarity today that I know will only grow over time.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Failing Schools? Or Failing Society?

I am sick of reading about America's "failing schools," as though the school system were to blame for anti-intellectualism in this country.

I studied to be a teacher. My mom is a teacher in a rural school district. I did my internship in a wealthy suburban school. Then I taught in an underfunded inner-city urban school. In each of those systems, the majority of teachers are dedicated, capable professionals. Teachers and schools are not the cause of under-achievement in American students.

American hubris and over-busy-ness are.

Parents (and students!) think they know better than teachers, how to teach. Government thinks it knows better than a teacher who interacts with students every day. And... here's the biggie ... as a nation, we have lost faith in experts of all kinds, and think the individual, however uneducated, knows best. We see no reason to work hard and learn. No reason to listen. We refuse to put aside our own self-importance to hear what someone with more experience than ourselves has to say.

Even for those who value education, how many people (adults) actually take the time to read, think, and discuss intellectual issues, whether in the realm of science, politics, or philosophy? No, we'd much rather sit back and watch American Idol. Our jobs, commutes, and general pursuit of the American Dream leaves us without energy to pursue artistic or intellectual growth. We model this passive, anti-learning behavior every day for our children, yet we expect our children to be intellectual giants.

Then we blame schools and teachers when they fail to live up to our expectations.

Let's stop blaming schools, and start taking personal responsibility for becoming an intellectually curious society. With a dose of humility, and slowing down enough to learn from and discuss the vast accumulation of knowledge available to us, we can, indeed, raise a generation well-prepared to compete in a global economy.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love is Not a Feeling

I read that somewhere, once, though I'm not sure where.

What is love, then? Love is perinneal and enduring. Feelings are fleeting and can change in a moment. If you're in a relationship, and your feelings for your "love" change because your needs are not being met, do you really love that person? I'm not advocating staying in a relationship where you're unhappy - sometimes you can love someone but know that staying with them would mean sacrificing your own happiness, which brings up another question:

Does love have anything to do with happiness?

I don't know.

But here's what I do know. I have friends who I love regardless of how often they call, or how often we see each other. My happiness in our friendship has nothing to do with how much time we spend together. But in dating relationships, our hormones go nuts, we "fall in love" (a feeling), but it's a selfish love that fades when the object of our love doesn't give us the attention we want, or what we think we should receive.

True love is unconditional, and is only one part of what's needed for a good relationship. My mom once confided to me, "I'm very glad I fell in love with a man I can live with, and that I can live with the man I love."

And that's what I wish for, for all of us, on Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I Finally Decided to Cancel Cable

I'd been thinking about doing it for a while, worried that I'd miss it, that maybe I should keep it for social reasons. But I can get rabbit ears for if I just want to zone-out with TV for a while, and most of the shows I'd want to watch are available either online, or on DVD. So what, exactly, was I paying for?

I'm not sure.

Which is probably why it felt so good to cancel it.

I'll now pay only $41/month to the cable company, for my internet service. Maybe I'll use the savings to go on a vacation, which is a much better use of money than to fill a box that's rarely on with shows I mostly don't want to watch.

Friday, February 8, 2008

What I Learned Today from World of Warcraft

Maybe it should be called World of Warcrack, it's so addictive. But there are things to be learned from the game, I'm sure.

I've been thinking about what it is that makes the game so addictive, and how those things can be created or applied to "Real Life" to help me get more done, and be happier doing it. At first I thought it was the quest-reward mechanic, where you have specific goals and get immediate rewards. But that, I discovered, is only a small part of what makes the game so enticing.

It's meditative, in a weird kind of way. You go out, you do your thing that you've done a million times, to kill a bigger and tougher enemy. It really doesn't require much thought - just enough decision-making to keep it from being boring.

... and now for what appears to be unrelated ....

I've started washing the dishes by hand, rather than using the dishwasher. I'd let them pile up a bit, and had a full sink-full this today. I was listening to music that to me, goes well with the "hearth and home" theme of washing dishes or other housework. And something hit me.

Washing dishes felt like questing.


Yep. It had the same not-too-difficult and not-too-boring flow as doing a "green" (easy-ish) World of Warcraft quest! After some thought, I realized it felt that way because 1) I was fully engaged in what I was doing, and 2) I had attributed emotional meaning to the task (warm homey feelings).

I wonder if part of the appeal of games like WoW is that they are a needed respite from information overload and decision making. Or if maybe I'm part of a generation that somehow didn't learn to be fully engaged and emotionally connected to "work." (Or if any generation before has, either?)

