The other week I started a slow slide into depression because I ran out of resveratrol, a supplement I take to support dopamine production. In a quest to feel happier, I descended into an internet rabbit hole and of course a podcast from Glennon Doyle about how to live a little happier caught my eye, particularly because she featured Dr. Laurie Santos. Dr. Santos is a happiness expert and teaches THE most popular class at Yale in 300 years: Psychology and the Good Life. It’s been adapted into a free online course taken by more than 3.3 million people to date.

Dr. Santos has done a ton of research on happiness and discovered the way we go about achieving happiness is all wrong. We think happiness is about our circumstances – the job, the relationship, the house, etc., but in practice, science shows that’s not true. It’s not true because the brain gets used to anything – good and bad. For instance, when you buy a new iPhone, it’s fun for a while because it has cool new features, a better camera, etc., but then you just get used to it. It’s not the exciting, shiny thing it once was. It’s just your phone.

“We kind of get that with material objects, but we forget that with big life changes,” Dr. Santos said during the podcast. “You get this new promotion, or you get a new salary, or you get into a relationship. At first, yeah, it’s amazing, but then over time, you just get used to it. And this is hedonic adaptation; all the best things in life, we kind of just get used to over time.”

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We can be happier. Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Not only do we get used to the best things in life, not only do we forget how easily we acclimate, we also have a built-in mechanism telling us we’d be happier with more. That’s what dopamine, the happiness molecule, seeks. More Instagram followers, more gadgets, more money, more. In my spiritual philosophy, we say every human being has a thirst for limitlessness. Even when a person has so much, they still want more. Clay Cockrell is a wealth psychologist to the 0.0001% and found they are miserable because instead of being satisfied with enough, they’ll say, “I have $500 million, but I’m not a billionaire.” The millionaire wants to be a billionaire and a billionaire wants to be a trillionaire.

My spiritual teacher says:

“However great may be the wealth of attainment, it cannot satisfy the hunger of the human mind, which always yearns for unlimited happiness. Those who run after wealth and reputation, name and fame, can never be happy unless they can attain an infinite quantity of the same. But because the world itself is finite, how can the objects of this world be infinite? Besides, it is not materially possible to acquire objects of an unlimited quantity. So worldly achievement – even if it is the acquisition of the whole globe – is neither unlimited nor eternal.”

What then is the solution? How can you be happier right now and placate dopamine? First off, Dr. Laurie Santos says to change your reference point so that you look down, not up. Instead of comparing yourself to someone who is better off than you, compare yourself to someone who is worse off. That also elicits gratitude, which increases happiness.

Santos also says we’re terrible at prioritizing the things that make us happy. When we’re stressed with work, the first thing we drop is a yoga class with a friend, but socializing makes us happier. When we’re tired, we scroll Netflix, but we’d be better off playing on Duolingo, a language-learning app. Furthermore, happiness is a daily activity, not an arrival, which means you can’t write a gratitude list once a year and feel happier until the end of time. How we operate on a day-to-day basis affects our happiness overall.

Dr. Santos has more happiness tips and research on her podcast, the Happiness Lab. However, something happiness experts often miss is in order to feel truly happy and at peace, you must include some sort of practice that quenches your thirst for limitlessness. For me, that means meditating on an infinite, loving consciousness. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m happier when I do.

I dream of a world where we realize happiness is a daily activity, not a place we arrive. A world where we understand the material world will never satisfy our desires. A world where we point ourselves to something greater than us. A world where we do what we can to be happier now.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

Sometimes I have the expectation of myself that I’ll function like a robot. That no matter the circumstances, no matter how I’m feeling, I’ll be able to accomplish XYZ regardless. And if I’m not able to accomplish XYZ, then I beat myself up and make meaning from it like, “You’re so lazy.” This may sound silly, but what I often forget is that I’m a human and human beings are not robots. We aren’t able to show up the same way every day.

Something my therapist says is, “Everyone is doing the best they can at every moment and sometimes their best sucks.” Yep. I’m doing my best every day and sometimes my best sucks. Sometimes my best entails lying in bed under a pile of blankets watching terrible television because I can’t motivate myself to contact potential new clients. Sometimes my best means my bathroom mirror has flecks of toothpaste on it because cleaning it feels like too much effort.

