WINNING AND LOSING

Suddenly, I’m fascinated by adages. It appears that in lieu of real cultural heroes whose behaviors reflect moral standards of integrity and wisdom, we revert to simple, often one line adages. This is not surprising in a culture of fast foods, express lubes, and twitter. Here are some examples. 1) “A stitch in time saves nine”; 2) “A woman’s work is never done; 3) “Waste not want not”; 4) “A penny saved is a penny earned” And, Nike’s slogan/adage; 5)”Just Do It”. I could go on and on. Recently, I heard the following adage by an unknown author, 6) “A loser quits when they’re tired. A winner quits” when they’ve won.” I was wasting time watching So You Think You Can Dance when Nigel quoted this to a contestant.

These adages are meant to inspire us to be winners – to “be all that you (we) can be”. Remember that old Army recruitment tool made famous from 1980 through 2001.

Did your parents ever tell you that your face would freeze if you kept making faces at your sister? My mother used to tell me that eating crust would make my hair curly. Smoking cigarettes will stunt your growth! Well, maybe that one is true!!

All of these adages have merit. So, why do they make me feel so awful? Well, let’s look at some of the unspoken truisms that are ever so subtly suggested:

1) The stitch in time adage suggests that one should NEVER let their guard down. Another example is, “Don’t let the grass grow beneath your feet” or “Don’t get caught with your pants down”. It sounds a little like “There is no rest for the weary”. I’m stressed just writing this because I’m thinking about the number of leftovers in my frig with the unfulfilled promise that I would eat them. Not only have I been wasteful; but I’ve probably grown enough mold to make penicillin. How lazy and irresponsible is that? I’m feeling the grass growing (along with the moldy leftovers) between my toes as I write. What if someone looks in my refrigerator? Why can’t I be more organized and disciplined about my eating habits? UGH!

2) The Woman’s Work adage appeals to a woman’s sense of importance. A woman’s job description is never ending and unlike any other job requirements. Only a woman could endure the demands and still have a smile on her face! Only a targeted and meaningful adage could make the job description of a work horse so appealing and influential. It suggests that a real woman would never leave a task undone. Certainly, a real woman would eat her leftovers and/or be efficient about keeping her refrigerator clean and free of unsightly, moldy leftovers.

3) “Waste not want not”. So, wasting is what triggers wanting! Does this include desires too? Could we substitute this for “Waste not desire not”? Personally, I like my desires and my wants. They inspire me to be more. Although, I will agree to try hard not to allow waste to corrupt my refrigerator with lofty desires for Lobster Newburg and Saffron Mayonnaise. I know! Enough of the refrigerator metaphors.

4) Ah! Money! I am no expert on this subject. But, sometimes a penny saved might translate to an unpaid bill and the dreaded late fee. This adage was appropriate years ago when employment was hardy. How does it apply in an economy where 1/3 of all Americans are receiving state and federal subsidies? And, besides, what happened to “All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy”. I suppose that some adages trump others.

5) “Just Do It”. Actually, I really like this one. But, Nike’s motives were simply to sell more shoes to people who believed that the product improved their cache and their athletic abilities. That said, I’m all for getting out there and DOING “Just for the Fun of It”.

6) So, if you are not a winner, you’re a lazy loser! What about, “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Who decides whether a loss is due to laziness or an all out effort failed?

Adages are mostly extemporaneous, black and white, one size fits all flourishes of pomp. They do not reflect the fine nuances of the human experience. Superman gave us nuances with his human/superhuman characteristics. What we need is another Abraham Lincoln. He was a real life hero who exemplified integrity and true grit with a gusty humanity that was not perfect; but always reflective and sometimes tortured by a lifelong depression. It is interesting that Abraham Lincoln’s depression was accepted as an intriguing aspect of his character. Today, Lincoln would be stigmatized. Maybe it is this rejection of human frailness for a false belief in perfection that has manufactured a society without heroes like Lincoln, JFK, Martin Luther King, etc.

