Tag Archives: methods of thinking

Procrastinate to Think

A check of my Timex sports watch, 13:00. I shrug, no problem.  I hurry out the door for a Monday afternoon jog.  After a productive morning of writing, I deserve a break and some fresh air.  The other work can wait.

I run half way around the lake path, walk the rest, and make it home in under 45 minutes.  Maybe a quick protein shake, then back to the writing?  On a second thought, maybe a shower first.  With damp skin, I could catch a chill.  But before that shower, a speedy check of the email.  A quick pop-in just in case, I don’t know, someone needs me immediately.  Not sure who the hell that would be, but too late.

One check of an email leads to the click of a link, another, and then a Google search about creative entrepreneur teens who are changing the face of feminism. Maybe a YouTube search to find out what the music and TED talks are all about.  A Timex check, 15:00 already. I should eat a substantial lunch if I hope to get through the mental obstacles of revising my manuscript.

Bread warming in the toaster; ham slices, tomato and relish at the ready. The sandwich made, I grab a book and read while I eat.  Only crumbs left, I read some more and enjoy the warmth of our sunny patio. Then, okay, 16:00; is that the time?  Wasn’t I supposed to work on something this afternoon?

I pull up the document.  I sigh.  A disjointed mess of words hang on the screen.  The usual awaits: sorting, revising, massaging, re-typing, finding a rare jewel hidden in the crud.  Eyes drooping; maybe a revitalizing cat nap?  No, too late in the day.  What about that full sink, there in the kitchen, disgusting and screaming out to me? No, it’s hubby’s turn to wash; don’t give in.  But the dog needs to go out a little early this evening.  Don’t even think about it.  I could stare at the screen; think of the thousand things to do other than write this essay; this essay about procrastination.

A friend joked that I would probably put this one off.  My laugh flowed easy when she said it, but inside I knew.  It would be like every other essay, every other project.  That first hurdle; not necessarily of focusing, but convincing myself to start, and start immediately, before anything else popped into my frontal lobe and offered an excuse to delay.

No, sit back down, you don’t need to find some damn gum. Just chew on your tongue.

*********

To procrastinate is not exactly a positive choice in our culture.  Beyond the simple definition, there are the social stigmas: procrastination equals lazy and lack of will power, or leads to the plague of never getting anything done. Self-help guides line bookstore and virtual shelves to assist with this near mental disorder.  Sciences study indicators and motivations, hoping to figure out the almighty weapon to fight off procrastination so it never returns.  Are we in the battle of our lives, to conquer and defeat the fire-breathing monster known as ProKrastin Ate?  I admit, I intentionally delay certain tasks that linger on the top of my priority list.  But sometimes I am only taking a pause to think.

From my experience, the first stage of procrastination involves a fear and apprehension welling up from my belly’s pit.  In response, stress throws up a mental roadblock that always offers a convincing detour sign.  The messy-house-that-must-be-cleaned is my classic form of procrastination.  If my home is unkempt, the universe will of course disintegrate back to a tiny particle of dust.

My inspired muse works overtime to generate more creative procrastination techniques, expertly veiled behind cloaks of both necessity and temptation.  While juggling multiple assignments, the easy one becomes the focused center; the intentional distraction to divert any attention given to the one that’s due.  I also prefer busy work in the name of procrastination.  Although I do not budge an inch on the targeted task, I accomplish lots of other stuff like paying bills, creating a new household budget, organizing notes and files, even completing a few cryptograms from a puzzle book.  And then there are the obvious offenders: eating sandwiches, checking my arms for odd shaped moles, sorting through junk mail coupons, taking pictures of my sleeping puppy dog, biting my nails, daydreaming of the nearby construction site and the creative ways I could dismantle or mangle the excessively loud equipment.

My fail-safe method of procrastination is time travel.  Jumping forward, out of the present moment, and making to-do lists; creating new schedules that I implore myself to follow this time.  Just turn off the brain and follow the damn list.

I think the Puritan work ethic is engrained in our culture’s psyche.  You must be hard at work to be a good person because while the boss is away the mice will screw off and idle hands are the devil’s something or other.  I read an article published recently, “5 Tricks to Teach Kids to Avoid Procrastination.”  The article advised to prioritize work before play, to keep a to-do notebook and to get organized.  The subject in the article was a child who had entered the first grade.  Yowzah.  What is that, 7 years old?  I thought I was stressed out in grade school when I had to use my stuffed animals as dates for my Barbie dolls because I didn’t have Ken.  I never knew this stress was a projection of how I felt about putting off other more important shit.  Seriously, someone should have let me know about the other more important shit.

