As some of you know, I like to set a new intention to work towards at the start of each year. Not only does this neatly replace any obligation to set any New Year's resolutions, which apparently aren't quite my special gift, but it also gives me 365 whole days to work on whatever the intention of the year happens to be. This year, my intention has been "The Year of Having Faith." As such, I've been blogging quite a lot this year about faith (or lack thereof). In keeping with the overarching goal of tackling tough shorter-term questions with a faith-first approach, I recently blogged about my efforts to develop a longer-term mindset. So far, not so good. It would seem that, for me at least, not much exists in the space between "today" and "20 years from now." What I mean is - whatever is happening to me right now, today, is also what I assume will be happening to me 20 years from now. This can be good and bad. For example, if today everything is going well in different areas of my life (career, relationship, finances, health, pet health, parental health, etc.) my 20-year outlook also seems similarly rosy. But if today everything is not going so well (debt is piling up, my back went out again, my best friend just moved halfway across the country) then it simply follows that I am in no hurry for my "later" to arrive. In fact, if it wants to just go visit someone else instead, that is fine too. Interestingly, I have also recently realized this is part of the reason why I continue to struggle to have faith. I am starting to think it may also lie at the root of my ongoing battles with depression and anxiety. Because the truth is, no matter how much my mentor, Lynn, and I talk about how the light only shines far enough to see the next step in front of me, somehow I continually fail to actually perceive those next steps, or even believe they are really there at all. Here is an example.
I will admit I haven't yet seen the new movie "Florence Foster Jenkins" starring Meryl Streep. But I don't have to see it to know she is clearly one of my mentors. Recently, my own longtime mentor, Lynn, and I were discussing our mutual enthusiasm for the film and how eager we are to see it. Lynn mentioned she has listened to some of the real FFJ's musical recordings. So of course I had to hop on over to YouTube and listen for myself. The moment I heard the opening notes on the first selection, I understood why William Meredith, the poet, was quoted as saying: ....what Jenkins provided ... was never exactly an aesthetic experience, or only to the degree that an early Christian among the lions provided aesthetic experience. Nor did I have to struggle to comprehend why the great composer and performer Cole Porter was reputed to bang his cane into his own foot to keep from laughing out loud at Jenkins' musical recitals....yet was apparently unable to stay away from each new Jenkins concert. It would seem she was that bad....and that good.
Am I stubborn? Or persevering? This is the question I found myself asking this week. It happened after two people close to me told me I was "too stubborn." Given that the prevailing definition of stubborn basically describes a person I hope I never meet, this caused me some amount of concern. Am I stubborn? Do I insist that my way is the right way...the only way? Do I keep insisting this even when I am flat, dead wrong? Am I arrogant, inflexible, obstinant? Yeep. I sure hope not. So I ran it by my longtime mentor, Lynn, to see what she thought. Her response was intriguing - and potentially reassuring. She replied: Stubborness can be a liability (that is, an asset carried too far to be useful anymore) – the asset version is perseverance. It’s important to know the difference. I agreed...especially when I am being called something that is a liability. Plus, I like the sound of "perseverance" better. She continued:
When I was little, my folks (and most everyone else) liked to joke that I was "5 going on 35." I was apparently very mature for my age. Or any age. I do remember being a rather serious child, very much in my own inner world at times, and sometimes feeling like I saw the world and the people in it differently from my peers. An example - one day an older neighborhood girl was babysitting my brother and me. Her younger sister accompanied her and began to talk about some problems she was having with her boyfriend. I was about 10 at the time and had never had a boyfriend. But when she told me her issue, I instantly understood what was going on with the boyfriend and quickly explained to her the most likely reason why he was behaving the way he was (although now I don't remember exactly what it was he was doing). She looked at me - shocked - and said, "You are right! But how do you know this?" I had no idea. I still have no idea. Now I suspect it is just because I am an introvert and a natural observer of life and people. Maybe I just had seen the same pattern play out with other peer relationships. Or perhaps I saw something similar to what the girl described on a television show. All I know is, whatever I told her worked, and it resolved her issue with her boyfriend. That being said, as a "mature" 5, and 10, and 15, and 25-year-old, I was very faithful to my parents' assertions that I should always have a long-term plan. So I did. For instance, I was saving for retirement the moment I paid off my student debt. After college, I chose a career with a stable company in a beautiful place (California) and anticipated maxing out my 401K plan so I could be secure the rest of my life. The only problem with this very wise long-term plan is, it didn't fit me.