As I think about American modern day heroes, the Pope comes to mind as a possible hero. We’ll have to wait and see. The contemporary song by Aaron Waters reflects this desire for a hero – NOT more adages. It’s called ‘We need a Hero’.

Survival of the Witless

I am in survival mode.  This would be fine if I were fighting for my very life.  Either way, my dependable, ancient primordial fear trigger has been engaged; and I can’t seem to find the brake.  I use common sense to mediate my dilemma.  I forget that I am dealing with a part of the brain that existed exclusively and solely to ensure the survival of prehistoric reptiles and dinosaurs.  And, who has ever heard of a rational, thoughtful dinosaur? So, my superior, highly complex pre-frontal lobe is getting the crap beat out of it by my single-minded reptilian brain. My efforts to reason with my brain’s obvious misrepresentation of imminent danger is a bit like trying to explain to an outraged toddler that too much candy will rot their teeth and make them sick!  The toddler’s ability to make decisions based on the future – to delay gratification – to use common sense, is years away.  The toddler’s pre-frontal lobe is full of potential to be filled in at a later time.  And, as developed as I’d like to think my pre-frontal lobe is, it’s no match for my reptilian brain’s belief that I am in mortal danger.  But, this fact does not stop me from exhausting myself to achieve a higher level of functioning. And, my primitive reptilian brain cannot abandon its single mission to save my life.  With the diligence of a salmon swimming upstream, it supplies me with enough adrenalin to lift a 5 ton truck with my bare hands.  The same hands that, on some days, are unable to open a jar of pickles.  Some people might say that I am experiencing anxiety. I prefer to think of it as an ‘ism’. I’ll call it reptilianism. I have to admire its stamina and patience. I am losing mine.

So, today, I am exercising my higher functioning skill of avoidance in an effort to divert its overzealous attempts to save me. Since thoughts and beliefs are often the triggers for behaviors, I decide to control my thoughts by way of the ancient art of self-induced sleep – an equally ancient survival technique against Reptilianism. I use another ancient tactic called deceit to overcome this persistent interruption to my sanity when I am awake. We’ve all heard about mind over matter. So, I subvert every single horrific negative thought with an equally powerful positive thought. I am no longer trying to reason with the unreasonable. But, I am making some headway. I find that the exercise results in lulling my Reptilianism into believing that the danger has passed. My deception appears to be working! The secret to this is to never allow a negative thought to rest for too long. Think of this as the well known torture tactic of sleep deprivation. As my reptilian brain becomes exhausted from the rapid transitions of thoughts, I begin to relax. The more I relax, the less likely it is that I will awake the sleeping dinosaur. This is exhausting work for both me and my brain. It would be so much easier if I had some real dinosaurs to take up arms against. Maybe a little hallucination would do the trick!

BEING

‘Being’ requires consistency and structure to support its otherwise lifelessness.  We never speak of the dead as lifeless -only the living who have had the metaphorical wind knocked out of them by a one-two punch; or have been rendered unconscious by a knocked down, dragged out KO. 

A temporary hit or a life-altering change will also render a person or thing ‘lifeless’. A sick child is described as “lifeless”.  A ramshackled and abandoned farm house loses its vitality, a house suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome is described as “lifeless” as a For Sale sign is placed on the lawn with resigned acceptance and a yearning for the old structures and consistencies.

Once structure is regained, life is renewed and the breathe returns to normal. Life is full of interruptions that often hit us from behind. Some interruptions we spontaneously recover from with barely an afterthought. Others leave permanent impressions, like scars, that will forever trigger a memory of the event. And, if we are lucky, a recognition of the lessons learned.

But, what happens when the interruption is not followed by a recovery; or even a lesson? How then does one learn to breath in a new way when the wind of normal breathing blows in harsh and irregular patterns – when the process of an inhale is met with resistance and pain rather than regeneration and vitality? How can we exchange the old for new when expiration is fragile and shallow?

