“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” –William Butler Yeats
I cannot believe it’s taken me nearly all month to remember that it is, in fact, National Poetry Month. I think I may have skimmed over something in the deluge of news clips and overthought, under-edited articles that pervade my cyber space, but in a world where days blend together, I nearly missed it.
You know what coming next, don’t you?
Oh,I’m not being lazy! It’s good practice!
And its more a matter of economy–I’ve got end-of-school projects due and a Black Belt Progress check this week, and therefore, my plate is a little full. So this week your exercise is simple. Go outside, mask it up if you find yourself in a bustling park, of course, but if it’s a deserted early morn, breathe the un fettered air, allow a scrap of paper and pen to tag along with you.
Take ten minutes of just being aware of the moment. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you smell? Use these observations and notice how they filter and affect the thoughts already on your mind. Have a quarrel with yourself and see what arguments emerge. What solutions? What epiphanies?
Then go find yourself a favorite place to sit and write me a poem.
I was going to give you some restrictions but I think we’ve all had enough of those. Any length, any form, rhyming or blatantly against, iambic pentameter–why the f%*k not? Limerick or Odyssey, dark or light, whatever is on the tip of your brain, no matter how sharp or dull.
Send them along, and let me know if you want me to include them in the weeks to come.
You can feel it, like a vibrating pulse, constantly surrounding us. It’s in the buzz of the lights, the ringing of phones, the blip of messenger, the ping of news alerts. It’s the hum of electrical devices and the glow of screens. It’s a blanket of noise and light, sound and motion. It’s the modern, ‘marvelous’ world we live in.
And it’s killing us.
Our brains are beautiful machines, designed to process incoming information from our senses and filtered through our own experiences and knowledge until they are the equivalent of a constantly running mainframe that makes millions of decisions a day, from a billion different choices and scenarios. And we live in a world where the information is at hand in any moment we desire, from thousands of different outlets and devices, constantly spewing out anything you’d like to know and most things you wish you didn’t.
And yet our brain no longer knows itself.
With a constant barrage of noise and information from outside along with the endless distractions permanently affixed into the palm of our hands, we have lost our ability to know who we really are and what is really important to us.
After all, without quiet alone time, our thoughts and therefore our minds become products of all that we take in. Without solitude for true self-reflect, unplugging, and just being in our own heads, we become part of the noise, this capitalist driven machine that has stopped questioning what it really means to be happy. Implanting ideas of material wealth and social forum acceptance as the cure all to the emptiness we feel.
We are too busy, we are too distracted, we are devoid of personal and private time. Our lives have become fishbowls; both open for inspection from anyone paying attention and also offering 360-degree views of everyone else’s business.
When was the last time you took 15 minutes of complete silence, without any external distraction?
Don’t have the time? It’s equivalent to about two Facebook checks, three cute cat videos, or two over-polarized news articles.
Don’t think silence makes a difference?
In a study published by Psychology Today, quiet contemplation was proven to dramatically improve our brain’s ability to sleep more soundly, stave off depression and anxiety, improve cognitive and behavioral function and even help fight chronic pain.
We all know what happens when a computer overheats. Shit starts to go wrong.
Depression and anxiety have never been at higher levels. Everyone on this planet is walking around with their nose stuck to screens waiting for the world to tell us what to value, what to be, what to feel…Waiting to tell us that we’re good enough. When the only person we should be seeking these answers from is ourselves.
I know it’s a little ironic to be preaching a sermon on getting off your tech from the pulpit of a blog. It doesn’t escape me that I’m keeping you here for some of those minutes we waste. But I’m doing it as a public service.
Get off your screen, take a break from the games, and social media, and frenzy of sound and light.
Because while the outside world is distracting you with all of its splendor, you’re missing the really beautiful stuff, the REAL stuff, that resides right in your own head. Go have a thought. All on your own. Follow it around for a bit without Google force-feeding you the answers.
Please. For your health, for the health of this planet and all human beings, do this thing.
Living beautifully means living. Not just watching fabricated life from the strangest social experiment ever concocted, but really spending time with yourself, with face to face conversations, with the space to breathe and let go of all that nonessential bullshit and make peace in the quiet.
We’re not only defined by what we chose to do in our lives, but how we do it. We are categorized by outward and inward perceptions, each of us, akin to novels, and are thusly classified into genres.
Ah, she’s a romantic mystery with a dash of humor.
That guy over there is a political intrigue, with a splash of old school patriarchy.
Ah, she’s a pushy self-help, peppered with self-righteousness and a healthy pinch of praise-Jesus.
That lady over there is a bitter cozy mystery with a hint of post-menopausal lack of fucks to give.
We are defined by the things we do. We’re put into categories by people we know, and by companies that gather our data. Even when we don’t ask for it, we’re given a neat little label. And sometimes, when we’re overloaded and overworked, we start using that label as our only sense of self, as we desperately try to remember our purpose… And sometimes, we use those labels as a scapegoat for our less-than-desirable behaviors.
