Sometimes, our greatest weaknesses are our greatest strengths. That’s the lesson from author Malcom Gladwell in David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. But Gladwell doesn’t rest on cliche. He’s known for his originality, surprising his readers with paradox after paradox.
Break the rules, Gladwell tells us, and he follows his own advice. His journalism has always done so supremely successfully.
Read this article collection because you want to experience perspective-shifting intellectual whiplash.
A common personality trait of successful underdogs is disagreeableness.
In the story of David and Goliath, David succeeded because he broke the rules–not because God intervened. He beat him because rock slinging was the most deadly form of fighting and Goliath wasn’t prepared. David wasn’t strong in the traditional way, so he found a way around the traditional way; he found strength in his weakness.
Basketball coach Vivek Ranadive succeeded because he broke the rules. He led a novice girls’ basketball team to the national championship for their division by playing full-press–something no other team did.
Teacher Teresa DeBrito succeeds because she breaks the rules. She actually prefers larger to smaller class sizes, and this perspective is backed by research. The lesson: often, things we see as good (like small class sizes) are bad after a certain point; there is a U-curve. For example, money makes parenting easier, until you have too much and it makes it harder again.
Caroline Sacks didn’t succeed in her major because she followed the rules. She made the decision to go to Brown instead of her second choice, a lesser-known school. This led her to quitting her preferred major, science, because of the difficulty she experienced at Brown. Had she gone to the second-tier school instead, she believes she would have stayed with it.
David Bois succeeded because of his weakness. His dyslexia made him an excellent listener and memorizer, and he ended up becoming a highly successful trial lawyer who could detect the slightest weakness in his opponent’s voice, though his mom thought he’d never even graduate high school.
Emil “Jay” Freireich succeeded because he wasn’t a people pleaser. His father died at a young age and his mom was also absent. He became a doctor who didn’t care what anyone thought, even ignoring orders at times, and pioneered a cure for leukemia.
Wyatt Walker succeed because he broke the rules. He worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. to incite cops to violence so the media would carry the story and the civil rights movement would gain momentum.
Rosemary Lawlor succeeded by questioning authority. She participated in a successful riot against unnecessary search, seizure and extended house arrest policies in Northern Ireland against the British army who had come to help keep peace during a civil war. The British army’s mistake: they didn’t establish legitimacy first.
In Brownsville, a NYC neighborhood, a police officer named Joanne Jaffe succeeded because she established legitimacy. She is leading an effort to help criminal kids turn around by first gaining their trust, bringing turkeys on Thanksgiving and gifts on Christmas and talking with the families.
Sometimes, reactions aren’t what we expect them to be. During the Blitz in London during WWII, everyone expected mass panic, but instead the remote misses created a sense of aliveness, exhilaration and invincibility.
About the Author
Malcolm Gladwell is a renowned author, journalist, and public intellectual widely recognized for his captivating storytelling and thought-provoking insights. With a unique ability to dissect complex ideas and phenomena, Gladwell has become a leading voice in contemporary nonfiction. His works, such as “The Tipping Point,” “Outliers,” and “Blink,” have garnered global acclaim, captivating audiences with their innovative perspectives on social sciences, psychology, and human behavior. Gladwell’s writing style seamlessly blends engaging narratives with rigorous research, making his books both accessible and intellectually stimulating. Through his distinctive approach, Gladwell has reshaped the way we perceive and understand the world around us, leaving a lasting impact on popular discourse and inspiring critical thinking.
Beyond his literary contributions, Gladwell’s influence extends to public speaking engagements and podcasting. He has delivered captivating talks at prestigious conferences and universities, captivating audiences with his ability to shed light on intricate social phenomena and challenge conventional wisdom. As the host of the popular podcast “Revisionist History,” Gladwell continues to explore hidden stories and reevaluate historical events, offering fresh perspectives and encouraging listeners to question established narratives. Through his multifaceted body of work, Malcolm Gladwell has emerged as a leading figure in contemporary intellectual discourse, captivating audiences with his unique blend of storytelling, rigorous research, and a deep understanding of human nature.
Well, it’s December now. The year is almost over, and lately I’ve been wondering what’s going to happen when my experiment is over. Sometimes I feel like I’ve gotten into a habit that, now that I know how great it can be, I will never totally give up on, even if I do take breaks—even very long breaks. It’s something I’ll always come back to, always aspire to. Other times, though, I feel something else.
I feel like giving up.
And actually, most of the time I feel both: Praying without ceasing is something I will never give up on completely—but it’s something I often may not want to do right now.
And that’s where I’m at today. For the past several weeks I haven’t meditated much. I haven’t always felt very good, very inspired. And I definitely haven’t prayed without ceasing.
More than that: I haven’t even tried.
A few nights ago I was thinking about my next step, thinking about whether I was ready to start again, and I came back to where I began with this whole thing. When I started this journal in January there were two main hesitations I had about the experiment—two things that caused me to delay the actual start date by several months. One was that I was afraid it wouldn’t work, that I wouldn’t hear from God about what to do and where to go and what to say, et cetera. The other was that I just didn’t want to give up control. The first I can say that I’ve pretty much let go of; I have only to remember a few key experiences this year to prevent that fear from materializing. It’s that second one—the one about control—that still feels true to me even though it doesn’t do me any good.
I hate. Giving up. Control.
I really, really hate it.
When the baby won’t fall asleep at naptime. When my husband isn’t available when I’d like him to be. When I can’t make my own decisions without someone else’s input, and that person is nowhere to be found.
I live a very self-directed life. I have no set work hours, no particular workplace to go to; I work where and when I see fit. I see friends and take the baby out and run errands, all at the times of my choosing. On any given day my shower could happen at 9 a.m., 2 p.m., 9 p.m. or not at all. I do not live by a schedule—but I always plan my day. I plan how many and approximately which hours the baby will be asleep, and what I will do during that time. I plan which items on my to-do list can be completed and which will have to wait. I plan what to cook, what fun thing to do that evening, and on and on and on.
I am always, it seems, planning something.
The freedom and flexibility that I have in my life is awesome. The stress that I take on by being so high strung is most assuredly not. My worst days (I remembered yesterday) are not the days when I get into an argument with someone or even the ones when I feel fat. The worst days I have are the ones in which the baby doesn’t stick to my schedule and I end up missing something I wanted to do. The anger that I feel, the annoyance, the stress . . . It’s just not fun. Not at all.
And really, it isn’t me. I’m not high-strung, actually. I enjoy life. I’m pretty cheerful most of the time (not naturally so, but I’ve taught myself this skill over the past few years with good success).
I’m just very Type A, that’s all. And not only am I Type A—I like it that way, too. It’s how I achieve so many goals in such a short period of time. It’s how I find purpose in my days.
It’s just the way I like to be.
And so, that’s the truth of the matter. The truth is that I’m afraid that if I give up this control, it will all fall apart.
I won’t write books anymore. I won’t “use my time wisely.” I won’t be able to work and make money while still spending as much time as I do with the baby. I won’t read as many books. My to-do list will grow longer and longer by the minute.
I won’t get anything done.
Or, maybe I’ll get a lot done—but not as much as I could have. If I get too spiritual, I think, I’ll just hang out watching flowers grow and children smile and forget to look at the clock.
I will get things done. But not as many as I could have.
And that, that single thought, is the thing that keeps me from my goal.
Thankfully, I know the solution: Giving up control. Making plans, but staying flexible at the same time. Asking for guidance and direction in every decision I make throughout the day and then following it, even if I don’t want to or if it seems to make no sense.
If I could do that consistently, what could possibly stand between me and my goals?
And so, as always before when pondering these things, I make the decision once again to start to pray without ceasing. Right now, right after I put my pen down, I will ask for the Divine’s guidance about what to do next . . . and then I’ll do it. I will put the Spirit to the test, and see if I still get everything I want to do done, or if it all comes crashing down as I fear it will.
Here we go. Starting . . . now.
December 9: Limbo
Failed again. Yesterday. After writing that last entry, I listened for guidance on what I was supposed to do. Though I didn’t get a very clear message, I made the best guess I had at the moment: I did a crossword puzzle. The baby was down for the night, Jack wasn’t home and I didn’t know how to hook up the TV (long story). So, I took up an old hobby—and it was nice. Not ecstasy or anything, but nice. After a while Jack came home and we hung out for a while—and I very promptly forgot all about my resolution to pray. Then we went to bed.
This morning when I woke up I remembered. I prayed a little, then got distracted by the baby and the morning. Later I remembered again, and got distracted again. And now I am sitting in the car as the baby sleeps, and I’m remembering again.
And I feel like giving up.
I can’t do this. I have no deep thought to attach to that statement right now. I have no insightful psychoanalysis behind the whole thing like I did yesterday. All I have right now is the conviction that no matter how good it feels (and is) to pray without ceasing (or to come as close as I can to doing so), right now, it just is not happening.
And yet, I am not actually giving up. Being this willing, being this spiritually conscious, this close to God, is one of my most precious goals in life. I want to write a hundred books and have a passel of children, and do some other crazy things that I need not tell you about here, but this spirituality thing—this is the most important goal of all. This is the thing that won’t disappoint me, won’t fail me, ever. This is the thing that makes me feel good in a lasting, sustainable, circumstance-independent way.
This is what makes me really happy.
So, right now I am choosing to take a break from praying without ceasing. But remember October 6? Remember how I told myself that was my start date and that’s what would make me stay on this path? Well, I am going to hold to that. October 6is still my start date—I just need a quick little break.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to take a break. I don’t want to choose to be less in touch with God, less fulfilled, more dependent on circumstances for my happiness, more unstable. I don’t want any of those things—not at all. But if I could have made myself become a better person overnight, it would have happened already.
And so, this is not the end; this is just a delay. And really, it’s not even that. I know that as I let go of this goal, the journey I’m on right now to find more oneness with God will not come to a screeching halt; it may even go faster. The only way to grow into something else is to first allow yourself to be who you are now—to accept yourself, faults and all, and to fully experience whatever it is your soul is trying to teach you by choosing to be the way you are.
And so, that is what I’m doing: I’m accepting myself.
I’m allowing myself to be flawed.
Because no matter how much I think I want to change, the truth is that deep down inside, I don’t.
When I really want to change, it will happen.
And so, here goes nothing. Today, I’m doing exactly the opposite of what I’ve done at the end of my past few journal entries. Instead of deciding to refocus, reprioritize, try harder, today, I’m choosing not to try at all.
I am setting myself free.
I’m going to be as pigheaded as I want to be. I’m going to be as controlling as I want to be. I’m going to schedule stuff, and work as hard as I want, and check things off my to-do list at a rapid-fire pace.
I am going to let myself go.
Then, when I’m done, I’m going to sit back and rest, and ask myself what it all meant.
It’s funny; in a way this experience feels like it did several years ago when I was in limbo about whether or not I wanted to still be a Christian. Long after I had given up going to church, long after I stopped believing some of the teachings, and long after I had decided to (gasp!) date non-Christians, I still hadn’t gotten rid of the label; I still called myself a Christian.
Of course, that’s not what I’m doing here; I know that this change is only temporary. But as when I wasn’t really a Christian but wasn’t ready to admit it yet, right now I am not the person I want to believe that I am, either.
I am not experiencing divine connection on a daily basis.
It’s humbling, really. I have in my recent experience known what it’s like to live the kind of life that would make me the most fulfilled, and yet—I am turning it down, choosing my control issues instead.
I’m going to take a break from my goal, and I’m not going to feel guilty about it at all.
(Okay, maybe I will feel a bit guilty. But I’ll get over it, I’m sure.)
(a few minutes later)
I changed my mind. I can’t give up. I can’t take a break—or at least I can’t admit to myself that I’m taking a break. I can fail a million times, but I cannot give up.
God, what do you want me to do next?
December 17: What Is Prayer, Anyway?
Today, I discovered a form of prayer that until now I didn’t even know existed. How did this happen? It happened by sitting on a couch.
Before I tell you about that, though, let me remind you of the spiritual practices that in my life I’ve (knowingly) experienced. Most of them I’ve mentioned in this book already. They are:
Meditating by feeling my inner body;
Meditating by repeating a mantra;
Asking my spirit for guidance in my actions both small and large;
Saying prayers of thanks repeatedly;
Keeping a journal of answered prayers;
Listening to spiritual music;
Singing spiritual and uplifting music;
Reading spiritual books;
Smiling, even when I don’t feel like it;
Doing good deeds for others; and
Reaching out to friends.
And, as I told you before, it’s my belief that if I’m doing any of these things, I’m in prayer.
Today, though, another glorious practice joins the list. It is deep, and it is beautiful, and it is this: just . . . remembering.
Do you know what I mean by just remembering? Well, just in case you don’t, here’s a little story about how I discovered it. After I tell you this, I’ll talk about what I think it is.
Last night I had about forty unscheduled, baby-free minutes to enjoy before going to bed. I was too tired to read, and it wasn’t quite enough time for a TV show or movie, so I decided to sit on the couch and do nothing—to merely have a peaceful little think.
And so, that is what I did. As I sat I reviewed the mundane and beautiful events of the day. I thought about the walk I took with the baby during which he saw his first worm. I thought about eating dinner with my husband at Chipotle, enjoying the food and feeling grateful that I didn’t have to cook. And then I started thinking about my house.
About my house there is only one thing you need to know, and it is this: I love my house—love, love, love it. It is brown. It is orange. It is peaceful and muted and warm. It is clean and it is empty and it is fully baby-proofed and it is exactly like I want it to be.
I appreciate it.
And so, because I had nothing else to do, last night I just sat on my couch, appreciating it. And it was during this reverie that it hit me: my house is not just a house—it’s a person. It is a being—a growing, changing, giving, receiving, loving, living being. It is part of our family, and it speaks to us every day.
It was like what Eckhart Tolle says about feeling the aliveness in your body and using that as a portal to the Divine. I was feeling the aliveness, not of my body this time, but in my surroundings instead.
That teddy bear has something that isn’t made of atoms, I realized. That laundry basket has it, too. If someone—some great or even just very good photographer took a picture of those objects in just the right light at just the right angle, he would prove my point. He’d be able to convince anyone in a single glance of a truth that is so often overlooked, namely: even the salt and pepper shakers are profound.
So—she’s alive. My house, to me, feels alive. The solid parts—the bricks, the carpet, the curtains—are all different aspects of her personality, and the air isn’t just the space between those things; the air is filled with love.
At least I believe that it is—and I don’t think that I’m the only one. Interior designers see love in chairs and tables. Musicians hear love in music. Doctors see love in the human body. Everyone sees love in, not just someone, but something.
And here’s where I get tied up in logic knots, but bear with me: Seeing and feeling love and beauty is called worship. And when we worship something, it’s because it’s a form of God. And when we worship something while at the same time realizing we’re doing so because that thing is a form of God—that, I believe, is prayer.
And it is by this logic (which is really more faith than logic, I admit)—it is by this logic that I have a new definition of prayer. That definition is “to remember that something is God.”
And so, that is what I’ve decided to do. When I don’t feel led to pray about anything in particular, even a prayer of gratitude, I can remind myself to do something else that is every bit as good—go through this other portal, so to speak. I can look at my surroundings, wherever I might be, and remember that everything I see is Spirit, and is love, and is meaningful, and is alive. I can remind myself that there is a kind of magic all around me—the kind that can’t be seen but must be accessed in other ways instead. Then, I do that right then: I just sense it; I sense the unique expressions of God in it all.
I simply remember—nothing more complicated than that.
Why did I ever think it should be?
December 28: Change Is an Actor, Right Behind the Stage
December 28 today: three days till the end of the year and the end of my experiment. You know what that means. It means the time has finally come to do what I’ve been looking forward to doing all year long, namely the final friend list review.
Here is that review:
Friend Number One (responsive)
Friend Number Two (unresponsive)
Friend Number Three (unresponsive)
Friend Number Four (still responsive)
Friend Number Five (unresponsive)
Friend Number Six (unresponsive)
Friend Number Seven (unavailable)
Friend Number Eight (uninteresting)
Friend Number Nine (unresponsive)
Friend Number Ten (unresponsive)
Friend Number Eleven (unresponsive)
Friend Number Twelve (unavailable)
Friend Number Thirteen (unresponsive)
Friend Number Fourteen (unresponsive)
Friend Number Fifteen (unresponsive)
Friend Number Sixteen (unavailable)
Friend Number Seventeen (only mildly responsive)
Friend Number Eighteen (only mildly responsive)
Friend Number Nineteen (only mildly responsive)
Friend Number Twenty (only mildly responsive)
Friend Number Twenty-One (unresponsive)
Friend Number Twenty-Two (unresponsive)
Friend Number Twenty-Three (unresponsive)
Friend Number Twenty-Four (occasionally responsive)
Friend Number Twenty-Five (responsive)
Friend Number Twenty-Six (unavailable; she moved away last month)
Friend Number Twenty-Seven (occasionally responsive)
Friend Number Twenty-Eight (occasionally responsive)
Friend Number Twenty-Nine (responsive)
Friend Number Thirty (untested)
There are several recent changes to this list, and most of them are pretty disappointing ones. Friends Eleven, Thirteen and Fourteen, as well as Seventeen through Twenty, are all from my church—and all of them are now crossed off the list. The reason isn’t that I don’t like them, and (more surprisingly) it isn’t that they don’t like me. We see each other every Sunday, and have a lot of nice talks—and it seems that for them, that’s enough.
For a time, I thought that might be enough for me, too. Recently, though, I’ve realized that it’s not. Though I can appreciate having them as part of my larger circle of acquaintances, to me they are not true friends.
A bit harsh? I dunno. It’s just the way I feel, not a prescriptive thing. None of those four (or anyone else from church, actually) have initiated contact with me outside of church hours, and I’ve decided that just won’t do—not for me.
The other subtraction from the list is Friend Thirteen, the kind writer. Thirteen is super busy with her current projects and as I’m not sure I’m going to continue with the writing group past this year (lately it’s felt a bit boring), I doubt our friendship will pick up.
And so, that’s it. That’s what I’ve achieved friendship-wise this year: three potentially close friends out of thirty, plus one friend of limited closeness—a success rate of over 10 percent.
And when I think about it, these results really don’t seem all that bad. I don’t have a best friend, or someone I consider right now to be a very close friend, but I do have a couple of good candidates. And there are several others that may be a part of my life for a long time to come—the moms in the moms’ group that don’t call me back, for instance, and the church members that prefer to keep their distance. Too, both of these groups will be for me an ongoing source of new like-minded friend possibilities.
And so, in conclusion, I liken my friendship experiment to those people who send spam emails. The response rate is always dismally low—something like .1 percent is what I’ve heard. But it isn’t the rate that matters, you know—it’s the end result.
And the end result makes some of those companies very, very rich.
Thus, my friendship review is complete, with qualified success being the final result. Now let’s get down to what you’re really interested in, namely: the praying without ceasing. Clearly, my connection with God isn’t what I hoped it would be at the end of this year. But looking back, I do see progress. I learned how to meditate, and I’m doing it now and then. I’m praying for guidance much more often, and getting it. I know how to tap into the energy of my body, and when all else fails, I’m at least remembering.
And there is something that I’m not doing, too, that’s just as important as what I am doing: I’m not letting thoughts of failure get to me. I’m optimistic. God is everywhere. God loves me. God is good. Eventually, I’ll get where I want to be. I wanted a miracle this year, but what I got instead was a foretaste of what I want to be and where I’m going. The miracle will come. But my miracle might take longer than I thought it would.
It might show up one day at a time.
The way I see it, change is like the actor, waiting in the wings just backstage. He is practiced. He is prepared. He knows his lines. And yet—he is not actually playing the role yet.
He is still waiting for his cue.
I, too, am waiting for my cue, but don’t worry—that doesn’t mean I’ll stop preparing myself for opening night.
Epilogue: I Can Float Now, and I Have Friends
Last night, I had a wonderful dream. I dreamt I was at a park playing on the playground, practicing a new ability I’d discovered: the ability to fly a little in the air each time I jumped. I flew in and through and around the various obstacles, sort of floating, like they do in certain martial arts movies. It was wonderful and awesome, but one thing about it was rather strange: the other people in the park that day took no notice of this highly unusual sight; the whole time I was there, no one even looked in my direction. I wanted to show them what I was doing, to explain to them how to do the same, even though at the same time I knew it wouldn’t be right for me to do so—not yet.
I was still learning it myself.
And so, I suppose that if I were to sum up this entire year in a single sentence, this would be that sentence: I did not learn how to fly this year, to truly pray without ceasing as I so wanted to do—but I just may have learned how to float.
That isn’t my only post-journal update for you though. As it turns out, there’s something else I gained from my year of effort and experimentation, namely: I now have friends. And when I say this, I am delighted to add that these aren’t potentially close friends, or friend possibilities—these are the real, genuine, reliable, calling-me-back-after-I-call-them, spending-time-together-several-times-a-month-and-having-meaningful-conversations kind of friends. Yup, you heard that right: there isn’t just one of them—there are four. Can you believe it?
I have a group of good friends.
There are two sort of interesting, sort of instructional things about this development. One is that though I still go to my moms’ group and I still go to church, neither of these places is where I found my friends. (Well, one of them did go to church once, but that was it.)
The other funny thing is who these women actually are. Three of them are over ten years older than me. One is a Christian and one is Jewish. Another one is Hispanic and English is her second language.
Unlike the people at my church and in my moms’ group, these women are actually pretty different from me.
And so, what I’ve learned about friendship is this: friendship is not scientific. You can’t make a list and fill it with people you think you’ll have things in common with and expect it to work out. In fact, you can’t make a list at all. Like falling in love, the only things you can do are to look and to wait.
In any case. As a way to celebrate my success I will tell you a bit more about these wonderful women.
Friend Number Twenty-Five is someone I already told you about; she’s the one I met while walking the baby. She is an avid reader, an artist, a homeschooling mom (as I plan to soon be) and a pianist. We take walks regularly and, since she’s my neighbor, spend some time at each other’s houses, too, just visiting. Twenty-Five is one of the most positive people I know—and one of the most talkative, too.
Friend Number Twenty-Nine, the one I first met at church, is a Tarot card reader, a lesbian and a businesswoman. Her spiritual beliefs are very similar to mine and we often (mostly?) talk about the way those beliefs affect our lives. She is a wise, perceptive person, great at giving advice without making you feel stupid. (I know: major bonus.)
Then there’s Friend Number One, whom I’m actually a bit surprised to see included in this list considering our awkwardness at times. Though I’m not as close to One as I am to the others, we see each other often and her husband is friends with mine, which is nice. She is a doctor, a mother and an outdoorsy type, and very kind and thoughtful. I look forward to getting to know her a great deal more.
Finally, there’s Number Thirty-One. Thirty-One, not previously on the list, is a mom, a businesswoman, a wife, a hard worker and a natural optimist—and she has one of the kindest, most—well, most enlightened faces I’ve ever seen in anyone under the age of sixty. I met her a month or so into the new year and now we see each other almost every week. What I love the most about her is captured in a single word: she is genuine. Number Thirty-One says what she feels, and what she feels is almost always positive. When she’s happy, she says she’s happy. When she’s grateful, she says that, too. When she’s tired, she admits it but gently. Shortly after we met she told her mother about me and how grateful she was to meet me—not just once but many times. And she said this to me as well.
It’s such a rare and lovely thing to feel appreciated.
It has only been a few months since I finished my experiment, and a few months is not long enough to be able to predict the length of my new friendships with any certainty. But what I can say is that unlike before, I now know what I want in a friend—what I require in a friend, even. Positivity is important to me—much more important than it used to be. So is maturity and so is respect—but it is genuineness and sincerity—an ability to be oneself and to be vulnerable—that is the most important quality of all.
And so, after twelve months of hard work, the reward for my efforts has arrived. I have four good friends, and though I have not yet found the level of divine connection I’d hoped to find, the voice that I’ve been listening for all year is becoming more and more clear.
“You’re getting closer,” it’s telling me. “Closer to people and closer, too, to having an ongoing experience of the Divine. The most important goals of your life are even right now being realized, Katie: You can float now, and you have friends.”
And for now—at least for now—I’m going to be content with just getting closer.
The first service of our brand new Center for Spiritual Living was today, and I just couldn’t wait to tell you: It was everything I hoped it would be. No—it was (as they say so often but rarely as sincerely as I do now)—it was that and so much more. It was super awesome—super deluxe awesome with ice cream.
It was a treat.
Here’s the thing: Before I arrived, I was worried it wouldn’t be—er, not for me, anyway. See, the baby and I did not sleep well last night, yet I had volunteered to be a greeter. Actually, I volunteered to be anything that was needed, but what I really wanted to do was be a greeter. Then during set-up someone came up to me and asked if I knew of anyone else who could be an usher and greeter.
“Could I do it?” I asked.
A surprised look. “Sure,” they said. “Great!”
And so, at least one cup of coffee later, it was. But my sleep-deprived self wasn’t just a greeter; I was the best damn greeter you ever saw.
I was caring. I was talkative. I was spirit-led. I was in the moment. I was, even, effervescent. I think I met my (impromptu) goal of speaking with everyone that walked through the doors of the church at least once during the morning.
I was the sparkling version of me.
It sounds so proud, I know, but I don’t care. I am proud. I am, right now, chock damn full of pride. Not because I’m such an awesome human being; I already knew that about myself (after all, I’ve been one for a very long time). No—I’m proud of myself for, at least for today, letting it actually show.
Not long ago, I made the decision to become a friendship- and community-building kind of person. I decided to start going to church, and to start reaching out to new friends—in short, to explore a whole different part of my life.
And so, when I came to this church I did not volunteer to be a writer, or a marketer—no one even knows that I do these things as well. I volunteered to do only what I can do while with the baby, and as a result I am privileged to be expanding my vision of who I am and can be in this life.
Yup—this loner by nature, nerd by default and painfully shy child by experience is now a total extrovert.
I’m proud of that, and I’m excited, too—so, so excited for what this means. This is, after all, just the beginning—not only of a new church, but of a new chapter of my life.
It is all just the start.
One more thing of note about the service today: as awesome as the social time was, everything else about it was even better—everything meaning—well, it. Having a church. Being in a church. Being with the church. Just doing it. As I sat in the service and prayed, sometimes along with the others, sometimes just on my own, I felt the strength that comes to us in gatherings like this, gatherings that may not even be religious in name but that emphasize in some way the importance of community and love. All of the rest of the day today, prayer has been easier, feeling spiritual has been easier, letting go of imperfections in myself has been easier.
I feel like I’m walking in love.
And isn’t that just another form of prayer?
So today, I am praying all day. I am, without ceasing, in a state of prayer.
If one church service can help me do that, it surely won’t be long after going to church every week before “today” becomes “many days” and “may days” becomes “always.”
Amen and so be it to that.
My friends news is also good. I’ve gotten to know two new people recently: Friend Number Twelve and Friend Number Thirteen, I’ll dub them. Both are writers. Twelve is the lady I met at Center for Spiritual Living that I told you about before. She’s smart and a great conversationalist, but (and this is a problem) she doesn’t actually live in Seattle. She’s also more than a bit abrasive—something I can overlook to a degree, but not entirely.
Friend Thirteen is someone I have a little more hope for. Like Twelve, Thirteen is intelligent (her critiques are super good), but unlike her she’s also just really easy to like. I met her in my writing group, where I noticed that no matter who reads their work and what level of skill it shows, she always makes them feel special. There’s definitely something spiritual in the way she approaches others, though we’ve haven’t talked about it (yet).
