Category: Personal Experiences

What to expect (and not to expect) when passing a Kidney Stone

One of the greatest benefits of the social web is the ability to read other people’s stories when you are going through a particular issue. This has helped me through a few medical procedures I had to experience the past couple of years. However, over the weekend I could not find anything about Kidney Stones, which is such a common issue. I did not know if what I was going through was “normal.” Turns out, it was a bit extreme.

Read more in Healthcare in America

Do You Have What It Takes to be a Freelancer?

I have been on my own since 2005. It is a rollercoaster ride. At one point I considered getting off the ride and joining a company. That would be sacrificing the flexibility I had been enjoying. I spoke with my son about it. He asked me why I was considering a “real job.” I explained that I would like a steady paycheck. His response was “I know that money gets tight sometimes, but when you are rich, you are really rich!”

I laughed and decided what I really need to do is manage my money, time, and activities to achieve the stability I was seeking. In my article, Top 5 Ways to Survive as a Freelancer, I highlight a few practices that have worked for me.

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Why do we have to believe?

Once upon a time, while I was in the midst of discovering myself, what I believed, where my place was in this world, and what impacts I could make, I would get very frustrated to know that many people had already put me in a box based on what they believed.

Frustration is a feeling caused by a blocked goal. My goal was to explore myself and my world and that was often blocked by other people’s quick assumptions.

Today, what used to make me frustrated now fascinates me. I listen with great curiosity what people believe and why. I am drawn to every cognitive study that I can understand. I want to know more about what I consider to be self-made little prisons called belief, perhaps so I can ensure that I don’t accidently create such a prison for myself. Perhaps so I can help people escape their own prisons. But more importantly, so I know how to interact appropriately with people who have confined themselves in a cell of beliefs.

One of the main cell bars that create this “prison of belief” are labels. We have a need to label everything we come in contact with. This is part of how we begin to understand our world from birth. We come into this world and everything we experience a label is applied to by our family and friends. “I am your mommy”, “Let’s drive in the car”, “A cow says moo.” All of these labels seem not only harmless but imperative. We have to have labels to have language. We have to have labels to understand relationships between things. The problem is we become addicted to labels. Everything has to have a label and those labels have to have meaning or we get anxious.

Recently a woman who is very religious and chooses to only know about her religion and close her eyes to any other religions labeled me as a Pagan. I have no religion. I have theories, but no beliefs. I have traditions, but no rituals. This was not something she had a label for, so she pulled out the incorrect label of Pagan and assigned it to me. She found this label in the history of her own religion who once taught that those without religion are Pagan. She did not understand that Pagans have beliefs and rituals and believe in spirits. I do not have beliefs and rituals. I am open to the idea of spirits. I am even open to the idea of God. Her label did not match the definition of me, but it was the only label she had that came close, so she applied it to me. Thankfully Pagan witches are no longer burned, drowned, or hung in a cage, so no harm done.

But sometimes our labels do cause harm. I recently was monitoring my young son’s debate on Facebook where he was defending the casting of a homosexual character in the new Star Wars movie. One very passionate person who opposed the idea defined the homosexual label as sexually deviant. He went further to define sexually deviant as a child molester. To him, all homosexuals were child molesters. This is a very harmful belief that distracts from the real dangers of molestation and can cost lives for many various reasons.

We are obsessed with labels and those labels direct our belief system. Labels are what define for us what is right or wrong and what our roles in life are. You are a woman so your role is to be a caregiver. You are a man so your role is to be a provider. These beliefs simplify, but they do not enable growth and exploration. Growth and exploration come when we suspend beliefs and question everything.

Why do we have to believe? Because it gives context to this crazy world. We believe there is a reason behind the madness. There is an end game in sight. We believe because it gives us a sense that someone or something is in control.

I listen to a wonderful podcast called Hardcore History by Dan Carlin and he did a show about the start of WW1 where he opened by explaining that people believe in conspiracies because it is more comforting to think there is a secret group somewhere in control than it is to think that everything is random and that the act of one man can change the course of the world.

We believe because we need to believe there is a sense of control.

I just watched an enlighting TED talk called The Power of Self-Deception. In one section Michael Shermer gives the audience a thought-experiment. You are walking through the plains and you hear the grass ruffle. Is it the wind or a predator? If it was the wind, but you believed it was a predator, no harm done. If it was a predator and you believed it was the wind, you are dead. This thought-experiment shows why we will believe the worse case scenario almost everytime.

Not long ago I posted an article on Facebook about how children raised in a secular home turn out as pretty good people. A Facebook friend questioned what would be the motive for a person to behave morally if they do not believe in God. I am fascinated by that question no matter how many times I hear it. Do we not all experience the joys of being good to each other and creating an environment of peace and happiness whether or not God exists? Perhaps,  if we focused on just being good to each other more and focused less on labeling and imposing our beliefs on each other, we can find the comfort, control, and understanding that we seek when we choose to believe.