It’s all about results. I was raised to produce, to accomplish.  When I got into school, homework was on, then band practice and tennis practice, then some more homework, nightly assignments, monthly tests, quarterly projects and exams.  After public school came college.  Time management was the necessity; procrastination meant cramming, all nighters, gut-rot from too much coffee and NoDoz. How did I manage without the current prescription Adderral focus-me drugs?

Maybe we credit procrastination too often as the culprit, the something to blame. “Oh, I’m just procrastinating,” I tell myself with a dismissive wave.  But what is the delayed activity and why am I dragging my feet?  Do I feel an intuition of bad timing, or do I hear the disgruntled integrity alarm?  Maybe it’s plain ole fear and I need to gulp a breath before leaping into possible failure, or possible pain (I’m thinking of the dentist appointment that I have to make). Procrastination could be the red flag snapping in the storm, a signal to take a moment more of thought and consideration.

Wait, that’s right, no time. Multitasking is the desired momentum in this day and age, with everything geared toward doing more in less time.  Procrastination could be the rebellion, to escape a social conditioning that runs our humanity dead tired into the ground.

To me, procrastination is a symptom of our productivity obsession; a sign that the overstimulated, multitasking wires are fritzing on overload.  If I am not busy and producing, the social control kicks in and I feel horribly guilty.  I must not be managing my time, or, oh-no, procrastinating.

If the social stigma evaporated and we didn’t beat ourselves up for delaying an action on some things, we could be a more relaxed culture. That’s a scary unknown.

Just because I create a to-do list doesn’t mean I actually have to do anything from it.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2015

I’M BUSY: A Personal Essay on Productivity

(previously published in 2014 edition of ‘Stratus: Journal of Arts & Writing’)

“If you’re bored, I’ll give you something to do.”  My mom used to say this when I was a kid.  Her threat of chores silenced my whines of boredom and I found anything to keep myself busy.

Ah, to have the chance to be bored again; to lie in a hammock and listen to a breeze flutter through tree leaves on a warm afternoon.  Would I only twiddle my thumbs?

Maybe it’s simply normal human behavior to do.  But when did to-do lists, time management and waves of guilt for non-productivity harness so much of my attention and energy?  When I ask my friends, “How’s it going?,” common responses are “Great, I’m really busy, crazy busy; I’m stressed out, saturated; It’s too much.”  I wonder if the meaning of productivity has somehow stumbled onto a fatal racetrack, where it loops around to a dizzy velocity while reaching frantic for giant carrots and teetering toward a crash and burn.

I have an insatiable drive to be productive.  Balancing ‘busy’ with concentration and efficiency is my method and even a minimal level of output is my goal.  At the end of a day, however, if my to-dos have not diminished, I feel stressed/unaccomplished, angry/wasteful, worthless/lazy and definitely don’t want to share any of my ‘not doing’ with my busy and producing friends, peers and family.

But maybe they would understand.  Maybe we are all caught in an unfocused culture struggling toward the salvation of productivity.

Inattention is one of the primary symptoms of a chronic mental health condition that affects millions of children and adults in the United States, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  And those diagnoses have been on the rise.  According to prescription provider, Express Scripts, studies showed a 36 percent increase between 2008 and 2012 in the number of Americans using medication to treat ADHD.  But, beyond legal prescriptions, the ‘medication’ is also widespread on college campuses and in the professional workplace.  The trafficked ADHD drugs are not a treatment for a diagnosed disorder, but a resource for enhanced performance, productivity and focus.

Maybe I just need to focus, too.

A quick search for ‘productivity’ at the digital bookstore, Amazon.com, gave me some non-medicated direction with up to 100 pages of results.  The titles from the first 10 pages were mostly ‘How To’ e-books published in 2014, all under the umbrella of productivity; how to: get more done in less time, achieve success, master time management, take action, end laziness, outperform the norm, supercharge-maximize-boost, overcome burn out and work faster.

Surfacing from the flood of sub-titles, I felt that I had a serious problem.  If I could not overcome procrastination, concentrate harder and become a ‘Productivity Ninja,’ I would never be a successful person and would simply flounder in my own wasted space.

