Wednesday, March 7, 2012

bright and wild ideas: part two

Coming off from a fairly crappy last week, I had a lot of time before writing this second post to ponder what, if any, of these ten influential ideas could help me cope with the events of last week and the ensuring discouragement that lingered. Having a sense of humor certainly helped, but it certainly didn't alleviate much. Energy conservation sounded great in theory, but was hard to apply it to what could be chalked up to bad luck and me feeling overwhelmed. But then I remembered something I learned while reading The Happiness Hypothesis, (such a fantastic book, I recommend it for everyone) and that's the idea that's gonna start my blog.

6. Not Feeling Cursed

In The Happiness Hypothesis, author Jonathan Haidt points out that happiness can initially be separated into two schools of thought: those who, when something bad happens, turn it inward and believe they are tainted, cursed, and that the bad things that happen to them are a reflection of their value and "what they deserve;" and then there's the other happy-go-lucky people, who are well aware that life occasionally chucks lemons at their heads and realize it's not a deeper reflection of their life choices. So. Which one do you think I fell into last week?

You guessed it! Because in one afternoon I was notified that my credit card info was stolen (someone had made a few large purchases with my credit card info, making it difficult for me to find the money to pay rent while the bank attempted to clear the charges) AND I was caught by a red light camera scooting out of an intersection after the car in front of me abruptly came to a halt to make a right turn. I really felt by the end of that day that it was These were clearly signs that I was tainted, I was a bad luck charm, and that there's something deeply, innately wrong with me. Somehow I had sinned, and now I was being punished for it.

Which, of course, is ridiculous. But how often do we forget that? How often, when something bad happens to us, do we wrack our brains, trying to figure out what we could have possibly done to deserve it?

But we don't make our own bad luck. And it's not personal, so don't make it. Let it go and move along.

7. Critics vs Allies

Sometimes it's tough to see who's really on our side in this topsy-turvy world. And with a myriad of personal opinions flying at us from our friends, family, and strangers, it's difficult to decipher who's genuinely interested in helping us become better people, parents, and artists versus the people who just love to hate. On everything.

So how do I tell the difference between my critics and my allies and extinguish the trolls from my life? I ask myself a question: is this person genuinely trying to push me to become better by offering solutions and ideas, or do they just dump all over my work and seem to revel in my failure? Are they more interested in being correct than in communicating to me what I need to do to change?

Because here's the thing about critics: why should we be interested in what they have to say about our work (or our lives) if they're not willing to help make it better? Them making themselves feel better by dumping on us doesn't make US any better (and I doubt it makes them feel any better.) So if I get the sense that someone means well but just doesn't seem interested in anything more specific than "you suck," I fire them from my life and never look back. As an actor, I put myself out there all the freakin' time. And I've had haters. People who called me ugly, untalented, and informed me very bluntly that I was wasting their time. So instead of weeping helplessly into my pillow that total strangers didn't adore me, I tried starting dialogue with them. What don't you like? What would YOU do to fix it?

Radio silence. That's when I understood. They don't care about making it better. They just like to sit on their couches, doing nothing, and crapping on the rest of the world that IS trying.

So now, in my mind, I tell them to get bent.

8. Radical Self-Acceptance

I first learned this term when someone recommended the teachings of Tara Brach to me. Brach works specifically with survivors of trauma, introducing the concept of radical acceptance into their lives in order to help them heal emotionally, using Buddhist teachings. I could get all info-y and use a lot of terms to explain what radical acceptance is, but it would be easier if I just post a poem that illustrates it perfectly:

The Guest House

by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Radical acceptance means exactly what it sounds like: accepting everything. Everything. Every bad mood, every childish thought lashed out in anger, every mistake, every crappy moment. Accepting it all. Not judging it - putting out a welcome mat for it. And when it's ready, it will leave. But instead of denying or trying to repress what I'm feeling or going through, I sit in it. I try to love my way out of it. I try to be kind to myself.

