Don’t be absurd – 3 tips to practical sanity

absurd medieval rabbits torture a manThere’s a wild streak of absurdity running feral in the world. The public sphere of debate, politics and planning have blurred into ranting, clownish blurts of the absurd. Perhaps this isn’t new – perhaps there is a tide of the absurd that washes in and out of human communities periodically. If so, it is high tide because (for an example) at the moment it seems that the idea that anyone in any media can be assumed to be telling the truth is now an outmoded, dowdy joke. Not a funny joke, more a disparaging snort of derision. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like that.

I think that having fundamental expectations be absurd undermines our sense of connection to each other and creates an environment in which anything goes, because nothing is ‘true’ any more.

So in an absurd world how do we stay realistic without going mad or becoming overburdened with cynicism? We remember what is always true. Here are three truthful tips to help you stay sane in a flood of absurdity.

Happiness is never absurd

Your happiness and wellbeing matter. Primarily to you and those closest to you, of course, but this is always true. You can hold onto this. That’s not an invitation to become an egomaniac, but a simple reminder that in the face of bureaucratic coldness and structural stupidity you still have value as a sentient being. That is not a grand statement but it is a truth. Well it is a truth I invite you to make the choice to believe in.

Nature is never absurd

Strange, wondrous and amazing the natural world can give you almost infinite pleasure. If you interact with it and let it interact with you then there is a stable and meaningful continuity to that relationship which offers a counterbalance to the absurd in human endeavours.  The endless repeating of patterns in nature are true. They are the language we turned into mathematics. Nature is our alpha and our omega.

Even those who might dream of taking humans to far-off planets must think hard about how to bring nature along for the ride or gamble all on finding it there and welcoming at the destination. Let the natural world be a truth in your reckoning.

Love is a verb

The advanced idea that ‘love is a verb’ is an antidote to the absurd because it puts an active involvement at the centre of choices. It puts a rudder in the waters of chaos and brings the first two ideas into your choice in the now. How will you chose your next action in the context of valuing your wellbeing, and staying connected with the fundamental truth of nature? From those two truths you can triangulate more easily to love in the world and towards your own path of truth.

It may well be high tide for the absurd right now, but this too shall pass.

Reiki introduction

2016-01-17 Janine Prince and Patricia NewtonThere’s so much suffering in the world and it felt like time to find a way to contribute to the healing of that rather than continue to feel helpless and overwhelmed. As in all things, one must start with oneself, so last weekend, I did a Reiki introduction course with Patricia Newtown. Primarily I wanted to find a way forward in dealing with my colitis and depression. I was hoping for something that would complement my philosophical and intellectual explorations and perhaps help address the patterns of my behaviour that I have not been able to resolve on my own. I decided to ask for help.

First reiki impressions

Reiki is something that has given me a lot of support and help over the past 12 months through occasional short treatments. It is simple to receive, non-invasive, and people who give it always seem to be happy. I like the look of being happy, it is like holidays, but it doesn’t come to an end. Pat’s reiki introduction course looked appealing because she looked happy in her picture, and it would be near where I live. That’s a simple enough decision making process isn’t it? Well it worked. Learning is always fun, but reiki is not just an intellectual pursuit, there is of course lots of attention given to one’s body (in every sense). The welcoming space and happy faces were nice, but the real connection came as soon as we started by checking in on our individual energy levels, and then immediately raising them. That first technique, learnt in the first ten minutes of the day, has been working hard in the days since and will continue to be a touchstone to sanity. Did you know there’s a vibrational frequency to happiness? Of course you do, that’s why everybody loves music. That’s why you feel better after a long walk in nature. That’s why we have the phrase “out of synch” for when we’re down.

Reiki revealed

As in so many courses, much of the learning comes from the interaction with the other people as well as the course leaders. Something like this is incredibly supportive and inspiring as there’s a deliberate choice to be authentic and present in participation. I was also in the pleasant situation of being the least experienced member of the group and so everything the others said seemed to spark another revelation in me, another informational connection, another moment of personal insight. There were also some moments of divine simplicity. Have you ever used that phrase for a friend in distress “I’m sending you love”? That’s what reiki is, sending love. That’s the big reveal. Love. No need to over-think it. What was transformational in my experience was becoming a receiver for that energy and realising how to pass it along. There was an enormous amount of unexpected emotional release of old baggage that happened from the process of being “brought up to speed”.