The Common Traits of the Chronically Miserable

Do you know those people? Woe is me, my life is miserable, all is going wrong.

Are you one of those people?

I know those people. Below are a few common traits I have noticed. Traits to take note of so that you can avoid becoming chronically miserable.

1. They judge others

The chronically miserable people I have known spend much of their time judging how other people live their lives. It is hard to walk down a city street with them without hearing a criticism about how someone is dressed, where they have a tattoo or a piercing, or how they are wearing their clothes. In any situation, they can find something wrong. If they come home and their entire house has been cleaned, the first thing they will notice is that the vacuum cleaner has not been put away.

This trait keeps them focused on what is wrong with the world, how people do not fit in with how they think the world should be, and how no one can ever meet their expectations. I used to get annoyed at such behaviors, but the more I realized what it was doing to the person who exhibits such behaviors, the more I felt pity for them.

2. They are selfish

It is not that they won’t do for other people, oftentimes these people can be very involved in trying to help someone else. But they are doing so for selfish reasons. Perhaps they are being helpful in order to control the situation, or more often because they expect something in return. They keep track of how often they give as though it is a loan that should be repaid. “I helped you, now you need to help me. ” Just thinking about keeping track of such things gives me a headache. These people spend so much time and energy keeping track of the give and take that they have no time to simply enjoy the moments. And when they feel like they are not getting enough back in return they will think about it, complain about it, and let the injustice consume their daily life and drive their future actions.

3. They refuse to take responsibility for their life

Just try to tell the chronically miserable that if they make a few changes in their life they can be happy and you will get a lashing so severe you will think you just caused irreparable damage to something precious, which in a way that is what you were attempting. For the chronically miserable it is precious to them that they hold on to their identity of misery and that it is everyone else’s fault. To destroy that identity, a person would have to acknowledge that they may have at least shared responsibility for past problems.  They would have to do the work of looking at what they are doing wrong and take steps to make changes, and we all know change is hard. If you try to point out that a certain behavior continuously does not work in their favor, they will tell you that is just who they are or they are too old to change.

As a result, they will continue to be miserable and there is nothing anyone around them can do to help them until they are ready to help themselves.

The Value of Understanding Other People’s Beliefs

I saw a news story today that bothered me a bit. Apparently, the United States Air Force is threatening to not let a soldier serve if he does not agree to violate his own beliefs. What are his beliefs? He’s an atheist.

A person who does not believe in God. That used to bother me and make me a little sad at one time in my life. “How can you look at all the majestic and wonder of the world and the Universe and not believe there is a God?” I thought. Then I would comfort myself in thinking that this person probably was still searching for his or her beliefs and they would eventually find God. This year I had a revelation that opened my eyes and heart to what it can mean to be an atheist. More on that later.

I was raised a Christian. I went to a variety of different churches growing up. When I was 20 years old I sat down and read the whole bible front to back. I discovered I needed more than just the Judeo-Christian bible to grow spiritually.

That is when I began exploring Buddhism. Through the years I have become a student of religions. I am always listening to and reading about what other people believe. Much of what I learn does not resonate with me, but other parts of what I hear become like missing puzzle pieces that connect with ideas that have resonated with me. You can say I am a spiritual explorer picking and choosing the pieces that fit me best.

And why not? Why does anyone have to align themselves with only one belief, one dogma? How can anyone say one religion is the only truth and all others are living a lie or a partial truth? I love the story about The blind men and the elephant. Each man can only feel part of the elephant and thinks they know the whole truth based on the little section they have access to. We only have access to parts of stories. The more we explore the more we can learn.

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But the question I used to have in my mind was “where do atheist fit in the story?” If they do not believe in God what can I learn from them? For a long time, I assumed they were people who believed only in science and nothing else. I assumed that perhaps they had something happen in their life that made them close the doors to the idea that there was a God. It was sad.

Then, one evening after a huge rainstorm had passed by leaving a field in Atlanta wet and muddy, my 2 boys and I stood in the humid air with a crowd of others who were waiting for a music festival to resume. It was the Candler Park music festival and the next person on stage was going to be an English chap named  Frank Turner. He began to play and we began to dance around – not really knowing his songs yet and therefore listening closely in order to learn more about this chap.

Then he began singing a song to the tune of a church hymn. But the catch phrase of this catchy song was “There is no God.”