With an e-stack of self-help books to improve productivity, an increase of diagnoses and legal medications for a disorder that includes inattentiveness, and a thriving black market for the ‘focus’ drugs to give people the concentration and performance edge at school and the workplace, I have to wonder what generates this pressure to focus in order to produce at a greater, faster speed.  Achievement, recognition, and wealth are some probable motivators.

I hope that in the U.S., it is still okay just to be human instead of ‘hyper-focused super-juiced’ human.  Is our culture perpetuating the mounting speeds, standards and expectations?

I recently worked and lived in Belgium for a few years.  In downtown Brussels, I would have to walk for 20 minutes from my office to get to a coffee shop that made steamed lattes ‘to-go’ (or ‘take-away’ if you want to be European about it).  Coffee shops were called cafes, where people would sit down and stay awhile to have their espresso or cafe au lait.  Coffee time appeared to be social time, a break from work or the day’s activities.  For me, this was culture shock.

I had arrived in Brussels from Seattle, Washington where I had lived for the morning or afternoon latte that I would order ‘to-go,’ speed walk back to my desk, chug half of the nectar, then type furiously as I rode the caffeine wave determined to finish just one more report.

Since my time in Belgium, I have made my way back to Seattle and the coffee shops on every corner. This past Friday morning, in fact, I stopped by a local coffee shop.  It buzzed with people taking cups to go and others who stayed and sat, fused to digital devices.  No illegal focus meds for sale over-the-counter here, but the standby triple shots were in high demand. Coffee caffeine, not to just wake up, but to wake up and get to doing, making the most of precious time. After the barrels of espresso and drip I washed through my system daily for too many years, I can’t drink caffeinated coffee anymore. My heart palpitates just thinking about those shots that always helped me beat deadlines and pound out page after page.  So, now I settle for a weak tea, or three.

But maybe productivity is not just about an American’s relationship with coffee and caffeine. Recently, I hopped on the morning commuter bus to downtown Seattle, every seat occupied with Androids ThinkPads tablets iPads iPhones gizmos gadgets, and earbuds; bowed heads, glazed eyes, scrolling reading playing posting, and plugged in.

Apps manage a person’s day; electronic appointment books schedule tasks to the minute; programs organize time and information; electronic cigarettes even improve the bottom line.  The continuing surge of technology cleans up the wastes of time, streamlines effort and smooths any wrinkles of inefficiency. But distraction can remain. When I lose focus of the carrot, the output line graph takes a nose dive.

So I get distracted.  Doesn’t that keep me human?

I attempt to stretch most moments, packing them in with multiple projects, to be productive, to earn money.  But to participate and keep up with the current flow of our culture, is it imperative to enhance myself with meds or extra doses of the latest natural stimulant?  From my office work experience, once elevated productivity levels (for an individual as well as a group) becomes normal, it becomes expected and the new standard.  Then, more has to be done to surpass the now ‘minimum’ standard to achieve recognition and success.

What is the culture cost of this building block approach to productivity measurement? Is it an unavoidable evolution to machine behavior, sacrificing health and human interaction to produce to the capacity of a digital chip?

Maybe we’re running out of time as a species and fear of the wasteland-apocalypse and extinction propels us to move faster and do more.  Maybe productivity is a learned behavior and a fed addiction exploited and manipulated by a profit driven system.  Maybe on some subconscious level we remember that if we are not busy, we might be bored.

On a Tuesday evening, a birthday gift card brings me to a Seattle spa that offers hour sessions in sensory deprivation tanks, otherwise known as isolation or float tanks.  Bright orange earplugs fit snug in my ears.  And I float in 10 inches of skin temperature salt water.  Sight, sound and smell have been turned off as I hover weightless and disconnected from the physical world.  But my mind continues.

One hour to float, to not do.  And I am not bored.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2015

Social Patterns: Getting Used To It

© Lori Fisher 2014

© Lori Fisher 2014

I like to eat sushi once every couple of weeks.  Honestly, I can only eat the salmon.  My tastebuds just don’t understand any of the other fish flavors and will immediately cringe and discard them.

Since I only eat fish on occasion, I hadn’t really thought about intake recommendations.  And then I read the recent Seattle Times and Seattle Weekly articles about fish consumption and water pollutant standards in the state of Washington and how the two are linked.  If the official recommended amount of fish consumption goes up, then the water quality needs to go up, unless (as I learned) the official standards also increase the allowed or acceptable risks of cancer.

