the gratitude attitude

mercury

Gratitude is the new Happy in terms of writing trends and with Thanksgiving a few days away there’s plenty of syrupy pieces being written. We all know how much the rant-ress loves those. [see: chin-up my ass or pollyanna is passive aggressive]

Recently, a friend linked an article in their “marketing” email suggesting that “love, praise and gratitude” can change your DNA. When I tried to find an actual study, there was no veritable science I could cite. Though there were some fuzzy pictures of altered cells that had been ‘praised and appreciated,’ along with one abused cell entitled, “You make me sick; I will kill you.”

Regardless, I discovered something about practicing appreciation when a friend of mine decided to do something she called, 100 Days of Gratitude on her FB page. She’d post a photo that embodied some aspect of her world that she’d observed and admired adding words of acknowledgement. She told me that after the initial 10 or so obvious picks, she had to look deeper and it changed the way she looked at her whole life. I joined her in this cheery activity doing 50 Days, writing crisp little descriptors of what delighted my whimsy, adding direct or oblique photos I’d taken.

I love to take on miniature ‘assigned’ creative ventures. Venture, after all, is the other half of ‘adventure.’ What I found was that—like when working with poems/songs where snippets amoeba about my mind all day taking shape, flitting apart—I’d be secondarily thinking and watching through this new lens as my work-a-day life rolled through me.

Endorphin hits were sweet and available in bite-sized bits each day. I couldn’t keep up with all the joy-giving ‘conditions’ surrounding me. Most adults are often looking for some feel-good chemicals but have been culturally trained that the best place to get them is from without: drugs, alcohol, weed, random hook-ups, gambling, shopping, etc.. If your endorphins depend on stimulation instead of inspiration, they’re not sustainable.

So for fun, why not try a 28 day exercise (to match moon cycles). I said, FUN, not another ‘uplifting’ yet soul-smothering head dictum about “right living” but an enjoyable uncomplicated way to “change your life” as the galvanizing New Age-ers love to wax on about. Okay, it won’t be that dramatic but it will inspire your vision of existence.

Pick a start date and take your camera or iPhone out for a walk engaging your imagination in hoarfrost, ice puddles, Larch “fur.” Drops of water on Lacinato kale, art, a sparkling Riedel glass of chianti, candlelight. Downy comforters, Italian leather boots, an 3-foot anthill, fluffy snowflakes, lake swimming, hiking boots… Share on Facebook, Tumblr, email, wherever.

Let Bruce Cockburn’s lyrics prompt you:

Little round planet in a big universe / Sometimes it looks bless-ed, sometimes it looks cursed / Depends on what you look at obviously/ But even more it depends on the way that you see.

Go! Go! GO!

*photo is of planet Mercury

there is no there there, and i’m not talking about oakland—or, how not to be delusional

AlexeyBednij1

DELUSION: “An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality…”

Many believe the religious are delusional. That’s understandable given that the nature of religion is to traverse the sphere of the imperceptible. But most of us do experience love, beauty, truth, spirit: ‘things’ without form. We know they exist even though they can’t be dissected or factually proven.

Yet science can be delusional, too. First, by trying to dismiss the ineffable because it cannot be ‘proven,’ but also by subconsciously projecting subjective beliefs on ‘impartial’ hypotheses. If something doesn’t present like a human, then what’s objectively looked for doesn’t exist. Example: deciding that animals—and until 1987, babies!!!—don’t experience pain, mainly because animals’ faces aren’t expressive like us humans and many animals/insects don’t vocalize pain when suffering or, more likely, not on wave lengths that we hear.

My point is delusional subjectivity is found in every area of life, not confined to the realms of religion or science, the seen or the unseen. It’s not an either/or world.

Delusional Disorder is one thing, but “benign” delusion’s a social irritant that just keeps growing.

I realize that wishing for change, yet continuing doing the learned is common. There’s a name for an aspect of that: cognitive dissonance. Think of the many people who desire to jettison extra weight, quit a soul-sucking  job, get in shape, learn a language or instrument but just somehow…don’t.

Wishing is a start that used to translate into genuine want, which would transform into actual action and then and only then did the possibility of arriving at the aspiration begin. Catch that? That’s the START, not the conclusion.

It’s not enough to retrieve a wish from the ‘land of possibilities’—where one may desire many conflicting things simultaneously but never truly choose anything—and convert it into a genuine want. But to actually arrive at reality, effort must be taken.* You have to pick up the instrument, literally look for a different job, work out… Reasonable, right?

This last, often unrealized, step is the place of fantasy that I’m seeing more often. In young children, make-believe is developmentally appropriate, but adults? Uh…no. Yet many Generation X-ers—30s to mid 40s—(Doug Coupland said they have no allegiances to anyone or anything, and get no allegiances in return) carry the irrational belief that to just want something is magically sufficient enough work to obtain it. Business owner friends say that half of their employees see work as a noun, not a verb.

The land of possibilities reveals no inner core, no chosen life rudder, no morés. Having everything ‘open’ means there’s no sound footing. True freedom comes from responsibility, not lack. Responsibility—ability to respond—occurs from an integrated, discerning Self. Reaction, impulsiveness, compulsion happen when there’s no “there there,” as Gertrude Stein wrote. Stimulation is not inspiration.

Heart & logic, ethereal & empirical are simultaneously essential components to a fully realized choice, to deeper evolution. The polarization of “all or none” must alchemize into “and & both” if we want to inhabit an authentic, non-delusional life.

*See: “do you believe what you’re sayin’? yeah right now, but not that often.”

love, sad, love, sad, love, sad, sad love

Banksy

Valentines Day can be such a pain.