I see this lack of respecting the natural ebb and flow of each person reflected in society. The other week I wrote about how people are turning into small children, throwing tantrums in grocery stores, and yes, it’s because many of us struggle with feeling our feelings, but I also think it’s because in the U.S. anyway, we forget we’re human and instead we’re being asked to function as if we aren’t. Your kids are home from school? You should be able to accomplish as much work as if they weren’t! Your colleague is out sick with Covid? You should still be able to meet that deadline! Um, no.

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They’re cute, but let’s not aspire to be like them. Photo by Eric Krull on Unsplash

The expectation that life can or will continue as normal even when circumstances change is absurd. We are not robots and it’s not feasible to “power through” everything. Furthermore, maybe we’re not supposed to power through! Maybe we’re supposed to be smart, adaptable human beings that fluctuate day by day. This is something living with a chronic illness teaches me over and over again. Some days I can go for a swim, write for hours, clean my house, make dinner from scratch, and connect with friends. And other days I’m only capable of getting dressed and heating up a premade meal. Both happen and yet I beat myself up on the days I don’t have energy to do as much as I’d like. A lot of it has to do with internalized capitalism, but it’s also because of the expectations I place upon myself.

What if instead I treated myself with compassion and understanding? What if instead I recognized that at some point the bathroom mirror will get cleaned and inspiration will strike to contact potential new clients? Because that always happens. It reminds me of a quote from the late, great, Thích Nhat Hạnh who said, “No one is more worthy of your kindness and compassion than you are,” and also, “Real love means loving kindness and compassion, the kind of love that does not have any conditions.”

Real love for myself and others means recognizing we each have good days and bad days. It means understanding there’s a natural rhythm and cycle to life. It means acknowledging as much as society wants us to be robots, we aren’t. We’re human beings and human beings fluctuate, make mistakes, and have limitations. For better or for worse, we show up differently every day and not only is that OK, it’s natural, normal, and to be expected because again, we’re not robots.

I dream of a world where we treat ourselves with love and compassion. A world where we reduce the expectations we set for ourselves. A world where we understand our best will change from day to day. A world where we remember we aren’t robots.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday here in the U.S., I keep thinking about one of my favorite quotes of his. There are many because the man was an eloquent speaker, but in 1963 he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

It’s an interesting concept, and one that continues to be relevant, this notion of “outsider” and how we apply justice to anyone we perceive to be an outsider. Did you know it’s been 20 years since the first detainees arrived at Guantánamo Bay? And that those prisoners were subjected to torture? Only 39 prisoners remain and more than a dozen of them have yet to face charges. They have been dubbed “forever prisoners” by some Democrats. The cost of operating the prison is about $13 million per prisoner every year, according to a Business Insider article! Are you freaking kidding me? I could think of a lot of better uses for $13 million per person.

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Justice is supposed to be blind, but is it? Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

And even if you’re saying, “Yeah but they’re terrorists! They need to be held captive!” The cost to house a single prisoner in California is more than $75,000, according to the LA Times, which is still more than a year at Harvard. Clearly there’s a lot of injustice, a lot of mismanaging funds, and yet a small group of people continue to let incidents like these occur.

It brings to mind an excellent article I read on LitHub by Rebecca Solnit posted in 2018 about how there’s a myth surrounding the “real” America. She wrote:

“[I]n the news and political life, we’re still struggling over whose story it is, who matters, and who our compassion and interest should be directed at.

“The common denominator of so many of the strange and troubling cultural narratives coming our way is a set of assumptions about who matters, whose story it is, who deserves the pity and the treats and the presumptions of innocence, the kid gloves and the red carpet, and ultimately the kingdom, the power, and the glory. You already know who. It’s White people in general and White men in particular, and especially White Protestant men, some of whom are apparently dismayed to find out that there is going to be, as your mom might have put it, sharing. The history of this country has been written as their story, and the news sometimes still tells it this way – one of the battles of our time is about who the story is about, who matters and who decides.”