I’ve been trying to meditate every day and have been working through a series on my app (yeah, look at me, getting all tech-savvy with an app to help me reconnect with my humanness…seems oxymoronic) about acceptance, depression, letting go, and stress management.
One recurring phrase I hear is: You are not your thoughts or your feelings.
This is a hard concept to grasp.
Humans are this odd mishmash of biology and higher neuronic thought processes. I mean on one of our great ape-grasping hands we’re barely getting used to this hairless bipedal thing, on the other hand we’re philosophical, heavy in the head, braining entities who, when left to our own devices will overthink ourselves into a coma.
Maybe there’s a fear that if we disconnect to our thoughts then we won’t know who we are.
Maybe we fear we’ll lose the basis of our existence if we let go of the ideas and feelings tethering us down.
But this is not so.
You see, thoughts and emotions change. All the time. And the reason humans become so miserable is that we tie ourselves to them, try to define ourselves by them. Then we are less apt to let them go, especially when they hold the addictive qualities of self-spiraling sadness and anger. We feel sad. We are sadness. We feel anger. We’re angry humans.
Conversely, when we are happy or elated and the emotion passes, as it will with the natural ebb and flow of life, we cling to it desperately and feel like something’s gone wrong when its tying us down.
Should we let go of happiness. No. Should we reject sadness and admonish ourselves for anger? Absolutely not. Be in the moment, with the emotion, understand it is a feeling, acknowledge it and let it go. You’re all that’s left.
Just as we aren’t tied to labels; we are not one genre, we are all genres.
Why is it important that we understand this?
If we are boxed in to what the world has categorized us as, to our labels, we won’t know we can change. We become stagnant and perpetuate behaviors that are detrimental to our happiness and the benefit of humanity.
Secondly: We will feel trapped. And trapped animals lose the will to live. Without will, without passion, we cannot create, we cannot solve, we cannot continue to thrive in the world.
So how do we escape?
Here’s the dirty little secret:
I’m not entirely sure.
I think it has something to do with opening your mind to new ideas, allowing yourself to be different, to change the things about your life you don’t want to be a part of anymore, without guilt or self blame, and to let go of the idea that you are the personification of your thoughts and feelings.
You can be anything. Or just some things.
Or nothing at all.
Cross genres. Explore. Maintain your free will. While those that seek to control will tell you, free will is our greatest vice as human beings, that it causes us to make decisions that don’t align with status-quo, religious concepts, or dictator-imposed law and thus brings about the downfall of society, this is not the case.
There’s a reason the Dark Ages happened.
Free will, your ability to change, to move, to think differently are vital to not just survival but your purpose in life.
Happy Wednesday good people of the world. Extra Happy Wednesday to the bad ones…since you probably need more happy.
Today, I’m writing about the beauty of the human senses.
The human senses are invaluable to a writer, being the most surefire way to engage your reader in what the main character is feeling/seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling and, if you’re really good at the descriptive narrative, making them feel as though they are feeling/seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling the same things.
Senses are powerful. The words you choose to describe them must be impeccable to harness this power.
I realize, if you aren’t a writer, you may feel left out. Well I never leave a person behind, so hang on.
Why in the hell does a human need to explore their senses if they’re not showing someone the glint of moonlight on glass?
Well, hear me out, human.
Every single one of us, writer or no, deserves to indulge in our senses.
Why? Why is it important?
Well, shucks! Thanks for asking, new paragraph that makes my self-questioning seem rational…
Because part of living beautifully, is living with purpose which is closely tied to living in the moment, and living in the moment has everything to do with connecting to what is real, around you presently…not the feeling of a chair you sat in five days ago, or the way spring will smell eight months from now.
I’m talking about being present through the use of gifts you’ve been given.
Sit still for Christ’s sake. Seriously. Just sit.
Someplace safe and comfortable, turn off your goddamn phone, close your eyes and listen.
Take a deep breath, really hear the wave of it rush in and out against the shore of your throat. Listen to what you can only hear when you stop moving, and worrying, and obsessing. Bird chatter, the quiet hum of the neighbors AC unit (hey, not every sound is some natural wonder sent to give you soulful clarity.) Maybe it’s the squeal of tires outside or the school bell in the distance. Now, before you start having judgments or memories, or ideas that are inspired by what you can hear in silence, let those noises go. Let them pass through your brain like clouds in a sky. Take a deep breath.
What do you smell? Last night’s dinner, the oily basset at your feet (who’s probably cracking off the most horrific clouds of flatulence you’ve ever suffered through—wipe your eyes, try to get past it).
Maybe it’s soap (the decadent scent of a man newly showered) or maybe you smell the old books on your desk, the bed linens behind you and all the interesting smells that reside there. (Remember, basset or sheets, reserve your judgement.)