As for the other moms’ group: I’ve attended several more activities and met more people, but no one I’ve felt compelled to email yet, and I haven’t heard anything from the ones I have, either. Thank God I now have the churchgoers to fill the gap.
September 24: I’m Feeling It
So—wow. Been about a month since I wrote last, and let me just say: I’m feeling it.
In terms of friends, not a lot to report. I did meet a couple of new people, so that’s good. They are two of the women at my church, a couple, and I’ll call them Friend Fourteen and Friend Fifteen. They are about my age, super friendly, deep thinkers, and most important: they actually want to have friends. At our church planning meeting a few days ago, to which only I and they showed up, we had a very nice conversation. They told me about how hard it was to find a church they liked, that they felt at home in. We all agreed that our experience at our new church has been exceptional, and that we’re confident this is where we belong. For the first time in a long time, I feel not only hopeful about these new friends—but I actually feel pretty good about my chances with them as well.
Regarding my other friendships: Friend One is still a good option. One day this month I was having a rough time and I ended up talking to her and her husband about it for about an hour. The funny thing: it actually helped. Sometimes I wonder whether I’m exaggerating my perceived need for friendship, but then something like that happens and I realize: I’m not. I’m really not.
As it turns out, friendship is not all that overrated.
The other friendships that are still going strong: Friend Four and the two older women I told you about, though for one reason or another I haven’t had occasion to see any of them in over a month.
Okay, then. That’s the friendship news. Now I suppose you want to hear about something much more important, namely: how I’m doing spiritually.
Oh, goodness. Oh, my gosh. I wish I had better news for you on this front—I really, really do. I want to encourage you, to inspire you—and I want to just be feeling better about it all myself. But if I told you I was fine, that would just not be the truth—and in the end, all that I have is the truth. And so, here is that truth: I am a bit of a failure. Not a total failure—just a bit of one, at least for now.
Here’s what’s been going on to make me feel this way: A few weeks ago, our family went on a trip. It was a wonderful vacation, and I enjoyed it very much. It gave Dave and me lots of quality time together. We even laughed—a lot (he really is a very funny guy).
We made memories.
The trip was a success, but what hasn’t been such a success since then is my spiritual life. While away, I decided to put my spiritual practices largely on hold. This included my meditation as well as my contemplative evening walks. (Well, actually, I’d already put those on hold a week or two prior to the trip, citing hot weather as an excuse, but in any case.)
During the trip, I didn’t really notice much of a difference in my level of peace and joy. There were some rough trip-related and sleep deprivation-related moments, but nothing I couldn’t bounce back from fairly easily.
Then, about a week ago, we came home.
The first few days were okay; I got wrapped up in a few would-be stressful activities and I noted with great self-satisfaction how well I handled them. I felt mature. I felt strong. I felt very in control of my emotions.
I felt, pretty much, good.
And maybe as a result of that, or maybe as a result of just being busy, I didn’t resume my meditation practice until—well, until today, really, and that only from sheer desperation. Because after things calmed down at home, and all the unpacking was done, and all the busyness was over, it happened: I hit a freaking wall. I became suddenly very depressed, a depression which culminated in a very quiet drive home last night that ended in lots of tears and a heartfelt hug from my husband. The weird thing? I don’t even really know why it happened.
Over the past few days, life—the life that before the vacation I’d been thoroughly enjoying—has been basically back to normal. I get up (usually after plenty of sleep these days as I’ve finally gotten the baby to sleep longer at a time), do some household stuff and some computer stuff, then take the baby to do errands. At some point he falls asleep and I pull the car over and take advantage of some lovely quiet time. Then we go home and Dave watches him while I do some more house-related stuff. In the evening there’s always some activity to go to (usually a group meditation), and after that we take a walk and go to bed.
What in the world could possibly be better than that?
And yet—I’m not happy. Yup, the old adage is absolutely true: happiness really does come from within.
And so, here’s the question I’m facing today: how do I get it back? And the answer is I don’t know.
The one thing I do know, though, is that I will get my spiritual high again. I’ve come back from much worse—much, much worse—than the way I feel right now, and have even surpassed my previous level of hope, love and joy. And as I’m now back to regular meditation, it may even be much sooner than I expect.
Who knows? It may even start right now.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself today, over and over again.
September 26: I Am Two
For a very long time—most of my life, I suppose—I have been two people. One of me is hesitant, doubtful, depressed, while the other is just sparkling. On any given day, I must choose which one I’m going to be.
The decision is harder than it sounds.
Lately, I’ve had so much to be thankful for: my family, my spirituality, my financial success, increased time with friends. I’ve even had better sleep. It’s like one my new affirmations says: “I am energy, and the energy I am is love.” Nothing is real except that, so there is nothing bad in my life.
On the days when it’s just me and the baby and I don’t want to stay at home or take a walk, I put him in the car and drive to a coffee shop. If by the time I get there he has fallen asleep I get some coffee at the drive-thru, then park the car until his nap ends and read a book. If he’s still awake I drink my coffee inside and entertain him the best I can, which isn’t so hard when there are other people around for him to stare at.
Later when we’re at a store and a happy song starts to play, I dance with him in the aisle. I narrate our outings for him aloud—even the most mundane details—and stare at his beautiful face and tell him over and over how perfect he is and how much I love him. I say it out loud, oblivious to any stranger’s stare.
These are the times that I sparkle.
And there are other times, too. I sparkle on my walks. I sparkle, almost always, during and shortly after meditation sessions. I sparkle in many social situations. Even so—I don’t sparkle enough.
See, in spite of these many and beautiful and inspired moments of my life, I still feel alone. I am still lonely, and sometimes I’m even depressed.
Like I said: two people.
And so, as is my habit, instead of sitting around pondering my lack, I do something much more helpful: I make a plan. And here is that plan:
Stay busy. Keep going on those mom and baby outings, and keep filling my calendar with as many social things as I can;
Increase my times of meditation to three per day (can I really do this?); and
Continue to seek inspiration. My involvement with my new church is so exciting to me not just because it’s something cool to do, but because it feels so right. Keep busy, but be guided by my spirit at the same time, if at all possible.
I don’t want to be depressed Katie anymore. I want to be sparkling Katie, every day, all day long. If I can do that, I will have found what I’ve been seeking in this journal—or at least I’ll be well on my way.
I’ll try my new plan this week and let you know how it goes.
September 30: I Just Stopped
Just a quick check-in today. Last time I wrote I was feeling pretty terrible, so I wanted you to know what has happened since, namely: I stopped.
I just stopped feeling terrible.
I guess I should attempt to explain how this happened, but actually, there isn’t all that much to tell. Saturday, I woke up feeling better after a successful meditation day Friday. I kept busy. I took a walk. Then, on Sunday, I went to church. It was only my second actual service and lemme tell ya: it was still truly awesome. The people there are beautiful. We had lunch together afterwards like we did the first time, which was nice, and everything just went well.
The best part, though? I felt it. During part of the service, someone volunteered to hold the baby for me and I just sat with my eyes closed and my hands palms-up (in my preferred meditation position) and I didn’t pray, really, and I didn’t say affirmations, really. I just . . . felt.
And it felt pretty darn good.
In fact, it felt better than pretty darn good; it may have felt better than I’ve ever felt in a spiritual way before.
Last week I wrote that I knew this would happen, and what do you know: I was right.
I am very thankful for this church.
But before I talk more about that, let me give you the friends report. Let me see now . . . Where to begin? I suppose I’ll start with last night.
Last night, after an enjoyable meeting of my writers’ group, I had some even more enjoyable one-on-one chats with the attendees, and two—yes, two—invited me to hang out with them in the coming few weeks.
I think that’s a world’s record for me.
One of them, Friend Thirteen, I told you about before. She’s the one who is so easy to like. The other is also a very interesting, sweet person but with whom I feel a bit less chemistry. I’ll call her Friend Sixteen. Still, I enjoyed our talk and will respond to her email (yes, she emailed me already) today.
What else. Becoming ever closer to Friends Fourteen and Fifteen, the gay couple from church. They will babysit for me tonight so I’ll get to hang out with them a little beforehand. Also, at church this week there was a new lady who is like me a new mom, and as part of my church duties I gave her a welcome call. I will call her again today and invite her to coffee or something. Since I already know we have a few things in common, I’m going to go ahead and put her on the list.
She’ll be Friend Seventeen.
While I’m at it, why don’t I add a few others from church to the list as well? Friends Eighteen, Nineteen and Twenty are all church volunteers like me. We meet every Sunday morning to set things up, then chat for a while before the service begins. It’s a great time, and Eighteen, Nineteen and Twenty are part of the reason why. They’re spiritually-minded, of course, but more than that: they’re just really cool.
I think I can learn a lot from them.
Oh, one last thing I almost forgot: The other day I went to the house of one of the moms in my moms’ group to buy her baby carrier. We had a good time chatting and watching the kids, and at one point she made the following statement: “You know, I think it’s been, like, weeks since I’ve had a meaningful adult conversation—or any adult conversation—besides with my husband.”
As I left her house, this friend (Number Twenty-One) invited me to come over again sometime soon, just to visit. It’s my hope that she will become my first real friend—not just a let’s-hang-out-with-the-other-moms-who-show-up-at-the-playground kind of friend—from my working moms’ group.
And so, I am having some success. In the nine months during which I’ve been keeping this journal I have made two friends from my writing group, one from my other moms’ group and lots more from church. Do I have a best friend yet? No, I don’t. But the couple from church feels like they’re getting close to that. In just the few weeks we’ve known each other, I’ve already shared a great deal with them about myself and learned a lot about them, too. All of us believe that the relationships we’re forming with each other are just the beginning.
We are building something, we realize. We may only have forty or so church members and ten or so volunteers, of which only three or four are close to my age. But soon, there will be more—lots more. Who knows? The church may someday become big. In any case, we’ll have something that’s so much cooler and more amazing and, in my life, rarer than any single friend could ever be: we’ll have a group.
Finally, what I’ve been trying to bring together by joining my moms’ groups and hosting parties at my house and doing everything I’ve been doing all year and beyond, will occur.
I will be part of a group.
And so, at this point, I have to ask: have I already arrived? Has the goal I made for myself at the beginning of the year, namely to find a few close friends, already—five months before the deadline—been met? And my answer, I’ll have you know, is a bold one.
It is yes.
Yes. My goal has been met or, put more accurately, is being met. I know you might caution me at this point not to get too excited about something that is so new and just starting out. But today, as I sit here right now, that is just not how I feel. I don’t feel like being cautious. I don’t feel like being political and circumspect.
I feel like having faith.
In related news: Remember my goal to meditate three times per day? Well, you’ll never believe it, but here it is: I am doing it. I’m actually doing it.
I am meditating at church. I am meditating in the car. I am meditating at a Hindu spiritual center I found.
Meditation is my new hobby.
How in the world is this happening? I don’t know. All I know is that it is happening, and I appreciate it.
I really do like being one person.
And so—I’m back. And now I ask myself again the question of the year: Am I ready to start praying without ceasing? And again, I’m not really sure that I am.
As we used to say in church, I may not yet be willing, but I am definitely willing to be willing. And for now, that will just have to do. Maybe after I’ve fully and completely established my three times of meditation per day I’ll be ready for the next step—whatever that may be. Well, not maybe—probably. Definitely.
Definitely, I will soon be ready.
October 6: Oh, Crap
October has begun, and here’s what I think about that: Oh, crap. Only three more months to find the divine connection I’ve been looking for.
I am well and truly screwed.
As far as meditation goes, well … it goes. In spite of this and my other spirituality-related efforts, though, every day is definitely not bliss. Today, for instance, I am not feeling particularly inspired, even though there’s no clear reason why not.
And so, we turn again to the question of the year: When will I ever learn to pray without ceasing?
Well, today I actually have an answer for you: I’ve decided to start right now.
Let me tell you why.
In my last entry, I reported that despite the occasional feelings of inspiration, when it comes to praying without ceasing I’ve still been dragging my feet. And in the week or so since then it’s been even worse: I’ve slowed down on meditation as well. I mean, I still say my affirmations and meditate regularly—but not for nearly as long as before.
My excuse? I don’t want to use the baby’s naptime for something so seemingly unproductive. After all, the two hours or so that he is asleep are the only reliably free two hours of my day.
You understand, I’m sure: these are my moments, my special, wonderful moments to myself. I can do anything, anything at all, and maybe most important, I can think. No one is distracting me, asking for my attention. I can write. I can read. I can fly through a to-do list in record time . . . Or I can just eat a meal without anyone there grabbing at my food.
I can do anything I want; I have super powers.
So you can see why sitting still and doing absolutely nothing during this time would be so difficult.
Okay, then. What about my other meditation times, the ones I attend with the baby? Well, lately those have lessened both in quality and in number. One of them was preempted by the small group I joined for church, and as another is held on the weekend my attendance there was always spotty. As for the third? Last week the baby proved himself too much to handle there when he threw up four times on the host church’s carpet.
I still love meditation, and I still attend one session per week plus church. I also do occasionally enjoy longer sessions at home or in the car. But that handful of times isn’t enough; I don’t want to be a meditation hobbyist, as I previously implied.
I want to be fully committed.
In any case. This is where I’m at today, and I’m just going to have to accept it. Lately my primary spiritual practice is more like what I hoped it would be at the beginning of the year before starting the whole meditation thing: continually asking for divine guidance and continually bringing myself back to the awareness of God. Because this of course is something I can do anywhere, and at any time at all.
And really, it’s what I want to do. It’s meditation, but it’s also a whole lot more than that. It’s a way of bringing joy and connectedness into my every action, my every decision—my whole self. It’s not just a practice—it’s a way of life.
And so, that is what I’ve decided: As much as I love meditation, praying without ceasing is what I am really meant to do—and what I’m going to do.
Today is October 6th. On this date, it begins.
Praying without ceasing, asking for guidance for the smallest of actions, remaining aware of my body (as Tolle says to do) and of the Divine. And guess what? It’s working.
I can feel it working.
What do you know—my inspiration was here all along. I just had to make the decision to see it.
I. Love. This.
October 8: The Turning Point
Last Sunday, something happened that I’ve been looking forward to writing about all week: the turning point. That’s right, I didn’t say “a” turning point, I said “the” turning point.
What do I mean by this phrase? Well, that’s a bit . . . involved. Let me explain by shortening a long story, then lengthening it once again.
The shortened story is this: I haven’t been praying without ceasing every day. (I know: big surprise, right?) In spite of this, though, things have been going pretty well. Here’s why:
1. There are some days that I do—and those are really awesome days indeed;
2. Every day I at least make the attempt. I at least remind myself this is what I want to do—no more “wait for tomorrow” kind of stuff;
3. It is getting easier; and
4. It is getting more frequent as well.
Now like I said, until last Sunday, I really didn’t realize these statements were true. Until then, I saw my mix of good days and bad days since my last prematurely triumphant journal entry as, well, a mix.
Truth be told, I really didn’t think I was getting anywhere.
My prayers have often felt uninspired. My times of meditation have been short and constantly interrupted. My walks have been infrequent. And as for following my intuition? Well, it’s hard to do what the universe is telling you to do when you aren’t convinced you’re even hearing it right.
And so, I struggled. Here’s the thing, though: I did not give up.
And that makes me pretty proud.
There are several reasons I didn’t give up, but today let me highlight just one.
The reason has to do with my first day of college: October 6, 1997. On that day, my life changed forever. No longer—never again, actually—would I live with my parents at home. No longer would I have to follow someone else’s rules.
Finally, I was an adult.
This must have meant more to me than I even realized at the time, I suppose, because in order to relate this story to you I did not have to look up the date in an old journal or school paperwork.
I have remembered it ever since.
Okay, you may be saying, what does this have to do with praying without ceasing? Well, just and simply this: The date of my last entry, the one in which I spontaneously decided to begin again my attempt to pray without ceasing, was October 6th.
Now, maybe this doesn’t matter. Maybe it is just a coincidence that this (hopefully) new phase of my life began on the anniversary of the beginning of another. As you may or may not know, according to my spiritual beliefs, life circumstances and coincidences and whatever other events occur don’t really have meaning in and of themselves, except the meaning we give them. Of course, the great advantage of this belief is that it holds within it something very special: the open-ended invitation to interpret events in ways that benefit me and encourage growth.
And so, that is what I did. The possibility of not only celebrating one achievement by beginning another, but (admittedly) of actually being able to remember, possibly for the rest of my life, the precise date when this new phase began, was too attractive a possibility to pass up. And so, ever since this October 6th, I have never once said to myself, “I’ll wait for another day to begin—a day when it feels more right.”
Instead, I’ve decided to view that date as a sign.
It was October 6th when I took on this challenge again, I told myself in my weaker moments of late. It was usually just a very fleeting thought, one I was barely aware of—but as we know, those are often the most powerful kind.
Right now, I don’t feel like I can do it, but maybe the universe is saying it disagrees.
Besides, it’s September. I really do need to get this thing done.
So, there it is. There is the reason that in spite of my repeated failures to pray without ceasing, I have not given up. Sometimes, the strength you need to carry out your goal is sort of just magically there, placed fully within your immediate grasp. Other times, you’ve gotta kinda believe that it is—then look really hard for the evidence you’re right.
In any case, last Sunday as I was sitting in church, all of these things were going through my mind. I was remembering my goal while at the same time soaking in the spiritual strength that often comes to me while in the presence of people who share similar spiritual beliefs. Then, all during the service and for the rest of the day as well, I stayed in that mindset of peace.
At no point during the day did I say my mantras. At no point did I sit quietly with crossed legs and raised palms and meditate. I didn’t even take a long walk. Instead, this is what I did: I talked to people. I made lunch. I played with the baby. I hung out with my husband—even watched TV with him.
And, through it all, I felt the presence of God.
That feeling—the one all spiritual people have felt at some point and ever after seek out again and again—I will now try to describe. Not because you don’t know what it’s like, but just because I think it may be interesting to try.
Here it is: It is a nearly physical sensation that radiates from my chest out to each of my limbs and beyond. It is a pulsing and a warming, and along with it are thoughts of—well, for me, mostly of gratitude. I don’t have to say or think anything in particular when I feel it (many mystics, of course, would argue that it’s better if you don’t), but if I do it’s often along the lines of this: Thank you, God. Thank you for trees. Thank you for clouds. Thank you for driving. Thank you for my baby. Thank you for my husband. Thank you for my life. Thank you for flowers.
Whatever—whatever at all—comes into my mind, I just give thanks for that.
After a while of this, I’m able to let go of what’s bothering me. Then when the feeling I want to have breaks through I sit with it, notice it, and appreciate it.
It is as simple as that.
Sunday was a beautiful, blessed day—one of the best I’ve had in a long while. But Sunday was not the turning point—Tuesday was.
Allow me to explain.
All day Sunday I wondered if I’d ever feel bad again. How could I? I thought. I am a part of God, and the end of it all is Good. However, after that something happened that gave me the answer. That thing was Monday.
Monday, everything went wrong.
Well—maybe “everything” is a bit of an exaggeration. Not everything went wrong, really—mostly just one thing that then made everything else feel, and thus be, bad. By early afternoon, I no longer felt even a hint of the inspiration I’d so enjoyed only the day before.
I just felt depressed.
And yet—even then, I realized something. Remembering my previous bliss, I reminded myself that the depression was just a temporary thing, something I allow myself to experience at various moments for various reasons. But if a day like yesterday was possible, I told myself, another one like it—and many more after that—will be, too.
Now, don’t misunderstand me here—this one thought did not instantly change my mood. But by the time I woke up the next morning, I felt a lot better, and by the time I went to bed that night, I was again right where I wanted to be.
I was back in the zone.
Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal, or at least not as big a deal as I’m making it out to be. But here’s the thing: I was able to get back to my meditative, praying without ceasing state quickly—to intercept and subdue my funk after only a single day. You do know what this means, don’t you?
It means my persistence is paying off.
And that is what I mean by “the” turning point. The turning point was the realization that yes, I will actually get where I’m going eventually, but not because I just know myself, know that I’ll keep trying until I do.
No—I know I will get where I’m going eventually because I am already on my way.
I am making progress, and it’s tangible progress, progress I can attest to with evidence from my life.
Right now, as I sit here, I am feeling the Divine.
And I’m not meditating. I’m not walking. I’m not even praying as such.
I am writing. I am getting dressed. I am brushing my teeth. I am thinking about other things entirely.
And I am, at the same time, feeling a great deal of peace.
Do you remember an entry from a few months ago where I said I hoped that soon my long list of spiritual practices would sort of merge into one unified thing—one blended, continuous property and habit of my daily life? I do. I remember writing it and realizing how important that step would be, since then this thing I call praying without ceasing would no longer feel like a struggle or like a list of items on a to-do list (meditate three times per day, say affirmations every morning, etc.). Instead, it would all just sort of happen—easily and naturally, and all at the very same time.
Like I said before: It would just be one Thing.
Well, today I can tell you that maybe—just maybe—that day has already come. As of yesterday, I’ve decided that no longer will I make it my goal to meditate a certain number of times per day, or set aside special prayer time in the morning, or take a walk three times a week, or whatever and ever and ever. Not that there’s anything wrong with those goals—they just aren’t the right goals for me right now, and even if I wanted them to be, actually accomplishing them would be quite difficult—difficult enough that I’d fail or give up (as in fact I have done). Maybe at some point in the future I will make these things goals in themselves again, but lately I’ve been realizing that my one goal for the year—the one I started this book with, that of learning how to pray without ceasing—really is, in fact, enough. Because when I’m praying without ceasing, I’m not just asking for intuitive guidance and direction in my actions, as I once thought and wrote here. When I’m praying without ceasing, I am meditating—when circumstances provide an opportunity to do so. I am saying mantras and affirmations—when I get a thought I don’t like and am trying to focus on something else. I am following my inner guide—when in a sensitive conversation with someone and trying to find the right thing to say.
I am walking when my body says to walk. I am focusing my awareness on my body when I need to feel more calm. I am encouraging others with my words, making divine declarations, when the situation calls for it.
And all of this, of course, is prayer.
So, part of my turning point has to do with the fact that I am actually seeing progress—that I am in fact more in tune with God’s presence than I ever have been before. But part of it has to do with the way I define that presence, and that beautiful word “prayer.” Looking back, I’m not sure why I equated praying without ceasing with following clear divine guidance in each and every action I take. It must have had something to do with the book I read about Brother Lawrence and his admirable ability to do so. In the past few days, though, I’ve experienced something that convinces me that, at least for now, this total clarity and unity isn’t necessary in order to be successful in my goal. Three times in the past three days, I experienced coincidences of timing that, for me, confirmed that the actions I was taking were the right and best ones in that moment—even though at the time I didn’t think I was following my intuition in doing them, but just my mind as usual. The details aren’t important; they involve finances and phone calls and finding the right people for the job. But each morning, I had prayed that I would take the right actions that day—and then I just did what seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t stop to pray about it first, even for a second. Of course, if something didn’t feel right, I’d be in tune enough to recognize that and move on to something else. Other than that, though? No clear thought was needed. Following my so-called “intuition” was on autopilot.
People always say (as I myself have said) that you need not—even should not—try to force yourself to maintain your spiritual practices. No good comes from doing anything like this because you “should,” they say, and like I said: I’ve agreed. And yet, at the same time that I knew this to be true, I was forcing myself to do certain things. Not force-forcing them, I would have said—just “setting goals.” See, even though we feel that it’s true that spiritual practices should never be forced but only enjoyed, that concept is essentially difficult for us as humans to truly believe. How can we grow spiritually, we wonder, if we don’t consistently do the things that help us grow? And how do we do these things if we don’t, well, make ourselves do them? After all, life is busy. Other things grab our attention and distract us. Some of those things help us survive, and others are just more fun. In any case, spirituality isn’t always our first priority.
Well, finally, I have an answer to this dilemma—my answer, anyway. I’ve decided that I won’t make myself do anything I don’t truly desire to do, but—and here’s the important part—every day, I will remind myself that those things are freely available. I will remind myself that some days I will pray more and some days I will pray less, but whatever amount I choose that day is enough. It is my hope that after realizing this, the pressure to be perfect will be off, and my spirit will be free to enjoy its communion with God.
So, to return again to the short story of the past month or more: No, I’m not yet successfully praying without ceasing every day—not even close. But I am praying a lot more than I ever used to, and even on my really bad days, I’m doing pretty darn well.
So, much like in my last entry about my friendships, I guess I’m asking the question: Where do I go from here? Despite my very best intentions, at this point I don’t actually anticipate achieving my goal for divine connection in the next four months. I guess I should have the perspective, then, that that’s the fun of this thing: taking one step at a time, then watching to see what happens next. Funny thing, though: for the first time in a long time, maybe even ever, I’m actually pretty happy with where I am on my spiritual path.
I’m doing good. I’m feeling good. I’m feeling God. Most important: I know, finally know, that with every day that passes, I am making progress. One day, I’ll be exactly where I want to be: living in a place of bliss and moment-to-moment unity with God—at least some of the time. Until then, I’m merely aware this is possible.
And that’s actually pretty cool, too.
October 30: I Wonder
Sometimes I wonder if when our language was evolving and people were feeling what I’m feeling now, if one person didn’t just use the word “love” and then attach it primarily to relationships, while another person thought of the word “joy” and, another, peace, and attached those words to different areas of life—or different aspects of the feeling. Who knows?
What brings this question up? you may be wondering. Well, just this: Today, I am in the zone. I’m in the flow. I’m feeling it. (“It” being of course communion with God.)
And it feels good.
It feels like joy. It feels like love. It feels like peace—all at the very same time. Why are these three words so often used together? Because they are the best. They’re the three best—and actually, I think that they’re all the same.
In any case. Today I am in love/joy/peace with the Divine, and it feels good. Last week, however, I was not. And it did not feel good. It felt pretty darn bad, actually, and it even included the end of a friendship.
A short background: Since my last entry in this journal, most of my days have been a little sub-par. Despite a fairly decent effort to maintain the spiritual high that I was on for a while, after some ongoing annoyance with a friend and another disconcerting episode my mood abruptly, then persistently, shifted—and it did not get good again. My depression (what I refer to as my “depression leftovers,” what’s left of my lows that I can’t seem to get rid of completely) was hanging on pretty tight.
So when a good friend—the best friend that I told you about at the beginning of this journal (I think I’ll call her Friend Zero)—came to visit last weekend and I said something that was a little insensitive and then she screamed and drove back home without allowing time to resolve the problem, it shook me up—hard.
This is my only really close friend besides my husband, I thought. What the hell is going to happen to us?
Because this was no ordinary fight. This was a much bigger one than we’ve ever had before—a bigger one, even, than I think I’ve ever had with anyone. Not because of the content of the fight—just because of the reaction.
And it threw me for a friggin’ loop.
First came the defensiveness—all of the arguments in my favor circling endlessly through my mind. Then came the anger, especially after the disproportionately passionate email from her the next day that culminated in a very pointed “fuck you.” You see, people don’t normally say that word to me. So maybe I overreacted, but this single word put me into a tailspin that lasted the rest of the week.
I did have some bright spots. One afternoon, after emailing someone from church (a trained counselor) about the issue, I became inspired to change my outlook on my relationships and to come up with a new affirmation, namely: “My friendship does not come for free. I demand respect.”
Now, in case you hadn’t noticed after reading this far in this journal, so far in my life I haven’t been very picky about friends. At times I guess I have been, but for the most part I’ve been too desperate and lonely to do a great deal of filtering. Now, picking my husband—that was a different matter, and a different story (but I won’t go into all of that here). But here’s the thing you may not fully understand about this situation (as I sure didn’t until now): Not only am I not very picky about who my friends are—I haven’t been very picky about how they’ve treated me, either.
