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Presence

Happiness is found in the moment. Happiness is not striving for bliss in the future.

Presence in current moment is true happiness.

Overlooking the farm

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In Search of Happiness

​I have always wondered why, during  a concertated effort on become happier, I become less happy and more irratible.  That was until I heard this theory on a buddhist podcast*.  

When we are working towards happiness we are placing our thoughts and efforts towards a singular goal.  We are creating a sense of attachment to this goal.  Then, as a result of this attachment, we experience suffering because we have created a scarcity mindset behind our current existence.  

This cycle of thinking would therefore play out like this:

I am not happy. I am going to focus on being happy. I can’t find happiness and this makes me think there is never going to be enough happiness (scarcity).  I become fixated on finding happiness (attachment).  I try even harder to gather happiness because I am attached to the end goal.  The result is that I only find frustration. 

Turns out happiness is found in the acceptance of the present and a sense of gratitude in having enough.

*Sorry, I didn’t write down the name of the podcast.


This is a true weblog in the fact that it contains brief journal entries about the things that fascinate me.


Step One: Begin Writing

The first step is always the hardest. This is true of many things including writing. There is also a saying that after 21 times repeating the same thing you can make it a habit of it.

Interestingly enough there is an article in the Huffington Post written by James Clear that challenges this notion. It turns out that the 21-day rule was actually just an observation made by a 1950s plastic surgeon named Maxwell Maltz. In Maltz’s book Psycho-Cybernetics, he says that “it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” People all over the world jumped on to this notion and took it to mean that you can change any habit for a better one in just 21 days. Well, it turns out that is not necessarily the case.

Clear reports in this same article that a health psychology researcher at the University College of London named Phillippa Lally conducted a study to find out just how long it really took to change a habit. Lally research showed that it actually takes on average over 60 days for a new behavior to become a habit. That is significantly longer than the 21-day rule previously proclaimed. Lally also noted that for some people changing their habits could take up to eight months.

Now, as Clear points out, we should take this as a sign of hope and not despair. If you look at your own life how many habits did you attempt to change in a short amount of time? Wasn’t it frustrating when it didn’t work? Well, luckily for us it turns out that we are pretty normal. In fact, for many of us changing habits, or starting new productive habits, can take a lot longer than expected. This fact should allow us to drop our unrealistic expectations and settle into the process of change.  We should celebrate the small successes we make towards a larger goal. We should take the time needed to make a change that can produce a real difference in our life.  Whether it is eating better, or writing more, keep at the process.  One day you will be amazed at where you ended up.

Clear wraps up his article by saying:

At the end of the day, how long it takes to form a particular habit doesn’t really matter that much. Whether it takes 50 days or 500 days, you have to put in the work either way.

The only way to get to Day 500 is to start with Day 1. So forget about the number and focus on doing the work.

I guess every journey does begin with a single step.


The Artist Retreat Day

Today will be an artist retreat day.

rocksimages

Photo from Max Pixels

I don’t have to work so I can spend the day nourishing my creative soul.  My plan is to respond to writing prompts, go outside and take pictures, go for a walk in woods, and sit in silent mediation.  Today will be a retreat day, a day where I can relax and rejuvenate.

But before I can get started I should really clean the house.  Then it will be time for my artist retreat.

Actually, since I have the time I should make lunches for the week.  I think I will roast a bunch of potatoes.  Then what should I have for dinner?  After I figure that out, I will start my retreat.

I do need to check work email.  I am waiting for a couple of important messages. Then I should confirm some meetings for Wednesday and Thursday.  Then I will start my retreat.

I need to run to the grocery store, I am out of cereal and milk.  I also need to go to the bank.  After those errands, I will start my retreat.

I really want to get at least 3 miles of running in today.  It is going to be about 40 degrees today and I want to start getting in some outdoor mileage.  Race season is just around the corner.  Maybe after that I will start my retreat day.

Speaking of running, I really need to order some new shorts and running shirts.  After I do that I will start my retreat.

I would feel bad if I am going to home all day and I neglected the dogs.  I should really spend time with them. And since I am going to be outside with the dogs, I should get a little spring cleaning done.  I need to remove that those branches that came down in the last storm.

I forgot about picking up the mail and dropping off the taxes.  I definitely need to do that.  But after that I will start my artist retreat day.

Hmm, I wonder how much time that leaves me for my artist retreat activities? Doesn’t look like much.


Does this scenario sound familiar to anyone else?