Open your eyes, focus on the small details, try to descern the exact colors, watch the play of shadows and the shimmer of reflections.
When you walk through gardens, through stores, through life, hold out your hand and touch things (no butts please…or unwilling butts? Don’t go touching unwilling participants is what I’m saying…stick to the inanimate). Touch fabric, leaves, dead branches and icicles, let the dog passing by snuffle your hand and leave its viscous slobber behind. Touch your hair, the arch of your foot, the base of your nose, tug on your ear lobe…how different it all is! How does it feel to be touched in those strange little places? Get to know your own body and the sensitivity of your fingertips.
When you sit down to eat, really taste your food. Keep it on your tongue and think about what’s going on there. When you kiss someone, taste them, their lips, their breath, the
flavor of them and their body chemistry…it is different for everyone and that’s something fascinating to explore.
Finally…and this is an important one…your gut. The so-called sixth sense. Intuition. IT’s there. IT’s often drown out by the madness of our modern world, the overstimulation and cultural rules and denial of the naysayers who believe humans are so far above ‘animals’ that we no longer need such ‘witchcraft’.
Tell those voices to stuff it. Listen to your gut. Listen to your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. You’re still an animal and don’t forget it. Don’t get too lost in the modern world. Remember, use the gifts biology and genetics gave you.
IF you are a writer, use these exercises to bring clarity and realism to your work.
If you’re a normal human with a ‘real’ day job (oooo self-burn!), use these exercises to be more present in your own life—to slow down time and remember what you are; A beautiful, messy human being with magical guts, wandering eyes, soft to the touch, with angry squirrels chattering on rooftops, smelly bassets underfoot, and a taste for the sensuality all around.
I have wonderful parents and two amazing siblings that filled the space of my childhood. But being the youngest (and unexpected) of the family, my brother and sister had already formed a subtle bond somewhere in the first delicate years of their lives. It remains this way even thirty-some years later. Of course we love each other and get along well, but they always seem to have an invisible members-only jacket to a club I couldn’t join.
That being said, I spent a lot of time trailing behind in a constant state of catching up to the bigger kids, the bigger wheels, the bigger ideas. Often, having exhausted the possibility of joining them, I’d hole up in my room.
Some would say this was sad.
I say (in retrospect) it was a seedling of a blessing, buried under the obvious soil of loneliness.
Sometimes the absence of noise from other minds and voices leaves us with the vital quiet so essential for creation. Not all brains are the same, obviously. Some people need the crash of busy streets, and nightclubs, and neon-thrashed cities, feeding off the energy like some sort of urban vampires. I’m not knocking that method. The brain works as the brain does and it draws inspiration from the strangest, most unfounded places. But for me, and for a few other minds I know, the quiet drudge of boredom is the perfect nesting ground for good ideas. After all, how can you ask “what if…” when all the ideas and answers are pounding around you, distracting the neural pathways and interrupting the natural stream of human consciousness.
So out of this boredom, this loneliness, comes the theme of today’s post; the game of Bounce-Catch.
We’ve all played bounce-catch. You just need a ball, a wall, and the ability to repeat the motion of throwing and catching the rebound. Bounce, bounce, catch. I remember the sound of the hollow tennis ball’s echoing reverberation. I can see the wall in front of me, and feel how the slightest deviation of hand movement would change the trajectory of the returning ball. The repetition led to meditation. Meditation led to flourishing thought.
Meditative states free up neural pathways and unclog thought highways, leading us to the subtle and slow coming to new ideas. We need a pastime, or practice that helps us let go of our frantic mind-state and relax into the untapped creativity within us.
The second part of this analogy is a counter-balance to the idea of loneliness.
A wall is essential to the game of bounce-catch. In the same way, our creativity needs someone to return our thoughts to us, with nuances of change that can build and grow them.
Who is your wall? Who is the person you can talk to without being judged? Who will listen, patiently to the rough outline of our ideas and return what you say with an outside perspective essential for growth and movement?
The wall’s job is not to throw a wild return that causes you to bolt across the parking lot after your idea. It’s job is to add to the force and power of the throw, echoing back the reality of what happens when the outside world receives your idea.
So, this week, try to focus on two things.
1.) Find a meditative space, a mantra, a mindless, repetitive activity (folding laundry, running, bounce-catch, etc.) and while you do it, let your brain wander and play with the creative seeds in your head.
2.) Take your foundling ideas, or those that have paused with stagnation, and find someone to talk to about them, (friend, co-worker, spouse, writing group, family member) and ask what they think, what they’d do differently, how you could improve or move forward with the idea.
Remember, this doesn’t have to be about writing. It could be a painting, or a quilting project, an invention or engineering problem. It just needs to be your Work In Progress.
Good luck out there. Find some boredom. Find some support. But find your Folly and follow the hell out of it.