That’s right: Until this happened, I had been doing what I think most people do in unpleasant moments with friends: just being nice and hoping it all works out. And what I realized this week was that this approach just isn’t working for me anymore.
Recently in church we’ve been talking about agreements and commitments. One of the points Friend Eleven (the minister) made was that sometimes, our agreements are most effective when written down. And so, as I remembered this, a lightning bolt: I am going to write out a friendship agreement—one that both parties can freely sign. There’ll be various non-negotiables listed, things that I expect of each and every friendship that I have (whether or not they want to actually sign the paper; this exercise is more for my sake than for theirs, you know).
And the first one on the list will be respect.
I was emotional, of course, when I came up with the idea, and when I told Friend Zero about it on the phone a week or so later.
“Zero,” I said, “This is what I want, but if there’s any part of it that you can’t agree to, don’t do so anyway just to make me feel good.
“This is not just a silly exercise to me; this is serious.”
And she believed me.
That weekend, we met up at my house for the first time since the incident occurred. I showed her the paper, and she decided to neither sign it nor verbally agree to its requirements.
She wanted none of it at all.
Well—not none of it. Points two through five were just fine with her. It was that first point (and the way that I interpreted it to mean “no screaming or cursing”) that she just couldn’t live with.
“I respect you, Katie,” she said. “But I believe I have a right to yell when it’s deserved.”
“I just can’t be yelled at,” I told her. “I don’t yell at people in my life, and people don’t yell at me. It’s just not my style. Maybe someday when my kids are older they’ll yell, but they can go to their rooms or do it somewhere else; I’m not going to take it from them, either.”
I guess this is what they mean by the phrase “feeling empowered.”
Here’s the thing: if the verbal attack of the other day, together with the emails to follow, were an isolated incident, it’d be one thing. However, that is not the case. Each time I plan to see Friend Zero I understand that the chances of her snapping at me at least once are pretty high—and up to this point, I guess I’ve been okay with that.
This is just the way she is, I told myself. It’s her weakness.
And when often it happened as I’d predicted it would, I didn’t argue, and the next day when she apologized I told her it was fine—every single time.
In other words: I accepted it.
And that was a mistake. But when you see someone infrequently, you tend to let certain things slide a little more than you normally would. And clearly, that is what had happened with her.
Here’s how our final conversation ended.
“Well, I guess then we can’t be friends anymore,” I said.
“I guess not,” she replied. “I am really glad we talked about it, though.”
“This makes me sad, Katie,” she added, and once again I agreed.
It was the most self-restrained angry parting I’ve ever had.
That was two days ago, and we haven’t talked or emailed each other since.
Are we really not going to be friends anymore? I wondered.
Here’s the thing, though: In spite of the sadness, in spite of the suckiness, I am feeling at peace. At not just at peace; I am feeling that peace/love/joy thing that I described before.
I know that I did the right thing.
And so, today I am feeling that it’s time. It’s time to do something that I’ve put off for some months: I am going to cross some friends off my list.
Not Friend Zero, of course—she wasn’t on there in the first place, as (ironically) ours was my only friendship that I believed wouldn’t change. The people I’m crossing off the list today are people I’m going to stop pursuing entirely from now on, based partly on the friendship agreement I wrote recently and partly on their lack of receptivity.
Before I do that, though, allow me to reproduce here that agreement, in order to show you what I’m talking about.
On this __ day of ______, ____, we the undersigned agree to the following conditions of friendship:
To treat each other with respect at all times and in all circumstances, including those of hardship or distress;
To not gossip about each other, except in matters of health or safety;
To discuss any hurts, wrongs, misdeeds or misunderstandings that may arise between us with and only with each other;
To apologize when in the wrong; and
To forgive when wronged.
If at any time we do not meet these conditions, we agree that the consequences may include the suspension or termination of our friendship.
Signed in love,
So. How do you like it? Is it complete in your eyes? Maybe it isn’t, but I didn’t write it for completeness, anyway, and I didn’t write it for anyone else. These are my expectations, whether or not they’re anyone else’s—and that is good enough for me.
All right, then. Here are the friends that are left on the list:
Friend Number One (still responsive)
Friend Number Two (unresponsive)
Friend Number Three (unresponsive)
Friend Number Four (still responsive)
Friend Number Five (unresponsive)
Friend Number Six (unresponsive)
Friend Number Seven (unavailable)
Friend Number Eight (uninteresting)
Friend Number Nine (unresponsive)
Friend Number Ten (unresponsive)
Friend Number Eleven
Friend Number Twelve (unavailable)
Friend Number Thirteen
Friend Number Fourteen
Friend Number Fifteen
Friend Number Sixteen (unavailable)
Friend Number Seventeen
Friend Number Eighteen
Friend Number Nineteen
Friend Number Twenty
Friend Number Twenty-One
Friend Number Twenty-Two
Friend Number Twenty-Three
Friend Number Twenty-Four
As you can see, my old Friend Four is still on the list. Though as I told you before I do think there’s an upper limit with her, I enjoy much of the time we spend together—and she is, as the agreement requires, always respectful and mature.
A few others didn’t make the cut. Due to our lack of genuine chemistry—something I realized lately I need to weigh more heavily—Friend Eight is off the list. Ten has (to my surprise, actually) been “too busy” to get together. Twelve moved back to Costa Rica, and Sixteen really is too busy—we’ve tried several times to get together, only to have her cancel last-minute.
We move on …
November 30: That Is Definitely the Goal
Good news today: I have made a discovery. Do you want to know what it is right away? Or do you want me to tell you how I made it, then find out? Hmmm . . . Let’s try the former. My discovery is this: the best way to maintain my state of unceasing prayer—and the oneness-with-God feeling that goes along with it—is the very practice I started this journal with in January: asking for guidance in my actions both large and small.
Nothing—nothing—that I do during my day to increase my spiritual awareness is as effective as this.
Now, I know what I said before—that all of my spiritual practices are actually one thing, different portals that lead me to the very same place. But as you may recall I also said that some may work better than others—though until now, I didn’t actually know which of them was best for me. Now, I do—and that’s a significant improvement indeed.
And so, I have come full circle. Trying new things, making lists to help me remember them all, reading all kinds of books and following their advice. But in the end (if you consider October the end, which I don’t, really—we’ll see what happens after this) . . . In the quasi-end, I see that there’s a reason I felt so inspired to use the divine guidance method as my first and main technique for learning how to pray without ceasing: it just works really well.
What has been going on lately to make me think so? Well, simply that I’m doing it. I’m asking for guidance in my actions ten or more times each day—and I then I’m actually getting it.
Here are the times when I find asking for guidance most useful:
When deciding on my plans for the day—when and where to go. I often get an answer to this kind of prayer and when I follow it I’m always glad that I did.
While having a serious conversation, or having a regular conversation with someone I don’t know very well.
When making a big decision, of course; and
And so, due to this wonderful success, today I’m going to do something I’ve hesitated to do thus far: I’m going to give you an example of how I perform this (admittedly odd) spiritual practice. Until this time, my self-consciousness about the unusual nature of this experiment has prevented me from doing so but today I say self-consciousness and embarrassment, be damned.
I am going to be foolish for God.
And so, here it is: a description of my morning—a typical praying-without-ceasing experience.
I wake up to the sounds of the baby. After a few minutes of letting him play in the near pitch-black darkness of our heavily shaded room, I remember to commune with the Divine. I feel my hands, my feet, my arms, my legs, and the energy that is inside them. A feeling of peace begins to emanate from my body.
It is working.
As I lie there, I let myself wonder in a prayerful way what I should do next.
Not surprisingly, the first thing I hear to do is to turn on the light.
I do so. Then I consider whether to first brush my teeth or go to the kitchen to make coffee. The answer comes: let the baby play in the bedroom while I brush my teeth. After a while Jack comes in and plays with the baby (he had been in the office) and I’m able to gratefully finish getting ready alone—and brew my coffee as well.
It is already a good day.
By the time Jack decides to hit the shower, I’m ready for some playtime myself, which, with the help of the crib, I manage to pull off while folding the rest of the laundry from the day before. There is a play date scheduled for the morning and I check in with my spirit again to see whether or not this is the best plan for the day. While there’s no absolute “yes” in my mind on this one, my desire to get out of the house combines with a lack of “no” response (sometimes the “no” feels sort of like a grey cloud hanging over the place I’m imagining) to come up with my decision.
I take the baby and go.
On the way to the play date host’s house, I decide on the route that feels right even though it follows the street with the most stoplights. As I drive I’m surprised to sail through all of the lights except one, at which I’m stopped just long enough to text the host that I’m on my way. At one point I consider changing lanes, get a “no” response, then look over my shoulder to see a car in my blind spot. I stay in the same lane until my turn comes closer, then change lanes (even though there was no particular guidance to do so).
I enjoy the drive. My mind is not racing to figure out the quickest route, or to plan the rest of my day, or even to ruminate on that argument with Zero last week. When it tries the latter, I stop and shift my attention back to my feelings both physical and spiritual. Then, when there is any little decision to be made (should I pass this car up ahead?) I consult my spirit for the answer.
In other words: My mind is occupied, but not busy.
The best part of my conversation with the Divine today happens when I arrive at the host’s house. As the women chat and watch the children play, I wait for some guidance about what to contribute—and, very often, I get it. In this way I am able to keep a close connection with my spirit while also increasing my chances that my comments will be well received.
By the way, just in case you’re wondering—getting this so-called inspiration to speak is much easier than you might think. After a thought comes I just stop and consider it for a few seconds. Sometimes the duds are obvious—they are preachy, self-serving, irrelevant or just plain clunky, and anyone trying to improve their interpersonal skills would know to avoid them, with or without divine guidance. Other ill-timed comments, however, leap to mind several times only to be shot down by the Spirit each time. You really want to say them and you have no idea why they’re inappropriate until you (inevitably) find out the reason later on. Other times you find yourself being led to say something you’d rather not say right then, and you’re a little surprised when the response is so good. These last two circumstances are where the real magic of this technique comes in, and I love it when either occurs.
It didn’t happen often today. But I did show maturity, I think, in the way I conversed. Maybe even love. And heck—at no point over the course of the morning did I embarrass myself.
So these are all good things.
Here’s a sample of our play date conversation as I recall it:
Me (changing the subject): “So, people tell me it actually gets harder after they learn how to walk. Why do you think this is?”
Mom Number One: “Well, for me, it’s not so much that she walks now as it is that she is getting into everything in the cabinets.” (She explains a bit.)
Mom Number Two: “You know, those cabinet latches work really, really well.”
This line of talk continues, and by the end of the morning Mom Number One is planning to baby proof her cabinets later that same day. A miraculous intervention? Maybe not. But she does have two young children at home; it could feel like a miracle to her.
In any case, back to my morning.
At one point, I get the feeling that it’s time to leave. I don’t want to go, but I look at my clock and it’s the baby’s naptime, so I do. The baby falls asleep during the ten-minute car ride home, and when I get to the driveway I feel an (unasked-for) urge to back the car into the driveway rather than pull in forward in my usual way. Since the baby is sleeping and therefore sensitive to noise, I turn off the engine, pull the hand break and take out my keys in a deliberate, waiting-for-guidance kind of way. The baby does not wake up. I then decide to go inside for a while before coming back out to the car to do some writing while waiting for the baby to wake up (a little tradition of mine that’s perfectly safe in our mild climate, in case you were wondering). However, I get a clear sense that I should stay in the car and start writing now, instead. I fight this idea for a moment, then give in. Later I’m glad I did; the baby’s nap was much shorter than usual and I still got quite a bit done.
Half an hour into his nap the baby wakes up and I realize I have to get the car in motion again right away so he’ll fall back asleep. At this point I’m glad that the car is turned the right way so I can pull out of the driveway quickly. After he’s asleep I park the car again and resume my writing.
And now here I sit, and this has thus far been my day.
Often, the difference that my prayers make is a bit more significant, but rarely is it life-altering. On Sunday I felt not to suggest my preferred driving route to a friend who was already late to a meeting we were both attending, and she made it there well ahead of me. Other times the guidance helps me know when to bring up a sensitive subject with my husband (and when not to). It helps me plan my day (I’m glad I waited to buy groceries a few days back until I had the car, not the stroller; I wouldn’t’ve been able to carry a quarter of what I wanted to buy otherwise). And the somewhat trivial nature of these prayers is the reason I’ve been too embarrassed to tell you about them until now.
“You wait for God to tell you when to do the dishes, the laundry, take out the trash?” I imagine you asking after reading this. And my answer is: not always—not by a long shot yet.
But that is definitely the goal.
Yesterday I planned to watch a movie during the baby’s afternoon nap. I wasn’t feeling all that well, and I thought it would be nice. However, when I got a clear “no” and sat down at the computer instead, I was glad to have changed my mind. I got a few things done, reversing my malaise of the morning. Before bed the baby and I got to watch our movie together with minimal complaints on his part—something that rarely happens (both the movie and the minimal complaints).
It worked out really well.
Earlier this year I told you about the guidance that ultimately led to a life-changing discovery (that of my new church). That was a wonderful thing indeed, but this little daily stuff is—yes, I’m going to say it—this little daily stuff is even better. I no longer worry so much about my schedule—things just seem to work out. I don’t worry so much in general, actually, as my mind is occupied with the present moment instead.
I am being constantly reminded of the existence of my spirit, and that is a beautiful thing.
I told you before the reason it took me so long to actually do the thing I meant to start doing in January, but just in case you forgot, I’ll say it again now: I didn’t want to give up control. And sometimes, I still don’t; I think I can figure out things better by myself.
Here’s the thing, though: this is myself that’s leading me in this way. According to my belief system, I am part and parcel of God; I am the one Spirit that I’m consulting. I’m not inconveniencing some other busy being—I’m basically just talking to the larger, more complete version of myself.
And after all: that’s what she’s there for, right?
I think so. And I think she likes not being ignored so much anymore. I think she likes being consulted, even about the smallest of decisions. After all, one of the parts of me—my spirit or my mind—has to make my decisions; it might as well be the smarter of the two.
And so. The above is a little sample of what it’s been like in my head for the past few days, and on occasion before that.
Crazy, isn’t it? And yet, if this is a form of schizophrenia as some people may believe, all I can say is: I hope it gets much worse.
As for my friends goal? Well, we are trucking along. The other week, at one of the meditation groups I go to, I met and had a long conversation with Friend Twenty-Two. She leads one of the weekly sessions and I am hoping to get to know her better (though I’m not getting a distinct read on whether or not the feeling is mutual). Friend Twenty-Three is also a possibility. We met at the writing moms’ group and though she’s not my usual type of friend—way too cool, I think—she actually texted me to hang out last weekend, then came to my church (in response to my invite) on Sunday.
Friend Twenty-Four is interesting. She is a member of a recovery group I occasionally attend for chronic problem eaters. We’ve met up twice already and I love our in-depth chats about all things food and eating (yes, you can actually talk deeply about food). We seem to have a lot in common and it helps that she lives nearby.
And so, that’s three more for the list, folks. Like I said: progress is being made.
November 12: The Verdict Is In
Well, the verdict is in: I am a work in progress. For the past week or so, I have not been praying without ceasing. Still, I’ve been feeling really, really good—and really spiritually-minded, too. Importantly, I still have one of my keys to happiness working for me, namely gratitude. Yesterday at church the minister was speaking on this subject and she said that the kind of gratitude that is causative—that has the ability to change our circumstances for the better—is the kind that you carry with you throughout your days. It’s the kind that doesn’t go away when so-called “bad” stuff happens or that comes back when “good” stuff happens.
It’s the kind that is always just sort of there.
Well, for the past week or so, and longer too I guess, this has been my experience. All day long I look for—and find—a hundred or so things to be grateful for, and I speak about my gratitude out loud, telling whoever will listen—my husband, my baby, or even just (just!) God, while on a walk. If I’m not in a good mood when I start after a while it feels like all the bad stuff has been cleared out of the corners of my mind. I am clean. I am refreshed.
I am walking in joy.
Of course, it isn’t always an easy process; most days, some negativity still manages to find its way in. But here’s the funny thing: I’ve gotten so good at counteracting these thoughts based solely on their own merits (or lack thereof) that for the past several days one of the only ones that finds its way to the conscious level on these (literally and figuratively) cool, foggy mornings is this: “I have just had three (two, five, whatever) really amazingly good days in a row. I am due for a less-than-great one.
“Maybe this will be it.”
And then my mind starts in on some guesses as to what the problem to come is likely to be.
Wow, right? Does this blow your mind as much as it does mine? I actually have an unconscious belief—and a deeply held one—that there is a limit as to how many good days I can have in a row.
Here’s the point I’m trying to make, though: There are, I now believe, two different portals to the Source that work equally well for me. One of them is, as I’ve said before, asking for divine guidance throughout my day.
The other is just continuous gratitude.
So have I been praying without ceasing these past few weeks? No. But—dare I say it?—I sort of have been, too. Now, don’t get me wrong: I want to get back to doing what I was doing before, for all of the reasons I told you before. But gratitude, man. It really is my current secret to happiness, especially when asking for guidance just seems way too hard.
That, and a whole lot of sleep.
Anyway, because of this recent change, I realized today that I want to reinstitute The List. Not the friends list—that one’s never been in danger. I mean the list of spiritual practices that I made a few months back. See, a lot of the time, when I’m not in the place of joy and communication and prayer that I’d like to be, I don’t really know how to get back. I try whatever comes to mind, but it’s not always effective. What I need is a more systematic approach with specific ideas that can help. Besides, I always seem to be learning new tips—and now that I’m going to church regularly, that is especially true. Listing them means that I won’t forget what I’ve already learned (assuming I occasionally read over the list, of course),
Okay, then. Here are the spiritual practices I wrote before, with my recent additions:
Meditating by feeling my inner body;
Meditating by repeating a mantra;
Asking my spirit for guidance in my actions both small and large;
Saying prayers of thanks repeatedly;
Keeping a journal of answered prayers;
Listening to spiritual music;
Singing spiritual and uplifting music;
Reading spiritual books;
Smiling, even when I don’t feel like it;
Doing good deeds for others; and
Reaching out to friends.
I suppose this will do for now.
November 24: There’s a Party in My Head
Okay. I am not proud of this, but here it is: I have backslidden. One day just recently it hit me that for some reason, I wasn’t doing it anymore—even though “it” had previously been making me so happy. I went from doing “it” and being happy to just being grateful all the time but still being happy to what has been happening the past two weeks, which is not doing “it” and not being as happy as I’d like to be, either.
The question I ask myself about this turn of events is, of course, why. Why do I stop doing something that is in every way, for all of the reasons I mentioned before, so cool?
Well, here’s one answer: it’s just hard.
So many mornings I tell myself that this is the day that I will start up again, and every time (until today, which I’ll tell you about in a minute), I just don’t get an immediate answer to my prayer for guidance.
I don’t know what to do next.
I might try to be super self-aware and discover what it is, exactly, that’s keeping me from getting the information that I want. Do I have enough faith? I’ve wondered. Am I giving the Universe enough time to respond?
Am I doing it right?
Self-analysis can be such a tricky thing, can’t it? Sometimes you think you need it when really what you need is to just shut up all of the voices in your head and all of the conflicting advice they’re giving you and to just do whatever you feel you need to do. And if whatever that is fails, you don’t give up; you either try something different, or you just try the same thing again later.
In this case, I went with the latter route; this morning I just started fresh and tried again.
And guess what? It worked. Right now as I write this I’m not as sensitive to that guiding voice as I’d like to be, but for several hours this morning, I was—and it made a difference.
Like I said before, though, it wasn’t easy. I got kicked out of the “flow” (so to speak) when I was asked to do something that I wasn’t sure was a good idea which, come to think of it, was a really bad reason to stop listening for guidance. Anyway, ever since then I’ve been pretty off and on with knowing where best to go and what best to do. I wonder if taking some quiet time for meditation in the mornings (yes, that’s been pretty lacking lately, too) would help.
So, that’s my plan. Add in a little meditation, keep plugging away. And remember that whatever the reasons are for my many failures in this area, they will be resolved in time—as long as I just keep the vision, stay on the path. After all, I’ve already come a pretty long way, haven’t I? Perfection is not an overnight thing—and neither is spiritual connection. I mean, it can be.
But I’m not gonna be waiting around counting on it.
Okay, then. That’s the spirituality news. In friends news: I met someone awesome—I mean really awesome. (Yay! Party in my head!)
It happened after one of my (relatively) few moments of clarity last week when I asked God to show me which way to go on my walk. I wanted to do my usual circle but felt to go the other way instead. Not long after that I came across a woman who lives in my neighborhood. She struck up a conversation with me and we started walking together. At one point I said, “Which way do you need to go?”
“I was heading home, that way,” she said, indicating her street. “But I don’t mind just continuing on with you; I’m really enjoying our conversation.”
And that, I feel confident, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
We walked and talked for an hour more, and like I said, I have a lot of hope for this one. Friend Twenty-Five is genuine, spiritually minded, artsy, mature and—most notably—happy and positive in the extreme. After talking to her I remembered what it was like to really hit it off with someone in a way that is easy, unforced. We talked about all kinds of personal things—husbands and parenting, to name two. At one point we actually found ourselves celebrating our newfound friendship, mentioning how truly happy we were to meet. It was such a nice talk that it makes me wonder if I’ve been expecting too little of my friends not only in how they treat me, but in how much I actually enjoy them as well.
Not to mention in how much they’re responding to my overtures. Whereas Twenty-Five has already called me and we already have another walk planned, I seem to be getting nowhere with almost everyone else on my list.
I’ll review again soon, but suffice it to say for now: today was a very good day.
And that wasn’t all that happened. Inspired by my good luck with Twenty-Five, on Halloween night while everyone was trick-or-treating Jack and I dressed up the baby and knocked on a few of our neighbors’ doors to introduce ourselves. In this way I made three new friends: Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven and Twenty-Eight. Because of this sudden influx, I’ve decided to plan a party for the neighbors. Oh, and lest I forget—I met two more possibilities, Numbers Twenty-Nine and Thirty, at church this month, and have coffee dates tentatively planned with both.
Things are moving along …
November 30: I’m a Mess
I cried last night. And the night before, and the day before that, and last Saturday in a parking lot, too. The tears were mostly unexpected but they all happened for the same reason, namely: I am lonely. I am lonely, and I am realizing it more and more.
One of the main reasons: my lack of success with the people at church. My hopes for them were so high, but lately, it’s all come to nothing. Well—not nothing, exactly; I still see them every Sunday. We laugh and we talk and we set up chairs. But my calls, texts and emails have often gone unanswered and I haven’t spent time with anyone outside of the services yet. It’s kind of like the problem with the moms’ group I’m in: it’s not that we don’t like each other, because we do.
It’s just that we aren’t all that close.
And that’s not all the bad friends news I have for you today. Last night I hosted a party at my home for my new neighborhood acquaintances that I told you about. My hopes for the gathering were high, just as they usually are in this situation.
It will be so much fun, I think as I plan the food, buy the flowers. We will all laugh and talk and bond, and maybe by the time we’re done we will have formed a group.
Inevitably, though, when the day of the party comes, my feelings about the situation are very different: I just want to bail.
Yesterday was one of those days, and, possibly not coincidentally, it was also one of Those Days. The kind you wish you could just erase from your mind by shaking an Etch-A-Sketch.
Why was it so hard? Well that’s the thing: It wasn’t. It was just a day. I just woke up with the baby (after not quite enough sleep, I admit), drank coffee and played and hung out, all as usual. We had a nice time seeing a friend from church, taking a walk together. But as the afternoon wore on, I became more and more easily annoyed and by the time the party began, I was on the verge of tears.
So, I gave the baby to Jack for a while and went to the grocery store for some alone time. Before I went in I sat in the car for a while, thinking and praying, trying to figure out what had gone wrong.
A couple of possibilities came to mind. Baby overload? Stomach bloating, feeling fat? But nothing I came up with really seemed to explain the emotions. Then, another thought: Would I be feeling this bad, I wondered, if I didn’t have this party to host tonight?
And the answer, I decided, was no. Now, it probably wouldn’t’ve been a five-star day; it just wasn’t in the cards. But would I be feeling this sense of despair? I doubted it.
I just really didn’t want to have the party.
And so, I did what I usually do under these circumstances: I prayed. In this case, I prayed that all of the guests would call to tell me they weren’t coming, and that Jack and I could celebrate by putting our pajamas on and watching TV.
However, that is not what happened. What happened was that we had the party and it was fine . . . but I had the distinct impression that everyone there felt exactly the same way I did.
I was sure they would’ve rather been at home.
The party was scheduled for four o’clock to seven o’clock and everyone came around four forty-five and left around six thirty. It was the shortest dinner I’ve ever eaten with eight adults and five children.
So there was that to be grateful for, at least.
Anyway, after it was over I was in a worse mood than ever—and I had no idea what to do about it. I tried to take a walk, but it was too cold. I tried to talk to my husband, but I just ended up yelling at him. I tried eating, but that just made me feel worse. Finally, I said, “Screw it. This day isn’t going to get better; it just needs to get done.” Then I went to bed.
While there, I had a realization. I realized that there was something I could learn from that day—something very important. What I learned was this: I’m a mess.
See, normally I think pretty highly of myself—much too highly, maybe. I mean, it’s good to like yourself and all, but when in your heart you think you’re better than other people, that’s when I think you’ve crossed the line.
And that is what I have done; I have crossed that line too many times to count.
And so last night, when it hit me that I’m a mess, just like those other people to whom I compare myself so favorably and so often, it was a realization to be thankful for. Because it’s true—I really was a mess.
I was cranky, and moody. I was unforgiving and angry. I was impatient and self-centered and negative and depressed—and for no good reason at all.
And, truth be told, I still am. Right now, as I sit here, I am on the verge of tears. My heart is sad and lonely and I am trying to think of a way to feel better but I can’t. Earlier today my cell phone rang and my first thought was, I hope that’s a friend. And just a minute ago as I sat here in the car with the baby napping in the backseat, a van I didn’t recognize pulled partly up our driveway and again I found myself hoping that it was someone stopping by for a visit. As they backed up and turned around, all I could think was, I am tired of being alone.
Like I said: I’m a mess.
I am lonely. I am flawed. I depend too much on things and people for my happiness.
I am vulnerable.
And if I were a more spiritual person, this would not be the case. I’d be strong all the time. I’d be able to face much bigger problems than I have with barely a blink of the eye.
I would be at least a little invincible.
Someday, after this life is over, I will be invincible. But that is not me now—not really, not at my deepest core. I am weak, just like everybody else. And now, I know it.
And that, at least, is a gift.
Thank you, God, for that gift. Now, then: How to get back to feeling good?
Right now, I am sitting in a Starbuck’s, trying to hear God. It is not going well. Today is Sunday, and for the past week, I have decided every morning to follow my spirit’s guidance, and every morning—and all day after that—I have failed.
Here are my excuses:
I was sick. I’m feeling better now, but it did take a while to get over.
I was tired. Two nights ago I finally figured out a sleeping schedule that works for my baby and I, but until that time it was a pretty difficult, moody week.
I was just … depressed. I know, I know; I hate that word, too. And I don’t want to write about it much for fear of making it more real, but the fact remains: I was pretty far down in the dumps this week, and actually, I’m still there.
Today, admittedly, I am feeling better than before. I’ve slept very well two nights in a row for the first time in months. I’m almost over my cold. Today I have all the time I need to write, and walk, and take a bath—all of which I plan to do with great relish.