After reading the articles, my initial response was “Wow, that’s an amazing playing with numbers, laws, and public health.”   And then I thought about the root of it.  We are adapting to the situation. Human living has created toxins and those toxins have spread into the environment. To preserve the balance between business profit and human health, some sacrifices will be made for adaptation – payment for new technology to remove at least some toxins from industrial waste, and either expose yourself to additional health risk if you want to eat fish or eliminate that food source from your diet.

Adaptation as a reactive thought seems to be a preferred solution to many social issues or events (noise, violence, consumerism, dominion); making adjustments to live within certain circumstances, until those circumstances become more normal, and maybe even expected.  Adapting comes to mind as a taught means of survival or ‘human nature’ truth.  Is it really a truth or has it become a learned social pattern for reaction or response?

Perhaps it’s about the intention of why we adapt.  Do we naturally lean toward adaptation as a species to survive a specific moment, or have we learned that we should adapt as a social control, to keep things flowing smooth, avoid conflict, don’t rock the boat, and enjoy what you have.

And is adaptation the expected course?  After reading that a state has the authority to determine water toxicity levels, food consumption rates and allowable amounts of cancer risk, would the expected thought be “This is the world I live in and I must find a way to rationalize and get used to it.”

Having It All

© Lori Fisher 2014

© Lori Fisher 2014

When I hear about a person “having it all,” I think of someone who is accomplishing everything and has all the fields of life tended to and bountiful.  Powerful, leader-qualified, successful in career and family; no role ever compromised; no project ever neglected.

In my experiences, this “having it all” term has most frequently been applied when comparing the standards of men and women; when the status of women and their accomplishments are analyzed and more times than not, compared to those of men.

So, I wasn’t necessarily surprised to be reading an article in The Atlantic about the PepsiCo CEO, who is a woman, discussing this saying.  In fact, she responded directly to the article question: “What’s your opinion about whether women can have it all?”  But I was surprised that the article centered on the phrase and how the PepsiCo CEO had experienced or not experienced its truth, rather than concentrating on the CEO’s experiences themselves without measuring them against the standards of “having it all.”

I find it interesting how certain phrases or sayings are used, perpetuated and potentially normalized in our culture without first taking more care to acknowledge what they actually mean.  Not that I identify and am aware of using certain phrases all the time in my own everyday life.  I think our language and culture is full of them…..but it’s still interesting.  Interesting to the point that an interview is based on a saying and in effect, further empowers that saying with validity, merit and truth.

For me, the real story is about how a phrase that perpetuates only a method of thinking, culturally imposed standards and judgements, becomes the wide base of a socially charged discussion.  Why is “having it all” used so casually in the first place to direct our perception?  Is it habit?  Can a repeated, normalized phrase evolve to a perception that influences or constructs the boundaries of how we think about our selves and what our options are in life?

“Having it all” – this seems to me a circular, subjective argument.  The “it” is undefined in the phrase, or maybe the “it” has been defined by someone elses standards rather than mine.  Is it a cultural necessity to define standards of accomplishment and success for everyone else?  Maybe this is what we have become comfortable with.  Maybe it is easier to live up to given, set standards, rather than figuring out our own standards for what we want in life.  Or maybe without the set, goal driven structure of “having it all” we would be left to spin out of control as greedy insatiable creatures who could never have enough.

It Could Be Better – methods of thinking

© Roz Foster 2014

© Roz Foster 2014

I’ve been reading up on noise pollution in the United States (U.S.) and the adaptations that human city dwellers have made to adjust to the layers of man-made noise in urban soundscapes.  Adaptations not necessarily to eliminate, but to lessen the impact of the unhealthy noise discomfort.

Adapting seems to be a normal, maybe even expected survival skill.  But I wonder if the ‘normalcy’ of adapting, habituating or getting used to something implies that it is an automatic response. Automatic to the point of reactive.(Reactive in the sense that action is made as a response to the situation as it is, without intention of prevention or changing the circumstances.)

Are reactive responses “normal” and proven to be easy paths with the least resistance?  On the other hand, could a proactive train of thought be an equally automatic response, or is there an assumed or projected difficulty level that makes this method of thinking less appealing?

In U.S. culture, have reactive responses been taught as the “go-to” method of thinking over proactive responses?   I think both reactivity and proactivity are used for problem solving. But is proactive thinking not the norm?