Now for the housework

As is always the case after a peak experience, there’s a wobbly period afterwards. Lots of emotional clearing, intense personal experiences, heavy downloads of information all need time to settle in and become part of who you are. If indeed you decide to keep them. reiki practitioners around the world encourage the use of a “21 day cycle” which is a protocol for integration based around three full cycles through the seven energy centres in the body. What that means is that much as I was high as a kite last Sunday (when the photo of Pat and I was taken) it was taken for granted that there’s be a ‘coming to ground’ on Monday, and verily that did come to pass and that’s ok too. For healing (and learning) to be meaningful, it has to occur within our everyday lives. That’s what the 21 day cycle is for. Integration moves something from being an idea to wisdom. I’m diligently doing my homework, forgiving my slips and falls, not expecting miracles. This is the time for finding the right place for these skills in the toolbox of my life.

Was it amazing? Yes. Was it worth doing? Yes. Will I go back and learn more? Yes. Has it made a difference to my health? Only time will truly tell, but it has already made a positive difference to my ability to ‘pick myself up’ each morning and face the day with a smile. Can I recommend Patricia Newton as a trainer and a healer? Yes! Absolutely!

What use is love?

So reiki is love. It is a pretty happy, blissful kind of thing. It is a useful thing to add to one’s repertoire of skills and to grow one’s wisdom. So before you ask “what use is reiki?” maybe ask if you want to be the person who is asking “What use is love?”

Belief without love will make you fanatical,
Duty without love will make you ill-humoured,
Order without love will make you pedantic,
Power without love will make you violent,
Justice without love will make you severe,
A life without love will make you ill.

(Excerpt from “Reiki: Universal free energy” by Baginski and Sharamon.)

Tiny stitches

tiny stitchesHave you heard that phrase – “a stitch in time saves nine”? It is one of those useful proverbs reminding us to take a little action now when we first think of something rather than waiting for the problem to unravel even further into something that will take perhaps nine times the effort to fix, if indeed it can be fixed all by then.
Oftentimes we think of life in big pictures – heroic moments – if you will when the reality of life is actually in the millions of tiny stitches that we make each day on the underside of our life. All those tiny stitches pulling one thing and another together to make the pattern of who we are, what we value, how we play.
No one ever sees them, but they’re there all the same. We know them. We know what it took to make them just so, the cost and yes the do-overs and regrets too.

We find happiness, hope and solace in continuing to stitch our lives together out of what comes our way, working in our private dreams and celebrating wins when we can. Sometimes life rips us away from our patch of meaning and challenges us to pick up the thread. It can take a while to face that setback. But this is life, to muddle forwards as we can. Lots of people spend time in denial, wishing things were otherwise, but that is a type of stitching too. In that stitching you’re not placing your needle to any advantage.

When things are darkest or toughest, it can be hard to remember that you are still making tiny stitches. Your choice in that regard remains. Each breath can be deep or each meal can be eaten in gratitude, or each question an opportunity to ask or be open to listen. Tiny stitches make up our time. They will never be perfect, and they don’t need to be. They’re your tiny stitches, yours to place where you will.

Celebrating Beltane down under

Gundestrup Cauldron, showing Celtic horned god Cernunnos with torc, Denmark, c100 BC. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Gundestrup Cauldron, showing Celtic horned god Cernunnos with torc, Denmark, c100 BC. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)

It is Beltane here in the Southern Hemisphere and sometimes it is hard to see how Australians celebrate this wild time of exploding fertility and the fullness of spring, but we do. You won’t see may poles in many places (unless it is a re-enactment group), and you won’t see Beltane mentioned openly or officially, but we celebrate it. You can’t help but feel the sap rise inside you at this time of year, the urge to connect, renew and (if you still have it in you) ‘fertilise your fields’. Yes, I’m being a little coy about sex there, you’ll see why in a little bit.

