Recently, I attempted to track down an interesting quote about how the average person tends to repeat five times more negative than positive messages about himself or herself. The surprise was what I got when I hit "enter." I got lots of hits describing how positive self-talk can backfire on us. In fact, the more I read about this topic, the worse I felt. Apparently, if you suffer from low self-esteem and you try to raise it by repeating positive self-talk messages, you have a greater chance of making yourself feel worse than better. This totally makes sense to me, by the way. As someone who is slowly recovering from a lifetime of low self-esteem, I have put in my time and then some repeating those very same positive self-talk messages - usually with ever-worsening results. It would seem the key is to choose to repeat messages that actually feel believable or possible, which (understandably) can be quite a feat if you are feeling like total crap. But in this new era of studying the mind-body connection and finding that they are connected, well, all over the place, there is also an ongoing eagerness to learn to feel better in body AND in mind by making the mind a more positive place to live...or at least visit from time to time. And I can say this. As I have continued on my recovery journey, I have become much kinder towards myself, if through no other mechanism than sheer dogged determination to do so. In other words, after innumerable years of oh so many failed affirmations, one or two of them must have finally stuck. And once that happened, the others were easier to wedge into my brain alongside the surviving trailblazers. But I wouldn't be able to describe to you exactly how I did it, save for this little juicy tidbit I actually picked up from a book called "Ask and It is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires" by Esther and Jerry Hicks. This is one of many books that often seem like variations on the theme of the popular "law of attraction" theories. And don't get me wrong here. While to this day I have zero problem with developing an ability to bring more of what I want and less of what I don't want into my life, I must also acknowledge that sometimes it is precisely the stuff I really don't want that has turned out to be the same stuff I really do need in order to learn how to get more of what I want and less of what I don't. If that makes any type of obscure sense at all. So even though I know the "Law of Attraction" has been a big blessing for some folks, it has never really worked well for me in a sense, because it actually tries to get me from A to Z (or at least A to B) a lot faster than is healthy or even possible for me. In other words, I actually seem to need a road map with more dead ends and roadblocks and wrong directions so I can learn the stuff I need to learn before I can learn the stuff I want to learn. (I will totally understand if that didn't make a single bit of sense at all!) But what I learned while reading "Ask and It is Given" is also the reason I now know that repeating strong positive self-talk statements doesn't work when I am in a particularly negative self-talk state. It doesn't work because I don't believe any of it - not for a minute. So instead of soaking in the good vibes of all that rosy-positive self-talk, I am typically busy giving myself a stern lecture about spending yet another day blowing smoke up my own a**. What DOES work, however, is this: I reach for a thought that feels just a little bit better than whatever awful thought my mind has been thinking ad nauseam about myself. So if I'm thinking, "I am the worst, most-selfish and worthless person on the planet," I don't try to immediately replace that thought with, "I am the kindest and most-wonderful person on the planet." As if. I wasn't born yesterday. Instead, I might replace it with a thought that feels just a little bit better - i.e. just a little bit more accurate, such as this thought, "Well, okay, I'm probably not the worst person on the whole planet. I mean, at least I'm not an axe murderer." That thought feels better. It also feels accurate - i.e., still true." So my mind doesn't waste any real energy or time trying to contradict it. In an odd and absolutely counter-intuitive way, suddenly I'm not feeling quite so bad about being me. Once that thought settles in, I can then reach for the next "not quite so bad feeling thought." So maybe that might be, "In fact, yesterday I got out of bed to feed my animals even though I didn't want to. So that was unselfish - kind of nice, actually." Here again, the statement is true. My mind can't argue the point since I did in fact get up, get out of the bed, clean out their habitats, and give them fresh food and water. That thought also feels just a little bit better than, "well at least I'm not an axe murderer."
For those of you who have been following my progress for this year's intention, "The Year of Having Faith," you are no doubt aware there have been many starts and stops, aha moments and setbacks thus far. Recently, nearly halfway through this faith-focused year, I came across a definition for faith that I actually resonate with. In a sea of definitions that read like textbook-based memorization lessons (i.e., "having complete confidence in someone or something" and "strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion") it was a real relief to stumble across a definition that felt - human. Authentic. Compassionate. Inclusive of both questions and answers. This definition, discovered in an older yoga lesson I recently re-read, stated: Faith is believing the unseen is as real as the seen.