The phrase, “It could be worse” comes to mind as an example.  I’ve used this phrase countless times to describe my day, or an event, or a circumstance.  “It could be worse,” delivered with a shrug, at first appears to be optimistic, looking on the bright side of things.  But on a second look, the response appears reactive, a response of resignation and mud-stuck acceptance of a not-so-great state of being.  “It could be worse” tips the domino thinking toward all those horrible situations where, in fact, it could most definitely be worse.

What about the phrase “It could be better”?  I haven’t said that one much, and I’m not sure how much it is used in general society, but this phrase could potentially encourage the dominoes to fall another direction.  Uttering “It could be better” to acknowledge the not-so-great situation implies the next thought will emphasize how it could actually be better and what needs to happen to make the change.  A proactive approach.

Maybe there is a difference when talking about personal versus business issues.  For example, could a business prosper if someone asked “How’s profit?” and the response was “Eh, it could be worse.”   A business perspective may encourage a more proactive response like “It could be better…. and here’s how”.

For personal situations though, would a proactive method of thinking take priority?  “How are you feeling?”  What if the consistent reply was proactive – “It could be better….and here’s how.”

Could a proactive method of thinking work in today’s culture?  Or, is a shrug more likely as a response, resigned and accepting of circumstance, settling for what you have, where you are or who you are because you might lose it all and actually live the fear of “It could be worse.”

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

Rippled Resonance

© Lori Fisher 2014

© Lori Fisher 2014

I read a recent article on the United Press International website regarding a Princeton/Northwestern study that concluded that the US structure is that of an oligarchy rather than a democracy, with the US government representing not the interests of the majority of citizens, but those of the rich and powerful.  The comments regarding the article were interesting – from the most academic (defining oligarchy/plutocracy and highlighting the symptoms that have been present from America’s birth and documented in this analytical study), to the more casual opinion, of “duh.”

A blog response from The New Yorker questioned the validity and methods of the study.  Among the 75 comments for that post, there were still some hang-ups on definitions, regarding a republic versus a democracy.

A BBC news article suggested potential responses to this study, which primarily included resignation to the fate of not living in an equal world.  Sounds about right for a media outlet that depends on structure to survive – maintain readers who somewhat believe the content of what is displayed and supply the preferred controlled solution of ‘no action, just kick back and maybe discuss, but ultimately just accept.’

MSNBC.com released an article as well. Just in case the reader did not have a direction for processing the information in the article, the media outlet provided a means of directing any blank thought or irrational emotion by providing a poll with just one question (which, I guess is supposed to be the most important), “Do you think the wealthy have too much political power?”  The pollster had three options when responding. There was a “Yes…” a “No….” and a “It isn’t perfect but the system is still sound.”   Really?  That’s it?  Where’s the choice for “I am not privy to enough unbiased information to answer”, or “I have no idea how things really work in  government, except for what I have seen on TV or ‘made for TV’ news” or “I don’t care, where’s my iPhone” or even the answering-a-question-with-a-question choice of “Do ‘the wealthy’ actually have the power, or are they simply responding to their role in a controlled structure, handing their ‘power’ off to engrained fears about security, money and social judgement?”

Are the conclusions on how the US government makes decisions now valid since academic institutions have deemed them to be true?  Should society or an individual have to wait for recognized studies conducted by intellectuals or academic institutions to verify what may have been already thought or felt?

And how does a ‘validated’ label change alter our attitudes about living within this system? Do we care much?  Is there even an action to take? Do we drop out of school, quit our jobs, stop going to the grocery store, pay attention to the companies we support with our consumer purchases, ride bikes, pay attention to what’s in our food?  I suppose no matter what the label, if someone is comfortable, there would be little motivation to change the day to day routine.  Unless, maybe there was a movement that gathered steam, delivered ideas as guidance and solutions, and provided a leader who could communicate all of it effectively – oh, like an election campaign, I suppose.  But, even then, is that still waiting for an “authority” to validate ideas, thoughts, feelings that were already known?

Is it a method of thinking for people to look for a leader (or ‘authority’) who believes (or says they believe) the same, then give energy, time and power over to them, as an investment perhaps?  On a personal level, do we think we need a leader or group to validate our opinions or beliefs and to give us the security to make a choice or decision? Maybe we do as a society; maybe the process is too much responsibility otherwise; maybe this has been learned.

From another perspective, what if people simply did their own thing? Without violence, without gathering, without groups, without anything except personal choice and power.

