Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sustain-ability: The Dishes of Life

When I was a young woman, I had this theory that I called "the dishes of life." It was a modern take on the Zen "before enlightenment chop wood, carry water...." The idea being that no matter what weirdness or enchantment or, yes, enlightenment was going on in your life, the dishes still had to get done.

It just resonated more with me than chopping wood. And it was also closer to how to be an adult in our modern world. Yes, the dishes "have to" get done, but not because you'll freeze to death or go thirsty without them. It's because being in the world requires a certain amount of ongoing order creation to be manageable. You don't really have to wash the dishes, right? You can use paper plates or get takeout or just scrub the one pot or plate you need when you need it. Doing the dishes is about maintaining order in your life.

After a recent post that talked about my various personal maxims, a dear friend of mine jokingly suggested that I make a Dishes of Life post. Now, I wasn't really going to make this post because there's not a lot else to this idea. You want to live a magical life? Great, but you don't get a pass on doing all the other grownup things that have to get done. Simple.

But then the other day, the Daily Stoic shared the following with me in email:

The Taxes of Life

...People have been complaining about their taxes since the beginning of civilization. And what has become of it? Taxes are higher than ever and they’re dead. Death and taxes. There is no escape. So let us waste no time and create no misery kicking and screaming about it. Let us not add to our tax bracket the cost of frustration and resentment.
Taxes are inevitable part of life. There is a cost to everything we do. As Seneca wrote to Lucilius, “All the things which cause complaint or dread are like the taxes of life—things from which, my dear Lucilius, you should never hope for exemption or seek escape.” Income taxes are not the only taxes you pay in life. They are just the financial form. Everything we do has a toll attached to it. Waiting around is a tax on traveling. Rumors and gossip are the taxes that come from acquiring a public persona. Disagreements and occasional frustration are taxes placed on even the happiest of relationships. Theft is a tax on abundance and having things that other people want. Stress and problems are tariffs that come attached to success. And on and on and on.
There’s no reason or time to be angry about any of this. Instead, we should be grateful. Because taxes—literal or figurative—are impossible without wealth. So what are you going to focus on? That you owe something, or that you are lucky enough to own something that can be taxed.

Now, in case you don't know, Daily Stoic is awesome and I highly recommend you sign up (it's free!). But it was also really relevant to, and resonant with, my original point. You do the dishes not only because it's part of being a functional adult, but because you have dishes to do and you have food to eat off of those dishes. Looking beyond the chore and the maintenance of order is gratitude that you have those dishes in the first place.

In fact, this hit me personally because a couple of years ago I decided that instead of the random assortment of chipped IKEA plates we had, I wanted NICE DISHES. So our household holiday gift was a set of plain white bone china dishes and serving platters. So how fortunate am I do be able to wash these lovely plates and bowls? And how blessed that washing in this context just means putting them in the dishwasher and letting it do the work?

Seneca was right and (unlike wood chopping for most of us) his point is still highly pertinent today. Everything we do has some kind of tax -- it can't be helped and in the end there's no point complaining or stressing about it. In fact, if looked at the correct way, we can celebrate the annoyances that are born directly from the good things we have. 


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Gentle gentle gentle

Sometimes Mercury retrograde is an annoyance that I barely notice. Sometimes it comes with challenges, but only of a certain flavor (like miscommunication or technological glitches or travel annoyances). Rarely they are very, very hard on a number of different levels. I'm sure that a competent astrologer -- which I am not -- would be able to explain why a particular retro impacts someone a certain way.

I don't know my own planets well enough to give a reason, but this past week has just beat the hell out of me.

Monday the whole household woke up out of sorts: particularly the budding psychonaut who's "why should I care about school when we're going to get nuked soon" attitude is both relatable and annoying. All things electronic were completely unreliable, including the ice maker to our still newish fridge (how a broken ice maker can defrost the entire freezer, I don't know).

The festival of fun continued through the week. I suffered a series of daily migraines. People at work were anxious and cranky. I forgot important planned magic. I mishandled a potential new client. No one slept well. Friday I came home from work early and, while standing in the kitchen trying to decide between tea (smart!) and coffee (not so smart), realized that my eyes would not stay open another moment. I laid down for just ten minutes and woke up two hours later, groggy and confused.

And this morning I woke to discover that, contrary to all sanity and logic, the government had once again decided that bombing someone was the very best way to deal with with things. I'd say we're psychic except that there's no one who didn't see this huge mistake coming.