Question, I guess, is this: then what? After I’ve written, and slept, and bathed, and exercised, and played with the baby … what else is there to do? What is there to look forward to—just more of the same every day for the rest of my life?
Silly, I know, but that’s what it sounds like inside my head today. Life just doesn’t sound like much fun.
And then there’s the continuing problem of my mind clutter.
Last week, I made a silly comment (yup, another one of those). This time it wasn’t to Friend Number One—it was to her husband. (The way things are going with this gal, I’d be surprised if she didn’t cross me off her list before I cross her off mine—and she doesn’t even have a list.)
Anyway. I was at Number One’s house with Jay (that’s her husband), picking up their daughter to babysit for the afternoon. It was the first time they’ve asked me to take her, and I was hopeful this was the start of a closer relationship with them both. We chatted pleasantly for a while as he got the baby ready and before I left he thanked me again for the favor.
“Oh, no problem,” I said. “My au pair will help, too. I don’t know how she does it, though. Playing with a baby all day? Shoot me.”
Jay’s reaction was predictable: a little concern, a little surprise, and a generous layer of false good humor. We said goodbye and I left, his dear precious baby in my arms.
I guess it’s pretty understandable that the whole ride home, I was kicking myself for the ill-timed joke. But what’s bad is that today, an entire week later, I still can’t seem to let it go. When I saw Jay again yesterday, I thought I sensed a little awkwardness between us and all I could think about was that he probably told his wife about the incident and it had been “discussed.” Will I ever babysit for them again? I wondered.
Then, today came. Today was a rare, beautiful spring day with no rain, so I decided to paint the wooden swing set in our backyard—and worry some more about what I’d said. Fortunately, after a while of this I realized what I was doing and changed the thoughts in my head. I thought about how if the subject ever came up between us, I’d mention politely to my friend how I was sorry about the bad timing of the comment, and I hope he didn’t worry. And as I said it, I would smile.
The situation thus reframed in my mind, I was finally able to let it go.
What did I learn from this experience? For one thing, I learned that worry is complicated. Anything that doesn’t resolve itself or get resolved can become a source of worry, and getting rid of it isn’t a simple matter. No matter how often I pray or try to listen to my spirit during the day, worry can still sneak in—even take over.
The second thing this experience taught me was how much I need this experiment to work.
But there’s something else I learned, too, and it is this: I need to choose my words more carefully. This whole thing could’ve been avoided if I had been listening to my inner voice during my conversation with Jay to begin with, but instead, I’d been busy and distracted. Even as I said it I knew it didn’t sound right, but I didn’t stop myself in time to keep it in.
I simply didn’t take my time.
So. What to do now? I know the answer to that: pray. Pray, and receive guidance, and just refuse—to be depressed anymore.
And now seems like a good time to start that plan.
God, I know you are here. I know you are with me, and I know you want to help. So please, please—no, not please—thank you, thank you. Thank you, God, that you have already given me everything I need, and everything I want, and that now all that is needed is for me to reach out and take it.
Now—what shall I do today?
Nothing. No answer.
This is hard.
March 18: It Felt Like the Very First Time
Happy to report that in spite of my negativity yesterday I eventually managed to turn things around. The solution I found came in the form of a book. The book was The Power of Now, and even though I’ve read it before (twice, actually), last night after opening it up it felt exactly as if I never had.
It felt like the very first time.
Admittedly, the real first time I read it, I barely did. I was somewhere in South America on a backpacking trip and I got it off a hostel bookshelf for free. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and yet, since at the time I was not in a very spiritual frame of mind I did not care to practice its suggestions. They felt too radical to me, who was then as now, in love with my “compulsive thinking” and “incessant mental noise.”
The second time I read it, I was more open to its ideas, but still not ready to jump in, feeling its advice would be much too difficult to follow.
Yesterday, though, something was different. The reason? Simply this: a feeling it was perfect for me. I can’t quite explain it, but somehow I knew that every word in those pages was true—and that they were exactly what I needed to hear.
Here are some of the points I found particularly applicable to my experiment and to my life.
My mind is not really me. I am not the sum total of my past and my thoughts and my genetics, as I’ve been taught to believe; instead, I am my spirit, and my spirit is always in touch with the Divine.
Thinking is an addiction—and one that is very hard for myself and many others to give up even temporarily (as during meditation). That’s because our minds—our incessant thinking and planning—provide us with a false sense of self and of purpose. My favorite quote of book so far: “What characterizes an addiction? Quite simply this: you no longer feel that you have a choice to stop. It seems stronger than you. It also gives you a false sense of pleasure, pleasure that invariably turns to pain.” My thoughts have given me “pleasure that invariably leads to pain” for a long time now. Though I am still proud of the way I’ve used my mind to accomplish important things, I now see that its helpfulness is greatly overrated. I want the ability to use my mind when needed—but I don’t want my mind to be ultimately in control and using me.
The first step toward enlightenment is to observe the thinker. “The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought . . . You also realize that all the things that truly matter . . . arise from beyond thought. You begin to truly awaken.” You do this in two ways, says Tolle: directing attention to the “now” and creating a “gap in the mind stream,” even if this gap is very brief at first. Said another way: When your mind is chattering away, you take a step back and remember that all those harried thoughts are not really you. After this happens there is a moment—very fleeting—when there is no thought. The goal is to increase the number and length of those moments—those gaps in your so-called “time.”
It was that last point that really got me. At first when I read it I thought, That would never work for me—and indeed when I first tried it, it didn’t. However, I did not give up—I tried it again, then again, then again. Over the course of the evening I tried it maybe a hundred times, and each time I was a bit more successful. Stop, I began telling myself whenever I noticed the negativity had returned. This chatter is not you.
It was an effective affirmation.
Did this change utterly revolutionize my mindset? Well, not quite. I was still a little bored yesterday and a little unmotivated—it was just one of those days. But by the time I went to bed, I was feeling noticeably better. Partly this was due to the greatly lessened mental clutter, and partly it was just this: I had hope.
As I told you before, for a few months now I’ve been wondering when I’d finally get my enlightenment “mojo” back. When will I start waking up in the morning happy and inspired again? I’ve wondered. When will I return to that place where I have more to give than I have people to give it to?
And lately, this state of inspiration feels like more than a desire—it feels like a need. Now that I’m not obsessing about my body so much anymore, or about money or my job, I don’t have any one particular subject upon which to focus my mind when nothing else that’s particularly interesting is going on.
And so, that is where I find myself today: a little bored, a little depressed, and a lot plagued by my negative thoughts. Which is why I say that right now, I don’t merely want to quiet my mind; I need to do so. I have everything I want, and I am still unhappy. And no matter how much sleep I get, or how well I feel physically, as long as I’m addicted to thinking, this problem will remain—and unlike other problems, which may be temporary, solvable, and specific, this one encompasses everything, and even nullifies all the progress I make on other fronts.
And so, my resolution for today is this: finally, I will learn to meditate.
And yes, this is going to be as hard for me as it sounds. Here’s the thing: ever since renewing my commitment to spiritual awareness a few years back, I’ve tried and failed to learn to meditate. The problem? I just don’t enjoy it—and forcing myself to do it anyway doesn’t ever seem to end well.
After reading these pages in The Power of Now, though, I feel differently. Yesterday, I didn’t sit down, close my eyes and meditate in the traditional sense of the word, but by clearing my mind repeatedly as I described, I did, actually, do so—and successfully. Today, it is my goal to continue doing more of the same, and see what happens. Maybe this practice will be the key to the change I’ve been looking for.
God, I hope so. I hope, I hope, I hope.
So. Been at this mind gap thing for a full twenty-four hours now and even though it’s still very early on in the process, I just have to say: this is incredible.
Finally, finally, finally: I am feeling good.
All day, I’ve been repeating the “stop” sentence in my mind. Sometimes, the result is immediate—I’m able to let go of whatever is bothering me without delay. More often, though, the chattering starts up again after an insignificant lapse of time. And yet—taken together, these briefest of pauses aren’t actually insignificant—not at all. They help me remember that even though I’m not thinking right, these thoughts are not really me. They help me increase the number of moments during my day in which I feel at peace, and even though each of them is small, over the course of the day they add up to something pretty darn big.
Today, I felt a sense of calm that I haven’t felt in a while. And so I repeat my previous thought: I hope this is just the beginning.
March 30: The Classic Party Snub
Had our party last night. Don’t really want to talk about it, but I suppose you deserve to know: it was horrible.
Well, okay, I suppose “horrible” is a bit of an exaggeration. It wasn’t horror-movie horrible. It was just a little … lacking. The problem: hardly anyone actually showed up. That’s right: I experienced, on my first attempt out of the gate, the classic party snub.
Here is what happened. The party was a “meet-the-baby” party, so themed because most of the people I know haven’t actually met my little guy yet. Before the official start time, one couple stopped by for a few minutes to drop off a gift (an entry barrier I had not counted on). Since it was somebody I didn’t know well, and they were on their way to another event, it was an awkward chat, one of those “Yeah, I guess everybody’s just late” conversations.
Half an hour later, while my husband Jack was playing a video game and I was optimistically slicing apples, another couple dropped in, also bringing a present for the baby. They chatted a little while, but left before the next person showed up. The next person was really sweet and stayed for a long time, and it was he that made the evening worth it. Later, an older friend of mine (older as in, a long-time friend, not an elderly friend) came with her partner, but as she’s not particularly outgoing, again, the visit was short-lived.
So, granted, a few people did show up—seven, to be exact. But I emailed, like, thirty people altogether.
Doesn’t anyone like meeting babies?
In any case. Since most of the people who came were male and while I do love them I don’t plan to have a lot of one-on-one friendship-building time with other men anytime soon, I’m going to leave them off my list. The female halves of the two couples I don’t know well I’ll also leave off until and unless they contact me first (I’ve already reached out to them several times previously). My old friend, though, I will now officially dub Number Four, and describe a little further for you here.
Friend Number Four is one of my oldest friends—someone I’ve known since high school. What’s important to know about her? Well, she’s spiritual, though her brand of spirituality is different from mine. She’s gorgeous: tall and blond with wide hips. She’s also a little … well, messed up. Highly analytical—too smart for her own good, really—she is a pessimist to the core, and most of our conversations center around her problems.
And yet—I like her. Just the way she is. She cares deeply. She feels deeply. And she thinks deeply, too. Our conversations are more intimate than those I have with pretty much anyone else—anyone but my best friend, the one I mentioned before who doesn’t live here.
And for these reasons, in this horse race for friendship, Friend Four has a pretty major head start. I will not try to change her, though, now or ever, and for that reason she’s also the biggest wild card, too.
Okay, then. Time to put this slightly embarrassing evening behind me and move on.
I am going to bed.
March 31: My Head Began to Clear
Well, I didn’t put it behind me—the embarrassing party, that is. All yesterday I obsessed over the failure, wondering if it was me or something I did or if it was just them—or just something society did to us all.
Why, oh why, I asked myself all day, Why doesn’t anyone want friends?
From there, the negative thinking expanded to include other depressing subjects, and by the evening I was feeling pretty bad indeed. That was when, having grown tired of myself, I decided to take action. Here is what I did: I took a walk.
This mitigation tactic did not work right away; at the start of the walk, I felt just as bad as I had before. The main thought that was running through my mind was an exceptionally bad one. It’s the one that always comes when I feel like I was feeling, and it was this: I am always going to be depressed. Any relief will only be temporary. I am a depressed person; that is just who I am.
The other thought that supported this one was also pretty formidable. It was: This new mantra isn’t working anymore. I will never learn to meditate.
And it was true; today, my “stop” mantra just wasn’t effective anymore. After just one full day of repeating it often, it had lost its power. In an attempt to counteract this problem, I experimented with other sentences, other images, but I must have been trying too hard, and been too far down in the dumps already.
But then, something did. While passing a park with a beautiful green lawn and a swing set, I thought, Maybe I should do something different today—something to get me out of my rut. So I stopped my walk, got the baby out of the stroller and, with him in my arms, sat in a swing. The sun was just setting and the air was fresh and as I held the baby I pumped my legs and felt just a tiny bit of what I used to feel when swinging as a child.
My head began to clear.
After a while I decided to lie on the grass with the baby, so I walked him to the edge of it and put my hand down to see if it was wet. It was, so I sat on the wood trim and just stretched my legs over the grass with him in my lap where he could reach down to touch it. As I stared at the top of his perfect little head I tried to say my usual prayer, the one I always pray on my walks.
“Thank you, God,” I said. “Thank you for—”
And that was as far as I got. Then I changed my mind.
“God,” I said, “I can’t say thank you right now. I just don’t have the strength. All I can say right now is this: Help. Help me, God. Help me get rid of my depression. Help me know exactly how to hear your voice and follow your lead. I do not want to live my whole life feeling the way I feel now. I need my life to be about more than struggle. I need it to be about overcoming my struggle. And I know that if other people can do it, so can I.”
After this prayer, I felt better. And today is the next day and I still feel better.
Mantras, it seems, won’t alone get me where I need to go. I need to pray however I feel led to pray, in the way that feels best in that moment.
That’s right: Even my prayers need to be inspired.
This spirituality thing is seriously hard work.
Another bit of news for you along similar lines: In order to further counteract the despondency I’ve been feeling, I’ve decided to start going to church—and not just one church, but two. I’m planning to try out the church the woman I met at the library recommended last week, and another somewhat similar one that I’ve attended in the past as well. This means that currently I have (count ‘em) four possible church services and church-related activities to choose from each week—and it’s my intention to actually go to at least three. I need to get out of my emotional rut, and I’m thinking being with like-minded people will help. Besides, I am trying to make friends this year. Going to church seems like the perfect place for that.
Why didn’t I think of this before?
The first service is in a few days. I will let you know how it goes.
April 4: I Simply Observed
Went to my first church service at one of my new churches last night. I took the baby, and we sat in the back and mostly just observed. As in my Evangelical Christian days, there was lots of music and, surprisingly, even a little dancing. There was also time for meditation. The theme of the night was joy.
I think this is the right place for me.
Not only that: I think even going to one service actually did me some good. After I got home last night, I decided seemingly out of nowhere that I just wasn’t happy anymore with the slow spiritual progress I’ve been making. I realized I want to change more, and I want to change faster.
I’m ready for the next big thing.
And so, after nearly a month of not reading any spiritual books, last night before going to sleep I picked up The Power of Now (my new bible, if I dare say so) again—and again, it changed my life.
Here’s what I read this time that hit me hardest: In order to be successfully “in the Now” (in a state of meditation and peace), it’s not necessary for my mind to be completely blank. As long as I observe my thoughts, catching them when they come and reminding myself they’re not really me, I am in some sense meditating.
After I read that, I recognized the reason this practice has been so difficult for me, namely: I’ve been trying too hard. I haven’t been allowing myself to just sort of relax into awareness; I’ve been worrying about worrying way too much.
And so, today I did something different: I simply observed my mind clutter and then let it go at that.
I didn’t even try to meditate.
The results? Well, they were great. After all of the ups and downs I’ve gone through lately, today I feel like I finally broke completely through my rut. All day, I was smiling. All day, I was bringing myself back to the present moment. I went to my second coffee shop gathering of the writers’ group today, and this time, everything was different.
It was a really good time.
The coffee was good. The conversation was good. And of course, I made a few new friends.
Their names: Friend Number Five, Friend Number Six and Friends Number Seven.
Friend Number Five is the one who smiled at me the last time I went to this event. With her, a romance novelist, I talked about plot structure and the like. It’s been a while since I’ve had a better writing-related conversation—especially one in which I got some good advice.
Friend Six is a new addition to the group, like me. We talked for just a few minutes about our current projects and the major delays brought on by parenting.
Lastly, there was Friend Seven. Because Friend Seven seems a bit high-strung (she talked about her emotional life in great and personal detail with near-strangers), I don’t have high hopes for a close relationship. Still, she’s very active in the group and refreshingly honest, so I’m adding her to the list as well.
You just never know what will happen.
On a related note: saw Friend Three today. Emailed her last week and yesterday we went out for coffee. Afterwards I came home and jokingly told Jack that I have a new best friend.
“We have so much in common,” I said. “We both grew up in religious homes but are now just spiritual. She reads Hemingway and some of my other favorite authors. Our conversation was easy and comfortable. I’m hopeful.”
I will email her soon and let you know how it all works out, but for now suffice it to say: I’m feeling good about my spiritual goals, I’m feeling good about my friendship goals … and I’m feeling good about pretty much everything else right now, too.
May 11: I Want to Have Friends I Like
It’s been more than a month since I wrote last, and unfortunately it hasn’t been a perfect one. I’ve been worrying about my friends situation a lot, even though I know it isn’t helpful to do so. I’ve had some good moments—a successful coffee date with Number Four, a nice walk with Number One—but they weren’t all that way for sure.
Yesterday’s moments definitely weren’t—not at first, anyway. I didn’t have much to do, and boredom, I’ve learned, is one of the quickest routes to depression. After sleeping late and missing church, I read a little and tried to stay busy. Then around seven o’clock I decided to take the baby for a walk.
And that was when everything changed.
At first, I did not feel better. But as I asked for guidance as to where to go I thought I heard to start walking in the opposite direction I was intending to walk—to go straight up a hill rather than on the more scenic, flatter route. Thankfully, I took the uphill route and as I did so, I remembered my husband was playing volleyball about a mile down the road. Then I remembered there was a nice back road that led there.
My faith in my ability to hear the Spirit thus revived, I began praying, turning my attention to my spirit. Then when I was about halfway to my destination, I remembered something else. Earlier that day I’d read a few passages from The Power of Now, and something Tolle said really stood out. Pay attention to your body, he said. Try to feel the tingling and other sensations—the feelings of “aliveness”—that emanate from your physical being. In this way, you will become “deeply rooted within yourself,” in your Source, and in the Now.
So, that’s what I did. I came up with the following mantra: “I love my body. I am in my body.” I said it over and over while feeling that beautiful exertion you feel all over after you’ve been exercising for a while. For the first time, I understood why meditators pay attention to their breath and body parts during prayer. I also understood why people love sports so much. It’s not just the endorphins that come as a result of sustained bodily movement; there is a spiritual element as well.
I’m not sure I understand the theology of the body, the logical explanation for this close spirit-body connection, and yet—I believe in it anyway. I believe there is one, and I believe the body is truly a portal to the soul, for this simple reason: rarely have I felt as good as I did tonight as I walked.
The baby and I sat and watched Jack play his volleyball game, and as the stroller I was using doesn’t fit in our little car, I walked back home as well. By the time I got home it was after ten o’clock, and I was less tired than I was when I left the house three hours earlier.
And so, today I discovered yet another (surprisingly effective) way to get in touch with the Divine, namely by sensing my body and the aliveness therein.
The following day, today, was truly wonderful. Briefly, this is what I did: First, I sat for two hours at a coffee shop with the baby. It was a beautiful sunny day and one of the most fun parts of Seattle where everyone dresses and acts interesting and strange. There was a girl walking barefoot down the sidewalk, which I thought was pretty cool, and a guy all in bright green with a green top hat, too. I had a book with me, but read only a little. Most of the time I sat on the patio with the baby, enjoying the sun and the people—and praying almost the whole entire time.
For the first time in recent memory, I actually enjoyed doing nothing.
Later I went to the grocery store and ran some other errands as well, all while in a state of continual prayer. I repeated yesterday’s “I love my body” mantra frequently to myself, and when back home I was happy, too.
Have I really gotten out of my rut this time? It feels like I have—it really does.
Unfortunately, not all of today’s news is good. Last week I saw Friend Two, the opinionated mom, again. There was another play date, this time at her house. This time she gave me a list of pointers on breastfeeding—and they weren’t ones I needed. (If you know my baby, you know that he is not just an expert on breastfeeding—he is the expert. No one holds a candle to the way that kid can nurse.)
And so, I’ve decided to make it official: Friend Number Two is off the list. No hard feelings, of course; I just want to have friends I actually like.
June 4: I Did It on Purpose
Big news for you today, and it is this: Three days ago, I learned how to do this slippery, ineffable, heretofore entirely frustrating thing that so many people recommend.
I know how to meditate.
And it’s like nothing else in the world.
Okay, so before I go into too much detail, I should clarify one thing: I have actually meditated before—I just didn’t know it was what I was doing at the time. I have meditated, at times, when I was a Christian and praying to Jesus. I have meditated, probably, in moments of extreme gratitude or joy. I have meditated in the seconds and minutes it takes me to ask for guidance and receive it. I have meditated while jogging and while staring at the baby and every single time it was beautiful.
And last month, on the walk I described in this journal, I meditated in a very major way.
The difference was this: today, I did it on purpose.
Okay, then. Here is how this breakthrough occurred: As part of my effort to try out spiritual activities and events, I went to a meditation for mommies and babies. It was a fairly long drive and I almost backed out—but, thank God, I didn’t. After a brief introduction, the leader invited the handful of women who came to the session to sit on pillows on the floor, bodies erect and palms upraised. (What is it about the upraised palms that “works” so well?) I did so, and then I closed my eyes—and immediately, I felt the change.
I felt the change everywhere: in my palms, which were a little warm; in my feet, which tingled a little as I noticed them. In my heart, as emotion that’s usually ignored. In short: my whole body felt different. Well, actually, the difference wasn’t in how I felt; the difference was in that I felt it. For those precious forty or so minutes I was there, I didn’t think—not as much as usual, anyway. Instead, I felt.
And that—that was truly the key.
Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?
In any case, I know it now—and, as Tolle says, Now is really the best time of all, and the only time that really matters. I know now that anytime I want, I can stop the continuous chattering of my mind, if only for a moment or two at a time, and I can do it this way: by feeling—really, really feeling—instead.
Feeling my body. Feeling my emotions. Feeling whatever. Just letting myself understand everything that is happening inside of me right that second—bad or good, happy or sad, angry or fearful or calm. I feel what I feel, and there is nothing to know other than that.
During the meditation one of the more experienced meditators stood behind me for a while, adding her energy to mine. During that time I suspected that she was trying to heighten my experience by lighting incense and waving a fan. The leader had mentioned that I may feel a breeze above my head where she had guided us to direct our attention, and I did feel something but figured it was probably just the movement of the woman’s hands over my head.
But if there isn’t any incense, I thought as I sat, Then I’ll definitely know this is real.
After we were done I opened my eyes and looked around.
There was no incense.
“Did you light incense or something?” I asked the women.
“No,” they said. “Did you smell some?”
“Yes,” I said.
I did not ask about the breeze.
For the rest of the day after that, I was happy.
I meditated, I thought. I did it. And I was not bored, and I liked it, and it was not hard.
And that is the difference between doing something when you’re ready and doing something just because you think you should. When you’re ready, you like it—and it’s not nearly as hard as before, or not at all.
That is certainly the case with this meditation situation so far. Yesterday, only two days after that first experience, I took the baby to another group meditation as well—even though the baby was tired and crying and even though it had been a long day for me, too. What’s more, in order to go I had to first drop my husband off at volleyball and then, after the event was over, wait at the park for him to finish and drive him home. The baby would go to sleep late and besides, I’d already changed into my pajamas and would have to hurry up and change before leaving.
And yet: I went. And it was just as wonderful and just as easy as before.
I am a meditator now—I really am. And my plan is to practice this new ability as much as possible while the desire to do so is still strong. I don’t want the habit to escape before it has become fully ingrained, fully integrated, fully dissolved into my molecular structure.
I want to completely digest it.
And I will; I will. Because I want to not just in a theoretical way, but in an emotional, habit-forming, reward pathway kind of way.
I am actually enjoying this food.
And who knows? Maybe now that I’ve cracked the meditation code, even if I were to take a break I’d get it back. It is possible.
But I’m not taking any chances.
I wish my friendship news was as positive, but alas, it is not.
Let’s start with Friend Number Three. I emailed Friend Three, my “new best friend,” again last week—the third time in the past few months—and she has not emailed me back. I wonder why this could be—was it just me that thought we had so much fun that one time? I am beginning to think maybe there is more to friendship than liking someone and getting along—even than having good conversations.
I am beginning to think people need to be less busy.
And it’s not just the lack of response from Friend Three that makes me think so. Looking over my list I see only two out of six that look at all promising so far: Number One and my old friend Number Four. Three, Five and Six haven’t responded to my emails, despite our pleasant exchanges when we see each other at moms’ group events. Seven (the emotional one) did get back to my coffee date invitation, but she told me she probably wouldn’t be able to go anytime soon (she has four kids, and I understand the difficulty).
This friendship thing’s going to be even harder than I thought.
The silver lining: Friend One and I have taken several pleasant walks with the babies, and she continues to seem quite receptive. In addition, I found another friend this week, someone I met through an old client of mine. Friend Ten is super smart, very talkative and loves to read and write as much as I do. She doesn’t have a kid, but maybe that’s a good thing. It’s nice to talk about other things sometimes.
As for the moms’ groups? Maybe I need to be content with just the group activities for now and hope more meaningful bonds will eventually develop. It’s just too bad it requires such a large upfront non-refundable investment of time to find out if that will be the case.
June 22: Portals, Pretty Portals
Continuing to meditate, and continuing to find great joy in it. Most of the time I go to a group meditation (of which I found several online), but I have practiced at home a few times as well. The greatest thing about it is the immediacy of the change that occurs: as soon as I raise my palms and close my eyes, I am somewhere else.
The magic, it seems, is still there.
And so, the time has now come to take the next step—to do what I began this journal to do: I’m going to attempt to pray without ceasing yet again.
Mind you, due to my repeated failures in this area so far this time my goal is slightly different. Rather than attempt to begin a lifelong commitment to this practice, I am going to simply choose certain days—as I feel willing and able—on which I will attempt to pray without ceasing all day.
As before, I will pray without ceasing by:
Asking for guidance in all of my actions large and small the whole day;
Meditating a least once that day in a set-aside-time kind of way;
Saying frequent thank-yous to God;
Constantly recalling my attention to my body and to the present and away from my mind; and
Saying positive affirmations.
The last of these is interesting. Ever since discovering the other listed techniques, I’ve largely forgotten about my favorite one from before this experiment: that of saying affirmations. However, over the past two or so years I have so-called “manifested” money, jobs, weight loss, a house I love and much, much more through this practice. So I find it kind of strange that in spite of all that, I’ve been neglecting it. Why are new mental habits so much harder to create than physical ones?
In any case. These are the spiritual practices I will engage in on my designated praying-without-ceasing days as well as on other days, though possibly with less commitment. However, there is one more thing I should mention about this plan, and that is that really, these practices are not separate at all. Though they seem different from each other, in reality they all lead to exactly the same place, namely: a deepened awareness of the Divine. Hopefully there comes a day when all of these techniques blend into one thing in my mind, one almost effortless, automatic dive into pure fluid consciousness. Hopefully there comes a time in which I don’t even think of whether I’m saying an affirmation, or doing a body awareness meditation, or asking for guidance, but somehow, whatever I need to do in that moment I just do, naturally, without really thinking much about it much at all.
So far, I have experienced this unified “flow” feeling just a little. Yesterday after meditating successfully I went on to receive specific guidance toward certain actions, even when I wasn’t purposefully asking for that guidance. Instead, the awareness I was already experiencing brought it about just as it was needed and I followed it almost—not quite, but almost—without analyzing it, considering it, or thinking it through beforehand.
This is what I’m talking about, I thought to myself as I did this. This is the place where I want to be.
Until then, though—until the appropriate neuropathways have been reinforced enough times that following that guidance and being aware of God’s presence has become more or less subconscious—I will use my (slightly corny) list.