Precisely. So much of justice and injustice is tied to who matters and who decides. If Black people don’t matter, then it’s fine to kill them in the streets. If terrorists don’t matter, it’s OK to torture them. But who exactly is deciding they don’t matter? And why is that those people are in charge? The reality is the White population in the U.S. is declining and other races are increasing. Where I live, the majority of people are not White. To my mind, that means decisions being made about policies and procedures should take into account that diversity, should recognize this country belongs to everyone who lives here. In essence, to bear in mind what Dr. King mentioned so long ago: that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I dream of a world where we treat all human beings with love and respect. A world where we value justice not only in word but in action. A world where we celebrate and protect human diversity while also seeking to transcend divisions. A world where we honor Dr. King’s legacy by bringing his dream into reality.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

Can we take a moment and acknowledge how hard it is to be alive? And in particular to be alive right now? I keep thinking about this New York Times article detailing how in the retail world, adults are acting like children because they are unable to cope with the stress of life. Grown men are screaming because the grocery store is out of the cheese they want. Women are becoming inconsolable because their packages are delayed. In the U.S., and likely other parts of the world, we are not doing well, emotionally speaking.

Many of us don’t know how to handle our feelings and instead turn to something external to cope. For instance, at the start of the pandemic, Forbes posted an article about how people are consuming more alcohol, smoking weed, playing video games, eating a lot of junk food, binge-watching Netflix and adult films more than ever before. But that trend hasn’t stopped. More recently in September 2021, USA Today shared that nearly 1 in 5 Americans are heavily drinking. Heavy drinking is defined as four or more drinks per day for women and five or more drinks per day for men, twice in a single week.

When life feels hard, give us something to feel better. And I get it, I really do. I’m an addict in recovery. I know all about turning to something external to feel better because I did it for years. But does repressing or suppressing emotion work? Ever? For anyone? Or instead are people turning into small children because they’re no longer able to be instantly gratified?

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These eggs! So expressive. Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Emotions are meant to be felt. They are a form of energy in our bodies that must be moved, must be expressed. When there’s a loss, the best thing to do is to cry, not get drunk. Tears literally make you feel better because they release the chemicals oxytocin and endorphins. If you’re angry, don’t scream at a grocery store clerk, express it in a safe way by yelling at an empty cup that represents the person who crossed a boundary, or writing a letter you never send, or whatever. Taking out your anger on someone as collateral damage is not OK.

We’ve forgotten how to feel our feelings in this culture because we have so many quick fixes at our disposal. But this pandemic is doing away with those quick fixes, at least some of them. Are we crying about that? Are we weeping for our losses, not only deaths, but the loss of certainty, connection, freedom, normalcy, and more? I know for some people it’s hard to cry or it may not feel safe to cry. If that’s you, you’re not alone. I highly recommend checking out the Westfeldt Institute for Emotional Hygiene because this is what they specialize in – emotional regulation. You can also listen to season one of the podcast “The Healing Feeling Shit Show.”

Feeling your feelings not only helps you, but it helps others. The world needs more adults. We’re witnessing what happens when inner children are at the helm and it’s not pretty. Being an adult is not only about making money, it’s also knowing what to do when you feel scared, angry, or sad. I have zero interest in being screamed at because I looked at someone funny and I have zero interest in retail clerks consoling a customer because the shop ran out of dish soap. Can we not? Can we instead feel our feelings? It’s not always easy but it’s worth it.

I dream of a world where we practice emotional regulation in healthy ways. A world where we feel our feelings as they arise. A world where we take care of ourselves and each other by acting like adults when life gets challenging. A world where we know what to do when we have a feeling.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

 

My spiritual teacher uses the word “beatitude” a lot because that is his wish for everyone, that we all experience felicity of the highest kind, or consummate bliss. That got me thinking about bliss, what it means to be blissful, and how that squares with, well, life. For instance, on New Year’s Day, my parents and I found the back window of our car rental smashed in. How does that fit in with consummate bliss?

I don’t know because I’m just a human being, but what I do know, according to my spiritual philosophy, is every entity is moving from crudeness toward subtlety (some more quickly than others). The image that comes to mind is that of a river flowing toward the ocean. A current is carrying us from where we are now to somewhere else. Parts of the river are calm, others are choppy. While flowing down this river we may experience anger, fear, or sorrow, but the one constant is the water itself. Maybe bliss is like that. Maybe it’s the ever-present water below carrying us forward.