Can a fish learn to breath air? They say that in time all organisms adapt to a new environment. When the lake is sucked dry, the fish evolves or becomes extinct. Indeed survival occurs only among the most creative and adaptable among the species. And this process usually results in a more highly developed classification – a new creation. The ability to continue to evolve in the process of a changed environment is essential to life and living. So, when our being is threatened by a sudden lack of structure and loss of the consistencies we have come to depend upon, we have to create a new structure and new consistencies. But, the fear of the unknown is often the enemy that jeopardizes our very survival.

Maybe the question is not how one will survive this loss of structure and consistency; but how to challenge the unknown in ways that eventually become commonplace – until the next unexpected hit. But, the next time, we have the experience of our last challenge to insure us that “This too shall pass.”

If we believe that all challenges are opportunities to recreate ourselves, then I think we have begun the process of learning how to breath underwater!

REFLECTIONS

Lately I’ve been curious about the varied moods that I experience in a single day.  My days, like my moods, resemble a multi-faceted gemstone or a pristine riverbed.  Although a day is a finitely determined single unit of time, its unpredictability and randomness are like ripples in a stream with fine edges, each reflecting its unique version of the environment.  Each moment of the day is an opportunity to guide the reflections that seduce us by sparkling more brightly, circulating more frenetically, or emitting flashy colors.

Sometimes, the environment dictates where my focus and attention lay.  This is especially true while taking care of the business of the day.  Routines have a way of encouraging robotic responses.  It’s not the shiny and flashy that catches our attention; but the mundane and ordinary. We have been trained well to avoid distractions and keep our nose to the grindstone.  It’s hard to see choices in a sea of To Dos.  We blindly move from one task to another to reach an end that in all likelihood has been long forgotten.  But, there is glorious relief in the distractions of chores, job responsibilities, and the routines we once committed ourselves to for the sake of improving ourselves and our lives.  But, there is little opportunity to reflect, assess, or redirect.

In reviewing my past, it has occurred to me that I have never made a life-altering change (other than the early adult rites of passage) without a life-altering stimulus that forced me off the road and into unchartered lands.  These aberrant, panic inducing events force us to take our eyes off of the mundane and rethink the possible.  During these times, we often reflect – if only to insure that we are heading in the right direction.  And, since change is difficult at best for most people, we settle back into the mundane as soon as possible with a sigh of sweet relief.  WHEW!

I am now, once again, in a position of looking for the reflections mirroring my life.  And, because I’m sick, I feel limited in my options. Consequently, I have no glorious aspirations to give root to my lost self.  Oh! I have tried. I’ve dabbled in creative endeavors to help ease the pain of non-productivity. And, even as I write this, I realize that productivity is the antithesis of creativity and dream-chasing. Catch the corundum?

So as I have limited options, no routine, and lots of time; I’ve been able to see in a more global way. Because I have no preordained direction, I am aware of the variety of reflections my life offers for my review. This awareness has saved the life of my sanity. For example, when a moment of my day blinds me by the glaring reflection of old age, financial doom, or loss of dependence; I am able to search for a substitution among the myriad reflections. I am able to see that there are alternatives to the life I once lived. I’m able to see a new future if I will allow myself to be receptive to change. And, this awareness and ability to see beyond the expected and routine – to never dismiss an idea, has resulted in discovering new talents with the potential of being both satisfying and lucrative.

And with the ability to see more globally, I also have the opportunity to make choices about how I think and how I feel. This does not mean that a realistic reflection that poses a problem should be ignored because it generates bad feelings. It simply means that I have more options to explore with the possibility of producing an abundance of emotions that are beginning to create a texture and landscape to my life that has never before been possible. The more I see, the more I know, the more I feel.

The Mortal versus the Human

It’s interesting to reflect on my response to the difficult challenges in my life.  And, it's sobering and humiliating to become aware of the flawed ideas from which my reactions have been molded. In spite of my humiliation, I will opine on these ideas with the belief that I am not the only person struggling with the conflicts and disconnects between being human and the desire to be super-human, maybe even unhuman. This may be another flawed assumption! If so, then here goes another lesson in humility.