Beltane is a sexy time of year. We don’t really go in for dancing naked around a fire – we’re a bit too “occupational safety” minded for that kind of thing, plus we’re touchy about setting off fires, but the partying and fertility rites are here to stay and well out in the open.

Increasingly Australians are deciding to celebrate Halloween. It can be confusing to those of us who honour the wheel of the year and downright frustrating too. However, I’ve realised that there’s a nuance that I’ve been missing. Aussies don’t have many shared rituals – as a multicultural nation of people with diverse and or largely (officially) secular backgrounds, we have a magpie habit of comfortably picking only what we like from things and using it to suit our needs. I think the reason we’re appropriating Halloween is simply because it is a well timed excuse for a dress-up party, right at that time of year when we feel like getting sexy. It is also popular because it is suitable for kids to participate, unlike our major, national event, The Melbourne Cup.

That’s right, “The race that stops a nation” is confusing as a national ritual until you realise that it a default, secular, authorised outlet for Beltane celebrations and energy. All around the country, on a single day, all the normal rules are off. You’re expected to gamble, you’re allowed/ encouraged to drink booze (even at work!), you’re expected to leave your normal inhibitions at home in a box for the day. Punters and partiers dress up and then get really drunk on enormous amounts of alcohol. They have a great time. Loads of people have fun. The horses, not so much. There’s plenty of passed out people, or staggering, puking people and (here’s why I was being coy earlier) eyewitness reports of couples ‘fertilising their fields’ on the track and in the car park by the end of the day. Of course, none of this is mandatory. Some people are able just to enjoy a special lunch. My point is not *gasp* people getting messy, it is that this is a normal working day. A Tuesday.

There is nothing special about this race compared to any of the other major race days throughout the spring carnival. Over time, it was this race that grew, that got a little momentum and here we are with something to hang our Beltane on. Don’t go in for horse racing? No worries, hook into the “Halloween” excuse for a party. Don’t like monsters? Have a BBQ, celebrate your wedding anniversary or one of your friend’s birthdays (November is so conveniently located months after the Australia Day and Valentine’s Day rituals to supply an endless number of birthdays to enjoy.

How ever you prefer it, enjoy your Beltane this weekend.

You just being is awesome

being open your hands RUMIYou, just being here, you’re awesome. You don’t need to “do” anything to be valuable, or worthwhile or precious. You are a wonderful human being. Sure, you’ve got some flaws, everyone does, but you know what? You just being is awesome. That goes for every single sentient being in the world. Imagine how many wonderful people there are behind all those faces that blur past you in the streets or on trains or television. Every one of them is a soul in a body.

So, What do you do for a living?

Mostly we get caught up in what we do. What we do for work. Our culture is very worky worky. Work is, by definition, both a noun and a verb. What we do is called work and when we are doing it we are working. That’s obvious enough. But it pushes just being out of the picture. There’s “working” and then “not-working”.  We don’t remind ourselves that it is useful to just be. Be yourself. Be quiet, be unfunny or a bit sad or thoughtful, be filled with hope, wonder, or just contentment. When you’re worried, anxious or down, that’s who you are too. It is not the job you do for a living that matters it is the being you express by your living.

What people love about you is your being, not your resume

Think about someone you love. Think about what it is about them that you love … I bet it wasn’t that last project they worked on in the office, or their resume, or any of that worky worky stuff. It is in the way their soul shines through and speaks to your soul. You know, that “somehow you make me the better version of myself I like to be” feeling. Maybe you or your beloved is one of those amazing, inspirational people who manage to express their soul in their work day as well. Fantastic and congratulations! Long may you prosper. Ask yourself, if that company crumbled or the economy faltered, and somehow the work was gone would your love for that person vanish too? No.

Connect with being

Maybe put your ‘to-do’ lists aside for a day or two and let yourself rest in being. Let’s be adults, if this is the weekend you’re moving house or catching a plane go ahead and do the things you need to do. But once you’ve done what is needed, stop. Let it be enough. Your purpose is to be here, now, mindful in each moment. Decide moment to moment to do what is needed, or just be. If you can think of something to do that is awesome and expresses your soul into the world, then by all means do it and live long and prosper doing so. If not, you, just being, that’s awesome too.