In my spiritual tradition we have a word for viewing the world from this lens. It’s called madhuvidyáMadhuvidyá literally means “honey knowledge” and requires seeing everything, EVERYTHING, as an expression of an infinite loving consciousness, also known as Brahma. Yes, that means our car rental window getting smashed. It also means all the bad things, all the irritations, all the whatever that seem anything but blissful.

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Working on this “honey knowledge” thing. Photo by Arwin Neil Baichoo on Unsplash

“This universe of ours is not absolute truth – it is only a relative truth,” my spiritual teacher says. “So the wise should try to know the absolute truth. But simultaneously it is also desirable that while striving to realize the Supreme Entity one should maintain an adjustment with this relative world. While doing one’s duties properly with the application of madhuvidyá, one can achieve permanent cessation of afflictions from this relative world. Then all the entities of this world will be as sweet as honey for the spiritual aspirant.”

That’s what I want for myself. I want all the entities of this world to be as sweet as honey. Not in a spiritual bypassing sort of way, but a recognition of both the relative truth and the absolute truth. The relative truth is I was so pissed off about the smashed window I screamed at the top of my lungs, cussing out whoever did it. And the absolute truth is the glass scattered across our backseat, the person or people who broke the window, and whatever they used to break it, are also Brahma, are also love, are also the Supreme.

As I enter this new year, it will be easy to fall into the trap of seeing things in black and white. Or labeling them as good or bad. But maybe I can also keep in the back of my mind that I’m evolving, the world is evolving, and the river we’re traveling on will never run smooth. But regardless, the water pushing us forward is there, is steady, is constant, and quintessentially is love itself.

I dream of a world where we can hold relative truths as well as the absolute truth. A world where we understand rough things will happen to us but love is still there. A world where we realize we’re all on a river moving forward in our evolution. A world where we do our best to lace our perspective with honey knowledge so that we can experience untold sweetness.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

As I continue to grapple with the death of a friend and beloved member of my community who died from COVID-19 due to not being vaccinated, I keep thinking about a twist on an Al-Anon phrase: “Give people the dignity of their choices.” As you know, there is nothing more controversial, more hot-button, more likely to cause a debate than COVID-19 vaccines in the age of this pandemic. I’m not telling you anything new. You’ve likely witnessed this debate or had it yourself.

Each camp – the vaccinated and unvaccinated – staunchly argues their case. Each camp cites information, tries to convince the other, justifies their own choices, but I’m not sure how much good it’s doing. My friend that died knew the facts. He knew more unvaccinated people than vaccinated are dying of COVID, are filling hospital beds, and yet he chose to “trust his immune system.” He decided to gamble that he would be fine if he contracted COVID-19. He wasn’t fine and yeah, I’ve been angry about it, sad about it, but ultimately, it wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t my decision to make. Me? I chose differently. But here’s what Al-Anon taught me: There comes a point where we all have to recognize we can’t force people to do something they don’t want to do.

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Let people make their choices. Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

In the world of Al-Anon, which is a program for friends and family members of addicts, they learn there is no secret formula that convinces an addict to stop using. They know it doesn’t matter how many tears, how much literature, how much pleading they do with the addict in their life, they can’t force the addict to quit. They are not in control of the addict’s choices. Granted, they don’t have to stand by and watch the addict head to an early grave either, but there’s a point where they understand what it means to be powerless.

Powerlessness over other people seems like something we’re all learning right now. Is forcing people to get vaccinated helping? Or instead, are healthcare workers quitting over vaccine mandates? What exactly are vaccine mandates accomplishing? In the U.S., it’s helping a little, but it’s also sparking lawsuits and public outcry. It seems to me some people feel oppressed because their choices are not being honored.

Do I wish everyone who is able to get vaccinated does so? Of course I do. But at this point I’m recognizing not everyone will because they haven’t. And instead of shouting at them until I’m blue in the face, I’m taking a page from Al-Anon and letting people have the dignity of their choices. It’s hard, it’s heartbreaking, it feels like graduate-level spiritual work, but these are the times we’re living in.