Surely life can become as addictive and appealing as a rather repetitive game.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mortality and Mattering

I read yesterday that the great Sheldon Brown passed away last weekend. As I was reading the comments of people on bikeforums, I kept thinking, "Wow, this is a man who really left his mark on the world." I've also been thinking of my grandparents - 3 still living and nearing 90 years old, who are beginning the process of wrapping up their lives. They too, have left their mark, each in a different way.

But the thing I see in common among these four people, is that when you devote yourself to something you're passionate about, and share that passion with others - whether through your writing, music, art, knowledge, or simple caring and conversation - you leave a substantial mark on the world that will last long after you're gone.

It makes me want to really search my soul for what I can contribute. To stop chasing after all the things I could do, but only by faking it. In ten years, will I have produced anything real? Or will I have nothing but a half-hearted pile of "good enough" garbage?

Leaving your mark on the world doesn't require fame. It only requires you to be honest with yourself, and then reaching out, and giving what you can to those you touch.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Listen to Yourself

There's a quiet voice that tells you exactly what, at any given moment, you need to do to be happy and satisfied.

The only hard part is learning to listen to it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Five Ways to Be More Productive in Less Time

  1. Know what you're working on. Don't let your work time feel aimless. Know what you're doing, and if you find yourself wandering, take a break, or decide what's important that you should be doing. Always have a task and a goal.
  2. Make short to-do lists. Ideally, choose no more than three big things to accomplish today. Make them the most important things you can do, that will have the most impact on your goals. You may want to capture all the other things that you may want to do someday on a separate list. I maintain three lists: All the things I could do today, Three things I will do today, and a "Maybe" list for ideas and things I'm not sure I want to do at all, but haven't decided about yet.
  3. Take breaks. You'll be much more focused and productive if you stay fresh and energized.
  4. Be organized. Don't waste time having to search for things you need to do your job.
  5. Reduce or eliminate interruptions. As much as possible, turn off IMs and email during your work time. Checking email twice a day - mid morning and mid afternoon - is sufficient for most people.

Making a Living Making Nothing

It's an interesting feature of this digital age - many of us, myself included, make our livings making nothing substantial, things that exist only in 0's and 1's.

I wonder sometimes if I'd be happier if I made things: actual, real, things-you-can-touch things. I know how to sew. I make a better loaf of bread than you can buy in any but the most expensive of bakeries. I sometimes get away from the computer and do actual artwork on actual canvas, but that's the exception, not the norm.

I fantasize about growing my own food on this little suburban lot that barely holds my house and the requisite grassy front lawn. About living by, at least in part, the labor of my hands, not just of my mind. I dug a garden last spring, and a friend of mine said, "Wow, Becky, you mean you actually did actual work?!"

I think a little more of that sort of work might be good for me.

What if... We Only Bought Handmade Things?

OK - I'm not talking about things like cars, but rather all the stuff that we buy month after month - clothes, furniture, toys - mass produced, overseas factory made, generally low-quality junk.

What would happen?

  1. Local artists, artisans, and craftsmen/women would be able to make a living wage working for themselves, producing these things.
  2. We'd buy much less, because these things would be much more expensive (but hopefully better quality and longer lasting).
  3. We'd need smaller houses, since they'll hold less stuff, so we'd use less energy.
  4. Mini-storage companies would go out of business.
  5. There'd be less pollution, and less trash in landfills, and fewer raw materials used, because of #2 above.
  6. We'd have an increased sense of connection to the world around us, through the people who make these things.
I'm not sure what categories of things this could really apply to, in our modern world. Not books, certainly, but probably the bookshelves they stand on. Probably not electronics, either. But there are whole classes of things that we buy that it could apply to - furniture, shoes, dishes, clocks, rugs, potpourri, linens, soaps and lotions, etc.

What if we stopped giving our money to big corporations and retailers, and put it in the hands of local people just like us?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Need a Vacation?

I've been going round and round with myself lately, wanting to escape to a mountain cabin retreat for a few days' or weeks' vacation. But then I ask myself why I want to go, and what I'd do there that I can't do at home. The purpose of such a trip would be to shake myself out of a rut, but maybe I can do that without leaving. I'm thinking about

  • Getting up insanely early to read, do yoga, write, and maybe watch sunrises.
  • Spending mornings in quiet reflection, writing, and meditation.
  • Taking naps (which would be necessary if I got up insanely early).
  • Doing housework in tiny bits so that it seems the house just stays clean (one of the best things about vacations is no housework!).
  • Spending more time outdoors.
Fortunately, I like my home, so if I can shake myself out of this rut without leaving, all the better.