In the newsletter this week, I talked about things to try when you are not at your best. And certainly my recent post on Making Your Own Sense is apropos at this time. But sometimes, no matter how much you try, it's just going to be a challenge. This is the time when I try to remind myself to be gentle with myself. Because being practical and proactive can't always mitigate everything.

Gentle gentle gentle -- let us all be gentle with ourselves and each other... and pray a prayer for peace.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Mind War: Part Eleven -- Making Sense

You didn't think the mind war had ended, did you? (Note: to see parts 1 through 10, go check the Index.)

Reading an article recently I was struck by the English language idiom "make sense." This phrase has three definitions:

make sense

a) to have a clear meaning and be easy to understand
Read this and tell me if it makes sense.

b) to be a sensible thing to do / it makes sense (for somebody) to do something
It makes sense to save money while you can.
Would it make sense for the city authorities to further restrict parking?

c) if something makes sense, there seems to be a good reason or explanation for it
Why did she do a thing like that? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

So if something makes sense, it is clear or logical or reasonable, right? "Does that make sense?" is a common followup to an explanation or plan (I will stop by the grocery store on the way home for pasta sauce and you get the pasta started -- does that make sense?).

Making sense is a judgement then: on behaviors, actions, or beliefs. And it has a positive connotation too. We want other people's plans and ideas to make sense. We want to make sense. We want the world to make sense.

But it occurred to me on hearing this phrase that there's another way of interpreting it: not judging the logic of others, but crafting it for yourself. Literally making sense as in creating structures that foster logic and reason in your own life. Because it's increasingly apparent that if we want stuff to make sense, then we'd better get busy making some for ourselves.

The last year plus in global politics has brought the lack of sense to the forefront of everyone's minds. A whole lot of people have been spending a whole lot of time and energy trying to make sense of what's happening -- and not just in the US. Now, I like to feel informed as much as the next person, but honestly? I don't think there is sense here to be made. It's not logical and it's not sensible, and it's not easy to understand. There's no reason or explanation.

I actually suspect that the current political environment makes as much sense as it has for a generation or two. It's just that while before we distracted from the illogic of the system, now we are bombarded by it.

You think this is because we're uninformed? Anti-intellectual? Distracted? Or is it because part of the power of the abuser is to steal the power of making sense from the abused. To gaslight, to confuse, to obfuscate... to make things so crazy that somehow it starts to not seem so crazy anymore. It starts out OK... maybe... at least they tell you it's OK. But so much crazy and so much confusion starts coming at you that you start to forget what sense even is.

Perfectly normal people, people who used to MAKE SENSE, driven to the point of senselessness. The crazy just gets worse and worse over time. Things that used to be inconceivable are now business as usual. This is how it works in too many abusive households and relationships. And this is how it's working for us now.

Can anyone really remember what, say, 2014 was like? Not like it was a Golden Age or anything, but can you remember what we worried about? What the news was like? How public officials comported themselves? Yeah, maybe that was a polished mahogany veneer over a rickety pressboard contraption, but there was some semblance of sanity and self-control in evidence... at least for the public. In fact in some ways it's better now because the we can actually start to see the monster under the mask -- a painful but ultimately necessary process. The polite and polished facade is crumbling and we are reeling.

Let me tell you now that what's going on doesn't make sense. That doesn't mean there's no agenda or plan, there probably is and it's probably evil. But evil doesn't mean logical -- and evil can be the opposite of sensible.

If you want your life to make sense, then roll up your sleeves and start making some sense for yourself. Because you are not going to find it watching the news. Make your own life logical and understandable for you. Make reason a priority and attempt to live and act in a way that you can explain to yourself. Remember that you can't explain or control the crazy that's going on.

Disclaimer: this doesn't mean you don't care or fight! It just means you stop trying to explain. Stand up against the crazy, but keep yourself protected from it. It's never going to make sense because there's no sense to it. We've all known bullies and abusers -- there's no point to trying to make sense of them. You're not an abuser, so you can't comprehend how they think. All you can do is identify them, call them out, and be the kind of person it's harder for them to victimize.

Here's my recipe for making a big old batch of sense:
  • The big four: sleep, exercise, nature, vegetables. Just start there and you will be surprised at how much easier the rest gets. I know, it's not sexy. People want complex and easy (the system that will change your life) instead of simple but hard. But it really is that simple (and hard! I know).

  • Healthy connections: you need people in your life who lift you up and support you, not people who drag you down. And that goes for family and friends. Drama is a choice and you can choose not to engage. Also, please note that activism and positivism are not mutually exclusive -- you could argue that being joyful is a form of powerful protest, a big FUCK YOU to the powers who want to drive you into despair.