I know how this works, after all. It’s not my first rodeo. Changing yourself, overcoming your past self-concept is no easy task. If a pen and a piece of paper is all it takes to make it easier, why wouldn’t I gladly make use of the help? And it’s the same with reading spiritual books, and going to group meditations, and talking to spiritual people, and attending church. As a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t actually want to stay home all that much, right now I have the time to do these things, to use these tools that are being offered so generously by my community. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of them?
And so, I forge ahead with my plan for spiritual connection. Today, I will choose one day in the near future during which to pray without ceasing. Let’s see … Today is Thursday, and I don’t quite feel ready to start right away. How about Saturday again?
I think I can do that.
Saturday, then, it shall be.
As for my friendship plan, I’ve been forging ahead with that as well. Last night, I hosted another party at our home (the past is the past, I’ve decided, and all my friends are forgiven).
Here’s the short report: Though everyone was late, people did actually come, so that was an improvement. The conversation was still a bit strained, but not too bad. Next time I think I’ll show a movie or something. Friend Four, the negative one, was there and I do feel closer to her lately, though I still feel there’s an upper limit with her somewhere.
I press on . . .
Found another gem in The Power of Now tonight. After describing several meditation-type practices that help people become more in touch with the Divine, Tolle writes in Chapter Seven: “These are all portals you can use—but you only need to use one.”
Isn’t this exactly what I’ve been saying? All of these spiritual practices I’ve been working at are mere portals, all leading to the same place—that of awareness of the Divine. Some work better for me than others, and that is fine (though I do like to know what all of them are so that if one doesn’t work I have another to try).
By the way, Tolle, if you’re reading this: next time, give us a list. No, better idea: I will. Here are the portals Tolle says you can use to experience what he calls the Unmanifested:
Being aware of the Now;
Being aware of your inner body;
The cessation of thinking—creating mind gaps;
Surrender, “the letting go of mental-emotional resistance to what is;”
Listening to silence; and
Being aware of empty space.
Portals, pretty portals, one and all.
June 30: I’m Chalking It Up to a Success
Yesterday was my scheduled attempt to pray without ceasing, and I am sorry to report that it did not go well. It, in fact, was pretty much a total flop. I didn’t pray without ceasing. I didn’t feel inspired.
I didn’t, really and truly, even try.
What I did do, however, was this: I enjoyed my day. In the morning I spent a minute or two in meditation while breastfeeding, which was actually a little harder than it sounds. After that we went to a moms’ group activity and then, in the afternoon we ran errands and hung out with Jack. In the evening all three of us went to a barbeque and had a great time. During each of these activities I recalled my connection to the Divine regularly (not to say frequently) including during the moms’ group when I felt a kind of energy coming out of me towards the other women as they spoke. I liked that feeling and through it I realized that relationships—the work of relationships, anyway: talking, listening, etc.—can actually be a kind of spiritual practice.
I felt closer to the Divine in those moments than at any other time during the day.
And it is because of this that actually, the day wasn’t such a failure after all. I made progress toward my goal—just not as fast as I would like to have done, or as much.
So what, then, was the problem? Why couldn’t I successfully get in and stay in a place of deep awareness? Well, the truth is that I have no idea. Today was the same as yesterday: moments of great connection—sometimes just seconds long—and the rest of the day, business as usual.
Last night I took an hour-long walk and tried to analyze the problem. What should I be doing differently? I asked myself. I remembered some of the affirmations that have worked well for me in the past and said them repeatedly, but none of them seemed to affect my state of mind. Finally I realized I needed to just accept that my mind is my mind, and I will not be able to control it every second of the day. The key is not to try to rein it in successfully; this just results in more struggle and frustration. The key, as Tolle says, is that whenever I become conscious and realize the mind clutter has begun again, to have something to say to myself that brings me back to the moment—even if just for a second. I don’t need to think through my current problem (what someone thought about a comment I made, for instance) or negative emotion (often, my depression). I don’t need a specific mantra to counter each type of thought. Instead, I will lump all of these “unconscious” thoughts into the same general category—mind clutter—and respond to all of them in exactly the same way.
And so, for first half hour or so of my walk, I tried to figure out what that new affirmation would be. What could I say that would cover all the bases equally well? I knew I didn’t want to say something that reminded me that these life situations would turn out okay—this would just keep me focused on the events themselves. Instead, I wanted an affirmation that would help me focus on who I am. That way, I would not be arguing with the situation, but instead making a positive statement that those things are not me, because I am divinity itself. With this, the argument against the various situations—namely, those things don’t matter and I shouldn’t worry about them—is implied.
And so, I asked myself that oldest of questions, and most profound: Who am I? What is my highest and grandest vision of myself, as Neale Donald Walsch (another favorite author of mine and many others) would say.
And then, it hit me. I am enlightened, I thought. That is my goal for myself, after all. That is who I want to be.
I said it a few times, trying it on. “I am enlightened. I am enlightened.”
It felt right. Not correct. But right.
After that, I went home and since then I’ve decided that there will be no more attempts at perfection in the immediate future. I have my other spiritual practices—walking, and meditation, and church, and all of that—and I have this new affirmation as well. As before, I will continue to recall the present moment and create mind gaps as often as possible. Eventually, I’ll get good at it, but until then—I’m choosing to be okay with just improving.
And now, two little friends updates for you. The first one is this: Yesterday afternoon I hosted a playdate at Starbucks with my writing group. Though two of the three people who RSVP’d flaked out, Friend Eight, a sweet (though not excessively bright) person did show up and except when the baby pooped on the floor, we had a pretty nice time.
I’m chalking it up to a success.
And the second update: This morning I went to a play date in the park and met several women I hadn’t met before—and I liked them a lot. One of them—I’ll call her Friend Nine—gave me her email address and I plan to get in touch with her soon.
In this part of life too, then, I am okay with just improving.
August 2: Breaking the Habit of Being Myself
Yesterday, I cried—and it caught me quite by surprise. Crying isn’t something I’ve done a whole lot of since right after the baby was born about ten months ago. Then, it was just hormones.
Today it was a flower.
When it happened I was in church. As you know, church is a place I’ve been in a lot lately. Over the past few months I’ve been seeking out these places not just in an attempt to stay busy and to make friends, but to have a place to meditate. (Yes, I may be addicted to meditation now, but that’s a different story.)
Yesterday the service was regrettably light on prayer and singing time, and so the whole service long I basically ignored what was going on and just sat in my own little world with my eyes closed instead.
I didn’t think anyone would mind.
At the end of the service, they did something they call “Flower Communion,” which is an annual handing out of flowers to each member of the congregation as a symbol of community and friendship.
I almost didn’t take one.
I’m new here, I thought as I listened to the piano accompaniment quietly. Besides, I’m praying.
At the last moment, though, right before the music ended and the minister returned to the pulpit, I felt led to go up and take one anyway.
I did so, awkwardly. When I got back to my seat, I looked at it. It was light pink and very pretty, but as far as flowers go, it was nothing special. And yet—as I looked at it I suddenly began to cry.
Why am I crying? I wondered as I wiped my tears. Then it hit me: it has been too long since someone has given me a flower—or given me anything, for that matter. I am giving and giving every day, trying to forge friendships with people, trying to draw them out and show I care, trying, sometimes, just to stay busy. But how long has it been since someone called me first? And how many times now have my efforts at friendship been rebuffed?
Answer: Too long. And too many.
Of course, I expected it. What I’m doing is certainly not the usual way to make friends, and the overdrive-like nature of my experiment necessitates disappointment. But once in a while, it’s nice to feel like my effort is making a difference.
It was just a flower, and a not-so-special one at that. But it gave me something I’d probably been needing for a while now.
It gave me a much-needed cry, and I appreciated the gift.
Unfortunately, this experience was not the only low point of my week. That’s because, in spite of so much recent progress, I am back in my rut—or at least partially so. Even though I’ve been saying my “I am enlightened” mantra a lot throughout the day, the feeling just isn’t there. And that’s the thing about this whole spirituality thing: There really is no mantra, nothing I can say or do to make it happen—frustratingly, it’s something you just have to feel.
And so, the question becomes: How can I learn how to get that feeling whenever I choose? The answer, according to two books I read this week on the subject, is this: Make it into a habit.
The first of these two books is called Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself and it’s written by Joe Dispenza. It contains lots of information about the way the brain works, but what it all comes down to is this: you are your habits—nothing more than that. All of your thoughts and the neuropathways they travel along are completely ingrained. That means when you try to change your thoughts in any way, the receptor sites that are used to being fed with the particular proteins that fit into them aren’t getting fed anymore. They respond by complaining—and loudly. Your brain starts working hard, looking for circumstances and situations that call for that particular ingrained emotional reaction on your part. Because as we know, neuropathways that stop getting used get pruned.
I’ve heard a lot of this complaining lately, and I realize today this is why all of these spiritual practices I’m working on haven’t always come easy.
It’s just neuroscientifically difficult to change.
The other book I read this week agreed. It was written by Dr. Candace Pert, a world-renown scientist and spiritualist who, believe it or not, studies the biochemistry of emotions. According to her, each emotion is a real, physical thing, made up of the interactions between peptides and cell-based receptors. Each individual emotion can be linked to a special kind of peptide/receptor combination, most of which are found not just in the brain but throughout the entire human body.
Fascinating stuff. But what really stood out to me in this book, Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d, was what she had to say on the subject of personality. It is her theory that multiple personality disorder is not a disorder at all, but merely a normal human condition taken to the extreme. At different times during the day, all of us experience different patterns of emotions coursing through our bodies, patterns (of electrical currents, really) that are repeated more or less often due to many and various factors.
One of these factors? Habit. And this is what makes spiritual practices like meditation so darn effective.
Pert’s advice to her readers on the whole thing: to “come from the highest possible ‘observer’—the sub personality that’s most closely associated with the divine, or the higher self”—as often as possible.
Which is, of course, exactly what I’m doing now. I am making listening to my spirit a consistent part of my daily life. I am practicing it, teaching myself how to more easily recognize my Source within.
The good news? After a time of continually fighting negativity, continually turning my thoughts to my body, to my spirit, and to the Divine, it will get easier—much, much easier. And as I’ve said before, I am right now making more progress than I realize.
And so, my goal today is that I’ll find new ways as well as my own tried and true ways to make myself happy each day. The theory is that the more I feel good, the more I’ll be in the habit of feeling good and the easier all of this will become.
To that end, I’m going to continue to spend lots of time with friends, going to every social activity I can find. I’m going to go to church whenever I want, even if it’s quite a long drive. I’m going to go to group meditations and take long walks and read good spiritual books, all in an all-out attempt to remain in a place of joy.
This will not be easy.
August 16: This Spirituality Thing Really Works
Things are happening around here—things are happening. Last Wednesday evening I did something I’m convinced will change my life forever: I went to a new church.
Well—not a church, exactly. It’s even better than that: I went to a planning session for a new church that is opening this coming Sunday. The church is affiliated with a much larger one in Seattle, so its new branch (is that what you call it?) will be well-supported in the large suburb in which I live and in which it will be located.
I am so excited. Not only do I think the church itself is an inspired idea, I think my involvement in it is, too. Here is the brief story of how it came about.
As you know, recently I’ve been attending two churches: one in my town that I first went to a few years back and one in Seattle—the one that the lady at the library told me about that day I felt led to go there. Both are non-judgmental, believe-what-you-want kinds of places. Both have positives and negatives, but the one I preferred overall was the one in Seattle. It is called Center for Spiritual Living and it is large, vibrant and active. I think I told you before about the loud singing and dancing—something I have enjoyed before in other churches. Mostly, though, I like that the people seem more engaged in their faith, more willing to change their lives for it, more—well, more interested in spiritual matters.
They seem to actually care about the whole thing.
There are also a lot more kids and families, as well as people my own age.
Location, though, was a problem. On a good day the drive took half an hour each way. This is fine once in a while, but for long-term involvement I greatly prefer something closer. Still, I’ve attended a few times with this feeling that in terms of churches it just wouldn’t get any better than this. I met a few people I liked, including one fellow writer with whom I’ve since had coffee.
Then one day a few weeks ago, I was browsing the Internet looking for more meditation opportunities when I saw a group for a Center for Spiritual Living that meets right here in my own suburb. I wrote the organizer and she invited me to a planning meeting. As it turned out, the church hadn’t actually opened yet.
Learning this, I began to get excited.
Here is something I can do with my time, I thought—something meaningful. Here is a way I can contribute like I couldn’t if it had been a large, well-established church.
My hopes were high.
Despite my excitement, while driving to the meeting I reminded myself that it may not turn out like I hoped. The people may not need new volunteers, or may be cliquish, or may be wary of this newcomer they’ve never met before. So, I arrived at the meeting with at least a little skepticism in tow. I greeted the others—there were fewer than I expected, just a handful—and met the minister. We made small talk, and then the meeting began.
And it was awesome—so, so awesome. Friend Number Eleven, the minister, gave a long, detailed and thoroughly enlightening talk (with diagrams!) on the metaphysical process of creating one’s spiritual and physical reality. It was the first time I’d learned something substantial about my new spiritual beliefs (at this church they call this belief system “New Thought”) that didn’t come from a book.
I felt as I sat there that this was just the beginning.
You see, right now, I have no theology to speak of. I have no vocabulary for what I believe. I have beliefs, yes, but they aren’t categorized and they aren’t named. They’re just . . . an assortment. Though I know that I won’t and am not expected to adopt fully the beliefs of the minister or anyone else, I do think that by going to this church I will take the foundation I’ve already laid through reading of books and consulting my conscience, and finally start to build a house—a construction that’s made up of new and revived spiritual practices and more specific, practical ways to act on and get the most out of my faith. And unlike a plain foundation, a house is something I can actually use.
But that’s not all there is to this story. The best part is yet to come, and it is this: I am now a volunteer. That’s right: after the first part of the session—the teaching part—was over, they continued their planning of the first service, and I had several ideas to share. One of them was that I’d serve (with the baby) as hostess of a meet and greet before the service began. This, I said, would encourage people not only to meet each other and form connections, but it’d help them get to church on time as well.
After I presented the idea, Friend Eleven said this: “I like that idea. What do the rest of you think?” There were no objections, so she said. “Okay, then. It is on the calendar.”
It was exactly the right response. She knew how important it was and is for the volunteers to contribute, to have ideas—not just set up chairs.
When the meeting was over and I went home, I told Jack my life had just changed.
“I’ve found a church,” I said. “A place I believe will be a part of my life for years to come, and part of the kids’ lives, too.”
I am grateful to the lady in the library that directed me this way. And that happened on one of my very first praying-without-ceasing days, didn’t it?
Amazing. This spirituality thing really, really works.
Average height. Average weight. Not pretty, not ugly. Cute sometimes, if I make the effort. Mid-thirties, approaching mid-life, with medium brown hair of medium length, I wear mostly black and nothing bright, ever. I live in a 1950s three-bedroom, two-bath rambler in the suburbs. And that’s me. I’m pretty … ordinary. My name is Katie, for goodness’ sake. So why does the month of January so reliably inspire me to undertake goals that even an extraordinary person would find challenging?
I’ll never know.
And yet, that’s what I do. I love a challenge, especially love a claw-sinking self-improvement effort. So, because of this quality and because of the date on the calendar, I have decided to do an experiment. The experiment will have two parts, with the first part being this: Someday—maybe even someday soon—I will attempt to pray without ceasing.
Allow me to explain.
In the Holy Bible—I Thessalonians, to be more precise—there is a passage written by Paul the Apostle imploring early believers to “pray without ceasing,” and since the time that it was written (and possibly before that time as well) a few people have actually taken this advice seriously. One of these people was a seventeenth-century Catholic monk named Brother Lawrence.
Brother Lawrence was an unusually spiritual person and an unusually happy one—and also a pretty ordinary one as well. He worked as a cook at the monastery where he lived, the Discalced Carmelite Prior in Paris. Sometime during his time there, he decided to teach himself how to pray continually throughout the day—and as it turned out, he was quite successful. The journal he kept about his experience later became a popular book called The Practice of the Presence of God.
The first time I read this book I was in college (Bible College, no less). Because I have since a young age had a pretty optimistic view of my own capabilities, as I read it I vowed to myself that one day, I would do what he did. I held this idea somewhere in the back of my mind ever since, only abandoning it temporarily while on a break from spirituality a few years back.
Which brings me to today. As I said before, today is January first, and since I’m looking for a good goal for the year as well as a good idea for a book, it seems like a great year to begin.
Of course, there is one little problem with this idea, namely: I don’t believe in all the Bible’s ideas anymore; I am no longer a Christian. However, I don’t think this is much of a problem. I may not believe in Christianity, but I can still follow the Bible when I like what it has to say. And I like the idea of praying without ceasing. It has a certain extremist appeal. It is enough of a challenge to make it worth writing about but more than that, the outcome could just be amazing. If I am successful, I would be nearly guaranteed to make better decisions and live a better life—after all, I’d be receiving my instructions straight from God.
And that would just be awesome.
And so, this year I’m going to do what Brother Lawrence did. I’m going to figure out how to pray without ceasing, to live in a state in which every action I take, every word I speak and every thought I think comes from the Source inside myself far beyond my conscious mind. I am going to communicate with the Divine, and not just occasionally—I’m going to do it all day long.
Sound ambitious? It does to me. But I don’t think it’s out of reach—not for me and not for anyone else, either. Because after all, all I’m really talking about here is doing something that should come very naturally to us humans. It goes under various names: “listening to your intuition,” “being your own person” and “following your heart,” to name a few. Most people use at least one of these terms to describe something similar to what I plan to do. The difference is that because I believe that we humans are all a part of God, I think listening to myself (my deep down truest self, that is) is one way to listen to God, too.
So, that is what I plan to do. Now the question becomes: Why did I wait so long to begin?
Well, there are several answers to that question. One is that until now, I never felt inspired to. And though the importance of this cannot be understated, it goes hand-in-hand with the second answer to the question, the one that will likely become more apparent as this experiment proceeds, but which simply stated is this: I just never had the guts.
And, truth be told, I still don’t. Which is why as of today, I have not yet decided when this experiment will actually begin. See, I am ready to think about following my intuition. I’m ready to observe my inner dialogue on the subject, and to ponder the matter in depth. I’m even ready, right now, to make the decision that at some point this year, I will actually carry out this plan.
But unfortunately, I’m not yet ready to begin.
And actually, I’m kind of okay with that. In my experience, when considering a major change like this trying to force things is usually not only unproductive, but actually counterproductive. Thinking about it, though—considering it, mulling it over, picturing what it would be like—can be just the ticket—just the thing that helps you to notice when the right time does at long last arrive.
And so, today is the first day of my journal on this subject, but today is not day one.
All right, then. So much for the first part of my experiment for the year. The second part of the experiment is just as difficult and just as ambitious as the first, and it is this: I am going to find a few good friends.
See, there’s something I must admit, a bit ashamedly: I have precious few friends. I mean, I see people. We have conversations. But in my life there is no one I can just call on a whim except one, and she lives pretty far away. Not so far that I never see her—but far enough that it’s a two-night, three-day adventure when I do.
And that’s unfortunate. Because as we all know, there’s a world of difference between a friend—someone you talk to when it’s convenient to do so—and a close friend, someone you seek out. A close friend is someone you can call when you’re bored or angry or lonely or upset, or for no reason at all. Someone you can go have coffee with at her house, just for half an hour between errands. Someone you can watch TV with while you’re wearing pajamas. Not someone who schedules you out several weeks in advance as an activity to work in between all their other responsibilities, but someone who is often—not always, maybe, but often—just there.
When we were in high school and college, our friends were all like that. Friendship wasn’t on the back burner, something to enjoy only if you had time; it was an accepted, necessary part of your life. If you weren’t hanging out with people and doing something fun on a Friday or Saturday night, you felt bad about it. You felt like a loser. Your friends—assuming you had some—automatically assumed those would be the evenings and nights you’d spend together.
And the rest of the week they were there, too. You ate your meals with them in the cafeteria. You saw them in class, or between classes at the library where you all went to study together. You did something we as adults have all but given up on except with our immediate family: you hung out.
Now things are different. In my case—as in the case of many other people—my immediate family just isn’t big enough to make for a 100 percent satisfying “hanging out” kind of experience—right now, it’s just me, the baby, and my husband, and as much as I love these two other beautiful people, they will never be able to fulfill my need for companionship entirely.
And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I do know this from years of experience trying. At first it was just my husband Jack and I, and for quite a while, that actually was almost enough. I had my writing and my hobbies and my husband and even though I wanted more friends, I allowed myself to put off looking for them to pursue other things instead.
But then the baby was born. And no longer did I have all the time I wanted for doing my own stuff—building my business, reading endless books, writing whenever I felt inspired and for hours and hours on end. No—for the first time in a long time, I had a schedule—a strict one, and one that wasn’t set by me. I had to wake up at a certain time every day, no matter how tired I was, and change diapers and wash faces and put my own projects on hold until naptime. I was working harder than I’d ever worked in my life, and at the same time the days were longer than they’d ever been, and so much harder to fill.
See, before the baby, I could do anything I wanted with my time, whereas with him I had to do only certain things that he could do, too. The list was short, and included the following: shopping (for me, just grocery shopping since I avoid most other kinds), car rides (yes, just car rides), walks (in those first months of the baby’s life I would often walk for two or three hours at a time), and, finally, social stuff. And as much as I loved walking and car rides, it was the social time I needed the most.
And I still do. Though the baby is older now, I still can’t get much reading or writing done with him around, and playing at home gets pretty old after a while. And so, our time together is much better spent out and about, doing something we both enjoy.
And at the top of that list, of course, is seeing friends.
And so, my plan this year is to do everything in my power to locate and develop friendships with as many women as possible. I will name and list them in this journal along with all my efforts to attract them and keep them around. For anonymity’s sake, I’ll refer to the people on this list by numbers, not by their names (besides, it’s sillier that way, and I think if there’s ever a time to be silly, it’s when you’re shopping for new friends). I really don’t know if I will be successful but I do know this: if I’m not, it won’t be for lack of trying.
And so, I’ve decided: this is the year I am going to get friends. It is also the year I’m going to learn to pray without ceasing.
And even though the terminology I normally use these days is different, I still do like the phrase “pray without ceasing.” Not too corny, not too New-Agey sounding. A little old-fashioned. A little poetic. A little reminiscent, too, of what I used to be.
It also, I think, makes the point. Because though the word “prayer” can mean many things, it’s the “without ceasing” part that matters—at least to me right now. After all, I can pray the regular way anytime. I can learn to meditate. I can teach myself how to make all my most important decisions with the help of God, and actually I’ve been doing most of these things for years. What I haven’t been able to do is to walk in that inspired place all day long. I haven’t been able or willing to give control of my whole life to God, even my very thoughts.
Are you beginning to see why the prospect of doing this is so frightening?
And yet, I’m ready. I’m ready to live in continuous awareness, even during the smallest and (arguably) least important moments of life.
I’m ready to pray without ceasing—just as soon as the time seems right.
January 7: My Mind Hurts
The other day, I said something that was kinda stupid. It was to a friend of mine—a new friend, one that is still in that tender “will-I-stay-or-will-I-go” phase (I’ll call her Friend Number One). It wasn’t an insult, exactly—it was just something that upon reflection seemed a bit insensitive.
I told her she needed to calm down.
She was graceful about it, of course. And she did in fact calm down a little, even. But really, does anyone ever like being told to calm down, to have a very understandable human emotion pointed out to them in such an embarrassing, blunt manner?
I doubt it.
Anyway, the point is after that, nothing happened. There was no fallout. There was no argument. Everything was normal and fine. And yet, ever since then (and this was over a week ago, mind you) I have been unable to forgive myself for what I said. I have been replaying the conversation over and over in my mind, as if doing so could change anything—and as if it mattered that much at all.
In short: I am acting crazy.
And this isn’t the only time this has happened. I’d even say if I really thought about it there haven’t been all that many stretches of time in my life when I haven’t tortured myself similarly on an almost daily basis. As Eckhart Tolle would say: This is normal. It is also insane.
And so, truth be told, the real reason for this experiment is not that it’s something I’ve always wanted to do or that I just think it’d be cool. The real reason I’m doing it is that my mind hurts.
It hurts really, really bad.
Yesterday I started re-reading a book by one of my favorite authors. It was A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, and in the prologue (an awesome piece of writing in its own right) Vonnegut quotes his uncle Alex who, in certain happy moments during his life, as while eating a sandwich by a lake or some such thing, was fond of saying the following: “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice I don’t know what is,’” Vonnegut writes.
And if that isn’t a deep thought—I don’t know what is.
So far in my life, I have found a lot of happiness. I have worked through some tough things—a good deal of my depression and painful shyness, to name two—and figured out some good things—how to be in a healthy romantic relationship, to name one. These things took a lot of work and because of that work I now feel better than I ever have before. But what Vonnegut is talking about in this passage is not merely feeling good.
He’s talking, I think, about contentment.
Contentment is more than having a good life and appreciating what you have. There’s something else to it as well, something that’s a little harder to put your finger on. Contentment, as I see it, is peace. It’s an inner calm that tells you that everything really is okay.
And that’s what this experiment is about. It’s about being so in touch with God that worry and other bad feelings—the so-called “mind clutter” that steals away many otherwise happy moments—goes away. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for. At least for some of the time. I know this because a few times in my life, I’ve glimpsed it. Then I’ve let it slip away.
I’m definitely in that slip-away territory now. Lately, my level of spiritual inspiration—that high you get on a long walk at night, for example—have been pretty lacking. My thoughts, as I said, have been unpleasant to live with, even more so for the fact that they make no sense.
I have all the money I need, yet I’m worrying constantly about bills. I have all the time I need, yet I’m daily afraid of not getting enough done.
I worry about my husband. I worry about our baby. I worry about my weight and my hair and my friendships and the stupid comment I made the other day that has probably already been forgotten.
I wake up worrying, and I’m worried about my worrying, and I’m worried about whether giving it up will actually do more harm than good. Won’t it take away my sense of purpose in life? How will I get anything done?
And yet, as with all of our addictions, we know we actually would be better off without them. We can’t quite imagine a life without drugs or alcohol or overeating or worry, but somehow we still believe it is possible. And so, we make our decision. We decide to rid ourselves of our bad habits, to swear off them entirely this time, come what may.
After that we fail. Then we fail again.
We do this several more times, then several more, until we either die or are successful. If we die, we go to Heaven or somewhere like that and realize it didn’t really matter anyway. If we are successful we write a book about it.
This is not one of those books. This is a journal, not a success story. Truth is, I’m not a success. I’m struggling. I’ll probably continue to struggle even if I find some degree of peace and divine connectedness this year. Of course, I hope that I’m wrong and that this experiment will wipe away all my mind clutter and I will be the next ordinary person to transcend it all, like Eckhart Tolle. But as this is unlikely, I set my sights squarely on the goal of making a dent in those negative thoughts, and to at times experience the feeling of deep-seated contentment I described. Anyway, no harm will come from my trying, right? Even if I am just an ordinary person.
If there’s one thing I believe in without reservation, it’s trying.
February 6: Such is Life
Today is the thirty-seventh day of the year, and I still haven’t decided when to begin my New Years’ resolution. I feel the same way about this goal that I did back on January first, namely: I’m still afraid to commit.
Now, you should know that normally I’m not averse to commitment—not even close. I jump into long-term relationships and major life decisions—even parenthood—with relative ease, trusting my instincts to steer me right. But what I’m talking about here isn’t a commitment to a relationship, or to a job. It’s a commitment to allowing someone or something else to, if they see fit, take over my entire life. It is a commitment to giving up control, and not only that, but to put forth what right now seems like a great deal of effort to do so. It’s a commitment to changing my entire life, my entire way of thinking.