When I first learned about this concept, it seemed too easy. TOO kind. I wanted to be mean to myself, to punish myself when I wasn't as good as I wanted to be. And I was turning into a neurotic, judgmental, self-hating mess. I was afraid that if I radically accepted myself, just as I was, that I would settle. That I would be less than what I could be. Because we all know how motivating self-loathing is, right? That awesome cycle of feeling like a failure before we even start, then failing, then beating ourselves up about it, then starting all over again?

Riiiiiiight. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. And I'm glad I got out when I did. It saved my life.

9. Transcend Fear-Based Rituals

I once read an interview in Rolling Stone with Robert Downey Jr (whom I have a mad crush on, totally beside the point) and when he mentioned that he was in the "continual process of transcending fear-based rituals", the hair on the back of my neck just sort of stood up on end. What What? What does that mean? And can I just... live there?

So let's think about this, shall we? Most people would agree that living your life in fear isn't that healthy. It certainly isn't satisfying, nor is it easy. And it's rarely simple, as fear is one of those sneaky bastards that's never quite happy with all the space you've ALREADY given it in your head. So. Fear-based rituals? Does that sound familiar at all? It certainly did to me. There were certainly quite a few things at the time that I was doing ritualistically (without thought, energy, or mindfulness) that were fear-based, and not unlike the Dementors from Harry Potter (nerd alert), they were quietly sucking all the joy out of my life.

How could I fix repeating those same fear-based rituals over and over again? Well...I could look at them, straight in the face. See, rituals are things we do without thinking. Just automatically, like the way I reach for the conditioner in my shower first or the way I brush my teeth. And if I wanted to change my life, I had to start examining it, putting my decisions and actions under the spotlight, and asking myself: why do I do that? And if I didn't want to do it... now I had the opportunity to change that and fight back.

10. Stop Throwing Stones

This one's kinda self-explanatory, no? But I'll go through it anyway. There used to be a time (I'm ashamed to say) when I was a little judgmental. I'd always considered myself open-minded, but I still found that occasionally, when people were making decisions about their lives that didn't have anything to do with me, I could still find reasons to be offended. I found ways to be opinionated about what other people were doing in ways that had zero impact on my life. What.the.hell.

Well, that obviously wasn't working out very well for me. I wasn't exactly happy, especially as I self-righteously tracked a list of other people's faults. And here's the kicker: do you know what bugged me the most? When people were judgmental toward others. (Are you laughing yet? I am.)

Then I heard a twist on a familiar Bible story that I love. (to my Atheist blog followers: I promise I won't get preachy.) It's the story of when everyone's all set to stone to death the adulterous woman in the Bible (John 8: 1-11) and Jesus points out that the first person without sin should step forward and cast the first stone. He stoops to write something in the sand (I like to think he was finishing an intense game of tic-tac-toe with Paul) and when he looks up, the crowd has dispersed, leaving only the woman and Jesus.

Now, the twist is that someone once asked what I thought all the followers did with the stones that they decided not to throw. Well... hopefully they tossed them away, I said. Right, said the other person. But what if instead... they carried them home? That's a heavy load, I said. And then I got it.

I had a bucket full of stones that I was hauling around. And while I was hurling them at others (which hurts, and that sucks, and there's no excuse), I was also letting them weigh heavy on my own chest every single day that I carried them around. I had to get over it. I had to let it go. I had to let people live their lives and support them, and if I did not support them I at least did not have to carry around a heavy heart judging other people for doing the best they could.

This was during college for me. And I haven't looked back on who I used to be, nor wished I could go back, since. And I've made friends of all kinds, people who are genuinely kind, and good, and doing the best they can with the circumstances they are in, and they make my life richer for being in it. You shall love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart.

- Tracy


Anthony Duce said...

A very good read. I know at one time or another I’ve dealt with all these issue, and had to figure things out, usually the hard way. This would have been helpful some of the times. Thanks…

Snowbrush said...

I suppose that most people reach an age when they give up on self-help books--unless they're books about repairing lawnmowers or adding electrical circuits. I think they're like dieting in that they might very well make a difference if you are actually able to follow them consistently, year in and year out, but the freshness dies, and the thought comes to me that there must be an easier way, or, if there isn't, maybe I would do better to simply live with me as I am. I mean, hell, I'm down to my last 25 years or so, and that's if I'm lucky.