Ultimately, I want to feel peace and if I’m hopped up on righteous indignation, there ain’t no peace to be had. What brings me peace is recognizing I’m doing what I need to do to protect myself – I’ve been boosted, I’m wearing a mask, social distancing, etc. – but the only person I can take care of is me. Instead of saying, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” how can we create space for everyone to have the dignity of their choices? Because truly, that’s the reality of the world we live in.

As for me, when I allow my friend the dignity of his choice, instead of being filled with resentment over his death, I think of him fondly. I remember his bright smile, the love he had for his son, and his willingness to pitch in wherever he could. And that’s what I’d much rather focus on.

I dream of a world where we support people in making informed choices while also recognizing we aren’t in control of those choices. A world where we make space for disagreement. A world where we let people have the dignity of their choices even if we wouldn’t make them ourselves.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve heard something to the effect of, “It only takes one person to feel grounded and safe in a crowd to change the atmosphere for everyone else.” It’s a nice sentiment, but is it just a bunch of hokey-pokey b.s.? Can little ole me really have that kind of effect on other people? It turns out, yes.

Emotions are contagious just like colds and scientists think this “emotional contagion” is due to the mirror neuron system. Essentially, when you do something yourself and watch someone else do that exact activity, the same neurons are firing, aka, mirror neurons. Pretty cool right? So how then do emotions catch on? According to this article in Healthline, it happens in three stages: mimicry, feedback, and experience.

Mimicry is just what it sounds like: mimicking someone else. If I smile at you, chances are you’re going to smile back at me. However, typically your reaction is not conscious. It’s happening automatically. But that mimicry has a ripple effect and creates feedback in the brain and body. For instance, if you’re mimicking my smile, even if originally you felt cranky, just by smiling, you’ll feel happier. And that feedback will create a response in you so that you actually are feeling happier. That’s the experiential part of emotional contagion. You mimicked me, created feedback for yourself, and thus “caught” the emotion I’m expressing.

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I don’t know about you, but looking at these folks makes me smile! Photo by Siviwe Kapteyn on Unsplash

What fascinates me about this process is not only the one-on-one contagion, but also the group contagion. We see this with mob mentality, or herd mentality when people are influenced by their peers to adopt a behavior or viewpoint on a largely emotional basis. What we’re all creating is a collective mind. We’re syncing our minds up and this happens whether we want it to or not.

The question then becomes, what to do about that? My spiritual teacher says, “The collectivity is yours. The collectivity is not outside you – your future is inseparably connected with the collective fortune. You must take the entire collectivity with you and move toward the sweetest radiance of the new crimson dawn, beyond the veil of the darkest night.”

Later on, he says, “Now, changes will have to be effected in the mental flow of this collective mind; you will have to create a new wave of thought in it. Because of the manner of human thinking thus far, the pace of human progress has been painfully slow. If it is given a new direction, the speed of progress will be greatly accelerated.”

Frankly, I’m all for moving toward the sweetest radiance of the new crimson dawn and accelerating the speed of human progress. And that means how I feel, how I act, matters. How you interact with other people has an impact. It transmits something and together we create something that wouldn’t have been there before. We are each contributing to a collective mind. But what are we contributing? Is it something that will move humanity forward to a state of equity, justice, love, and respect? Or is it something that creates more discrimination, inequality, and division? Knowing about emotional contagion, what will you choose?

I dream of a world where we recognize how we feel, what we express really does matter. A world where we allow ourselves to be authentic, but also understand we affect and even infect those around us. A world where we are conscious about what we’re contributing to the collective mind because we understand emotional contagion is real.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

The cool thing about having a blog for so long is that sometimes things I wrote in the past are applicable to my life today. That happened to me this week when I reread a post from almost exactly 12 years ago. My life is significantly different now – I no longer work at an office job in San Francisco, for instance – but other aspects are the same, and the message in this blog is just what I needed to hear. I hope that’s true for you too.

I often think I’ve missed the boat in life. That what I want can’t happen because the opportunity passed me by. Or maybe I screwed it up. If I hadn’t said XYZ, then I’d have what I want. If I hadn’t made that one mistake, things would have worked out differently. But is that really true?