I have noticed that I have this uncanny ability of putting obstacles in my way towards creative growth.  I construct all these reasons why I can’t focus on myself.   Julia Cameron in her book The Artists Way talks about how this type of behavior is an example of limiting and blocking an individual’s creative spirit probably due to some sort of past event where the creative spark was hampered by those of authority.  Cameron would probably also tell me that I am the perfect example of someone who is caught in their own Virtue Trap.  Cameron explains by saying, “We are on the treadmill of virtuous production and we are caught.” (p. 96)

Many of us have made a virtue our of deprivation.  We have embraced a long-suffering artistic anorexia as a martyr’s cross.  We have used it to feed a false sense of spirituality grounded in being good, meaning superior.

I call this seductive, faux spirituality the Virtue Trap.  Spirituality has often been misused as a route to an unloving solitude, a stance where we proclaim ourselves above our human nature.  This spiritual superiority is really only one more form of denial.  For an artist, virtue can be deadly.  The urge toward respectability and maturity can be stultifying, even fatal. (Cameron, p. 98)

The problem with this approach to life is that we lose our true self through the constant desire to serve others.  Our true self withers as it is replaced by the to-do lists and the obligations.  I order to keep in touch with our inner passions and potentials, we need to take time to retreat. We need to take time for the “Self”.  It is important to take time to nurture those creative impulses so we can embrace opportunities for growth when they happen.

The challenge, at least for me, is to increase the level of importance these types of activities.  If I want to say “I am a writer”, I need to find the time to be a writer. I need to be able to retreat and write.

penimages

Photo from pixabay

 

Works cited:

Cameron, J. (2016). The Artist Way. New York. Penguin Random House, LLC.

 


I Just Had A Birthday . . .

I just had a birthday and I realized that my life is a mess.

Well maybe that is a little harsh, but I did just turn 43. That in itself is a soul shaking event.  Most people talk about how turning 50 is a big deal, but how about 40?  Then it keeps going, 41, 42, and now 43.  I feel as lost and unfulfilled as I did 3 years ago.  Except now I am staring down that slippery slope of “it’s too late”. 

The bright side of this horrible revelation brought on by the aging process is that my professional life is good.   I have two jobs and I like them both.  I make enough money to not have to worry about food and can pay the utilities.  The people I work with are decent and sometimes even fun to be around.  It is that other part of life that is a struggle for me. That side of life that is supposed to bring you joy and happiness: the personal side.

My marriage has become stale laced with undercurrents of animosity. My social life has dried up and is almost non-existent.  Any hobbies of mine have all but disappeared.  My goal of being able to write and travel has faded into the background.  And I am 43.

Maybe it’s just a midlife crisis.

I remember when I had my quarter-life crisis.  That was an upheaval.  I quit drinking (been sober ever since), broke up with my girlfriend, and got a new job.  I moved into this little one bedroom apartment with my dog.  The rent was cheap and I still think I paid too much.  The walls were drafty, I fell through the bathroom floor, and my neighbor was a seriously strange character.  I had two spoons, two forks, two plates, two bowls, and two glasses.  I stopped by the grocery store on the way home most nights to pick up dinner and sat on the porch during the summer eating TV dinners and watching the world pass me by.  Ahh, the good old days!

I am not sure if this is what I want now.  But I have decided that I am not going to go quietly into the second half of my life.  I have declared that this year I am going to take back my life.  I am going to recreate my world.  I am going to reestablish my sense of self.  I am going to renew my life and find the joy and happiness that I have been missing.  Now I am sure I will run into road blocks and fits of depression, but I have set some goals and created a personal manifesto of change.

  • I will exercise and run more. (Today I ran 4.5 miles in 29 degree weather. It was a little cold and well worth it.)
  • I will join a running club. (Done! I ordered my shirt today.)
  • I will write more. (Started writing again last week and gave the blog a face lift.  I can’t believe it has been 4 years since I last wrote anything here.)
  • I will stay connect with friends. (I finally joined Facebook. Thinking this might help me keep in touch with those old friends.)
  • I will stand up for myself and take back my time. (This will probably be the hardest thing to do because it will cause conflict.  I don’t really like conflict.)

I know it sounds like I have just made a list of New Year’s Resolutions, and maybe I have. The challenge with these, and all resolutions, is sticking with them.  Every year the nightly news does several pieces on how all our resolutions fail and that we are really looking at change in the wrong way.  We should be making little changes that we can incorporate into our lives and not disrupt our patterns of behavior.  I get that.  But I want to go big.  I want to be the person who says, “The best decision of my life was to follow my dreams and everything else just fell into place.”  Now that would make for an epic 43rd year.

