Monday, December 31, 2007

Things I'm leaving behind with 2007

Low self-esteem
Fear of the future
Unhealthy food

It's a short list, I know - but a very significant one for me. 2007 has been an incredible year for personal growth and I will always remember it fondly. And I'm not making any New Year's resolutions, either. For the first time in my life, I am perfectly content to enter the New Year just as I am.

Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Money Angst

Just had a breakthrough over the tied-in-knots, stomach-churning emotions I've always had about money. One of those 'ah-ha' moments we all have, asking "How in the world could I NOT have seen this before now?" Of course our psychological relationship with money is complicated, yet. . . I wonder how many of us have given serious consideration to the source of our emotions about money?

I'd always thought my money angst came from not having enough of the stuff. And while that has surely been a factor at times, I now understand my physical and emotional reactions to money issues have also been as much about anticipated conflicts with others over it. I'm hoping this new understanding will help me, finally, put it in proper perspective.

More money can surely solve many issues for us - but understanding our emotional relationship with money has the power to effect our lives in ways we may never have imagined.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Perception blurs reality

I generally feel pretty good about myself - until I see pictures that leave me wondering "how could I have gone out of the house looking like that?" Adding insult to injury, any pictures of me generally get taken when I've made an extra effort toward my appearance. Just not photogenic? Camera adds ten pounds? Whatever. As a result, I avoid cameras when possible - I prefer my perception to the reality of what I see.

Now it seems I have to add MIRRORS to the mix. We have so few in our house - one on the medicine cabinet and a full length one behind a door - so I seldom think about it until I'm confronted by a large expanse of mirrored wall somewhere.

The thing is - everyone else always looks 'right' to me in pictures. So why does my image look so different than my perception? Just once, I'd love to see myself in someone else's eyes.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Achieving balance

'Adam and Eve Under Glass' photograph by Pascale Soleil, reprinted with gracious permission. Original located at 'Pascale's Wager''

. . . . .It's all in my head. No one directs me but me. Stop and think about what you need, then proceed. Follow your own path. Be your own person.

OK - I direct me. So why is this so hard?

Words failed and I began searching for an image to complete my thoughts. Googling images, I briefly considered scales and yinyang, progressed to images of bell curves and - naturally? - continued on to bell jars and Sylvia Plath. Suddenly, there it was - exactly what I'd been looking for.

If you don't think it's hard, you ain't payin' attention. . . . . .

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I just want to be happy. . . .

A phrase we all use - but one that likely has different meanings for each of us.

Can we think ourselves happy? If people think things are getting better, they can be happy in pretty tough circumstances - so, is happiness a state of mind we experience when we THINK things are getting better?

I know that I can be getting on OK in life, but if I don't perceive it to be 'going anywhere', I often won't feel very happy. I'll get bogged down in day-to-day routines and find myself looking around for anything that will give me a boost - alcohol, food, sex, exercise, some new 'self-help' fix, planning a trip. You get the picture. I bet you have your favorites, too. So is being happy just about the level of certain chemical elements in our brain? It's relatively easy to manufacture short term happiness, but its effects die out very soon - little more than a quick high.

Perhaps it's the PURSUIT of happiness that makes us happy. If that's the case, then setting goals toward things we THINK will make us happy - and setting new ones along the way - should keep us all in a state of perpetual happiness. That might render "the pursuit of happiness" even more profound that Thomas Jefferson realized when he wrote "happiness" instead of "property" in the Declaration of Independence. It could even explain the power of religion - with it's promises of eternal life, streets paved with gold, milk and honey, 70 virgins, paradise. . . . . and, of course, eternal happiness.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Becoming Flexitarian (or Semi-Vegetarian)

It's been happening gradually and I began noticing subtle changes in the way I felt. I may not become a 'full blown' vegetarian, but I'm very pleased with the results of my trend so far. What it really boils down to is that I love the notion (and taste) of healthy, fresh organic food - and, right now, seasonal fruits and vegetables are the most abundant and economical choices we have left.