Nothing could be more total than that.
But losing control of my decisions isn’t the only thing I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of changing my personality too much. I’m afraid, a little, of coming across to others as overly spiritual—a fanatic or a freak. And lastly, I’m afraid of failure.
Yup, that’s right—I’m afraid it will work, and I’m afraid it won’t—both at the very same time.
Such is life. And such is the way we keep ourselves from growth.
Now, as to the latter fear—the fear of failure—most of me highly doubts it will come to pass. Sure, I won’t always perceive the direction I seek moment-by-moment, but I believe that I am actually able to hear God when I listen. Sometimes the voice guides me on small matters—things like what to say to someone at a sensitive moment or when is the best time to schedule coffee with a friend. But the voice has guided me on big things as well—things like where to apply for a job, and whether or not the person I was dating was right for me. Over the past twenty years, that still small voice has helped me give up at least two relationships that were moving in the direction of long-term commitment, and whether you call it intuition, instinct, the subconscious mind or God, what it came down to was much the same thing: I did not get married.
And as to the becoming-a-freak concern: that one’s pretty minor, too, something I can talk myself out of pretty easily. The giving up control thing, though—that one is for real. That is the big one. That, and just making all this damn effort.
And because of this, I delay a bit longer and wait to see whether or not the fear will fade with time.
In spite of my regrettable lack of enthusiasm for the first part of my experiment, the second part is progressing rather well. To initiate the process of finding a few close friends, I emailed a bunch of people inviting them to a party this coming Saturday night—sort of a meet-the-baby thing for my two-month-old. There will be food. There will be drinks. There will be a new baby to hold and cuddle. But will it be more fun, or more awkward?
We will find out.
That milestone accomplished, I did for this area of my life what I have in the past done for so many others: In true geek fashion (the geeky geek fashion, though, not the hipster geek fashion, unfortunately) I made a plan. That’s right: I have created a detailed action plan that, if carried out faithfully, will (I believe) help me find at least several good friends by the end of the year, and a good-sized network of acquaintances as well. Here it is, in classic list format:
I will host get-togethers at our home at least one Saturday night per month, continually adding to the guest list as I meet new people. If some of the gatherings don’t go well, I will keep at it, understanding people sometimes need quite a bit of time together before they feel fully comfortable in a party environment.
I will join at least one moms’ group and attend it weekly at least. Moms’ groups are awesome because doing things with kids is always a great excuse to get together, even if the activity wouldn’t normally be very interesting for adults alone. Also, there’s always lots to talk about.
I will invite someone on a coffee date at least once per month.
I will attend other group activities for people with interests similar to mine at least once per month.
Is that enough? I think so … for now. We will see how it works and then revise if necessary. Also, like I said before, in order to track my progress I will keep a numbered list of my friends that I will add to and subtract from as needed.
I know, it’s geeky. But I have to do something. Making a plan is better than not making a plan, I think.
February 13: I Cheated
All right, that’s it. That is it. I am ready. I’m ready to set a date to start my experiment. How do I know that I’m ready? I know because I’m excited. Finally—finally!—the thought of taking on this challenge is making me sincerely happy. Why the change in perspective? Because last weekend, I did something I would recommend to anyone in my (exact) situation: I cheated. I peeked in the answer key in the back of the book before even reading the chapter. Here’s what happened.
Last weekend was Valentine’s Day weekend, and to celebrate my husband Jack and our baby and I took a trip to visit some family. The Friday we left, I noticed the calla lilies in our yard had just bloomed. My immediate thought was, I should pick some flowers and put them in a vase. And it wasn’t just a normal thought; it was That Kind of Thought. It was that urge that seemed to originate somewhere outside of myself—or maybe just deeper within. And so, even though I didn’t see the point of doing so since I was leaving in just a few hours, remembering my experiment, I decided to listen. I picked a few of the flowers, then a few of another type as well, then got a vase of water and placed them on our dining room table. They were pretty, and I enjoyed looking at them while we got ready to go.
Sunday night, Jack and I returned from the trip. Because it was Valentine’s Day, I’d been given a rose. It was fairly late when I came into the house, and I was quite tired, so when I saw the vase of flowers on the table I was glad I could add the rose to the vase without any further preparations on my part. The lilies still looked great, too, and for the rest of the week I had a whole bouquet of fresh-cut flowers on my table.
Okay, so maybe it’s a bit silly. But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a sign. A sign that I can do this: I can give up control. I can choose to listen to my intuition, even when my mind tells me not to. I can hear God—even in the minor details of life. And knowing this is making me really excited to begin my experiment for real.
And so. Today I am looking at the calendar, and thinking about my schedule, and here is what it says: today, nothing. Tomorrow, nothing. Friday, nothing. Saturday, having a party at our house. Sunday, going on a date with my husband. All next week, nothing.
All right, then. I have no excuse.
So why don’t I pray about this for a minute as I write. Dear God: Should I start my experiment today? No. I want to start in a morning. Should I start early next week? No—too far away. I want to take advantage of the excitement I’m feeling right now. Should I start tomorrow? No. Not enough time to mentally prepare. Should I start on Friday? No. Who starts anything on a Friday? So: Saturday? Maybe. A relatively quiet day, but not too quiet—at the party I can practice my new listening skills too, praying about what to say and do to help everyone have a good time.
Saturday, then. Saturday the ninth.
And now the friends report: This evening I went to a moms’ group activity—my first one ever. The group (which I found on a website) is made up of mothers who are also writers. Since I was feeling tired today, I almost skipped it, but at the last minute I went, not wanting to seem flaky from the start. The result? Well, a little so-so.
The group met at Starbucks, which I thought would be nice since it’d be just coffee and conversation and no kids running around distracting us. While I enjoyed the conversation, there were two problems with the evening. One is that my sleep-deprived brain was overly emotional and sensitive and I found myself complaining about something stupid to a woman I’d never met until today. This was mildly embarrassing, but not such a big deal.
The second problem with the evening was much worse: for most of the two hours I was there, I felt completely ignored. The woman sitting next to me had her back to me nearly the whole time and the woman sitting across from me seemed interested in talking only to the woman sitting next to her. One of the women—the one I complained to unnecessarily—did smile at me in sympathy several times and ask me a few questions, but she was too far away to really talk to for long. I was surprised at how terrible this first effort made me feel. It was a moment of vulnerability, and I got hurt. It seems unlikely that any of these moms harbored any ill will, or disliked me in any way. And yet, the experience felt personal. It felt like something was wrong with me. I was the new person. I didn’t fit in. It told me the same story I’ve been telling about myself for many, many years.
Despite these mixed results, I’ve decided keep attending this group. One bad experience does not a pattern make.
Next time, I’ll just get a better seat.
March 9: The Real Day One
Well, this was it, folks. Today was day one—the real day one. All morning and afternoon, I had no plans at all, and much to my surprise, it was wonderful. Interestingly, it did not start out wonderful. When I woke up this morning, it felt just like any other day. I even felt cranky. Then I remembered the experiment and my plan—and soon after that, everything started to change. I began listening to my inner guide, and I actually heard what it was saying. In other words: it worked. It really, really worked.
It felt good.
Here are some of the things I did today that felt, to me, inspired:
I didn’t take a walk with the baby as I usually do. Instead, I felt it would be better to stay home all day, play with the baby and relax until our visitors came over tonight.
I took a bath when I felt to do so, even though I wanted to wait. Turned out to be great timing as a little while after that Jack came home early and was ready to play with the baby while I got other things done.
I washed the dishes when I felt inspired to.
I put the baby down for a nap when I felt inspired to.
I decided not to organize my office as I had earlier planned to do.
I took a walk by myself around midnight, even though I was exhausted—and I enjoyed it very much.
These are just small things, of course—no life-changing decisions here. Taken together, though, they really mean something. They mean that I can do what I’ve decided to do this year. I can actually learn to pray without ceasing.
What’s more: it may be easier than I thought it would be—possibly a lot easier. At some point early on in the day I got into a rhythm that I didn’t break until later in the evening after the visitors came and I became somewhat distracted. Most of the day, there was a natural flow to it. It felt nice. It felt easy. And here’s another cool thing: Not only did I enjoy my time in prayer today—I learned some stuff, too. In addition to sensing when and how to make my small decisions, I sensed two bigger, more important messages. The first was that I don’t need to be so excited all the time. The second was that it doesn’t matter who my husband is.
Allow me to explain.
The first of these realizations came over me sometime in the afternoon, a little while after the aforementioned rhythm had been established. As I was nursing the baby to sleep, I suddenly became aware of the fact that if this were any other kind of experiment and it was going as well as this one, I wouldn’t feel the way I was feeling right then. I wouldn’t have the same calm, the same almost placid acceptance; instead, I’d feel excited. My mind would be brimming with plans and possibilities, reminding me repeatedly of how well things are sure to work out for me if only I were able to be consistent with my plan. Then it would proceed to elaborate upon that plan in great detail. Later, when I had the chance, I’d discuss my newfound source of hoped-for fulfillment with a friend or two, outlining all of the benefits and, if they were interested, helping them discover it for themselves. That is what it was like whenever I started a new diet, or revamped my wardrobe, or reorganized my home, or got a new job. This, I was convinced, this would help me be happy.
And I should add here that I don’t deny that those things did (and to some degree still do) help me be happier. But yesterday as I paid close attention to my thoughts, what I understood was that this get-super-excited pattern is often the hallmark of false promise. The excitement wasn’t helpful. It wasn’t my spirit’s true voice, but the voice of my earthbound mind, jumping up and down and making noise. Excitement can be good, and it can even be spiritual. But most of mine hasn’t been. It’s been false hope, hope for an external solution, and a never-ending search for the next best thing. It’s not a bad feeling, exactly—I love my plans. I love my self-improvement efforts. They’re fun. They give me something to do and to discuss. But the mania of it all … it just goes a bit too far sometimes. It’s immature. And it’s unnecessary.
My true inner self doesn’t do a lot of handsprings. It is quiet. It is listening. It is humble. It takes one thing at a time. It’s not all about making lists and checking things off. And yet, it’s wiser, more efficient and more skilled than my mind will ever be. What I’m feeling right now, as I write this journal entry, is not excitement. It is peace. It’s a glimpse of what I’ve been looking for. Why did it take me so long to give up control? This doesn’t feel like being out of control. It feels like the opposite. It feels like my mind is finally my own—a part of me, but not the most important part. It feels like no matter what happens today, I won’t be disturbed.
Of course, I doubt it’s true that nothing could disturb me. But the little annoyances that came up today didn’t, and that’s something. Which brings me back to the second realization I had today, the realization that it doesn’t matter who my husband is.
This was a weird one. Which is why I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t my own mind that quite suddenly made me aware of this thought as I was wiping down the kitchen counter. Jack had left the room a few moments ago after saying, “Oh, Hon, not like that,” in exactly the tone that usually gets me quickly defensive. I looked up at him—looked in his eyes—with no real expression on my face. Then I went back to work, slowly changing to his preferred technique. He walked away, and I was left to ponder this encounter. It likely meant nothing to him, but to me it was interesting. Why didn’t I react internally in the way I usually do? Why did I have zero desire to defend myself? The answer was simple: it was because I was at peace. It was because my stuff was my stuff, and his was his. His annoyance was his experience of life in that moment. My experience was loving him and knowing that his comment wasn’t personal. In spite of the implications of his tone and mannerisms, I realized that he didn’t think I was being lazy or dumb. He just really wanted the counter to be cleaner than I wanted it to be. How silly, I thought, to make it into anything else.
And that’s when it happened. That’s when the thought came to me: It doesn’t matter who your husband is. And immediately, I understood what it meant. It meant that if I am able to continue on in the mindset I’m in today, it really wouldn’t matter what my husband ever did or said. I couldn’t ever get angry or annoyed or take something personally; it just would not be possible. The only thing that would matter is the way that I’d respond. And the more times I responded calmly, asking Jack to “please use a different tone of voice” or making a joke about the difficult day he must’ve had, the less condescending he would likely act on a regular basis. This wouldn’t work for every husband, maybe, but for most, I think it would.
I could to married to almost anyone, and be happy.
Crazy thought, right? Crazy thought: Should this experiment be successful, I could one day have total immunity to annoyance. But then, it’s not really so crazy. After all, isn’t that why I’m doing this? I’m doing this to become a more spiritually connected person. And if I become a bit more connected every day, true divine connection feels inevitable.
By the way, the fear I mentioned before about acting overly spiritual around other people? Not actually a problem so far. Maybe that only happens when you start to get a big head about it. Or maybe I’ve just been misinterpreting the seemingly condescending but possibly actually sincerely helpful spiritual guru-types I’ve met.
In any case. I hope I’m in no danger of being mistaken for the same, and I’ll continue to try to prevent it.
March 10: Moody, Sick and Tired
Day two: moody. Sick, too. And pretty tired. Moody, sick and tired, and doubting today will go as well as yesterday.
Well, I went for a walk today and despite continuing to feel crappy, I managed to have a pretty good day. I wasn’t able to keep up the same level of spiritual awareness that I did yesterday, but there was one notable experience. Inspired by a tip from that inner guide I’ve been writing about so much, I decided to go to the library, then once there to take the time to ask a librarian a question I’ve had for a while. As we chatted, another librarian came by and noticed a book I was checking out, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. She said she liked it and we got into a discussion on spirituality. It was a nice chat and before I left she gave me a book recommendation as well as a church recommendation. It was the first time I had heard of a church where people actually believe the same stuff I do.
The timing of this conversation feels totally non-coincidental to me. I am very much looking forward to meeting some like-minded people—and I’m happy today was somewhat successful after all.
Over on the friends news, things are moving along. As the writers’ group hasn’t been offering enough activity choices, I joined a second group as well, this one for working moms. Last week I went to three meetings and play dates: one at somebody’s home (no one really talked; everybody was focused on their kids and I left early), another coffee outing (good conversation, no special connections) and a movie. At the movie I met a mom who lives near my house—Friend Number Two, I’ll call her here—and she invited me to another group event. Then she actually followed through with an email and today, the baby and I met her and several others at an indoor playground at the mall.
Here’s the short version of the evening: Friend Two, a very friendly lady, gave me a long lecture on the importance of sleep and feeding schedules (parenting practices I purposely avoid). Most of the other moms spent most of the time telling their kids what not to do and then watching to make sure they didn’t do it, which didn’t leave a lot of time for conversation. Friend Number Three, though, was different.
Friend Number Three is plump, plain-looking and ponytailed—the low-maintenance type of person I’m usually drawn to. We talked about our jobs and our husbands and even our spiritual beliefs, and before I left I told her I’d email her soon.
I haven’t crossed Two off my list yet, but it’s this Three I’m really hopeful about.
The following is a sample worksheet taken from my book, School in a Book: The Science Worksheets. Clearly, the formatting leaves much to be desired, but if you make sure to print in portrait mode and only the desired pages, you should get a workable copy.
Of course, you can also purchase a copy of School in a Book: The Science Worksheets, which contains a complete overview of important concepts from chemistry, physics, astronomy, biology, genetics, botany, zoology, anatomy, medical science, geology, ecology and meteorology in about 100 effective matching worksheets. The goal is that by the time a student completes all of the workbooks several times, or simply studies School in a Book on their own (which might be harder!), they will have gained a thorough review of much of what their K-12 education covers.
School in a Book: The Science Worksheets: Chemistry Level One
Instructions: Read through the definitions at the bottom of the worksheet, then fold that part of the paper underneath to hide them. On the top part of the worksheet, draw a line from each word from the word bank to the definition that best fits it.
Gas ~ Density ~ Chemistry ~ Mass ~ Chemical ~ Liquid
Particle ~ Weight ~ Solid ~ Matter ~ Three states of matter
The science of matter, including what it is and how it’s made
Anything that is made of particles, takes up space (has volume), and has mass. It is one of only two “things” in the universe. The other is energy.
Any substance made up of two or more atoms. Note that this word is also used to refer to human-synthesized substances; however, this is a colloquial usage.
A measure of the force of gravity on something. It changes relative to where in space an object is located; for example, a book weighs less on the moon than on the earth.
A measure of something’s absolute heaviness (the amount of matter within it). It doesn’t change when the forces (such as the gravitational force) change because it is measured relative to an absolute standard (one kilogram).
The measure of something’s mass per unit of volume. Objects with more of this are heavier than other objects that take up the same amount of space.
A very small unit of matter that has properties such as mass, charge, and spin. These include atoms, molecules, ions, protons, neutrons, and electrons. Note that physicists have also discovered other mysterious particles that don’t seem quite physical in nature.
Solid, liquid and gas
A substance with a definite shape and definite volume
A substance with definite volume but a varying shape
A substance without a definite shape or definite volume. Note that air is not a gas, but a mixture of gases and other particles. The various gases aren’t chemically bonded to each other, and can be separated without breaking any chemical bonds.
Chemistry: The science of matter, including what it is and how it’s made
Chemical: Any substance made up of two or more atoms. Note that this word is also used to refer to human-synthesized substances; however, this is a colloquial usage.
Matter: Anything that is made of particles, takes up space (has volume), and has mass. It is one of only two “things” in the universe. The other is energy.
Weight: A measure of the force of gravity on something. It changes relative to where in space an object is located; for example, a book weighs less on the moon than on the earth.
Mass: A measure of something’s absolute heaviness (the amount of matter within it). It doesn’t change when the forces (such as the gravitational force) change because it is measured relative to an absolute standard (one kilogram).
Density: The measure of something’s mass per unit of volume. Objects with more of this are heavier than other objects that take up the same amount of space.
Particle: A very small unit of matter that has properties such as mass, charge, and spin. These include atoms, molecules, ions, protons, neutrons, and electrons. Note that physicists have also discovered other mysterious particles that don’t seem quite physical in nature.
The three states of matter: Solid, liquid and gas
Solid: A substance with a definite shape and definite volume
Liquid: A substance with definite volume but a varying shape
Gas: A substance without a definite shape or definite volume. Note that air is not a gas, but a mixture of gases and other particles. The various gases aren’t chemically bonded to each other, and can be separated without breaking any chemical bonds.
This is a short story that I wrote and self-published in 2013 or so called Medium Rare, about two college students living in the mid-1990s and trying to make sense of modern life. It started its life as a screenplay, but it’s too short and frankly, too weird for that medium and so, I reproduce it here, knowing that its merits might be found more in its message and style than in its plot.
It is a work of fiction.
Black screen. The sound of rustling leaves, then silence. Cut to a wide lawn between two 1970s-era classroom buildings on a community college campus. Outmoded lamposts line a nearby path. It is September of 1996.
Cut to a girl dressed in flannel sitting on the steps of a classroom building, vigorously chewing her fingernails.
Cut to a central outdoor square where many unconventionally dressed students stand in small groups discussing their clothing. Then cut to a shy-looking boy wearing a plain T-shirt, sneakers and jeans, standing alone and looking awkward.
Cut to an outdoor bench upon which three female students sit with their back facing the camera. The first woman is reading a book. She is very small. The middle woman is scribbling something on a piece of paper. She is of average size. The third girl is biting her fingernails. She is fat.
Fade to black. The sound of rustling leaves, then silence.
Cut to a green space between two buildings, where MELVIN walks casually, a monkey dressed like a person following behind him.
Cut to a tall clock in the middle of campus reading 11:59 a.m.
Cut to a field where a large group of students paint on canvases during an art class is taking place. A PROFESSOR looks on as NELL splashes her canvas messily.
Professor: “The more you fuck it up, the better it is.”
Cut to a restaurant. SOPHIE sips her coffee matter-of-factly. Across from her, JOHN stares silently.
John: “Sophie, I have something to tell you. I’m in love with you.”
Sophie: “Lying fuck.”
John looks downcast. He takes a sip of coffee, then sets down his cup.
Cut to a dorm room. UJI, GEORGE and DARRIN sit on a couch in a tidy-looking living room watching a football game. No beer or food is present. The guys are dressed well. Suddenly, Darrin stands up and faces the other two.
Darrin: “Do you think we’re … pretty?”
Darrin sits down again. The three men resume their attention to the game.
Cut to the campus lawn. NELL and RYAN lay side by side, reading. Both are in their mid-twenties, average-looking and slightly nerdy. Nell wears a brown sweater and glasses. Ryan wears a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers.
Nell: “So. Here we are.”
Ryan: “Yup. Again.”
Nell: “Do you like being here?”
Ryan: “In college?”
Ryan: “Sure. It’s good. People are weird, though.”
Nell: “Yeah. People are weird. Everything is weird.”
Nell: “Do you think … Are we weird?”
Ryan: “Probably. I don’t know. Are you?”
Nell: “I don’t feel weird. I think I might be … normal.”
Ryan: “I won’t tell anyone.”
Ryan: “I might be though.”
Nell: “Well, you probably are.”
Ryan: “I am?”
Nell: “Yeah, you are.”
Ryan: “How so?”
Nell: “You always want to figure everything out.”
Ryan: “Don’t you?”
Nell: “You know I do. But I don’t try so hard.”
Ryan: “Yeah. I suppose that’s true. Why don’t you? Try so hard?”
Nell: “I don’t know. Why do you?”
Ryan: “I don’t know. I guess because I think it’s possible.”
Nell: “You do?”
Ryan: “Okay, what?”
Nell: “Okay. You’ve convinced me. Good argument.”
Ryan: “I’ve convinced you?”
Nell: “Yes. You’ve convinced me. Let’s figure it out.”
Ryan laughs. “Okay.”
Cut to a clothing store in a shopping mall. UJI, an Asian man of college age, tries on a jacket, then, solemnly, purchases the jacket.
Cut to Uji’s apartment. Wearing the new jacket, he enters the apartment, switches on the light, and walks into his bedroom. He opens his bedroom closet, where there is a long line of black leather jackets hanging side by side. He takes off his shoes, places them in the closet, and shuts the door. Then he throws his new jacket over a chair, goes into his living room, and sits on his couch, a blank look on his face.
Cut to a meeting room. From the opposite side of a long table, an exceedingly cold, proper-looking woman interviews NATALIE RINDSTONE, a young female student, also very proper.
Interview: “As a quality control specialist for our company, you would assist in the process of ensuring end-user value so that future brand loyalists retain their positive impressions throughout the sales life cycle. How would you, Miss Rindstone, help enhance the value of our company?”
Natalie: “I would apply the maximum effort to all responsibilities entrusted to me. I believe I carry all necessary competence-related requirements to work well within your system of operations.”
Interviewer: “Our company prides itself in its reputation as the finest producer of its kind in the region. What unique, value-adding perspective will you bring to our organization?”
Natalie: “The work I do, whatever it may be, is a consistent expression of myself—and, therefore, it is art—the art of self.”
Interviewer: “What aspects of this company will best fit your personal goals for the future?”
Interviewer: “That will conclude our interview, Miss Rindstone. Thank you for your interest. We will be calling our choices later in the week.”
Cut to the campus lawn. RYAN and NELL reading. Suddenly, Nell rolls over, puts her book down and turns to Ryan.
Nell: “So. What’s our plan?”
Ryan: “You and your plans.”
Nell: “No, seriously. We need a plan.”
Ryan: “Gees, Nell. Now you’re getting excited.”
Nell: “I know. I hate that about myself. But what can you do.”
Ryan: “No. I’m kidding. It’s a good quality.”
Nell: “Okay then. What should we do? I’m going to write this down.”
Ryan puts down his book. “Okay. Well, we’re already in college. That’s a start.”
Nell writes something down. “Do you really think that’s going to help?”
Nell: “All right. That’s not part of it, then.” She crosses something off her list. “Any other ideas?”
Ryan: “Watch movies? People learn a lot from movies. And books, of course.”
Nell writes something down. “What kinds of books?”
Ryan: “About the meaning of life?”
Nell: “Sounds good. What else?”
Ryan: “How about talking to people?”
Nell: “Hmmm … That could be awkward.”
Ryan: “That’s okay.”
Nell writes down something else. “Books, movies and talking.”
Ryan: “Not very specific.”
Nell: “No problem. We have time.”
Ryan: “When should we start?”
Nell: “Well, we’re reading right now, anyway.”
Ryan: “Yeah. Let’s go back to that.”
They return to their books.
Cut to a clothing store in a shopping mall. DARRIN is quickly, efficiently pawing through clothing racks. OLIVIA, his girlfriend, follows behind him, looking bored. He takes a shirt and examines it.
Darrin offers Olivia the shirt. “Will you hold this?”
He hands it to her. She looks at it, then looks at him, annoyed, then takes the shirt.
Cut to a cafe. JOHN and SOPHIE sit quietly. Suddenly, John reaches over and takes Sophie’s hand.
John: “Will you be my girlfriend?”
Sophie: “(looking up) “I have one question for you: will you get jealous if I hang out with other guys?”
Sophie: “Then no.”
Cut to a dorm room. JESSICA, a very pretty girl, applies makeup.
Cut to a busy street. Jessica is walking alone when a passing car full of college students suddenly slows alongside of her. After staring a moment, the students begin to cheer and clap in genuine approval of her appearance.
Jessica looks up, smiles graciously, and curtsys.
Cut to the campus lawn. NELL and RYAN lie side by side.
Nell: “Some people say love is the meaning of life.”
Ryan: “I have heard that, yes. What do you think?”
Nell: “I don’t know. I guess there’s nothing better, anyway.”
Ryan: “No. I guess there isn’t.”
Nell: “Have you ever been in love?”
Ryan: “No. I guess not. And you?”
Cut to the path along the campus lawn, where one by one, students reply to an off-camera interviewer.
Natalie Rindstone: “Love? Romantic love? I doubt it.”
Uji: “Sex is how we propagate our species. So, yes.”
Jessica: “God is love. And he is what gives us meaning. So, yes. Love is the meaning of life.”
Sophie just laughs.
John: “(sadly) “I don’t know.”
Black screen. The sound of rustling leaves, then silence. Cut to the campus lawn. It is now December, and the trees are bare.
Cut to a classroom building. In the lobby sits a statue that resembles “The Thinker” by Rodin, with two differences: both of his hands are on his chin, and his shoulders are slumped.
Cut to the pathway by the campus lawn. A man and a woman, both extremely fat, walk side by side. We only see them from behind. Though they are using exuberant hand motions, their voices are not heard. After a few long moments, they turn out of sight.
Cut to a green space between two buildings, where MELVIN walks casually, a monkey dressed like a person following behind him.
Cut to a tall clock in the middle of campus reading 11:59 a.m.
Cut to the school cafeteria. While eating with a female friend, PENELOPE notices some spots on her skin.
Penelope: “I think I’m allergic to cauliflower. I’ve never been allergic to anything before.”
Cut to a lecture hall stage. GEORGE stands at the podium as the audience applauds. When they stop, George clears his throat then begins his speech.
George: “Wow. Well. I never thought I’d be here. This is amazing. This award is so meaningful to me personally. It is a crucial award. It is a critical award given by the critics who make crucial decisions on who will indeed, in the future, be truly successful … It shows that, although my novel hasn’t actually been written yet, you, the Pen Futurist Foundation, believe in me. You’ve seen something. Something … unique. Original. Interesting. For that, I thank you. I dedicate this award to my future wife, my future children, and the future of the writing profession, as well as the future of the Pen Futurists. Thank you. Thank you.”
The audience applauds enthusiastically.
Cut to a music room. HARRY, an overweight student, stands, clears his voice importantly, then begins to sing.