I follow Don Miguel Ruiz, Sr., on Instagram. I say that because recently he re-posted the opening lines of from a chapter in his book called "The Mastery of Love" on his Instagram. Now, I have read this book many times.....oh so many times. I credit "The Mastery of Love" with the many oopses I have avoided making in my own relationships. It is truly a miracle worker in print. This particular chapter, titled "Seeing with Eyes of Love," read: If you look at your body, you will find billions of living beings who depend on you. Every cell in your body is a living being that depends on you. You are responsible for all of those beings. For all of those living beings that are your cells, you are God. You can provide what they need; you can love all those living beings, or you can be so mean to them. I read it. Then I read it again. Then I read it again. Something in me was reading in a new way, at a new level, at a depth where suddenly I GOT IT. I can almost say I felt each one of those billions of cells, those living beings relying on me with such trust and devotion, hoping each day that this will be a day when I am loving and not mean. These cells, with their humility, their willingness to follow, somehow are also serving as my mentors, ever so hopeful that I will learn to see with the eyes of love today, if not yesterday, or if not today, perhaps tomorrow. Their hope was - is - so palpable.
A post or two ago, I shared a personal experience about ordering a pastry and eating it with peace and happiness. This was significant because I did this even though the friend I was with at the time (who is much more slight and not curvy like me) wasn't doing the same on account of feeling, well, fat. I mean, I've been in recovery for well over a decade, and this certainly wasn't the first time I've eaten what I wanted in the presence of someone who was having a bad body image day. But it was the first time it felt so - effortless - AND that I noticed how effortless it felt. That was the really cool part. Back in April, actress Jennifer Lawrence came out with a statement about her vision for Hollywood's body future. In an interview with Harpers Bazaar magazine, she said she wants her city and her industry to embrace what she calls "a new normal body type." What she actually, precisely said was this:
When I first developed an eating disorder back in 1981 (35 years ago - wow!), there was no internet. I mean, there probably was an internet somewhere, hidden in some super-secret programmers-only closet. But I sure as heck didn't know about it. So I got much sicker, and then I got much better, without ever once realizing there might be such a thing as a "recovery community" I could participate in to find support. In 2009, finally having achieved full recovery myself, I founded MentorCONNECT, or "MC," the first global nonprofit eating disorders recovery community. MC was my "baby" for sure, but it was also the first recovery community I had ever belonged to. As well, it represented my first exposure to recovery concepts like "triggers" - which were explained to me as "painful or scary experiences that might weaken my desire for recovery and send me running back to the eating disorder behaviors for safe haven". As it was explained to me, triggers were something to avoid at all costs. But I never really did manage to internalize the concept of triggers as dangerous. To me, triggers were GOOD.
Less than 2 weeks ago, 50 people were shot inside an Orlando, FL, nightclub. A few days before that, "The Voice" finalist Christina Grimmie was shot to death after her Atlanta concert. About a day before that, a large alligator who decided to try to cross a busy thru-way during rush hour was shot and killed "for public safety." And just a week before that shooting, Harambe the silverback gorilla was shot and killed when a small boy fell into his enclosure. A few weeks prior to that, a young pre-med student was killed by a homeless teen at my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. Everywhere I look, everything I read, it is there again. This news. This horror. The terror. The killing. The seemingly senseless, ongoing rampage, one horrific act after another after another. Sometimes when I read the news, I can hear myself asking - out loud - "Why??" Why do this? Why do that? What purpose could there be? What on earth for? I tell myself I should stop reading the news feed on my Facebook page. But whenever I've tried that, I just hear about it from other people's posts or from my friends who tell me or from other sources anyway. Plus, I am here. I am part of this world. I care. I need to know. I need to do my part. But the "why" of it all haunts me.