Over the last 13 years, I have moved 8 times. So the fact that I really don't like moving should be significant. And it is significant, except that I have always had a really good reason for needing to move from one place to the next. Often, that reason has boiled down to one of two factors: neighbors or noise. Or both. There was also rent to consider, and thanks to Houston's newfound reputation as a great place to find jobs, rent hasn't always been a factor I could control. But then again, neither is neighbors or noise. I have had some truly awful neighbors - the kind you call the cops about (or just fantasize about calling the cops about). The worst kinds of neighbors are noisy, nosy neighbors - the ones who seem to live to make those around them miserable, whether or not they realize that is what they are doing. Which means that the outcome of having nasty neighbors is often noisy surroundings. And, as I mentioned in this blog post, I am not a huge fan of most kinds of noise. For instance, I don't like "people" noise. This includes lawn care machinery noise, construction noise, loud music noise, loud car or motorcycle noise, loud party noise and other similar noises. I also don't like loud barking dog noise (although I do like most dogs - but I don't blame the dogs when they are barking a lot!). How does this relate to me moving frequently? Well, every time I make a move to a new place, I have to get used to a whole new set of noises. This happens on a few different levels. While conscious-me is getting used to which noises are associated with what neighbor, place or activity, limbic-brain me is getting used to which noises should be activating its "fight or flight" emergency response system. So for the first few weeks or so, my limbic brain is putting out SOS calls all. the. time. We are both on high alert for any and all noises, until my limbic brain can sort them out and assess which ones require panic and which ones are no big deal.
Recently, I have gone through a few periods where I have gotten really down on myself. After having worked so hard for so many years to learn how to give myself the benefit of a doubt, it seriously bummed me out when this unpleasant habit cropped up yet again. In other words, I took it quite personally. I got mad at myself. Really mad. (It goes without saying this didn't help the situation much.) But then I remembered what one of my long-time mentors, author Don Miguel Ruiz, Sr., has to say about taking things personally. In a phrase, he says, "Don't take anything personally." It just didn't occur to me until just now that this includes myself.
About seven weeks ago, my boyfriend and I returned from a 6-day trek into the wilderness of West Texas. The town we stayed in had a population of 349 people (coming from Houston, a town of more than 2 million people, this was pretty wild all on its own)! Our goal was to hike the tallest mountain peak in Texas (you can read this post to find out how well that went!) Our other goal was to reconnect to our wild insides - the parts of us that still remembered how to live simply, how to breathe in and breathe out, how to allow our jaws to drop open in wonder at the vast natural beauty around us, how to sip coffee in the morning without simultaneously building the day's to-do lists in our heads. One night we decided to browse through the DVDs at the sweet rental casa where we were staying. We came across a film called "Wild" and popped it into the DVD player. As it turned out, the main character in the film, Cheryl Strayed, had recently experienced some tragedy and decided to "hike it off" - literally. For her first-ever hiking adventure, Cheryl chose to tackle the PCT, or Pacific Coast Trail. The PCT took Cheryl from California to Oregon and then across the "Bridge of the Gods" into Washington State. A young 20-something, she had just lost her mother very suddenly to cancer and then lost her husband with nearly equal suddenness to divorce. She had never hiked or camped before. Her pack, which her PCT trail-mates quickly nicknamed "Monster," was so heavy she couldn't even move it at first, much less strap it to her back and stand up. I am reliably fascinated by these kinds of stories. For instance, in the movie The Way, a bereaved father decides to hike through a Pyrenees trail called "The Way of St. James" as a tribute to his recently deceased son. Of course, in Wild, Cheryl hikes the PCT, and cites similar circumstances as her inspiration to do so. On a lighter note, The Big Year chronicles three avid birdwatchers, each with his own deeply personal reason for pursuing a "big year" trek of counting rare bird species around the world. I have never hiked the Pyrenees or the PCT, and the only bird I can reliably identify (and count) is the one living with me in my casa. But there have been many times when I have woken up one day, only to realize I had reached my limit of how many days I could go on living the way I had been living and feeling the way I had been feeling. When these days come, there is no arguing with them. And until they come, there is no rushing them.