Below are a few lyrics that stood out for me. :

I know you’re scared of dying man and I am too,
But just pretending it’s not happening isn’t gonna see us through,
If we accept that there’s an end game and we haven’t got much time,
Then in the here and now then we can try and do things right.
We’d be our own Salvation Army and together we’d believe
In all the wondrous things mere mortals can achieve

There is no God,
So clap your hands together,
There is no God,
No heaven and no hell.
But there is no God,
We’re all in this together,
There is no God,
So ring that victory bell.
Maybe it was the air (it was a music festival after all). Maybe it was the English accent. Maybe it was the clapping of our hands during the song. All I know is all of a sudden Atheism made sense to me. The line that resonated is “we are all in this together.”
For months after hearing this song I had to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew. I had to take the puzzle piece of atheism and include it in my spiritual picture that had been created from many other spiritual beliefs.
In the end, I still believe in God, but I have become more grounded and believe in taking more responsibility for myself and my fellow man. We’re all in this together.
With this in mind, if that atheist in the Air Force is flying to protect my country and my family because we are our “own Salvation Army and together we’d believe
In all the wondrous things mere mortals can achieve”…then please let that man fly and stand up for what he believes.
My lesson is that assuming someone else’s beliefs are wrong and not listening to why they believe what they do, not only will cause you to treat them poorly, but you will also be missing out on the gift of connecting with another spiritual heart and learning from each other.

What It Is Like to Be an Introvert – Or to be ME

I have seen lots of articles the past several years about Introverts. It is one of a few times I do not feel there is too much being written about the subject.

When I was growing up, extrovert vs introvert was not a conversation.

I do remember an activity at school where the people leading the activity wanted to help you determine if you were a leader or a follower. This memory is very vivid, probably because as far as I remember this was the first time where I knew who I was and that I did not fit in either category being presented. I was neither a leader or a follower. I was independent.

Since then I have grown to understand and deeply appreciate the scene in Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer where Herby suggest that they all be “Independent Together.”

Perhaps I never got past the parallel playing stage while growing up. There could be a variety of reasons for that.

  1. I was the only girl
  2. My brothers were 6 and 8 years older than me
  3. There were not a lot of kids my age in my neighborhood

As a grew into an educated adult – I was no longer so sure of who I was or why I was who I was. I worked in sales, and was good at it, but did not like to attend too many social events. I was good at sales because I believed in what I was selling and I sincerely wanted to help people, not because I had a large network and knew how to schmooze (not that extroverts only do that.) I was put into leadership positions because I loved educating my team, but I did not love managing people. Over the years I began to have an identity crisis. The articles about extrovert vs introvert that began showing up in the last decade were exactly what I needed to begin to understand what was going on with me. So I might as well add to the millions of posts out there with my story.

Being an Introvert does not mean being shy. My younger son has told me that my superpower is that I can talk to anyone, and I can. Both my parents were that way. I was raised in a world where nobody was a stranger. I also truly enjoy getting in front of a group of people, 20 people or 2,000 people, and giving a presentation. If I feel I have something of value to say – the larger the audience to say it to, the better. Perhaps that is why I fell in love with social media.

Social Media appealed to me. It was my Siren Call. But it did scare the heck out of me because I felt vulnerable. When you share your views on social media they are out there to be discovered and discussed by anyone. It is not a moment in time like a presentation or a conversation.  Yet, the lure of what could be accomplished with social media forced me to overcome my fears.

Anyway, being an Introvert is defined as “a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people.”

Here is an example. This is a Saturday of a long weekend. I have planned a weekend that I am looking forward to of reading and writing and making plans for the company that I now lead. I am listening to music and writing in my journals. I have so much to learn and so much to share and so much to try to understand in the world and so much to reflect on that I simply will not have a lot of time to allow too many people to interrupt me.

I do like people. I do appreciate my friends and love the time we spend together – but I need time to be with me, because frankly, I am damn good company for myself and I want to take some time to hear what I have to say.

Love and Peace to all! From an Introvert who does not answer her phone often.

The Shock of Robin Williams Death

When we go to the movies, we get to escape reality. When someone like Robin Williams is in the movie, especially a comedy, we get to feel like the world is ok. Everything will work out in the end and we will get to laugh along the way.

The shocking news that Robin Williams took his own life took my breath away last night and has left me confused and sad today. Not because he was someone close to me, a friend or relative, but because he was so distant from me. He was, as he says at the end of Aladdin, he was mythology – our mythology.

His suicide was a slap of reality. Perhaps things don’t always work out in the end and sometimes we will not be able to find the humor in a situation. Sometimes the joy we are experiencing is all just pretend – just and act.

It does seem that Robin Williams was our mythological Genie, imprisoned by an awful spell of depression, compelled to grant us our own wishes to escape our own reality. I felt this tribute on Twitter last night was the most appropriate of all. “Genie, you’re free.”

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