Snowbrush said...

P.S. Your new photo is terrific. If you asked for a vote, I would say to use it for your main photo because it shows your face and you look happy in it.

Gwen said...

Oh the first and last are so something I need to work on. It's embarrassing to say but a lot of times I feel like I get crapped on for some reason. Like everyone else has all the luck and that it's not fair that I work my ass off for nothing. But then I try to remind myself that maybe God gives the easy way to people that aren't strong enough to pave their own path. And that feels like casting stones now. GRRR!!! You are amazing my friend. I'm going to start being more grateful for what I have and receive. You are inspiring me!!!

Simchi said...

Rumi is perfection. And I so identify with the fear-based rituals. Here's to a far better week with far fewer stones.

Bathwater said...

I like the new layout, you have some good points to think about. Fear based rituals and throwing stones stand out with me today.

Anonymous said...

my life's major problem used to be fear (sometimes still is) that's why the moment I read about these rituals, I was, like, WOW, I'm in love. (with the idea, not Robert Downey Jr. haha). This is definitely something worth trying out and sticking to. Thanks A LOT for the tip!

JJ said...

Interesting stuff! I will definitely read The Happiness Hypothesis. I never throw stones. As for Critics vs. Allies, I have found that I am relying more on the opinions of my blogging friends than those folks I have known my whole life. I don't know why, but I feel like I'm getting unbiased views on the blogs.

Marion said...

Oh, how I love this (and needed it), Phoenix. Fear ruled my life for too many years to count. A wise and insightful post. Thank you VERY MUCH for sharing it. Love you!! xo

Eric W. Trant said...

I got a similar stone lecture from a Christian counselor when I was in college. He said I was swallowing stones, not of judgment, but of emotion. See, I'm a stoic, and probably a little bit Ass-burgers. I have trouble expressing emotion. It drove my ex-wife crazy. Heck, it drove her away.

Probably the biggest change I've made in my life, though, was removing the negative people from my inner circle. The most important person to remove myself from is/was ~me~! I had to quiet that inner voice who was always criticizing everyone, starting with Eric.

He still sneaks in now and again, but not like he used to. And not having to hear it from others (who I am no longer close to) also helps.

Anyway, very nice post, thought-provoking.

I will now end with something funny. Since you mentioned Jesus, I will make a Jesus comment.

One of my buddies is a boxer. He has Parkinson's. He says the joke's on God, though, because he's already done everything he wanted to do.

But he was talking about Jesus one day, and forgiveness. Funny how religious athletes are. Seems the more they get hit in the head, the closer they get to God.

May be something to that, eh.

He said, The Bible got it wrong, about Jesus turning the other cheek. They didn't get the whole story. Jesus was a big man. He was a worker. He was a man's man. Jesus didn't just turn the other cheek. He turned the other cheek and countered with a left.

- Eric

drollgirl said...

yeesh, girl! when are you publishing a book?! YOU SHOULD! you write so well, AND you have awesome ideas!

Robin said...

Thank you for these. So much to think about that my wee brain is full to overflowing.

Ed Pilolla said...

some amazingly ambitious life style habits here. i am continually in the process of being better to myself, which reduces anxieties and improves my overall quality of life. autopilot i have not achieved yet:)

kj said...

i need time to come back and linger. i haven't done this post justice. (yet). but i applaud and thank you. it seems to me you've been transformed.

and, i know from experience, that that is when doors open and the gods follow.

i'm glad you;re going for it.

me too....


Maggie May said...

I"m sharing the hell out of this post. Thank you so much, I needed these thoughts right now. xo

Two Tigers said...

Even if I had not agreed with pretty much everything you so eloquently and sincerely express in this post you would have had me at Downey.

I hope your luck has improved since you wrote this - mine has just reading it.

krista said...

i smell salt water in the air when i come back to re-read these two posts of yours. and i'm not sure how else to explain it except to say that is the highest compliment i can pay you.

Ed Pilolla said...

letting go is no small feat.

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