Perhaps there is no actual vision for the “right” path or way to go, but maybe there is the feeling that the current path is not quite right. What if no other authority was needed to verify or validate and an individual simply ‘left’ the current path and strictness of the structure? Not for a spotlight, not for recognition, not for vengeance, not for saving fellow humans.  What if the leader for you was you?  So the challenge for finding a leader would ultimately be finding yourself.

Would this create change?  Would it even matter?  A friend reminded me of the ripple effect concept.  The power of role model and example. What if someone simply stopped participating in the expected flow of life – stopped buying groceries and planted a garden – stopped eating at fast food restaurants and ate only locally sourced – stopped identifying themselves as a consumer, or even for that matter stopped identifying the system as a democracy.  What happened to the practical?  Identifying something for what it really is, based on how it functions and impacts…. then going from there. Can you live physically in a system that you have detached from ideologically, or have detached from the symbolic meanings?  Is it even possible?  Is there space outside the structure?  Without a overarching authority, how far would the ripples go?

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

 

The Structure

Just when I thought I had this internal conflict figured out, or at least a resolution decided on, I realized that something about the circumstance, the item, and the purpose stuck around and I couldn’t sell or throw away the issue. The book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg came into my possession in January and has felt like an emotional albatross ever since. I had read reviews of the material and had seen online interviews and parts of lectures given by the author regarding the book and something about the presentation of the content gave me a sick, sinking feeling.  The whole concept of a woman measuring herself against the ‘white male standard’ and looking in that direction for the definitions of success and leadership just doesn’t fit and I don’t want to waste any of my energy perpetuating such an outdated vision. But, the crazy thing is that I haven’t read the actual words for myself.

I was ready to sell that book, but felt horrible since it was a gift.  Nevertheless, I was going to stick to my guns….then, I saw reports regarding the World Economic Forum.  The media presented highlights of the wealthy and powerful individuals and business/government representatives that met in Switzerland to discuss global economic issues. I read a related CNN article that pitted two journalists against one another. The male journalist said that the people who realistically make the decisions about how the world operates are at this meeting.  The female journalist said that the people who work for the wealthy and powerful matter as well.  The article presented itself as a class, power-struggle argument – should those without abundance be pissed and lash out at those with vast amounts; should those who have be content to believe that they are in a bubble of longevity, detached from those who have not?

My reaction to the initial reading about the forum was curious because, as I wrestled with what I thought was an internal conflict dealing with one item (the book), I realized that the topic of the World Economic Forum gave me the exact same heart burn.  Two seemingly different topics that had flowed into my line of vision since the beginning of the year that caused the same hiccup in my brain.  Could it be that this is the auto-reaction to which I am doomed for 2014, or do these two items share something other than the creepy crawly pit dagger sensation?

So, with my admittedly periphery knowledge of both things, I compared them to see what could be the common denominator.  Structure.  Structure of a system.  They reflected a common structure through which concepts, agendas, discussions and subsequent plans of actions are based and must be measured against to come to fruition.

I understand that modern society survives within a certain structure, but is this structure the one that we should believe in and perpetuate?  I’m kind of blown away and insulted that (a)maintenance of this structure, (b)patching up this structure or (c)trying to make this structure work better are the only options that mainstream outlooks want me to believe are even in existence.  Why is it presented that the only choice is to find solutions that work within this framework? Perhaps with further analysis, I will find the initial question or awareness about the system that is presented, the conversation about recognizing the concepts that are in place, the structure in which we hold ourselves as a society and if we would even want to perpetuate and give our energy to that vision of the world.  Okay…so, further research – I guess that means reading that book…..sigh.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

My First Steps

The new calendar year begins.  A prime time to think about life, direction and perspective; to reflect on past thoughts and seek out new lines of reasoning. So, on a rainy fog-filled morning, with coffee cup in hand, I strained my eyes thoroughly, browsing through the multitude of headline stories presented by online media outlets.  At the start, I searched for inspiration among the black and white lines of text.  Then, as my posture slunk further to a form that asks “are humans really supposed to sit for hours this way?,” I realized that inspiration was the distant star of emotions triggered by my perusing.  Frustrated, disconnected, fearful, sympathetic, enraged and ultimately betrayed – those were the emotions and reactions ranking near the top of the list.