Stress is something I am very familiar with. In fact, I'm pretty sure stress was present at my birth, already eager to introduce itself and become BFFs. But self importance is an issue I've wrestled less with, if only because I've been less aware of its role and effects....until now. Lately, however, I've begun to suspect self importance is a bigger issue for me than I would have ever guessed. Let me explain. Let's say I catch myself stressing about, well, anything. It could be a huge thing or a tiny thing. Once I dive in and start contemplating the source of the stress and how to put as much distance between us as possible, I often notice I've blown the issue way out of proportion. For example, maybe one day I have a huge to-do list. I made the list myself, of course (which means I added all those things to it). The list has a bunch of items on it, some quite normal and maybe a few not-so-normal. I look at the list and realize there is really a lot of stuff on it. I start to stress. This is where I can often catch self importance waiting in the wings to announce its critical role in accomplishing everything on the list. It wants to sweep in and save the day and it is very sure of itself. Self importance is the quality in me that assigns the same level of importance to going grocery shopping (which really could be done any day) and bringing my sick turtle to the vet (which really has to be done that day). Self importance is the quality that, when asked how I am doing or how things are going, instantly launches into a long recitation of my many responsibilities and obligations and all that I have to do. "I am so busy and important!" is basically the point of any such recitations. But the other person probably isn't really listening to me anyway, because the moment I start outlining my essential role in my own life, they begin contemplating all the things they have to do and how urgent each is and before long, they are just as stressed as I am (and they haven't heard a word I've said). It is an old, old habit to let stress make these traps for me, hide them in the ground somewhere and wait for me to come by and take the bait. As such, it isn't an easy habit to break, and I don't expect it to be.
As of this morning, I will have moved into my new casa. I am writing this blog post in advance deliberately, in hopes when I read it in a week (aka today), I will discover that all the bad stuff I've been worrying so persistently about will have not manifested....and all the good stuff I've been so sure won't manifest will have presented itself quite faithfully. You see, I have a real problem trusting the good stuff. Worrying, however, seems to come to me with ridiculous ease. If I knew why I am like this, I would of course stop it at once. Is it DNA? Bad example? Personal choice? Am I lazy? Did I take the "easy way" (in that worrying seems to be so much easier to do than not worrying?) When I google "what we worry about rarely comes true" I get all kinds of proof that this statement is, in fact, true. According to various pros in fields as diverse as Biblical studies, medicine and cognitive therapy (as well as many non-pros whom, I suspect, are mostly like me), 85 percent or so of what we worry about never happens. And since my mentor has drummed into me that the definition of insanity is, of course, persisting to do the same thing again and again while expecting more desirable results, it would seem just reasonable, if not also a huge time saver, to STOP WORRYING. And yet, it's almost like I don't know what else to do with my mental time.
Last month my boyfriend and I took a trip to West Texas. I was so excited by our itinerary! First of all, after being born and raised here, I had only just learned Texas has MOUNTAINS. I couldn't wait to see them. I also had my heart set on climbing one of them, and not just any mountain, either. I wanted to climb the highest mountain - Guadalupe Peak. According to the brochure, standing at 8,751 feet tall, Guadalupe Peak is the "highest point in Texas." The views are said to be spectacular. Of course I wouldn't be able to verify that, since approximately 10 minutes into our straight vertical trek up the mountainside, I developed a severe case of heat exhaustion/altitude sickness. Coughing turned to hacking, which turned to wheezing and then vomiting. Sweat was streaming down my face and body. My boyfriend called it and I hobbled after him back towards the air conditioned sanctuary of our rental car. To say I was mortified would be an understatement of Peak-level proportions (approximately 8,751 feet's worth, if you happen to be interested). I was sure my boyfriend was going to break up with me. Heck, I was contemplating breaking up with myself. I wanted to squeeze myself into a teensy invisible ball and activate my cloaking device until....well, no sense putting any time limitations on it.