Get uncomfortable

uncomfortableSometimes, when things aren’t working, the best thing to do is to get uncomfortable. Start again, this time outside of your existing comfort zone. Let yourself be a beginner with a fresh slate and no expectations. For example, I’m someone who “can’t draw” but I really value my ability to be creative with words, so this month I’m doing InkTober as my warmup for Nanowrimo. A month of producing a drawing every day – crazy! That makes no sense! I feel uncomfortable doing it, looking at the outcomes and of course sharing it here. Lady Liberty never looked so wonky did she? (Maybe she’s uncomfortable there on her feet all day…)

Last week was uncomfortable in a different way

I shared some of my perspective of living with depression and although that was an uncomfortable thing to do, it opened up the floodgates of conversation about this topic in every realm of my life. People far and wide share their perspectives either publicly or privately and that changed the experience for me. What are you experiencing that you wish was different for you? How are you comfortable in a way that is actually unsatisfying for you? Is it in a job where you don’t feel valued or heard, or perhaps in your relationships where somehow the conversations don’t feel as real as they once did? Perhaps it is with yourself – are you a little bit bored with yourself? Do you know exactly what’s coming next?

Change is uncomfortable

Like travel, change is uncomfortable at an immediate level and yet satisfying from a larger perspective. This is one of those contradictions of life, that comfort feels secure and gives us happiness until too much comfort is smothering or boring. *sigh*  That is a bad deal, but that is how it is. You’re the one in charge and it is your sense of happiness, freedom or fulfilment that ultimately sets the compass on this topic. It takes a little bravery though – to accept the truth of what you’re feeling and to start over.

We start over in all kinds of little ways all the time, and yet we carry so much from one place to another. The sense of new beginnings can be palpable and yet we don’t usually change our name, or throw out all of our clothes and change our favourite meal. So take comfort from the fact that it is just uncomfortable, not annihilating and give yourself permission to try something new.

Go ahead, get uncomfortable. It might be the secret to a happy you.

Digital addiction

What if the internet doesn't have all the answersDigital addiction is sweeping our towns and communities destroying families. It might start innocently with putting concerning symptoms into google or checking Wikipedia to understand your boss’s impenetrable jargon. Next thing you know you’re on Facebook* and you’re considering a bigger data package because, seriously, who watches free-to-air tv anymore?!  But these gateway apps lead your into the labyrinth and next thing you’re sucking down giant cans of ‘energy drink’ during Candy Crush all nighters and you’re binging on multiple games in scrabble rip-offs. It isn’t just the time you’ve lost, or the hunch in your shoulders and the sludge in your bowel. Real money is slurping into the funnel of in-app purchases out of your pocket and the mouths of your hungry children. That’s not even counting your gadget and access.

Are you at risk? Feeling morally superior right now? Do our quiz. Simply answer yes or no to these simple questions and then tally your score for the rating below.

Do you have a Digital addiction? quiz

  1. Do you feel at all uncomfortable if you leave your phone at home when you go out?
  2. If the power goes out do you still reach for the TV remote?
  3. When you take a photo do you automatically think of the tags or captions for your sharing platform?
  4. Do you depend on your phone for all contact details and or appointments?
  5. Of your last five social engagements were three or more organised via social media?

Your Digital addiction rating

Zero ‘yes’ responses: Congratulations!

People might tell you that you’re ‘hard to reach’ but when you do get together, there’s interesting stuff to share and you still have an attention span and the skills to hold a conversation.

Between 1 and 5 ‘yes’ responses:

Oops, your gateway activities have you on the slippery slope to digital addiction! You’re soon going to need another external hard drive for your brain unless you take action!

Defeating your digital addiction

It is possible to turn the tides and regain your brain. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. You could burn your smartphone, that’s cool. Actually that’s a great start, but a lot of people moan “I could *never* act so clearly in my own best interest!”**  You could distract yourself by travelling somewhere (even slightly) off-grid and realising that there’s a lot of world out there that you haven’t seen yet. You do some of the old pre-internet ways you used to enjoy to be happier. You could have a bath, take it easy,  relight your candle or simply rest in the bliss of being. Still not confident?