Harry: “Me me me me me!”
Cut to the campus lawn, where RYAN and NELL sit, as before.
Ryan: “What about … religion?”
Nell: “I know a guy who says that he’d do anything for his religion.”
Ryan: “Yeah. I wonder if he really would.”
Nell: “That’s definitely the meaning of his life. And it makes sense, actually. What’s more important than what happens after you die?”
Ryan: “Nothing. Unless nothing happens. Then everything.”
Nell: “Yeah. Confusing, isn’t it?”
Cut to the path along the campus lawn, where one by one, students reply to an off-camera interviewer.
Jessica: “I am a very spiritual person. But I never really have time to pray.”
Harry: “I don’t think about dying. I’m still young.”
Cut back to Ryan and Nell on the lawn.
Nell: “That didn’t help.”
Cut to a bus stop near campus. RYAN and NELL approach, joining the short line of people waiting there. Since the only bench available is wet (apparently from a recent rainfall), everyone is standing in front of the bench, facing the street— except one VERY OLD MAN who is facing the bench instead, staring at the advertisement that is painted on it. His face shows confusion mixed with contempt.
Ryan and Nell, last in the line, don’t notice the man. The bus comes, blocking the view of the people, then drives away, revealing the bench.
A sign on the bench reads: “Get Your Icks Out of Life: Use Dust-Away. Now in Spearmint.”
Cut to a city bus. NELL pulls the cord next to the window to signal a stop. She and RYAN disembark and starts to walk down the street. They enter a café and nod hello to JOHN and SOPHIE, who are sitting at a booth. They order coffee, sit down, and pull out some books and start reading.
Cut to the cafe. RYAN and NELL eating their meal quietly, reading. The waitress comes with the bill and clears their plates in silence. On top of the bill are two fortune cookies. Nell opens her fortune cookie and starts to read.
Nell: “Wow. This is small print.” She brings it closer to her face. “You are a dreamer. You think in colors, not in words. In the end, your ideas, not your actions, will help you. You have a quiet way about you that perplexes others. This is okay; let them be perplexed. It is good for their souls.” She turns the paper over. “Last night, when you were awake yet still sleeping, you rolled over and said to no one in particular, ‘I hope my future is as great as I think it could be. Then I would be truly fulfilled.’ Your eyes are blue, and your face is full of shadows. Your hair is brown, removing some of that mystery. You received an A on your English term paper last year, but only got a B in the class because you didn’t participate enough. Because you prefer not to participate. This is okay; some live, while others think. You think. Keep thinking.”
Ryan: “I’m going to read mine.”
Cut to the campus lawn, where RYAN and NELL sit, as before.
Nell: “I figured it out.”
Ryan: “You did?”
Nell: “Yes. I figured it out.”
Ryan: “Of course. Happiness. Let’s try it.”
Nell nods eagerly.
Cut to the path along the campus lawn, where one by one, students reply to an off-camera interviewer.
Very old man: “Happiness? You’ll never find that as long as you’re looking for it. Don’t even bother.”
Uji: “Evolutionarily speaking, we’re designed to always want, and never to be satisfied. That’s what keeps us motivated to keep this thing going.”
Jessica: “Isn’t that kind of shallow?”
Black screen. The sound of rustling leaves, then silence. Cut to the campus lawn. It is now March.
Cut to the inside of a classroom building. In a large foyer, a replica of the Mona Lisa is shown up-close. The one difference: she’s wearing makeup.
Cut to the front of a different building on campus, where there is a sculpture resembling the David, with one difference: he is covering his genitals with one of his hands.
Cut to a tall clock in the middle of campus reading 11:59 a.m.
Cut to the path near the campus lawn. MELVIN roller skates down the path, with monkey, also on skates, following behind. Nearby, RYAN sits alone on the lawn, staring at Melvin.
Ryan: “That was awesome.”
Cut to a living room. A DRAB WOMAN watches TV near a large window. She looks out, seeing a family ride by on their bicycles, all wearing helmets, all smiling.
Suddenly interested, she looks across the street at a playground. All of the kids on it are wearing helmets, smiling. She stands up, then goes to another window in her house.
She looks into her neighbor’s backyard. In a sandbox a little boy is playing, wearing a helmet—and smiling. The woman raises her eyebrows in surprise, then resumes watching TV.
Cut to a different living room. GEORGE is sitting on a couch by himself, doing homework. In the next room, a bedroom, VERY OLD MAN is sitting on the bed, watching TV at a low volume. A dog is barking intermittently in the background.
George: “Are you going to the traffic violations class?”
Very old man: “What?”
George: “Are you going to the traffic violations class?”
Very old man: “What?”
George: “The traffic violations class!”
Very old man: “I can’t hear you.”
George: “This is just like a Sartre play!”
Very old man: “What?”
Very old man: “Oh!”
George: “Where they are trying to talk to each other across the room but can’t hear over the dog. Or Samuel Beckett.”
Very old man: “Samuel Beckett’s plays are meant to be read not seen.”
George: “Yeah. “
Cut to a grocery store. PENELOPE pays for her groceries and leaves, then returns to the cashier, saying she was given too much change. The cashier corrects the mistake. Penelope smiles up at her proudly.
Cashier: “Thanks for doing that. My register would’ve been off.”
Penelope: “It’s okay. I know how it is. I’ve worked in retail before. I hated it when my register was off. Even a few cents. We always kept some extra pennies next to it for when that happened …”
She continues chattering. There is a time lapse, and when we rejoin the two, she is still talking as the cashier is helping other customers.
Penelope: “… I’m allergic to cauliflower. I break out in hives. I wish I knew what to do about it. Do you know what to do about it? It’s driving me absolutely crazy.”
Cut to the campus lawn. RYAN and NELL are lying side by side on their backs, starting at the sky and look dejected. There is a pause, then Nell begins to write something. She writes for about a minute, then stops.
Nell: “I wrote a poem.”
Ryan sits up. “You want to read it to me?”
Nell: “Sure. It’s called ‘I wish there was a wall in the middle of the world where everything was.’ Here it is: There is only one thing I want in life, and that is everything./Well, not everything, exactly. Just an understanding of everything, so that when I die I will know what to do./But if it isn’t possible to understand everything (which, let’s face it, seems to be the case), I would like to find a wall in the middle of the world/where everything was, so that even though I didn’t understand it I could at least observe it, and see what I could gather from the display.”
Ryan: “I like it, Nell.”
Nell: “Thank you.”
Ryan: “Do you really wish that?”
Nell: “Of course.”
Ryan: “So do I.”
Nell: “I know.”
Ryan: “How did you know?”
Nell: “I could just tell.”
Ryan: “I love you, Nell. You understand me.”
Nell: “I love you, too. You understand me, too.”
Ryan: “Do you think we’ll always be best friends?”
Nell: “I think that as long as we don’t have any other friends, we’ll have to be best friends.”
Ryan: “That’s true, I guess. But are we going to stop liking each other after a while like some other best friends do?”
Nell: “I don’t think so. But I don’t know.”
Ryan: “I don’t understand anything about life, Nell.”
Nell: “I know. That’s what makes you so sweet.”
Ryan: “Are you patronizing me?”
Nell: “No. That’s a good quality, being sweet. Don’t you think so?”
Ryan: “No, I don’t. I have never thought so.”
Nell: “That’s because you’re a guy. You don’t know that women actually like that. Good women, anyway.”
Ryan: “No, I guess I don’t know that.”
Nell: “I like that anyway.”
Ryan: “Well, I guess you’re a good woman, then.”
Nell: “You know it doesn’t work the other way around.”
Ryan: “If there was a wall in the middle of the world where everything was, where do you think it would be?”
Nell: “Probably somewhere in Wyoming.”
Ryan: “We should go there.”
Nell: “Maybe we will.”
Cut to another part of the campus lawn. JOHN and SOPHIE sit side by side.
John: “Do ya wanna go get coffee or something?”
Sophie: “Like a date?”
Sophie: “I only date poets. Are you a poet?”
Sophie: “Then no. Sorry.”
She walks away.
RYAN and NELL, books in hand, sit on the lawn nearby, watching this.
Nell: “And they say college doesn’t prepare you for the real world.”
Nell: “I wish it didn’t.”
Ryan: “What a disappointment.”
Cut to the campus lawn. RYAN and NELL lie side by side reading, as before.
Ryan: “So Nell, I was wondering … Have we ever made out?”
Nell: “Why? You want to make out with me?”
Ryan: “Sure. Why not?”
Nell: “Okay. Why not?”
They kiss, looking a little uncomfortable. Then they stop and look away from each other.
Ryan: “That was nice.”
Nell: “Yeah. What were we saying?”
Ryan: “We weren’t saying anything. We were just reading.”
Nell: “Oh, yeah. I think I need to do more of that.”
They return to their books.
Black screen. The sound of rustling leaves, then silence. Cut to the campus lawn. It is now March.
Cut to the campus lawn, where RYAN and NELL lie reading as before. This time, Nell is reading Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud while eating an apple.
Nell: “This apple tastes like apple juice.”
Cut to a green space between classroom buildings, where MELVIN walks between two buildings, a monkey dressed like a person following behind him, as before.
Cut to a tall clock in the middle of campus reading 11:59 a.m.
Cut to a casino. UJI is standing alone at a craps table. He rolls the dice. He loses. He rolls the dice again. He loses again. He shows no emotion. His chips are taken away quickly and he plays on, again and again.
Cut to a small drive-thru espresso stand. OLIVIA, lacking enthusiasm, serves a customer, who then drives away. Another CUSTOMER then drives up. A dog hangs its head out of one of the car windows, panting.
Customer: “Hi. Uhhh … Anything on special?”
Olivia looks at the dog. “Mondays we have the medium Crème Angelica for $2.99.”
Customer: “Uhhh … “I’ll have a latte. Large, vanilla, iced, with whipped cream.”
Olivia: “$4.50, please.”
Olivia prepares the drink and hands it through the window. She takes the money and thanks the driver, who then drives away. The car winds out into traffic slowly.
Back at the espresso stand, OLIVIA is sticking her head all the way out of the stand’s drive-thru window, the wind blowing her hair lightly. She is smiling.
Cut to the campus lawn, where RYAN and NELL sit, as before.
Ryan: “You okay?”
Nell: “Yeah. Okay.”
Ryan: “Book good?”
Nell: “Yeah. I’m bored.”
Ryan: “Me too.”
Nell: “Wanna go check out a chatroom?”
They look at each other. There is a long pause. Suddenly, both of them smile knowingly.
Nell. “The Internet.”
Cut to the library. Ryan and Nell stand next to a computer, staring at the screen. They click on the Netscape logo, and the AOL home page comes up. Ryan and Nell look at each other again.
Nell: “I wish there was a wall in the middle of the world where everything was.”
Nell: “Fucking eureka.”
Cut to a bedroom. Ryan and Nell are lying side by side on a bed.
Nell: “It was there all along.”
Ryan: “Your poem was inspired.”
Nell: “And it’s true. It’s everything.”
Ryan: “Is it the meaning of life, though?”
Nell: “It’s not the meaning of life. It’s just … life.”
Cut to the campus lawn. RYAN and NELL lie on the lawn, as before. MELVIN and his monkey pass by on their way to a classroom building. Noticing them, Ryan and Nell simultaneously prop themselves up on their arms.
Nell: “Excuse me, sir.”
Melvin: “Oui, mademoiselle?”
Nell: “Please tell me how it all makes sense.”
Melvin: “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Nell: “So what do we do?”
Melvin: “Make sense of it.”
He walks into the building. Soon, he is followed by the entire cast of characters. First, John and Sophie, holding hands, follow him in. Then, Darrin, Uji, and George, talking and walking together. After that, Natalie Rindstone and Jessica go inside, followed by Penelope and Harry. Lastly, Olivia goes inside. She is alone.
Ryan and Nell get up and follow the others, pausing just outside the building’s front door.
On the Bus is a short collection of poems I wrote in my twenties about love, lust and discovery. A few were published in the poetry anthology my university put together, and though many years have passed since writing them, I still genuinely like them. I don’t know if that means anything, but either way, here they are.
It was a lot of hard work writing these poems, and it took a long time.
I am glad that it happened before I was around.
Most of the poems in this collection are about love, the hardest thing in the world to get right, and, with a few exceptions (Not for Me and Night), they weren’t written by me. They were written over the past ten or more years by the young woman that I used to be. In a sense, some of them might have even been written by the young girl I used to be, the one who hid on the steps around the corner from the playground during recess. And reading over them has made me want to talk to that girl again sometime. I think her poems are good.
And I miss her a lot.
Mollie Player, September 2011
On the Bus
They told me you did nothing unusual the day that I left. You moved like you always do through the long slow heat of a summer afternoon.
But that day I waited for the bus, watching the cars pass by, and I waited for a discarded Styrofoam cup to finally crush under a passing wheel or blow away
Will anything ever again smell like the wet sweet smell of the grass in that big empty football field during a certain autumn night
He is my son, too, and I am his mother. The last summer we were together, it did not feel like summer because we did not go anywhere at all. We slept and we lived and that is all.
We were alone.
He was my favorite thing and my lover, and living there was just a convenience. And no one will ever know what we did together all those hours we were there, even me.
Music builds a whole eating living breathing world out of the thin oxygen-deprived home air
Feet in the Doorway
You know how sometimes you can feel it in your feet, because your feet have blood and your blood is in your heart— at— some— point . . . Anyway, Both of my feet can feel the waiting when I’m watching you before you go to bed, when you can’t see me in the doorway—
(my feet are tingling in the doorway)
Maybe You Are Convinced Without Words
Maybe you are not convinced. How to convince someone who is so unconvinced, habitually? (Maybe you are convinced without words.) One paragraph is not enough for you to know your true effect (you affect me habitually). Maybe you will never know (Maybe you are convinced without words.)
Henceforth, my poems to you shall be like raindrops on a tin roof: not always pleasant like rain can be, but certainly incessant and, ideally, disturbing.
I could write about the way I see your long blond body and your strong standing pitchfork way of standing and your loud-like-a-metal-crate-scraping-on-a-tile-floor vocal expression kind of expression, and maybe you would understand. But how do I write about your hands, and the way they obtain me like an accomplishment (your first major accomplishment) (you are a boy) and the way that the sun winks pink through the slanted window shades in the morning at this screaming baby manhood
(they are accomplished—)
(Next to God and of Course America I)
I of course do not expect perfection. You, however, are like the Milky Way, in its way perfect, and scientific.
(I do not want perfection. I only want the boy on a platform waiting for the subway in a city he does not understand—)
Nevertheless, it is always there, love, even in the teeniest tiniest most infinitesimal hour of the morning so small you think its almost not even an hour at all—
A Love Poem
When I woke up this morning I realized you are the festering red-orange wound that is the sun on the pink bloody landscape that did not ask for light—
For me it’s like a canvas, perfect and complete, falling on my body with a sudden color palate and a readied pain: It’s for me to paint the picture but first to rid myself of the weight—
The dry spot on the pavement is still there from where your car was parked this morning during a light rain
Another lazy night and the car door Announces the arrival. The fifth-floor
Bedroom window is filled with a grayish Silhouette whispering, “Stop time.” This is
The best part. The anticipation, snow- Streaked streets lit and quiet like they know
And are also ashamed. They hear the blinds Slide shut and they know that as the clock chimes,
Speaking of four a.m., the sun will rise And so will she. The morning will cover the night.
Don’t ask me to love your toenail biting and your Being-John-Malkovich head of blond curly ideas.
I will not ask you to love my pink neon plastic shoes or my Pulp Fiction all-night dancing fetish.
Love me; disregard these (secondary) quirks.
Here I am a joke; but I turn the joke Around; I spin it like a nickel on
A counter at a penny candy store. A shivering shiny menace in a
Penny candy world. Spins past the almond Roca apple fritter fatter farther
Till it too gives up. Stops and falls to its Stomach on the marble surface of an
Undefeated front. It lies, it lies, And refuses this frivolous revolt.
So in the end, my protest made no change at All; it was only a distraction.
Man at the Opera
Man is arm stretched flat on opera chair back curled fingers hiding agendas and rough skin dress shirt sleeve folded up at wrist feigning carelessness
I Don’t Know What We Said
I don’t know what we said, but the time stopped and the ache in my chest turned to flesh-marring shivering dull exultation. (I stole ‘exultation’ from Dickens—) It doesn’t matter. He set me on a table, took my shirt and ripped it open and saw my chest and removed the lonely cancer like a surgeon. There was no one after to replace him for his skill. Does he miss me, still? This bleeding will stop— (where to go?)
The queen sits in her castle breathing irregularly. The boy stands near her door listening carefully.
The only one who ever touched me never did again; he saw the trash throbbing for a heart underneath my clothes, turned around and never looked again. But I like my black soot-bathed heart; better than the pink ripe flesh of youth, it is the truth.
Attempted Love Poem
I don’t know how to write a love poem. I never have before. There is no poetry for the pain in my chest under the breast that just breathes and won’t leave, and there is no poetry for love.
A Kitchen Floor
They still debate Hemingway.
If they can still debate Hemingway, I may never be found.
I may never be found.
Only gods can find things because only gods can see.
Only gods can see.
The rest of us are still searching for very large inventions like a black-and-white tile kitchen floor and discovery.
That night, he was like perfection, almost. His eyes were so kind. His neck was so slim and convincing. As I stared at him he laughed at me and we stayed awake for a very long time.
After that, though, he was gone. And that is how he will always be to me now. He will be apart from it all, like something from outside this plain earth, with half-misty sun-scraped eyes, for whom life will always be a bowl of cherries that he doesn’t even really want to eat.
Right now, the whole world is moving, very slowly, but moving, and I’m just closing my eyes, trying not to be seasick.
Just One Bite
He does not love me. He will never love me. He will never bake a cake for my birthday with orange frosting and little yellow roses on the top like the one we saw in a store window that I told him I thought was so nice.
Not even once. And even if he did, I wouldn’t eat it. But I would have a bite.
The only thing left to do at one o’clock in the morning is to wait for you to turn over in your sleep so that I can see your face and make sure all this is not my imagination—
The only thing left to do at one o’clock in the morning after you’ve fallen asleep is to look out of the window and wonder if the whole entire world is telling me a story, and, if so, what is it saying about us?
It wasn’t even three o’clock this morning when you like a monster woke me from my dreams. I opened my eyes and scraped a shin escaping from you and the repetition of waiting and finding and throwing away, like a kid with a toy he asked for but never really wanted.
And yet, there were hours. Hours from two to twelve, but that’s thirty-six thousand seconds and all those minutes as well.
Besides, it was profound. Everything was profound. Even the salt and pepper shakers were profound. Somehow to me they seemed like more than just salt and pepper shakers and I don’t think that I am the only one who’s ever thought that. They sat on the table at the restaurant not doing anything, just thinking, and they were profoundly obedient and profoundly coupled and profoundly, beautifully, cured.
This morning, though, I woke up. Morning is for waking up. I saw you next to me and I breathed you in and after a moment I coughed. And I remembered what there was to remember, and even just that was enough.
Later, at home, the bathtub faucet dripped very slowly into the tub, and each drip, drip, drip into the tub melted me like ice and I, too, was cured.
I know you’re not going to take all my many book recommendations, but please. Please, take this one. The Art of Learning: A Journey in The Pursuit of Excellence by Josh Waitzkin recounts the author’s path to becoming an eight-time national chess champion (and the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer), then his journey to several world Tai Chi championships. So you might say he’s had a pretty successful life.
In telling his story, Waitzkin offers in-depth theories about the learning process, drawing parallels between two major areas of knowledge. His main theme is how to become not just good at something, but truly excellent.
Teachers do best not to lecture, but instead to allow for mistakes, then gently question the student about them. Waitzkin’s first chess teacher, Bruce, didn’t speak much. They just played: “Whenever I made a fundamental error, he would mention the principle I had violated. If I refused to judge, he’d proceed to take advantage of the error until my position fell apart.”
“Much of the time in our lessons was spent in silence, with us both thinking. Bruce did not want to feed me information, but to help my mind carve itself into maturity.”
Another lesson: Teachers must not squelch the natural style of the student, or their love of the game. “Many teachers have no feel for this balance and try to force their students into cookie-cutter molds. I have run into quite a few ego maniacal instructors like this over the years and have come to believe that their method is profoundly destructive for students in the long run … Teachers should be a guide, not an authority.
Another lesson: Some people are “entity” learning theorists and some are “incremental” theorists. Some kids are taught that their intelligence is fixed, an entity, part of who they are, while others believe deep down that skill is an incrementally learned thing. The latter do much better in every way, even stuff they start out poor at. Parents, teachers must restate praise and commentary to reinforce this idea. Never say “you’re good at this,” only “you’ve learned this well,” etc. The child labeled “smart” at something won’t want to face a challenge, list he fail to live up to expectations.
Another lesson: Performing in the “soft zone” is better than in the “hard zone.” In the soft zone, interruptions can come, and you can flex with them, allow them, then get back into your flow thought. In the hard zone, by contrast, you’re tense and rigid and if anything interrupts you, you try to fight against it. The soft zone is when outwardly you look serene, though inside you’re fully focused.
Waitzkin relates a parable of man who wants to walk across the earth, though it’s covered in thorns. The “Hard Zone” fighter will try to cover all the earth with pavement. The “Soft Zone” performer makes sandals.
Another lesson: We must learn “numbers to leave numbers” and “form to leave form.” This means that the great performer first fully digests and assimilates all relevant knowledge of their trade, so that it becomes a part of them and can be accessed automatically. Their mind or subconscious does that part of the work for them, with no consciousness of it at all. In this state, they can break the rules well, as an artist who has fully learned her craft before trying something new.
The excellent performer notes the feeling he has when he does something right, even when he’s not sure exactly why it was so right. Then he seeks to replicate that feeling. In sports, this is when you seek a certain feeling while striking the ball, rather than thinking about the technique. In chess, it’s when you get a feeling about a good move you make, then seek to replicate it later.
Another lesson: Watch for times when your life outside your trade affects your performance. The author gives an example of when he was struggling with a life transition, then started making mistakes in his chess game, also during transition moments. His subconscious was uncomfortable with the transition moment.
Another lesson: When possible, use “beginner’s mind.” Beginners and children aren’t afraid to fail. But experts think of every failure as a crisis, which greatly impedes improvement. Be playful.
Allow “investments in loss”–times when you’re not performing optimally because you’re working on honing a new skill.
The author describes the art of Tai Chi and the great strength that you have when you don’t the opponent, but instead use their own force against them.
Another lesson: “Make smaller circles.” When a writing student, for example, is blocked after being told to write about his hometown, the teacher tells her to write about a single brick of a single building. In order to become exceptional, we must break down the art to its very smallest components, then practice and practice those until every single nuance is deeply felt and understood. The author provides an example from his Tai Chi training, saying that he had to perfect the art of the single, straight punch to such a degree that his arm barely had to move in order to deliver a powerful blow.
Another lesson: Use adversity to your advantage. Great performers see what they can learn from the worst circumstances. His example was that of perfecting his left-dominant fighting when his right hand was broken.
Another lesson: Don’t neglect the internal or abstract or intuitive angles of the skill. NFL players who use the off-season to review tapes learn to intuitively see patterns in the plays.
Another lesson: Practice “chunking”–learning whole tactics or sections of knowledge so well that they become intuitive, and don’t need to be broken down in your mind into smaller parts. These sections will then come to you all at once, which saves a lot of time.
Learn how to induce shock or heightened emotion in order to slow down time. When Waitzkin broke his hand during a fight, his awareness increased and time felt slower. The trick is to learn how to create this heightened awareness when you aren’t experiencing anything unique–to do it at will.
Another lesson: Be present. “Everyone at a high level has a huge amount of chess understanding, and much of what separates the great from the very good is deep presence, relaxation of the conscious mind, which allows the unconscious to flow unhindered.”
The Grandmaster chess player looks at (consciously, focuses on) less than the master, but sees more.
Also, sometimes Grandmasters are able to almost read the minds of their competitors.
Another lesson: The winner is the one that controls the tone of the game. Examples: Waitzkin’s chess style is erratic; he thrives in the chaos. Others prefer a more methodical game. When he controls the tone of the game, he has a huge advantage.
Another lesson: It’s a hugely important to take breaks from your skill at times. Waitzkin took two weeks at sea with his family every summer, which felt like a huge sacrifice at the time. He also learned to take short mental breaks during chess matches – to stop studying the board for a few minutes and run up a few flights of stairs – and to tighten his recovery time between Tai Chi rounds to one minute.
Another lesson: If you want more serenity during your trade of choice, find something in your life that gives you a feeling of flow, peace – then either do that before you go to work or practice… or if that’s not possible, set up a short routine that you can do before your relaxation activity. Program yourself to enter flow during this “pre-flow” routine, then after it’s ingrained, you can switch to doing the “pre-flow” activities before you go to work, and it will create the flow, since your brain associates it with your flow activity. This is called “building your trigger.”
Another lesson: “Convert your passions into fuel.” Make even negative emotions work for you, not against you. Example: Basketball star Reggie Miller used Spike Lee’s heckling to fire him up before a game.
Another principle: Seek out competitors who are better than you are, or who work differently.
Another principle: Learn from moments of great insight, leaps of logic, great inspiration and creativity. Don’t assume you just happened upon something inspired. Review it, break it down, learn why and how it worked. After you do this, you will have gained ground, permanently raising your level. From there, another new height comes within reach. “In that moment, it is as if you are seeing something that is suspended in the sky just above the top of your pyramid. There is a connection between that discovery and what you know–or else you wouldn’t have discovered it–and you can find that connection of you try.”
About the Author
Josh Waitzkin is an American chess player, martial artist, and author. He is best known for his achievements in the world of chess, having become a National Master at the age of 10 and winning multiple national championships. Waitzkin has also excelled in the martial arts, earning multiple black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and becoming a world champion in Tai Chi Push Hands. In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Waitzkin is a highly regarded author and speaker, having written two books on the topics of learning and performance, “The Art of Learning” and “The Art of Possibility.” Waitzkin is also the founder of the JW Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes the benefits of chess and martial arts to children around the world. His unique blend of expertise in multiple disciplines has made him a sought-after speaker and coach, and his insights into the process of learning and mastery have inspired countless people to achieve their own goals.
John Holt is a from-the-heart writer with a beautiful writing voice. His love of and respect for children is sweet to read, and his perspective on education is revolutionary. I also love the striking examples he uses.
Learning All the Time,Instead of Education and other books by Holt make the same basic argument: the educational system we’re used to is irreversibly flawed. Learning should be a self-guided process that is assisted by caring facilitators.
Read it because you want to homeschool your children, or because you want to remember what we love about learning.
Key Takeaways from Learning All the Time
Kids are all their own kinds of genius. Just give them a good, positive environment in which to learn and grow, and see what happens.
The best way to teach a child to read: don’t. Read to him, let him be exposed to books, give him books as gifts, until one day they ask to do the reading. Then read the book together, one word at a time.
“Anytime that, without being invited, without being asked, we try to teach somebody else something … we convey to that person, whether we know it or not, a double message. The first part of the message is: I am teaching you something important, but you’re not smart enough to see how important it is. Unless I teach it to you, you’d probably never bother to find out. The second message is: What I’m teaching you is so difficult that, if I didn’t teach it to you, you couldn’t learn it.”
The author’s first elementary school believed in lots of praise. The result: “By the time I came to know them in the fifth grade, all but a few of the children were so totally dependent on continued adult approval that they were terrified of not getting it, terrified of making mistakes.”