From death and destruction caused by suicide bombers, to people complaining about the requirements for the Nobel Peace Prize, to a child plagued by unstoppable weight gain due to a surgery side-effect, to a list regarding the ‘11 Dumbest Things Said By Media About Women In 2013.’ These were just a smattering of story lines; each snagged my attention and triggered a distinct emotional response.

Actually, because of my responses to those stories, I am reminded of my earlier blog post (“Frustration Loop” published October 2, 2013) when I mentioned briefly a method of thinking, described as reaching outside of one’s self as an immediate response to anything encountered.  I then continued by asking if perhaps there is another first step, which would include “reaching in.”

To develop and apply the concepts of thinking methods, I wanted to break down how I normally think, which I will describe as “looking outward” and then try a different perspective or method of thinking, that I will describe as “looking inward.”

So, what is that first step in the method of thinking timeline (either outward or inward), before any emotion, or any action may be triggered?  Is that initial step so natural and engrained that it pushes my train of thought down a well entrenched path without me even thinking about it?  I think so, or else that’s just my excuse for procrastinating with this blog post and staring at a blank screen.

Okay, down to business then.  In order for this to make sense to me, I need these concepts (looking outward/looking inward as methods of thinking) in a useable everyday format.  Let me work with a concrete example.  I’ll take a media story that I just saw online and process the experience in both methods and try to note the timeline and details of both.   Here goes….

I  just saw a story streaming on the Today show about a teen bullied because of her looks and deciding to get plastic surgery.  She got a nose job and a chin implant and feels confident enough now to go back to school and make friends, after not wanting to leave the house for a couple years.

Outward – First Steps:

*I think about the story as it is told, those involved, the circumstances, the choices, the outcome.

*I feel judgments rising, emotions gathering energy.

*I feel frustrated that this kid got plastic surgery in an attempt to affect people’s judgement of her.

*Then, the frustrated spiral continues when I ask myself, are these the values that we want our kids to live by?

*Then, there is the counter-argument in my own brain – she is empowered and can do what she wants as long as there are the resources for it.  If it raises her confidence, then great.

Ah, the loop of no clear answers and frustration, feeling a pressure to form an opinion and a convincing argument, the automatic and expectation that I should have or make a judgement.  I am left feeling slightly manipulated, drained a bit of energy, leaning toward  ‘who cares’ apathy.

Inward – First Steps:

*I listen and watch without judgement – a calm pool.

*I gather the details for the sake of knowing, observation.

*I have no opinion; I feel compassion.

*I understand the story’s perspective, but give no energy to it.

*I maintain my perspective.

*And I let the encounter go.

*I move on.

There is no analysis, comparison or pressure to form an argument. In this example, I do not think as the first step, I listen.  I am not launched onto the mind’s path of judgement, of creating an opinion.  I do not personalize the story, or take it in.  I maintain my own perspective and empathize with the characters involved in the story and observe the various facets of a society intertwined.  I feel full and deep with the warmth of heartfelt interaction.

Interesting.  So, the first few steps lead perhaps to more questions, to more “concrete example” work.  Hmm…another coffee cup in hand, another rainy fog-filled morning and the new calendar year continues….

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

A Reflection on Control

This morning, I jogged around the lake close to my home.  The foggy cold paralyzed my senses momentarily.  But, once my blood felt safe to actually circulate throughout the entirety of my body and I could feel my ears again, I began to hear conversations from some people I passed on the path.  Since I am only an accidental eavesdropper, I caught just a few random words and phrases, but one sentence seemed to stick out.

An older couple walked towards me at a brisk pace.  They matched in their puffy down jackets, black jogging pants and gray beanie hats.  They leaned their heads in toward one another, while their arms pumped and their warmed breath smoked around them.  The woman spoke rather loudly to the man, probably from the physical exertion and of course the thick wool caps covering their ears. Just as they passed, she exhaled “the sad thing is, there is nothing you can do.”   Without context or any extreme inflection in her voice, I had no immediate emotion or image to anchor the words.  I guess there was a bit of concern in her manner, maybe a hint of frustration.  For the most part, the words appeared to have been thrown out there, more of a figure of speech or something to be said because there was nothing else left to say.