You have other digits!

OK, here’s the no effort, basic level, simple starter for your digital addiction – your hands. Yes, those other digits that you have right there (FREE) on the ends of your phone stumps. Use them to make something. That’s right, make something. I dare you. Feel the amazing power of creation flow through you and out into the world. This is the secret to your new freedom! Let your analogue digits be your newest love. Let them be guided by your heart as you reclaim your time, cash and joy.

Welcome back <3.

*COPYRIGHT TO THE MEGACORP

**Obviously I’m paraphrasing there.

Travel resets the wonder button

Republic square PARISThe recent hiatus and travel provided some time to experience the broader world and consider the themes of happiness, belonging, compassion and so on from a perspective outside of my normal (narrow?) day to day. Being exposed to centuries of foreign culture for weeks at a time was thrilling and at the same time the flood of details was enormously overwhelming in person. That’s what’s nice about armchair travelling or documentaries – the focus is supplied, the details are managed, the experience is curated for you by the book editor or narrator. In person, the reality is that you’re in queues, desperate to find a loo (or to find the right change to use the loo), hungry, and/or transfixed by the fact that each street has different ornate light posts (or some other mindboggling thing that everyone else is able to walk past but you want to scream to the world “LOOK AT THIS!”).

It is of course an evolutionary survival mechanism that all animals have developed a way of filtering information to only that which is most likely of value to them. Humans have loads of biologically initiated filters. For example, we are good at depth perception and spotting movement (as for a long time we were a prey species) once we got the hang of tools we’ve worked to our strengths ever since. We create more tools that work mostly by combining our sight with our hands (every thought about the inputs and outputs of a computer?) rather than, say, through sound and other frequencies of vibration. Because we build all the things we use, we tend to reinforce our own preferences and strengths, we also send ourselves the message that we’re increasingly successful by this filtering. So to travel to somewhere completely different, where comparatively few things were familiar, was to bypass the existing filters and be opened up all over again to confusion, curiosity and wonder.

Wonder is exhausting.

Great, but exhausting. Confusing too, and when you come home you go through it all over again with things that you used to comfortable with and now you’re not that sure about. That’s also amazing (and exhausting). Before you know it the day-to-day of going to work intrudes and you find yourself back in the harness of being a wage slave, but this is the gift of travel. It is possible (necessary) to remember that we have a choice about the way we see and experience the world. It is not just fun to go somewhere else, it helps train our brain in remember that our filters aren’t truths. For us to find ways to solve the problems we’ve created in our worlds, the most useful thing to do is to think differently about it.

You would probably like to punch the next person who suggests to you that you “think outside of the box” about something causing trouble. I know I’d love to. It is useless. If we could, we would! So instead let’s share ways of learning to shift our perspective, and one of the critical steps to that is to realise what things actions or ‘realities’ we’re taking for granted, what we’re valuing and filtering for, then we can put those assumptions aside and invite in some wonder. A recent article talked about how cities, by their man-mad nature, reinforce some of our mental models and that this creates a (another) blind spot in how we face challenges. Especially ecological challenges.

The difference between watching a documentary about a city and being lost in the metro there is an experience of being ‘reset’, of being a beginner, a foreigner. How valuable it can be to know that you know nothing. We can be the best kind of stranger to ourselves and to others by sharing perspectives and becoming more than the sum of our filters. Let’s get wonder-ful together.

Itchy feet

travellingThere’s a meme going around along the lines of “imagine living a life you don’t need a holiday from”. That’s an idea with a lot going for it and ties into our themes here of happiness, gratitude, self-knowledge and meaningful living. And yet … I get itchy feet … I get curious about the world beyond my commute and I wonder what it is like to stand in a different ocean. I want to go somewhere … else.