In 2007 when I worked in Washington, D.C., my coworkers had a Mother’s Day jewelry sale. I went looking for a gift for my mom and passed by a mother-of-pearl shell bracelet with a T-bar and circle clasp. I didn’t think my mom would like it, plus I don’t like buying parts of animals, so I went back to my cubicle empty-handed. But I kept thinking about the bracelet. I wanted it – not for my mom, but for me. I rushed back upstairs and purchased it (and said a prayer for the mollusk who died to give it to me).

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The bracelet in question (with a new clasp).

Shortly thereafter I went to a WNBA game with a friend of mine. When the game ended and we started walking toward the exit, I looked down at my wrist and realized my bracelet was gone. (The bracelet is a little bit too big for me and so the T-bar has a tendency to slip from the clasp.) I started searching around me in a panic, checking my pockets, my sleeve, the ground. I retraced my steps, went back to the bathroom to see if it had fallen on the tiles. I scanned the crowded hallway and couldn’t find it. My friend and I went back to our seats and there it was, on the cement, directly below where I was sitting.

Yesterday, while I sat at my desk at work, one of my coworkers came up to me with my bracelet dangling from his fingers and asked, “Is this yours?” I hadn’t even realized I lost it but nonetheless, my bracelet found its way back to me. And then last night on my walk to the chiropractor from work, I realized I lost my bracelet again! I scanned the pavement; I kept my eyes trained on the ground for six blocks searching to no avail. I probably lost it somewhere on my mile walk from work to my apartment. I couldn’t check the office either because today I work from home so I called one of my coworkers and asked her to keep an eye out for it.

What are the odds I will find it? It could have fallen off anywhere. Someone else could have picked it up; it could have been thrown away by someone sweeping the sidewalks. It could have fallen into a sewer grate. In all likelihood my bracelet is gone.

This morning I went to the basement to do some laundry and I looked at the windowsill in the stairwell. Lo and behold, there was my bracelet, waiting for me! (Side note, since this post was first written, I changed the clasp on my bracelet to a lobster claw so it doesn’t keep slipping off.) Of all the places it could have been, of all the possibilities, my bracelet found its way back to me. Some things seem completely illogical, unreasonable, and far-fetched, but if they’re meant to be, they will happen. If you’re meant to have something, you will. In other words, if it’s yours, it’s yours.

I dream of a world where we trust the universe. A world where we shoot for our dreams with full force knowing if it’s meant to be, it will happen. A world where we know magic is real and the impossible is possible. A world where we understand if it’s ours, it’s ours.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

Have you heard the expression, “Expectations are premeditated resentments?” I wouldn’t say that’s wholly true for me because my expectations aren’t about other people, but they have certainly been premeditated disappointments. For instance, I woke up on the morning of my most recent birthday and cried because I’m not at all where I thought I’d be at this age. Yes, the big things like married, but also I thought by this age I’d be living in a more spacious apartment and have signed a literary agent. But I haven’t.

Every year I inflict this kind of disappointment on myself. I make a goal where I say, “By this time next year I’ll ______.” And then inevitably what I set out to achieve doesn’t come to pass because I’m not in control of every aspect of my life. If we’re using the theater metaphor that all the world’s a stage and we’re merely players upon it, I’m instead operating under the assumption I’m the director. As the director, I have a say in what happens upon the stage, but as much as I’d like to be the director, I was cast as an actor. And that means it doesn’t make sense to have expectations for how my future will unfold.

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I would like to follow this command. Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

Having a goal is great, but setting a timeline is not. How can I possibly predict what will happen in the future? I can’t. That’s also the chief complaint of every crowd-funded campaign I’ve ever backed. The creator sets up a timeline and says, “You’ll receive your water pitcher in six months,” or whatever and when that time comes and goes, people get angry and impatient. The timing is almost always off because the creator ran into unforeseen circumstances. It’s the same for me — I’m forever running into unforeseen circumstances.

What if instead of giving goals a deadline, I work toward them and just let my life unfold? What if instead I accepted and enjoyed what’s here, now? Jodi Picoult speaks to this in her novel Nineteen Minutes when she writes, “There were two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations.”