Not because I don’t have a sweetheart (I do), not because I dislike marketing holidays (gawd, I do) and not because I have an aversion to the pudgy winged moppet with a weapon as it’s mascot (yup). It’s because this holiday causes such angst, agony and loneliness—maybe more than being homeless on Thanksgiving and Christmas combined. During those holidays, others compassionately invite the forsaken in, churches & charities prepare turkey dinners and gift giving trees for the indigent and the lonely. Everyone—if they want it—has somewhere to go.

On Valentine’s day? Niente, nada, nothing. No Valentine’s philanthropy for the loveless, no support groups for the lost-to-love crowd. Maybe a therapist?

When I teach creative writing in middle or high school, I watch how this lack of a bf creates such distress. The days leading up to Valentine’s, it’s what most girls are discussing and there’s a covert, schizoid scramble to get coupled before the dreaded day hits so you’re not shamefully solo. But it doesn’t end there. Afterwards, the competition is fierce as to who’s boyfriend was better, what he gave, said, sacrificed.

This sends those poor boys who are ofttimes are out of practice when it comes to gifts and shopping running a deranged, commonly last minute dash to get the ‘perfect’ present, do the ideal over the top thing.

Doesn’t differ that much in adults. If I had a nickel for the times I’ve heard men and women feel satisfied about how this holiday panned out—I’m in my 50s—I’d have about 70 cents.

Before this was a marketing holiday, its power to seriously wound was small. Indeed, it was fun, especially as a child. Even if Mary got seven valentines and I got three, it wasn’t sheer devastation though we all knew who the class cootie was. Most of us constructed simple hearts adorned with doilies, glitter and a glued-on desiccated candy hearts professing, “Be Mine” and bestowed them to best friends, family, teachers.

Now, it’s often a contest of size, swank, hip, yuppie-mom-made, dollar store duds or Disney given-equally-to-all. Merchandised ‘love’ is force fed to us continuously from every conceivable outlet weeks ahead. Adults steal every holiday and ruin it. Sigh.

When my kids were little, we’d all make valentine’s for each other—some with poems, some not—all customized. As a kid, my parents did small things, if any, for each other but my mamma would compose a personalized poem for each of my brothers and me, paste them onto red hearts she’d cut out of construction paper and doilies and place them on our plates at the breakfast table before school.

That felt like real love…because it was.

There’s more to loving than just the smitten sort. See help me, I think I’m falling…in “distraction” again for further discussion of the disruption that romantic love causes when elevated above the other three loves.

Maybe cherishing yourself, along with honoring all manner of intimacy might be a better way to venerate love than filling a ‘slot’ with just any person, or turning affection into a competition.

ersatz-pseudo-quasi-emotions

roz-chast-updated-versions-of-the-stick-figure-smiley-s-new-yorker-cartoon

One of many problems with living within the patriarchal paradigm—be you female, male, flora or fauna—is that our emotional worlds are demoted to a second class, non-logical, weak place never to be visited. The ridiculousness of that stance can be illustrated by suggesting that eyes are superior to mouth or that fingers are better than toes. They’re all interdependent and anyone proposing that logic, without emotion, is the intelligent way to live isn’t participating in a functional relationship with themselves.

Simply put, the amygdala—part of the Limbic system—deals with fear responses, hormones, pleasure, aggression and emotional memories. The frontal lobe is equated with expressive language, motor skills, socialization, reasoning and higher level cognition like planning and impulse control. Pure intellect is unintelligible. How can the rational brain think or pursue a logical line of thought if it were not extensively in touch with our desires, fears, values, intentions?

Long-term stress predisposes changes in the amygdala and the frontal cortex which lead to anxiety and poor decision-making. This explains why decisions we make when we’re stressed out appear brilliant, but usually promise regret.

So what does this have to do with pseudo emotions? Well, if it’s unsafe to have real emotions, you’ve two basic choices: hide them or subconsciously fabricate look-alikes to appear to have them. Like Republicans who sport punk dress or the iconic wolf wearing a sheepskin or Chast’s “smileys” above, what passes for feelings in this narcissistically twisted “rational” world are head-based emotions.

All true feelings are experienced in the body.* Hence, when one is in genuine fear (not anxiety) the gut is often the physical base of fear. Love is often experienced as warmth in the stomach, not the over-sweet mind drivel that fashions fantasies of white knight heroes and male-sexualized women.

Here’s a list of ’emotions’ I believe originate in the mind and are commonly pawned off as authentic feeling:

  • sentimentality vs. love
  • doubt vs. questioning (quest)
  • guilt vs. responsibility (ability to respond)
  • duty vs. compassion
  • judgmental separation vs. personal boundaries
  • manipulation/withdrawing vs. connection
  • dread vs. fear
  • remembering vs. sensing
  • regret vs. understanding/lesson absorbed
  • victim-hood vs. hurting

Experiencing yourself as a victim is not being in your feelings. Just because you hurt doesn’t mean another has actually produced that ‘injury.’ Fear of pain is not the same thing as actual pain. An authentic threat will generate adrenaline but fear of fear is not authentic feeling, just a head-thought masquerading as emotion.

A paradigm that dismisses a cogent connection between heart and head is SO irrational that it logically could only have lead to this trashed planet forming the messy, indulgent, addicted, violent, cruel culture most of us are forced to interact with.

You’ll have to spend time rationally ruminating over the difference between real and perceived feelings since most of us are conditioned early on to ignore our physical signals in favor of head thought. We’ll need to harmonize the brain and the heart if we want accurate cognition and not ego/mind-driven lives. The body will be our guide.

*This doesn’t mean head-emotions don’t confuse or overburden the body and cause disease.