“Babies do not learn in order to please us, but because it’s their instinct and nature to want to find out about the world. If we praise them in everything they do, after a while they are going to start learning, doing things, just to please us … The next step is that they are going to become worried about not pleasing us …”
For learning times tables, make a 12 x 12 grid and let the child fill it in at her own pace, without correcting it. Keep it on the fridge, and have her do it over and over.
“What children want and need from us is thoughtful attention. They want us to notice them and pay some kind of attention to what they do, to take them seriously, to trust and respect them as human beings. They want courtesy and politeness, but they don’t need much praise.”
Key Takeaways from Instead of Education
We learn by doing. Period.
Carrots and sticks—rewards and punishments—don’t work.
Learning is not separate from life.
There are little-s schools and big-s Schools. Big-s Schools are pedantic, threatening, forceful and don’t offer choice. In little-s schools, all students are free at all times to do or not do, participate or not participate, leave or go. There are no attendance records, no tests, no grades. Teachers are not lecturers, but guides.
Summerhill was a makeshift school furnished with little more than beer crates. Most of what happened there during the day was simply conversation and reading. In the morning there was dancing and drums and other physical activity directed by the kids. The school keep attendance records but there was no punishment when someone didn’t come. Watching was considered an important activity, and teachers admitted what they didn’t know.
Once at Summerhill, Holt saw a new boy hit a girl. Though the girl was slightly hurt, she didn’t cry to the teacher. The other kids sympathized with her but did not reprimand the boy; instead, they felt sorry for him and acted as if they assumed that he would soon learn to behave better.
In another example, another new boy “. . . did one thing over and over again. He heated his nail red hot and stuck it into a piece of wood, which charred and smoked . . . I have never sensed more violence and anger in a child . . .” The teachers said nothing, allowing him to work through what he needed to work through. “Two years later, when I next visited the school, he was a peaceful, kind, happy child . . .”
Pay attention to the stories you tell about your kids and the labels you give them. Use “focused” instead of “stubborn.” This provides an example to others as well.
Parents who are able to stay calm do so because they understand the child’s unique struggles and reasons for behaving the way they do. They adjust their expectations accordingly and have compassion. Don’t get caught up in an adversarial relationship with your child that will be hard to change later on.
Sensory activities like cooking, bathing, gardening and holding stuffed animals help children learn and also help their brains develop.
Kids need physical exercise in order to process thoughts and feelings.
Humor also works well to calm a child or change their behavior.
When a child mistreats another child, allow the child space to calm down first. Then talk to the child about the behavior, especially the trigger for it. Ask them what they might do differently in the future. Then ask them to make amends. This process is very different from outright punishment.
When a child is upset, be present, offer touch, and give the child space. You can tell him, “I will not touch you, but I will stay near you until your body is calm.”
About the Author
John Holt (1923-1985) was an American educator and author, known for his work on education reform and his advocacy for homeschooling. He was a teacher himself for many years, and his experiences in the classroom led him to question the traditional approach to education. He believed that children learn best when they are allowed to explore and discover on their own, rather than being forced to follow a rigid curriculum. Holt’s writings, including “How Children Fail” and “How Children Learn,” had a profound impact on the educational system and inspired many parents and educators to rethink their approach to teaching. He also founded the Holt Associates, an organization dedicated to promoting homeschooling as an alternative to traditional schooling. Today, Holt is remembered as a pioneer in the field of alternative education, and his ideas continue to influence the way we think about teaching and learning.
It’s hard to do justice to Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini in a few words, except to say that is very likely the best book on sales ever written.
Read it to find out how salespeople will try to manipulate you–and how to say no.
Cialdini identifies the six major tools of influence (i.e. sales): reciprocation; commitment/consistency; social proof; liking; authority; and scarcity.
On reciprocation: Giving gifts—even very small ones—creates a major sense of obligation in the receiver to reciprocate. Often, they will jump at the chance to get rid of that perceived obligation. The takeaway for salespeople: Give small “free gifts” before making the big sale. Or, ask for something big first, then retreat to something smaller when they say no, so they feel they owe you the sale.
On consistency: People have, and want to have, a strong sense of personal identity. If a potential buyer is “primed” beforehand to identify with your product, they’re much more likely to go all the way with it. The takeaway for salespeople: Get potential buyers to identify with your product in some (seemingly voluntary) way, such as agreeing to write a letter, sign a petition, display a small sticker or logo, pass along an email, etc. This also creates a perceived commitment, which they are loathe to go back on later. Or, get someone to commit to a product by making a lowball offer, then raise it later. (This is also sometimes called the “ladder of comittment.”)
On social proof: People copy each other. They just can’t help it. No one can do all the research themselves; they rely on others to lead the way. The takeaway for salespeople: Use the cliché pitches: “fastest-growing,” “most popular,” customer testimonials, etc.
On liking: Liking is also a super effective way to encourage the desire to buy. The takeaway for salespeople: Think about how can you get people to like or root for your brand—to be on your side, identify with your cause, want to spread the word.
The book also discusses the principle of contrast, saying that when you first try to sell a higher priced item, or you artificially raise the price to begin with, when you take it down a notch it feels like a great deal.
About the Author
Robert Cialdini is an American psychologist and professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University. He is widely recognized as a leading expert in the field of influence and persuasion, and is the author of the best-selling book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In his work, Cialdini has identified six key principles of influence, including reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, likability, and consensus. He has applied these principles to a wide range of fields, including business, marketing, and politics, and has helped companies, governments, and other organizations understand how to use these principles effectively. Cialdini’s insights have had a significant impact on the way people think about influence and persuasion, and his work continues to be widely cited and respected.
If you don’t read at least three books on physics during your life, you’re truly missing out. Let one of them be The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, a well-written overview of the mysteries of the universe by Brian Greene.
Read it to gain an understanding of some of the most fascinating scientific discoveries ever made (black holes! quantum physics!) and for the joy of pondering your place in it all.
This book focuses on revisions to our understanding of space and time, from Aristotle to Einstein.
Despite not understanding every aspect of the universe, we have an understanding of its broad strokes.
Our experiences shape our perception of reality.
Scientific inquiry has shown that human experience is often not an accurate reflection of reality.
The work of scientists has revealed a universe that is surprising, unfamiliar, and unlike what was expected.
Modern physics has shown that assessing life through everyday experience is limited.
Einstein’s theories of relativity toppled Newton’s conception of reality.
Classical physics (Newtonian physics) is limited in its depiction of reality, which is actually relativistic.
According to quantum mechanics, the future and past are not etched into the present and the universe participates in a game of chance.
Quantum mechanics describes a reality in which things are sometimes uncertain until observed.
Superstring theory unifies general relativity and quantum mechanics, has the potential to explain all of nature’s forces and matter, and suggests the existence of extra dimensions beyond what we can see.
If superstring theory is proven correct, our current understanding of reality would be limited to a small slice of a richly textured cosmic fabric.
“The overarching lesson that has emerged from scientific inquiry over the last century is that human experience is often a misleading guide to the true nature of reality.”
“A core feature of classical physics is that if you know the positions and velocities of all objects at a particular moment, Newton’s equations, together with their Maxwellian updating, can tell you their positions and velocities at any other moment, past or future. Without equivocation, classical physics declares that the past and future are etched into the present … But according to the quantum laws, even if you make the most perfect measurements possible of how things are today, the best you can ever hope to do is predict the probability that things will be one way or another at some chosen time in the future, or that things were one way or another at some chosen time in the past.”
“The universe, according to quantum mechanics, is not etched into the present; the universe, according to quantum mechanics, participates in a game of chance.”
“If superstring theory is proven correct, we will be forced to accept that the reality we have known is but a delicate chiffon draped over a thick and richly textured cosmic fabric.”
About the Author
Brian Greene is a theoretical physicist and mathematician, best known for his contributions to our understanding of string theory and the concept of parallel universes. He is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and a co-founder of the World Science Festival. Greene is also an award-winning author, with books including The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and Icarus at the Edge of Time. He has been featured in numerous television programs, including the documentary series The Fabric of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe, both of which were based on his books.
I love a good journalist. Tara Parker-Pope is one of those. She’s done her research on the research, and now presents us with a thorough examination of the science of marriage. Here are my notes on For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed.
Contrary to popular opinion, “. . . marital stability appears to be improving each decade.”
Modern marriage is sometimes called the “soul mate marriage,” and the expectations on it are high.
“. . . Strong marriages have at least a five-to-one daily ratio of positive to negative interactions.”
Scientists have found a genetic link for monogamous and non-monogamous behavior.
Hormonal contraceptives can cause women to choose the wrong partner, blunting her natural instincts.
Marriage is a protective factor for colds, cancer, heart attacks, dementia and more.
The longer a relationship continues, the less sex women crave. “Researchers from Hamburg-Eppendorf University in Germany interviewed 530 men and women about their relationships and interest in sex. They found that 60 percent of the thirty-year-old women studied wanted sex ‘often’ at the start of a relationship. But within four years this figure dropped to fewer than half, and by twenty years, only one in five women wanted regular sex. The sharp decline in sexual interest wasn’t seen among men in the study.”
Researchers found that the way a partner describes how they met their spouse–whether their story of the event is tinted with optimism or with negative or regretful overtones–predicts their future with that spouse. (Happy couples also say “we” or “us” more often than unhappy ones.)
Eye rolling is one of the most reliable body language indicators of troubled marriages.
“Marriage researchers say that 70 percent of the time, the conflicts that arise between couples are never resolved. In one study, couples who were tracked for a decade were still fighting about the same things they had been arguing about ten years earlier . . . The lesson, say a number of noted marriage researchers, is that compatibility is overrated.”
“Studies show that women tend to initiate about 80 percent of fights. This doesn’t mean women are to blame for causing all the trouble in marriages. It just means they are more willing to take the emotional risk of trying to resolve problems.”
Physiologically, women respond with greater calm to conflict than do men.
Successful arguments often start with a complaint. Unsuccessful ones often start with a criticism.
Successful arguers know how to de-escalate a fight using calm tones and non-hostile body language.
New parenthood lowers marital satisfaction greatly, though largely temporarily.
A fair division of household chores is one of the best ways to avoid marital tension.
Often, women chose to take on more responsibility at home because they don’t want to give up control. They also care more about and are better at deciphering details.
Arguments between same-sex couples seem to contain fewer verbal attacks and less controlling behavior.
Couples who stay married often marry after the age of twenty-five, are not college dropouts, wait ten years before deciding whether or not to divorce, marry someone with similar interests and background, and marry someone whose parents are still married.
About the Author
Tara Parker-Pope is a writer and journalist who specializes in health and wellness. She is best known for her work as a health columnist at The New York Times, where she has written about a wide range of health topics, from fitness and nutrition to medical treatments and public health policy. Parker-Pope is widely respected for her in-depth reporting, her ability to translate complex medical information into accessible language, and her commitment to helping people live healthier, happier lives.
David Burns has been writing about depression, anxiety and one of the best-known treatments for it, cognitive therapy, for a long time. In my opinion, this is his best work. When Panic Attacks: A New Drug-free Therapy to Beat Chronic Shyness, Anxiety and Phobia provides surprising methods for combating these difficult mental health challenges, and his conversational–even humorous–tone will inspire you to try them (no matter how wacky they may seem).
Read this book to learn a variety of interesting techniques for coaching yourself through difficult moments.
There are many cognitive exercises you can use to self-calm during an acute episode of anxiety, panic or depression. Here are just a few:
The “what-if technique”: Write down the negative thought and ask questions to challenge them. Keep asking questions until you get to the core fear.
The experimental technique: Test negative thoughts like a scientist tests a theory, asking for and weighing the evidence.
The reattribution technique: Rather than talking yourself out of your negative thought or fear, simply take a more well-rounded perspective and reduce exaggeration. Look for the shades of grey.
The “process versus outcome” technique: When worried about your performance, think about both the effort you put in and the outcome. You can control your preparation and hard work, but external factors may affect the outcome. Focus on the effort you put in, like attending classes and preparing well, and accept the outcome.
The should-catching technique: Catch any “shoulds” that you find in your negative thought or fear. Realieze that “words that cause emotional distress often fall outside the categories of moral, legal, or laws-of-the-universe shoulds. For example, feeling shy is not immoral, illegal, or a law of the universe.”
The “be specific” technique: Don’t let overgeneralizations fool you. Be specific about your self-critiques so they will hold less weight. Performance anxiety can come from fear of failure and being labeled a failure as a person.
The “supervisor from hell” technique: Play the part of a grumpy supervisor (your inner critic) who is telling you the things that your brain is telling you in your negative moment. Then, gently talk to the supervisor, questioning them until you see how illogical your inner critic is.
The self-monitoring technique: Count your negative thoughts throughout the day. Continuously monitoring negative thoughts can lead to a significant decrease in them and a noticeable improvement in your mood. You can use a score counter, like the ones golfers use, to keep track of your negative thoughts.
The worry breaks technique: Schedule time to purposely allow negative thoughts and feelings to surface and not fight against them. During these scheduled times, you allow yourself to experience the negative thoughts fully. The rest of the day, you can focus on living positively and productively.
The paradoxical magnification technique: Instead of refuting your negative thoughts, buy in to them and exaggerate them until they become humorous and absurd. “For example, if you feel inferior, you could tell yourself, ‘Yes, it’s true. In fact, I’m probably the most inferior person in California at this time, and maybe in the entire United States.'”
The humor technique: Substitute a funny, absurd fantasy in place of the one that’s making you anxious.
The acceptance technique: Instead of defending against the negative thought, find some truth in it. Agree with it, and befriend the critic in your mind.
The cost-benefit analysis technique: Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of having a negative thought that is bothering you.
The “devil’s advocate” technique: To overcome tempting negative thoughts, make a list and give it to a friend or family member. Ask them to act as the devil and tempt you with the thoughts on the list. The other person should use seductive language and address you with “you.” Your goal is to resist the temptation and defeat the devil. It can be challenging to do this, especially if your list is honest. If you get stuck, reverse roles so your friend can demonstrate a more effective response.
Other techniques for effectively overcoming an acute anxiety or depression episode are behavioral rather than cognitive. Some of these are:
Shame-attacking exercises: In order to overcome a fear of embarrassment, intentionally do something foolish in public. “You’ll usually discover that most people don’t look down on you and the world doesn’t really come to an end. In fact, most of the time, everyone ends up having a lot of fun.”
Exercise: Bursts of intense exercise, like jumping jacks, can stop a panic attack and get you out of a negative spiral.
Exposure therapy: Instead of avoiding your fears, engage in them! This is one of the best ways to overcome the fear. Keep track of your progress in writing.
About the Author
David D. Burns is an American psychiatrist, author, and pioneer in the development of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). He received his medical degree from the Stanford University School of Medicine and is best known for his bestselling self-help book, “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” which has sold over 5 million copies worldwide and is widely regarded as a classic in the field of CBT. He has also written several other books on CBT and psychotherapy, and is a frequent speaker and trainer at professional conferences and workshops. Burns has received numerous awards for his contributions to the field of mental health, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.
You’ve probably already noticed that these days, figuring out what to eat isn’t a simple matter. Opinions are all over the place. Unlike most diet books, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan is objective—maybe the most objective, balanced diet book out there. Pollan is not a nutritionist, but a journalist seeking the answer to a seemingly simple question, namely: “What should I eat?” You’ll never sound gullible quoting from a book by Pollan.
Pollan offers sixty-four succinctly and divinely worded food truisms, including “Eat only foods that eventually will rot” and “It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language. (Think Big Mac, Cheetos, or Pringles.)”
Says Pollan: “There have been, and can be, healthy high-fat and healthy low-fat diets, but they have always been diets built around whole foods.”
And: “I learned that in fact science knows a lot less about nutrition than you would expect—that in fact nutrition science is, to put it charitably, a very young science … Nutrition science … is today approximately where surgery was in the year 1650—very promising, and very interesting to watch, but are you ready to let them operate? I think I’ll wait a while.”
A wide variety of traditional diets are healthy; the modern diet is not. “What this suggests is that there is no single ideal human diet but that the human omnivore is exquisitely adapted to a wide range of different foods and a variety of different diets.”
The book’s bottom line is this: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
About the Author
Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He is best known for his work on the intersection of food, agriculture, and culture, and has written several highly acclaimed books on these topics. Pollan is a strong advocate for sustainable agriculture and the importance of knowing where our food comes from. He has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world and has won numerous awards for his writing, including the James Beard Award and the John Burroughs Medal. Pollan’s books, including “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food,” have had a significant impact on the way we think about food and the environment.
Malcom Gladwell, y’all. He’s not just another writer. He’s a genius journalist, whose stories keep you on edge and intellectually stimulated at the same time–even his story about ketchup. (Yes, he’s written one, and it was awesome.)
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is about what happens when we make crucial decisions in the tiny span of time between the external stimuli and the onset of logical thought. It takes you from a doctor’s office to a forest fire to a police shooting, recounting the ways that professionals applied split-second intuition (or missed their opportunity to do so) in vivid detail.
Read this book to better understand the inner workings of your mind, to better appreciate its powers of computation, and to learn when to listen to your intuition–and when not to.
Intuition is a powerful tool. Gladwell argues that our first impressions and gut feelings are often more accurate than we give them credit for. He explores the concept of “thin-slicing,” which is the ability of our unconscious mind to make snap judgments based on small amounts of information.
Sometimes, split-second decisions are more reliable and accurate than well-thought-out ones–but only when instinct has been cultivated over time with experience and expertise. These Gladwell calls “blink moments” – instances where people make split-second decisions that have significant consequences. He explores how experts in various fields, such as art, music, and medicine, use their intuition to make quick and accurate decisions.
When trying to decide if a painting was real or a fake, the split-second guess of three experts was more accurate than the well thought out decision of different experts.
Context matters too. Gladwell emphasizes that context is crucial in our snap judgments. He argues that we need to be aware of the factors that influence our gut reactions and take steps to eliminate biases and external factors.
We can improve our intuition over time. Some ideas that can help us do this are: practicing mindfulness, paying attention to our first impressions, and seeking out diverse perspectives. Gladwell also discusses the role that experience plays in developing expertise and intuition.
Intuition does have some drawbacks, however. Snap judgments can be influenced by factors such as stress, fatigue, and emotion, and how these factors can lead to errors in judgment.
Intuition doesn’t always work when fear short-circuits our instincts. An example is when cops shot an innocent kid while looking for a criminal (they were inexperienced and didn’t follow protocol).
Bias is also powerful and can affect our intuition negatively. Gladwell explores how our cultural backgrounds, experiences, and stereotypes can influence the way we perceive people and situations.
About the Author
Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, author, and speaker. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker and has published several best-selling books, including The Tipping Point,Outliers and Blink. Gladwell is known for his ability to weave together complex ideas and research to create engaging narratives that challenge our assumptions and offer new insights.
Whatever Arises, Love That is one of my favorite book titles ever. When it comes to this book by spiritual teacher Matt Kahn, a self-proclaimed channel, this short phrase is pretty much the whole show. In it, the idea of acceptance of what is is expanded and expounded upon until (hopefully) it sticks.
Read this book as a way of getting the title’s message more deeply into your mind and to encourage you to start or continue a habit of mindfulness.
Whatever arises in your life, choose to love it. This practice is the gateway to feelings of well-being.
Honor your feelings. Give them permission to be. In this way, we avoid rumination during times of hardship, and instead gracefully accept the present moment.
No matter what life situation comes about, meet it with love and acceptance.
Repeat the words “I love you” over and over throughout the day in order to practice acceptance of what is.
“No matter what seems to trigger you, each reaction represents the releasing of cellular debris collected from lifetimes of experiences.”
“Throughout this process, it is important to remember that a sensation only feels like a barrier for as long as you refuse to feel it. As it is invited to be felt, a willingness to experience each moment as an opportunity to heal clears out layers of cellular memory to make room for the emergence of heart-centered consciousness.”
“Instead of using this practice as a cosmic fire extinguisher to merely resolve the flames of personal despair, I invite you to treasure your heart on a regular basis, until the world you are viewing reflects back the light that your love reveals.”
“While moments of transcendence are incredible to behold, the true benchmark of spiritual maturity is how often your words and actions are aligned with love.”
About the Author
Matt Kahn is a spiritual teacher, author, and empathic healer. He is the author of several books on spirituality and personal growth, including Whatever Arises, Love That and The Universe Always Has a Plan. Kahn’s teachings emphasize the power of self-love and compassion to transform our lives and the world around us, and he has gained a large following through his YouTube channel and live events.
Parenting books based on research–particularly recent research–are a nice break from polemics based on anecdotes and opinion. Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman is particularly worthwhile since its focus is teaching children, not disciplining them.
Read it to be in the know about stuff your parents might’ve been clueless about.
Don’t praise kids for their smarts, or they might think of intelligence as a fixed feature and become afraid to try new things. Instead, praise them for effort and persistence, showing them that intelligence can be developed and motivating them to take on difficult challenges.
Kids who get even fifteen more minutes of sleep per night on average do much better in school.
Do talk to your kids about race. Kids are constantly looking for differences. They want to belong, so they often exclude others unless told not to.
All kids lie. See untruth telling as teachable moments, not moral failure.
Teach kids to interact with siblings in much the same way they interact with friends.
In addition, here are some tips for helping a baby learn how to speak:
Words should accompany interaction, especially facial cues. TV doesn’t help with this.
Follow the baby’s lead. Say the words for items they’re showing interest in, when the internal motivation to learn the word is already present.
For small babies, wiggle a toy or object to draw attention before naming it.
Incorporate common sentences with new words.
Say the same idea in different words.
Respond to almost all vocalization in same way, teaching the child they’ll affect you in predictable ways by their sounds.
About the Authors
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman are American journalists and authors, known for their work in popularizing research in social and behavioral sciences. They co-authored the books Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children and Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, which explore topics such as parenting, education, and competition. Their writing has been featured in many media outlets, including The New York Times, Time, and Newsweek.
This is a dystopian story that I wrote in 2017 or so after dreaming the first sentence and waking up with it still clear in my mind. It’s called “We Go Up.”
We fell asleep in the shadow of the Cordelia tree, 1605 Cement Garden Way. When we woke up, it was 6:36. It wasn’t night yet, but it was close. We shared a beer. Four minutes twenty-three seconds. Then, for fifteen minutes, we discussed our plan. “No changing it,” we said. Both of us said it. Neither of us believed the other, or ourselves.
Clay tied his shoes. Pink Asics. Good condition. Taken from a sleeping man. He apologized to me for the crime and I said, “Size six. Pink. Who’s he kidding? They aren’t his.”
I got mine–brown boots–at the river. A body. We must’ve been the first ones there. It was day–early morning–and I shouldn’t’ve been awake. But I was hungry, so I broke the rules. And I’m glad I did.
Some people have better water drains. Some people have better can openers. But we have the best shoes.
It’s our thing.
We started walking. As we did, it got dark. 7:10. We went to our usual spots first. The overpass on Mail. The dry creek bed near St. Mary’s. The trees with the hollows no one else knew about. We passed other groups. Some we recognized, most we didn’t. Nothing unusual–nothing that made us stop our rounds. Then we came to the footbridge that you have to take when you cut through Shannon Park to get to Chief street, a.k.a. The Front. 9:05.
There were four of them. They were older than us. They shook us down [change] pretty hard. Somewhere in the middle of it I took off my baseball cap and shoved it in my sleeve, but they got that, too, along with eerything we’d found so far. And our shoes.
They hurt us but not badly. Sore stomachs and shins. We knew not to fight grown-ups too hard. We were barefoot now, but we’d slept and we were fed. We checked the time: 9:16. Two hours six in, and we had to start over.
Across the footbridge, the Gap. Keep your head up. It’s not as empty as it looks. A few scores–about twenty grams. It went in my pocket that was inside my normal pocket. Then we arrived at the Front. 9:42.
We counted. there were twenty. Twenty was good, though. Twenty we could handle. It was early. People weren’t desperate yet. We wiped our hands on our pants and stepped forward.
No one looked at us. Perfect. We went to a round. One of the closest ones with a bartender we’d seen before.
“How much?” we asked the broker.
“Nine fifty,” he said.
We went cold. “Too much.”
He laughed. “Seven straight.”
Clay bent his right knee. I didn’t look, but I bent mine, too. I nodded to the man.
“What’s the trade?” he asked.
“Work,” said Clay. He always said it. I never could.
He gave us a card. But before we could leave, something broke the sky. It was the sound.
We followed the sound, not with our ears but with our eyes. One bullhorn. Another. Now two.
“We have to work,” said Clay.
“We got the cards,” I said.
“Seriously?” asked the man.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You guys know what’s left, right?”
“Then please, be my fucking guest.” He rose his hand and lifted two fingers.
The men with the bullhorns approached. “All we have is the Mountain. Three hours up, two there, then Five back.”
“Ever done the Mountain before?”
“Not since the slide.”
“You can climb?”
“Okay, then. Let’s go.”
10:50. We go up.
The chain is like a dog leash. You can hold it, but you can also let go. You just have to slip the loop off your wrist. There are scores on the way, but you can’t grab them—can’t even look. If you look, you start to get ideas.
12:54. We’re there. We unhook. Four minutes late and we haven’t even started. The biggest guys choose first. We’re litlte.
We dig. Our patch is picked over. We find worms and beetles. Leaves, of courase. Two ripe berries. We see a group of mushrooms, but they’re the wrong kind. We step on them. Maybe they’ll be good food for someone else.
We dig more.
3:08 a.m. A lot of dirt. A whole trench. Three canvas bags of insects between us. The officer yells, “Two minutes,” and for the first time since we started, we look at each other. We eat the lunch they give us: porridge. X’s eyes are tired. There is mud in the creases under them. There is a branch in his hair. I take it out, and he closes his eyes briefly to acknowledge the favor. The officer yells again. “3:10.” We stand up.
Going down is harder by far than going up. Our feet slip. We’re easily out of breath. At the bottom we turn in our sacks and collect our reward. A bag of lentils each and half a loaf of bread.
I look at my watch. “Forty minutes,” I say. X smiles. Forty whole minutes. I laugh. The [money guy] raises his eyebrows at us. The other workers leave slowly, each to their side of the [divide].
“We need a fire, don’t we?”
“Naw. Enough work for one night. We’ll eat the bread and save the beans for tomorrow.”
We don’t take the road. We take the field, like before. We are carrying too much. We walk far. Very far. Around one camp and across some lots. We don’t want to stop walking, but we do.
We’re at the scrap yard. There’s one good vehicle left, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. We laugh when we see it, hit the front with our flat hands. Kick the tires.
“Yeah, she’ll be all right. How much you want for it?”
“Damn. We could stay here for a week.”
We climb in, each to a row, him in the back and me in the front. We don’t have our shoes, but we have bread, and we eat it all, eat it right, slowly, with water. Our stomachs cramp, but not much. As the sun rises, we talk. We make plans for when things get back to normal.
“I always wanted to be a fireman,” X tells me. I tell him I will, too. I tell him I’ll be his boss.
“What would we do if we weren’t looking for food, do you think?”
“I don’t know. Fight fires, I guess.”
“And what about the rest of the time? Watch TV, like we used to?”
“Naw. TV is for babies.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Think we’ll find some other kids soon, like before?”
“I think so.”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Maybe we’ll go south.”
“Maybe. It’s okay this way too, though.”
“Yeah. It’s okay for now. No one telling us what to do.”
“Tonight wasn’t bad, was it?”
“Naw. Not so bad.”
We pause a moment, our hands on our stomachs.
“There’s light,” I say. He nods, and covers his windows. I cover mine, too.