  • Integrity and internal logic: When the rest of the world is going crazy, having your own moral compass and sense of right and wrong can keep you sane -- and keep you from ending up in a real-life Milgram or Stanford Prison experiment. We think of values is something that right-wingers use to oppress people who they don't like. But tolerance, kindness, equality, and fairness are fucking values too. Don't let them corrupt the idea.

  • Inner silence: we are inundated with noise -- both the literal din of the modern industrial world and the endless screeching of the politicorporadvertainment machine. You don't have to meditate (though meditation is awesome of course). All you have to do is find some stillness and listen to your own self for a bit.

  • Preference ownership: stop waiting for other people to decide what you want and like. There's a pretty horrible movie called Runaway Bride where the central premise is that this women keeps jilting men at the altar in this small town (only Julia Roberts could get away with this). The reason is that she doesn't know who she is or what she likes or wants. This is symbolized in the movie by the fact that she claims to like her eggs cooked in the same way as each each of her various exes do (note the movie would have been much better if it had ended with her giving Richard Gere the finger and staying single, but no one ever asks me).

    As banal as this is, have you ever thought about how much of what you like and value and care about comes from outside yourself? And not just from a person who you care about (I've been married for 23 years and let me tell you after a while your tastes do converge) but from some faceless corporate stooges?

  • Locus of control: This came up in a recent newsletter (if you sign up to the left, you won't be left out) but having an internal locus of control is way psychologically healthier than an external one. In the end though, you only control yourself. I'm reminded of the litany of far-fetched scenarios for how Hillary could still end up as president after the election. None of those things were remotely likely and certainly none of them were under our control. So why would we spend time winding ourselves up emotionally over them?

    Also, if you only control you, then you should not hand over that precious control to anyone else -- let alone the monsters in suits who are running things (into the ground).

We need to quit justifying and explaining away the craziness and start nurturing sanity. We need to be mindful of the state of our own minds. And we desperately need to stop trying to make the outside world make sense and instead actively prioritize making our own sense.

Ivy's personal maxims (v 4.0, April 2018):

1. Religion that's easy is wrong
2. Don't get offended, get pissed off
3. Life is too short to eat shit
4. Look where you want to go
5. It's better to look ordinary and actually be interesting than the reverse
6. Make your own sense

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Big Empty

Those of you who've followed CircleThrice long-term know that I make an annual trip home to the desert in order to see my family. And as challenging as these visits can be, there's usually some useful lesson or perspective that I get from going that end up here. For example:

2015: In the Wilderness
2016: Stars in the Desert
2017: On Age and Time

Canyon Lands Park, UT

This year the visit was a little different. Usually, the budding psychonaut and I fly in and out for a week and take some time to have a day-trip adventure. This year we flew in, rented a car, and after our visit drove 2500 miles through AZ, UT, ID, and home again.

I grew up in the desert, but have lived on the West Coast for 11 years now. It's easy to forget just how empty the landscape in the Southwest really is. This is Trump country (for the most part) sparsely populated and with low economic mobility and high independence. Tourism is the primary industry and in this way the area does better than the true fly over states, but not much.

This is the country that's ignored by Washington and Silicon Valley alike and whatever tech there is is military tech. I forgot how odd the proliferation of military equipment and attitudes is to someone who never came from the area. Where I'm from they close the highway for hours during missile tests and you just don't get to go to the next town over until they are done. Border checkpoints are also common and I grew up stopping and answering the question "are you all American citizens?" One time my dad looked at my mom and said "she isn't" and she was so pissed at him for making her dig out her Green Card to show the guard -- who really didn't care about her German immigration status. There's a certain amount of blatant racial profiling that goes on here, but hey you don't fuck with the border patrol or they will take the opportunity to search your car to pieces.

NM to OR is a LONG drive -- real power road trip distances, even as we stopped at some of the most beautiful landscapes I've seen in the world (rivaling the Swiss Alps for sheer stunning vistas, though it's like comparing snow apples and dried oranges). I wouldn't have been able to manage by myself, but the kid is permitted now and got his driving time in.

In this country you have to get gas (and pee) where you can, as you don't know when the next stop will be. You see these exit signs that say "No Services." And you see glimpses still of a world that no longer exists, but that you sometimes wish did.

This was our room at the Wigwam Hotel

The emptiness and stillness had the effect of making me feel fuller.

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