As I continued past the couple, I slowed to a walk.  My brain definitely tends to function at a slightly higher level when it’s not figuring how to conserve as much energy as possible while immersed in an aerobic workout (jogging) and not simultaneously providing a continuous stream of arguments against the benefits of the aerobic activity (jogging).  With the walking decision made, my thoughts turned toward the statement I had heard.  “The sad thing is, there is nothing you can do.”  Applied as a universal concept, I look at this sentence as potentially limiting and definitely just a matter of perspective.  Assuming that the latter part of this statement is correct “there is nothing you can do”, does that lack of control make it a “sad thing?”  Or does the realization that you have no control in a situation equal another emotional realization besides sadness, dependent on the circumstances? This could be anything from extreme anger to extreme tranquility.

Or does the realization that you have no control in a situation present a different perspective all together that suggests that “control” is conceptual, self created, system binding, defined inaccurately, a root of “how” humans are taught to think (along the lines of opposites – control vs no control).  Taking the perspective further, could it be suggested that we are deluded  to think that we have control and we only think we do because we don’t want to think that we don’t?  But are those two extremes of having and not having the only choices available to us?

I had asked in an earlier blog post ‘what can you control?’ and provided a possible answer, ‘you control you.’  Perhaps adjusting the definition of “control” would help to align the concept I was talking about before and the concept I am talking about now.  That is the concept of awareness, becoming aware of situations, intentions, and ultimately decisions.  This includes an individual’s involvement in that process, in order to engage one in one’s path, choices, actions and reactions.  The awareness concept addresses all of the details and hues of “control” as we may perceive the word, but without the lockdown effect of the word’s enactment.

So, released from a definition, the perspective is left without the influence of “control vs no control.”  The perspective is no longer in the same language, color scheme, style, landscape, etc since the normal definition of “control” wasn’t even in the foundation. That’s kind of refreshing.  The perspective does not need to go through the “control/no control” rigid filter to arrive at the initial understanding or direction.

Getting back to the sentence with this definition release –  “The sad thing is, there is nothing you can do” – the statement then becomes a simple awareness of the situation and a reflection of one’s choice within it. An act; a movement; another step on the path.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2013

Relationships in the Present Moment

The most current of events that continues to impact my daily life and train of thought is my recent move from Belgium to the U.S. Pacific Northwest.  Even though time has raced by and already I have been in my new surroundings for almost two weeks, my feet still feel slightly swept so that I don’t quite have the full balance or steady methods to anchor myself.  However, piercing through all of the uproar and chaos during this change, the impact of “relationships” has cried out with the fullest gusto and has demanded some attention.  Imagine that, relationships needing attention…  I have noticed that beyond people, even how I relate or connect to things, actions or to situations has snagged my curiosity and has overwhelmed me at the same time.

When I think about the word “relationship,” my automatic word-association is to “romance” or “friendship.”  My second filter of word-definition jumps to what I learned in high school/college literature classes – “relationships defined by capacity of conflict.” These are the “Person vs Self, Person vs Person, Person vs Society, Person vs Universe, Person vs Nature” descriptions.  But, since relationships are hopefully not just about conflict, and not just about other people, how else can I be conscious of how I am connecting to everything?

I think that understanding how one relates to everything around or within oneself on all levels is possible, as well as important.  At the moment, of course, I am addressing some of the levels from my standard understanding because “what you know” seems to be a great place (as well as the default place) to start.  But, I would like to move on from the automatic and flow beyond my learned method of thinking or organization of thought to find a perspective that can handle the overwhelming that I am experiencing.

So….Relationships to everything, on all levels and sub levels. I suppose this train of thought could race to the umbrella concepts that span across my thought and that are ultimately affected by my associations, definitions and experiences to everything. I suppose one could say that the human experience and subsequent human expression could be defined through relationships on all levels.  But, exactly how can someone be aware of all relationships at all levels to the extent of continuous comprehension and to consciously live within them?

Maybe the relationship that pushes and stretches the boundaries of imagination and thought should be explored to find the different perspective.  Person and Infinity.

And how can I describe my relationship with infinity?  Well, it’s like a sling shot effect, or like the quick zoom-out on Google Maps.  The map is bursting at the seams, trying to hold infinity and in a snap, there is a zoom out and now, infinity looks like the tiniest dot within the landscape of additional infinity.  And what is that tiny “infinity” dot in relation to my life?  A focal point in my day, a mere moment, perhaps the present moment.

Can you ever be outside of the present moment?  Well, I think you can definitely be unaware of the present moment.  But, if the awareness is there, would it be possible to develop only my relationship with the present moment and thereby develop all relationships at once?

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2013