I already work incredibly hard to improve my reality so maybe now is the time to lower my expectations, or better yet, not have any at all. What’s funny is when I googled how to do that, much of the search results focused on lowering expectations in regards to other people and not much about lowering the expectations a person has for themselves. I suspect that because in the U.S. anyway, we have high expectations for ourselves. We believe if we dream it, we can achieve it and on our timeline to boot. You just have to think positively! Create a vision board! Hire a life coach! That all has a place, but so does something every spiritual teacher talks about: surrender.

My spiritual teacher says, “Human beings and other created beings perform a multitude of actions. The ultimate action, however, is … total surrender.” Total surrender means aligning my will with higher power’s will. Total surrender means recognizing I am an actor in this world, not the director. Total surrender means no longer placing expectations upon myself for when something will be accomplished because that only sets me up for disappointment and this year my goal instead is to be happy.

I dream of a world where we remember the recipe for happiness is to improve our reality or lower our expectations. A world where we remember we are the actors upon the stage of life and not the directors. A world where we understand in order to truly feel happy, we have to let go and enjoy what arises when it arises.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

Just as Normal

Something I’ve heard before is that physical health is a privilege. When people said that, I brushed it aside because I thought they meant health is something to be grateful for, a blessing, a gift. But now, as I approach my 37th birthday, I recognize physical health is an attribute to be grateful for yes, but it’s also a privilege similar to how we talk about White privilege. Meaning, something most people don’t think about, or take for granted, unless they’re in the group that doesn’t have it.

There’s a lot to say about White privilege, but to summarize, it’s obvious and less obvious passive advantages that White people may not recognize they have. It’s moving through the world with relative ease. Swap out “White” for “healthy” and the privilege is eerily similar. This post is focusing specifically on physical health, but there is also mental health privilege.

For someone like me – a person recovering from adrenal fatigue, a sleep disorder, digestive issues, a spoonie – I’m not able to navigate the world with relative ease. I’m forever worried my small business will crumble because I can’t work full time due to limited energy. And supporting myself with a part-time job is challenging, which I know, because I did it for years.

Unity in diversity

This graffiti says it all. Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

In the days before my birthday, I’m crying because I feel like I’m getting older without ever having been young. For only three years in my 20s did I feel mildly energetic, healthy, vibrant, pleased with how my body looked and functioned. The rest of my life has been one issue after another after another. And as I’m crying about my own health challenges, I think about friends of mine, or people I know, who have chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, thyroid issues, etc., and I realize we’re sold this image of what is “normal,” of how our bodies are “supposed” to be. Not unlike the ideals sold to us via White supremacy like beauty standards and the body mass index.

Thinking about all of this, I really get that health is a privilege. Not everyone is given health. We aren’t all born with perfectly functioning bodies that slowly deteriorate over time as we age. No. Some of us never have perfectly functioning bodies. Some of us have to take medication and eat certain foods and take daily naps to even approach what others have naturally.

Now instead of feeling sad, I’m angry because I’ve bought into this message about an ideal body – and I’m not talking shape and size – that is literally not achievable for some people. The kicker though is our bodies can change drastically from one year to the next depending on a multitude of factors – some of which we control. I personally spend an inordinate amount of time on those factors. A soul sister tells me, “I don’t know of anyone who takes as good of care of their body as you do.” And yet, all of that care barely moves the needle on my health. And I’m lucky because I don’t live with constant pain unlike some people!

It seems to me we’re in the age of celebrating diversity with race, gender, sexual orientation, and cognitive function (in some circles). It’s time to welcome in the body too. Not only when it’s obvious, but when it’s subtle.

My spiritual teacher says, “Human society is just like a garland which is made of different types of flowers, woven together by one common thread. The overall beauty of the garland is dependent upon the beauty of each flower. Likewise, each strata of society must be equally strengthened if we are to maintain the unity and solidarity of society.”

To me that means normalizing some people have health challenges in the “prime” of their life. It means recognizing some people never experience relative ease in how they move through the world on a physical level. It means making room for and supporting people like me who have invisible illnesses. It means not relegating us to the shadows or acting like we’re an anomaly because we’re not. We’re just as normal as anyone else.

I dream of a world where we create space for all people and not act like some are part of the “in” crowd and others are not. A world where we recognize diversity is what makes human society beautiful. A world where we understand that uniqueness is normal and in turn means it’s important to create a more accessible, supportive world for us all.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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