I’m not sure then how to understand this urge. It builds, and over time it becomes discontent if I don’t acknowledge it. So much as our focus here is on seeking connection with happiness and using self-knowledge and connection with each other to establish ourselves, sometimes we must grow too, through the unknown, through the mysterious urges of seeking and exploring people, things, ideas and places that are, to us, ‘other’.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
Walt Whitman

Then we come home and we integrate, we mull things over, we massage our sore and painful feet. It is not ‘better’ one way or the other, to travel or tour-ist, or to wander half-lost and half-found. It just is and for each of us our own journey is inspired by itches of all kinds. Some we decide to scratch and some we leave as a unanswered want for now, for other reasons, for duty or obligation. We imagine and we cajole ourselves and none of us have a map. We are all looking or a horizon to trust in.

Road rage reflection

It can happen to anybody, maybe even you. Road rage. That ugly beast we can become on the road, and the zombie partner that forms it; if you slip into one, you’ll flip into the other. Let’s take a minute for some road rage reflection.

Chariot pile upImagine if, on a weekday morning, you came out of the house to start your daily commute and found this note on your windscreen.

“To the driver of this vehicle,
You have cut me off twice now, both times I don’t think you saw me at all, even though you came so close and put us both in danger. If you cannot recall the incidents with absolute clarity, then any excuse you think you have is invalid.
Driving is a privilege not a right. Please take this opportunity to refresh your knowledge of the road rules and your understanding of courtesy, and take care to apply them both.
Please don’t make it a third time.”

If that note would give you reason to pause and mentally scroll through memories and evaluate your possible guilt or culpability then you could be someone with an opportunity to change your habits and values when behind the wheel.

Perhaps your opportunity is instead in your habits dealing with shop staff, workers from a different team at your job, the staff who operate the public transport you use, the other people buying groceries at the store, fellow pedestrians, it goes on and on. We have so many interactions every day with so many different people who all have their own story in which they are the central character. For each of us, these are habitual interactions because we live in a world brimming over with people. We have become functions to each other, not fellows, not real people. Functions, meatbots.

Do you ever criticise people who seem continually clenched around their gadget screen or asleep at the wheel or pushing others out of the way in queues? I know I have. It doesn’t feel like enough to try breaking the cycle when those other people then take advantage of you for being nice. We’re all afraid of someone taking advantage of us. I wish I had a moment of enlightenment for every time I’ve been told to ‘toughen up’ or ‘get a thicker skin’.

Actually, when people tell me this I feel more hurt (even fundamentally neglected or undervalued). After all, why can’t other people just be nicer? Why am I the one who’s ‘wrong’? The same types of folk who have no compunction about telling others to ‘toughen up’ seem to never be willing to similarly command others to “be less of an arsehole”. Just sayin.

A wise teacher recently told me that every time I complain about others’ behaviours I am a in fact setting myself back significantly. “Oh great” I thought, “wrong again! Wrong for being too soft, wrong for wanting the world to be more pleasant and now wrong for complaining when others are rude or mean.” That little story I just told to myself there, that was the key to figuring out what he really meant by what he said.
Here are his words:

See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

I did not want to hear that.

I tried to argue with it. The very first way was by making up that little story above – exaggerating how I am always being made to be wrong – a little melodrama with me as the swooning star. I thought about it every way you can. For weeks. But that’s the trouble with hearing something true, once you know it your life truly changes. So it has been for me as I digest this insight. All else is indeed madness. Leave or accept. Act where you can.

In trying to come to terms with this, I stumbled over this little twist on an old favourite “the grass is always greener where you water it”, fresh enough for me to reflect on my own habits of envy, and to remember the “which wolf you feed” story) and these both made a bridge for me into the key idea that through habit I was allowing a self-identification as a victim in all kinds of realms of daily life. Perhaps that’s another part of road rage – there is a desire to take action against an unfairness or wrong action – and yet violent response outside of building and understanding context and consequence is feeding the wrong wolf, watering the weeds.

In a moment of rage we can be lost to our stories and triggered into moving far from our center. It can feel like blacking out, like being possessed. Inside that unconsciousness we are simply reacting, not making choices. If you feel that you’re in a rut in trying to get positive patterns started in your life then look for places in which you’re complaining about something rather than acting to generate the change that you want. Look with honesty in how you’re describing the story of your situation to yourself and ask if you’re truly supporting the person you want to be or simply enduring the habits you used to water. Imagine forgetting what useless, impotent rage feels like. I think that sounds wonderful, let’s try together.

Image credit.