Let's face it - Americans have been the butt of the joke when it comes to our food supply and it's time we demanded better. I would go so far as to say the long term health of American consumers has been the last consideration of our modern food industry, but a movement of change is afoot and we can make a difference - one person and community at a time. Saying no to unhealthy industrialized farming and livestock operations is as simple as making different choices. With a little shift in our individual buying practices, we can improve the quality of our food supply. Just do a little research into current industrial farming and livestock practices and you'll soon realize that we can't afford not to demand change - after all, we ARE what we eat!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Jumping to Conclusions

How many times have you jumped to a conclusion about people or events and acted on that conclusion, only to realize later that you were mistaken? Did you own up to it and apologize? Now think about how many times someone else has likely jumped to the wrong conclusion about you.

Think about how many times you've likely jumped to the wrong conclusion and acted on it - but never found out you were mistaken. You see, hear, or read something - draw a conclusion on the information at hand and act. A careless conclusion can be benign, but can also - unintentionally - cause great harm.

Most of us would like to believe we use sufficient due diligence in matters of great importance to us and others, but how do we know? And how many decisions do we make daily without knowing how harmful the wrong conclusion might be.

It's probably not good to spend too much time thinking about stuff like this. I mean, where does it end?

Resurrection, Witch-hunts and Teddy Bears named Muhammad

The following excerpt is taken from the opening pages of SAM HARRIS' book, THE END OF FAITH "Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason"; Chapter 1 - Reason in Exile. It begins with a young man boarding a bus. Beneath his overcoat he wears a bomb - his pockets are filled with nails, ball bearings, and rat poison.

A BELIEF is a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person's life. Are you a scientist? A liberal? A racist? These are merely species of belief in action. Your beliefs define your vision of the world; they dictate your behavior; they determine your emotional responses to other human beings. If you doubt this, consider how your experience would suddenly change if you came to believe one of the following propositions:

1. You have only two weeks to live.
2. You've just won a lottery prize of one hundred million dollars.
3. Aliens have implanted a receiver in your skull and are manipulating your thoughts.

These are mere words - until you believe them. Once believed, they become part of the very apparatus of your mind, determining your desires, fears, expectations, and subsequent behavior.

There seems, however, to be a problem with some of our most cherished beliefs about the world: they are leading us, inexorably, to kill one another. A glance at history, or at the pages of any newspaper, reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion. It seems that if our species ever eradicates itself through war, it will not be because it was written in the stars but because it was written in our books; it is what we do with words like "God" and "paradise" and "sin" in the present that will determine our future.

Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim to its infallibility. People tend to organize themselves into factions according to which of the incompatible claims they accept - rather than on the basis of language, skin color, location of birth, or any other criterion of tribalism. Each of these texts urges its reader to adopt a vairety of beliefs and practices, some of which are benign, many of which are not. All are in perverse agreement on one point of fundamental importance, however: "respect" for other faiths, or for the views of unbelievers, is not an attitude that God endorses. While all faiths have been touched, here and there, by the spirit of ecumenicalism, the central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error or, at best, dangerously incomplete. Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed. Once a person believes - really believes - that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility the the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one.

Observations of this sort pose an immediate problem for us, however, because criticizing a person's faith is currently taboo in every corner of our culture. On this subject, liberals and conservatives have reached a rare consensus: religious beliefs are simply beyond the scope of rational discourse. Criticizing a person's ideas about God and the afterlife is thought to be impolitic in a way that criticizing his ideas about physics or history is not. And so it is that when a Muslim suicide bomber obliterates himself along with a score of innocents on a Jerusalem street, the role that faith played in his actions is invariably discounted. His motives must have been political, economic, or entirely personal. Without faith, desperate people would still do terrible things. Faith itself, is always, and everywhere, exonerated.

The world can no longer afford to exonerate religious faith. Thank you, Sam Harris, for this incredible book on the irrationality of religious faith.