I'm competitive. Often my ego-hungry nature drives me to rise above my challenges - to respond as though I had the mythical Greek God, Hermes, as my personal guide. A note of explanation here: Hermes is the God of transitions and boundaries. He is an intercessor between the mortal and the divine.  My ego demands nothing less than to divest myself of temporal mediocrity and triumph sublimely.

This attempt to rise above my humanness, dispel my weaknesses, conquer my fears, avoid my limitations and protect myself from the harsh judgment of others, results in catastrophic self-blame when I fail. My ego cannot overcome this crushing blow. After all, if I were stronger, wiser, more deserving; I would have succeeded. And so, the same ego that drove me to believe in my superhuman abilities and my divine intercessor lays in a heap of unrealistic expectations, self-pity and loathing. Despair is a poor companion. Yet, it feels somehow just - an appropriate consequence for my failures and defects.

Sooner or later, self-preservation and common sense guide me out of the dark and into a world of realism and practicality. At this point, I begin to understand that I am impotent over the unexpected/unpredictable events in my life. I settle into forgiving myself for my lack. I relinquish the role of heroine and miracle-worker to a power much greater than myself. I find myself relaxing in the absence of the stressors of super-humanness. I find myself praying for patience, conclusion and strength - human strength.

And here's the kicker! My relaxed mind becomes bored and my bruised ego heals and gains strength. Certainly my situation is not without purpose. Now, I begin an exhausting search for meaning and purpose. My suffering has to result in a greater good. I am looking for meaning. I just can't wrap my head around the randomness of nature.
So, I settle in for another challenge.  Initially, I default to my old ways of finding value and meaning in the things that evoke status and cache. I fall victim to ascribing to an image that will win me favor in the eyes of others.

The KISS philosophy comes to mind - Keep It Simple Stupid. My challenge does not need the intervention of a mediator between the divine and the mortal. Meaning and purpose is not something you do or become. The ego complicates and blurs the soul to acquire things for its own sake. I need my ego to survive and even thrive. But, I can't give it everything it wants. I think this would be called narcissism. And, when I am unable to feed the ego with its desires, the result will always be depressing.

So, I'm settling for finding meaning in the meaningless, worthiness in the simple, joy in the ordinary, purpose in the serendipitous and value in the people and things that I love. I unburden myself of carrying and portraying false images. And, I'm accepting the present and keeping the past behind me. These simple things, though difficult, are humanly possible. I'll let you know how I'm doing. Thanks for reading.

The Meaning of Life

I am beginning this post from a place of intellectual curiosity and spiritual thirst.  I’ve searched here many times before.  So, it’s familiar, rarely satisfying and always relentless in its pursuit of my attention.   But, I’m thinking that my strategy to find answers to the centuries old question of how to live a meaningful life is flawed.  I used to think that I knew!  Meaning was uniquely individual.  Obviously, meaning is escorted into our life by fortitude and drive – the courage to see our predefined goals and achieve them even in the face of great adversity.  Sounds good!  I have the opportunity to be the heroine in a theatrical production that is produced in my own mind and directed by my own prescribed edicts.  A meaningful life is assured when we write, produce, edit and direct our meaningful desires.  All a person needs is vision, drive, strength of character and an impeccable ethic.  Maybe a little sprinkle of humility to insure that we are never seen as arrogant; or, God forbid, entitled to the privileges we seek.

This methodology places us at the helm of our life boat.  All is guided by the turning of the navigational sphere grasped firmly in our self-directed hands.  After all, we are the drivers of our own destiny, right?  Those who have not experienced success are clearly weak of character and have poor insight.

So, what happens when a storm blows out to sea and an external force throws us off course at best; reroutes our life boat without our consent, or tosses us out of our life boat and into a raging sea? Suddenly, everything we believed that we knew about ourselves is under attack. This is where we find the answers to meaning and spirituality. If we cannot wait out the storm, maintain trust in something greater than ourselves, and experience true humility in the face of our diminutive nature, we will lose the opportunity to see ourselves as an integral part of a spiritual whole that has no need for individuality or theatre. And in this larger view, we can face our limitations and be content in our shortcomings. We never did have control. Can we still feel meaningful in the insecurity of a storm?