 

 

 

 


Eyes in the Dark

eyeshine from flong.com

eyeshine from flong.com

It’s cold, dark, and quiet. I can hear the gravel crunching under my boots with every step.  I glance upwards to see the silhouettes of bare tree branches in the night sky.  It’s early still and I am out before most people wake up.  Stirred by bit of insomnia and a quest for solitude, Ava and I begin our 2 mile morning walk. 

Soon my walk becomes darker as the road bends and trees shift from mixed hardwoods to a collection of softwood trees.  The Fir and Spruce trees, with their branches filled with needles, diminish the amount of moonlight that reaches my path.  The increased darkness becomes paired with a gentle cold breeze that sends a chill through me. As I continue up the road, passing the old logging path on the right and then the entrance to the hunting camp on the left, an uncomfortable feeling sweeps over me.  The darkness and the cold has transformed my peaceful morning stroll into an eerie hike into the unknown.

The woods thin out on my left and my eyes are drawn toward to the clearing.  At first I don’t see anything, but then my light catches the reflection of a pair of squinty eyes out in the darkness.  The eyes seem to stand about six feet tall.  They are steady, persistent, and look back at me.  My mind races to identify the owner of the eyes.  Maybe it’s a cat . . . no  a raccoon . . .  a deer . . .  a bear . . .   a werewolf . . .  a monster . . .  a hatchet wielding maniac.

eyeshine-from-askville-amazon-com.jpg

“Ok, slow down and breath”, I say to myself, “these horror movie marathons you are watching are not helping right now”. 

 

I soon recognize that I have engaged in a staring contest with the eyes in the darkness. We are locked in battle to see who moves first.  Ava, who has become bored with this part of the road, finally tugs on the end of her leash. I lose my balance, stumble, and look away from the eyes.  When I regained my footing and look back into the woods, the eyes are gone.  Our encounter is over.

Coming to terms with the fact that the eyes had slipped back into the woods, Ava and I continued on towards the end of the road.  As we walked, I contemplate the idea that even in the darkness of the early morning on a deserted road you are rarely ever completely alone in nature.

 

 


Salamanders

The weather was different that morning.  It was warmer and just the start of the fall season.  It was early morning and I was comfortable walking the dogs with just an old sweatshirt to keep the occasional cool breeze off my skin.  It was dark, very little moonlight and a patchy cloud covered sky.  You often really can’t tell cloud cover at night, but you know when it is thick because things seem darker than normal and the LED lights on the headlamp seem to struggle to light the ground.  But that morning, the light moved more freely and it reflected off the moisture of the rocks in the road. 

I have traveled this road many times before, over a thousand times perhaps.   That morning things were moving along as normal until my light glistened off a dark object near the edge of the road. 

 I approached the object slowly, mainly concerned that it might be something that I didn’t want the dogs to eat.  As I got closer, my eyes focused in on the object.  It was slightly rounded and presented the classic crescent shape of a resting salamander.  Yet it was larger than most salamanders I have seen, and much larger than the Red Efts I see on many spring mornings. I quickly realized that I was looking at a medium size Spotted Salamander. 

A Spotter Salamander photo borrowed from Maine Audobon

A Spotter Salamander photo borrowed from Maine Audobon

A Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) can grow up to nine inches long, but this was seemed closer to six inches long.  Its bluish black body had several yellow spots irregularly spaced on its back which provided great contrast in the reflection of my headlamp.  The Spotted Salamander is the largest of Vermont’s salamanders and spends most of its time living underground in mole holes or mouse tunnels.  This was truly quite a treat to see this creature in the wild.   The Spotted Salamander is an elusive animal and I have spent several early spring evenings searching for migrating salamanders in the wetland and woods around my house with no success.  Unfortunately, my excitement was short lived as I began to suspect this Salamander was dead.

I kneeled down on the side of the road.  The Spotted Salamander became circled in a beam of light from my headlamp.  I slowly reached down and touched him.  He was cold, moist, and made no attempt to move.  I picked him up and he showed the distinct indications that it had been run over by a car. I held him for a moment before I moved him off to the side of the road.  I placed the Salamander in the tall grass on the side of the road as I felt like this was the best way to show respect to this beautiful and mysterious creature.   I took a moment to let the mixed emotions of this event pass over me before I got up and continued on my walk a little more aware of the fragility of life.

Picture of a Spotted Salamander borrowed from www.wildlife.state.nh.us

Picture of a Spotted Salamander borrowed from http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us

Red Eft picture borrowed from National Geographic

Red Eft picture borrowed from National Geographic