All my life (to date, anyway) I have had a particular preference for flow-charting things. For example, if A happens, then do B. But if B happens, then do C. That sort of thing. Doing this feels the same as opening Google Maps and mapping out my complete itinerary in advance of taking a trip. Reassuring. Smart. But over the years, I have learned (to my great disappointment) that this "no surprises" approach doesn't work well in a surprising number of situations. This appears to be because, for many less clear-cut situations, there exists no black or white "if (this), then (that)" option. In other words, there is no one single best possible choice for each possible scenario. There is only a series of less-best choices, in ever-decreasing amounts of best-ness. Or there is a series of choices that are best for one choice-maker but not for the others. These are the kinds of scenarios therapists like to call "grey areas" and I like to call "frustrating." I will give you an example of one such grey area I have been turning over and over in my mind since the day I learned of it.
I will admit that, to date, I have mostly ignored the whole "battle of the bathroom," as Time magazine calls it. Even after my own home city of Houston rejected a bill late last year that would have given all of us the right to use the bathroom we felt genetically "zoned" to, along with other protective anti-discrimination measures, I still kind of didn't pay much attention. I guess I just wasn't sure what the big deal was, and so I assumed sooner or later it would get worked out so everyone could pee when and where they wanted to. But when my regular issue of Time magazine showed up with rolls of rainbow-colored toilet paper on its cover, I started to realize this issue isn't minor to a lot of folks. And it isn't going away. So here is my take on it. My mom and I have been sneaking into men's bathrooms for years. This on account of our pea-sized bladders and how often men's bathrooms have no line and women's bathroom lines are circling the block.
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently finished reading a book by David Grimm called "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs." The book gave me a lot to think about on a lot of different levels. And while I expected to feel upset, especially while reading (or skimming, or sometimes skipping over) stories about the cruel things people have done to animals that is now prompting a push to give cats and dogs expanded "human" rights, I didn't expect it to become personal. As in, I don't think of myself as a cruel person. I have pets - my parrot, Pearl, and my tortoise, Malti - plus a puppy named Flash Gordon to whom I am a proud auntie. I have never deliberately harmed any creature...or at least I thought I hadn't until I read "Citizen Canine." The more I encountered stories of cruel animal abusers, the more everything inside of me began to revolt. To rage. I started questioning everything I thought I believed about how we are all connected....somehow....even though I couldn't begin to explain where my beliefs come from or how all that alleged connectedness might actually work. But I mean, how could I - gentle soul that I consider myself to be - have anything in common with those so-called humans who commit such horrific crimes against the non-human beings we share this planet with? How can those people - the cruel animal harmers - even be considered "human?" And if they are in fact human, then what species am I? I mean, I honestly think I have more in common with the garden rocks in our backyard than with those kinds of people. So I continued to ruminate as I continued to read. I continued to ponder, to worry and rage. This went on for days. And then one day, a small band of black sugar ants snuck under the sill of my kitchen window and onto the counter.
I just recently finished reading a book by David Grimm called "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs." I won't lie. I was expecting something a little....lighter. At nearly 300 pages and with a 2014 publication date, the book took me on a journey from our earliest interactions with companion animals all the way up to today. Along the way we hit a few (many) rough patches. This was especially true in the chapters addressing animal research, animal rescue during disasters, animals and religion and working animals. In the chapters detailing how dogs and cats' legal rights have moved increasingly closer to our own rights (what the author calls "personhood"), I found myself wishing the book included parrots and tortoises (and all other animals, of course). In the chapters reviewing all the horrific stuff we've subjected our canine and feline counterparts to, I found myself wishing to change my own species affiliation. People can be pretty awful sometimes. There is also an ongoing book-wide parallel drawn between how slaves became full citizens and the trajectory dogs and cats appear to be on now. This (at least as I read it) is not to downplay the significance of the end of slavery, but to signify how, when we change our mindset about the worth of any being, positive changes in the quality of life of that being tend to quickly follow. For instance, after quite a lengthy battle, pets can now legally inherit money left to them in people's wills. But canines working for the military are still classified as "equipment" themselves, and there are groups actively fighting to change that even as I type right now. Perhaps the most gripping part of the book is near the end, however, when one Rutgers university professor named Gary Francione makes an unorthodox suggestion - to do away with "pets," period. When I first read that, everything in me revolted.